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Why We're Leaving Basecamp

Minnow Park
Minnow Park
4 min read

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Below is a letter I wrote to my coaching clients this past week about why we wont' be using Basecamp anymore for our communications in between sessions.

Since the start of my coaching, I've been using Basecamp, and so this is a major but neccessary move.

In our coaching sessions, we’ve talked about what it means for us to show up as our whole selves to do our most courageous, generous, and meaningful work. I am so grateful for the space we’ve created together, It’s one I do not take for granted. We’ve been using Basecamp to build on our conversations after our calls, but after recent events at the company I don’t think it’s the right place for us to continue our work. Here’s why.

In the past few weeks, Basecamp has internally imploded. It started with a blog post by Jason Fried, Basecamp’s CEO, announcing six policy changes, three of which are very concerning to me:

  • No more societal and political discussions on the company Basecamp account.
  • No more committees.
  • No more lingering or dwelling on past decisions.

As reported by Casey Newton here and here, these policy changes happened when a list made in 2009 called “The Best Names Ever” resurfaced. It was a list of funny-sounding customer names.

Fried and his business partner, David Heinemeier Hansson, had known about the list for years but had done nothing about it. When the DE&I (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) committee and employees brought up why the list was offensive and dehumanizing, the conversations got heated. After a particularly harsh back-and-forth Hansson had with an employee, he was reported to HR.

Two weeks later — on Monday, April 26th — Fried posted the policy changes on his blog before communicating them to his team. Some employees first heard about them through his blog. Friday of that week, Basecamp held a company-wide meeting that resulted in a third of their employees, including some senior-level employees, resigning.

There are really thoughtful pieces on dynamics of power, broken management, and a searing open letter from a former employee that give insight to working at a place like Basecamp. I can’t speak to any of that. I’ve never worked in tech, and I haven’t had a boss for the last 12 years. But as a creative entrepreneur, I’ve relied on Basecamp’s products to run my business, and I’ve learned a lot from Fried and Hansson.

For example, I’ve probably talked to you about my seventh week sabbaticals: I work six weeks and take every seventh week to do work that interests me without any outside obligations. I first learned about this kind of working cycle from Basecamp (their whole company operates this way). I’ve also embraced remote work and built my business around being location independent, something Basecamp has been a proponent of for years.

But Basecamp has changed. It has gone through as Fried says, “a full version change” and I can no longer support them, and regret giving them so much credit.

Here’s a quote from their latest book, It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work:

“The worst thing you can do is pretend that interpersonal feelings don’t matter. That work should “just be about work.” That’s just ignorant. Humans are humans whether they’re at work or at home.”

They were able to proffer such bold ideas like these because they never had any real skin in the game. Fried even wrote an article for Inc. about how Basecamp needs to be more diverse. They may have gotten backlash, but it was all to bolster their reputation and influence as thought leaders.

Fried and Hansson “practiced” what they preached as long as it didn’t disrupt their status quo, a status quo steeped in white privilege. And since the changes were made, they have since doubled down on shaping the company in their image. At the end of the day, this is about two men using their power to avoid painful change and to not be held accountable.

Because Fried and Hansson have the privilege of not having political or societal issues affect their ability to do their best work. They can ban all commentary, move on from past decisions, not condemn white supremacy, and still do their best work because they aren’t directly affected by these issues.

But I do not share that same privilege. __We__ do not share that same privilege. Women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ folks do not share that same privilege.

If we choose to show up as our whole selves, it immediately becomes interpersonal, political, and societal. Doing our best work means wrestling through issues of gender and race. Our full existence challenges the structures built to accommodate those who are most privileged and their well-being, as well as the myth that some people deserve to oppress and repress others.

Fried and Hansson want to focus their business solely on meritocracy and profit. This is antithetical to the work we are doing together. We talk about how courage, vulnerability, and generosity are foundational to what we do. The conversations we have together reflect that, and I can’t imagine anyone telling us we can’t have them or that we shouldn’t discuss past decisions and instead just move forward.

Basecamp’s products are well made and have served us well, but I can’t keep using them, knowing where the company’s founders have placed their values. This isn’t about “canceling” Basecamp, because losing my business won’t matter much to them. And there are many other options out there. They aren’t the only ones doing what they are doing. For me it’s about upholding that trust with you and being true to what we are building together.

We will never be able to live 100% true to our moral values. It’s impossible for us to live with complete privacy, eat only organic, sustainable foods, or to be carbon neutral. There will be contradictions within ourselves and the world around us we must live with, compromises we must make. But there are some things within our realm of choice and actions we can take.

For me, this is one of them.

Thank you for hearing me out. I wanted to be transparent and share my heart with you. I know I’m risking overreaction and sounding too emotional, but I think I’m preaching to the choir.

Thank you to Paul Jun, Justin Bridges, Lyle McKeany, Ryan Williams, Joel Christiansen, Steven Ovadia, Casey R, Nick Drage, Amber Williams, Max Pete, and Kenta Naoi for their feedback and help on this.

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