#24: 3 things I applied to social impact from the founders of Basecamp

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Basecamp was founded by this guy named David Heinemeier Hansson who also goes by DHH who later co-founded Basecamp, the project management software, with another guy named Jason Fried.

And then they wrote a lot of books together on the Basecamp business philosophy. All of which I’ve read.

Not because I necessarily care about Basecamp the product - I care about how Jason and David run their company because I think everyone working in social impact should listen to what they have to say. Why? Their company consistently makes money, retains employees, and creates something its customer love. If we could all get those outcomes consistently in social impact, think of how much more impact work we could get done.

Here are some applications to our universe of their philosophies:

Social impact relies on remote work: In social impact, much of your team is (or should be) out in the field, immersing in the community of your end users. If your company’s day-to-day operations don’t support remote work, these field immersions are always going to be one-off and communicating and collaborating with the rest of the team is going to be a pain in the ass . . . and ultimately impede what your team can accomplish. Read more about why else designing for and supporting remote work has been good for Basecamp – as well as how they support remote work –  in Remote.

Social entrepreneurship is extra hard: Not only are you trying to serve paying customers, but you’re trying to serve end users and the communities in which impact happens as well (or, those are one and the same, in which case you extra need to align revenue and impact). In Rework, Fried and DHH outline how they approached starting and growing a business.

Social impact generally is stressful: When we help change people’s lives it’s incredibly joyful, but I’ve shared quite a bit about the emotional stress of our work and it always resonates with others in this community; ultimately, we’re solving really depressing social inequities. So the extra stress of a crazy, hectic, 80-hour-a-week work environment and culture is salt on a wound. It dramatically impairs our ability to deliver very necessary impact and also to stay in the game. Basecamp’s founders build on Rework and zoom in on how to not make things crazy at work in It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work. Such an easy read and, while I don’t subscribe to 100% of everything in there, I recommend it to everyone. My favorite lesson learned? Don’t try to literally change the world, because you’re setting yourself (and your team) up for failure. Instead, get really good at changing one small thing, and keep getting even better at it.

BTW, here’s where my interest in Basecamp’s model of running a business started:  Basecamp’s HQ was actually located across the hall from one of my friends’ startups in Chicago and Jason was pretty involved with a nonprofit I worked for in Chicago when I used to live there – he was an incredibly intelligent and kind man and his office culture, when I glimpsed into it, seemed – true to form – chill as hell. Not beer pong and flannel plaid shirt chill, but people quietly focusing and getting work (that’s my preferred kind of chill). Imagine if we had that vibe across the impact sector? Zen as heck. You in? xx