Dan Bush

A tech enthusiast by practice, and an email creator by trade.

The swirl of Basecamp's cultural shift.

After the Basecamp founders came out with a shocking update on their (famous and NYT Bestseller) company culture, I felt compelled to write them a letter on how these changes were making myself and others feel. This was before the article came out at The Verge that went in depth into the internal struggles the company was facing, and before the Basecamp co-founders revealed they had provided the option to any and all employees a generous severance package to those that don't agree with the company changes in question, while going even more in depth into the internal issues.

This is what I wrote.

Hello!

I just wanted to voice my concern, like many others probably have, on the recent change in Basecamp company culture. I come with feedback, rather than simply yelling, because, first, I believe that is the right thing to do, and second, I personally work for a company that empowers its employees to dissent when they think a wrong decision has made, and, in my opinion, every single person, from the smallest IC to the CEO themselves, can benefit from receiving feedback.

It is my dearest hope that this does not simply find its way into the discard pile. Basecamp (and before that: 37signals) has been a company I have always looked up to my entire career. I read Rework as a new grad in the web development field, and aspired to some day work for a company with such ideals. I have used Basecamp (the product) multiple times throughout my career now. I have learned Ruby and Ruby on Rails partially because of my passion for Basecamp as a company, and I am now writing (and sending) this very email using HEY.com.

It is extremely disheartening to hear and see a small company, one who prides itself on fighting for the little guy when it comes to standing up to companies like Apple and Google, look internally and come to the conclusion that to be "political" has no room in the workplace. What is political anyway? Is standing up for racial equity political? Are LGBTQIA rights political? What if an individual contributor on a lower rung of Basecamp is an LGBTQIA individual, can they not look for allies internally at the company they spend their lives at?

I believe these are oversights that Jason Fried and DHH may not even be aware of. It is hard to see what one's true privilege is when you have it every day. Personally, I am a straight white male who has a well paying job and isn't struggling financially. I know I have to work hard to recognize what benefits of life I might have that others might not, and how that might affect others differently than it affects myself. I am giving the heads of Basecamp the benefit of the doubt that they simply hadn't thought from this angle, but some people's very existence is seen as political by a certain population. It isn't as simple as "leaving the politics at the door" when someone's standard state of existence is offensive to others.

Taking a stance on racism, on sexual orientation, and on numerous other facets of our modern life is not a political move, it is an ethical move. It is standing up for individuals both inside and outside one's company because not everybody has an equal voice, and this is especially true when the CEO of a company speaks for the rest of the entire team. Even without an official stance on being apolitical, it is extremely difficult for anyone to speak up to their superiors, and especially to the owner of their employer.

Adding on top of the apolitical directive, for it to take effect at the same moment it would appear that the only official feedback workers will receive is from direct superiors, and not their fellow individual contributors heightens the barrier that would need to be breached for anyone to speak up to dissent, or even to defend a fellow coworker.

I want to be very clear. I am not some angry person on Twitter, and I am not someone who is simply going to boycott a product just because I believe the head of that company made a mistake. What I really would like is for the heads of that company to not mock the nearly universal negative reaction they have been getting, and instead look inward and at least, for a moment, reflect on if the right moves were made.

I want to thank you, personally, for reading this message, I am quite sure the person reading this had nothing to do with the decisions made. Thank you for not just skimming this and moving forward, and I hope this feedback can make it to channels that can actually act, or at least further explain the reasoning behind why they choose not to act in light of how many times this same company has been a bastion of making the hard decisions for the betterment of the many, rather than the few.

Sincerely,
Dan Bush

HEY! Listen!

With the large majority of my career being either directly attached, or at least generally related to email, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the new email client created by Basecamp, née 37signals, the eponymous creators of the project management tool of the same name.

The launch, shrouded in Apple-based controversy, was otherwise a love letter to an Internet-era I had assumed was long-gone. Namely: not just being excited about a new email client, which that in itself is bizarre in the modern world, but actually seeing a rabid base of fans buying, selling, and generally acting like sharks in chum-filled waters attempting to snag one of the invite codes that would unlock entry into Hey.com. The parallels to Gmail’s launch in 2004 are obvious to make, but beyond that, it felt a little bit like a tiny sliver of the Internet of the past had come back, if only for a moment.

So... What reason did people have for this enthusiastic response to an email client, of all things? Frankly, there have been numerous companies in the past, and even the present, who all claim or claimed to have “solved” email. In my eyes, the issue with nearly all of these past attempts is that in order to actually tackle the problems we have with email today, the solution has to be the full package.

As an example, Spark is an application that claims to be similarly “revolutionary” and highlights how it makes email distraction free, etcetera. The problem with this app, and countless others, is that when you are simply an IMAP/POP shell, you cannot solve the underlying problems, and, in my opinion more importantly, you are shackled by the speed of these decades-old protocols.

Meanwhile, HEY controls the end-to-end system, and even sheds the historical baggage that is IMAP and POP support. This means you can’t use your old favorite email client, but that ends up being just fine. The new proprietary multi-platform application is a thing of beauty, both in a literal sense in that it looks great, and also in a technical sense in that it is lightning fast, and lacks the code bloat that usually comes with email applications.

When I mention speed, I’m not just talking about the UI of the app itself; I am also referring to the speed at which you can send and receive messages. Again, because this system doesn’t use IMAP or POP, the common lag between hitting send and the email actually sending is gone. Gmail and Outlook share this same send speed, but their applications are so bloated that the rest of the experience still feels slow. HEY is streamlined in both the front- and the back-end, and thus always feels snappy when you use it.

There are plenty of other places to read about the specific new features that HEY provides, so I am not going to list them all here. However, I did want to touch on just a few of the stand-out features and concepts.

The first is a decision the HEY team made from the start: You are in control. You know better than an algorithm as to what you want to see, and where you want to see it.

HEY’s own literature talks at length about separating messages into three categories, and how that makes it easier to digest. Before actually trying it, however, I was extremely skeptical. Basically every email application claims the same thing. The aforementioned Spark, and even Gmail have a similar concept. The difference between Spark, Gmail, etc., and HEY is who is in control.

At the very core, HEY is a story about consent. Changing the paradigm that just anyone who has your email address is capable of emailing you. You decide who can and cannot email you. You decide what newsletters are worthy of your time, and what are not. You decide everything. This makes the initial setup time of HEY pretty substantial. However, this time sink becomes absolutely worth it, once you get to the other side and recognize what is perhaps a new, or at least long forgotten, feeling. The feeling of being excited about getting email.

With HEY’s “Feed” section being carefully curated by none-other than yourself, what used to be the intentionally avoided “Promotions” tab within Gmail has transformed into a news feed to peruse at your leisure, similar to scrolling through a social media stream... if all the racists somehow disappeared.

This “Feed” section shined light on another core thing that I thought was set in stone about email. I have long said, professionally speaking, the theoretical “fold” of the email is a lie. A silly concept taken from the physical media world, and applied to the digital era. It has been proven. People scroll, even if it barely looks scrollable, and thus making sure things are “above the fold” is a fool’s errand.

... or... that used to be true. You see, with this feed view in HEY, as I mentioned above, you scroll through it like a social media site. In fact, you see about the first 400px or so of each email, and can expand to read more if you so choose. Thus... there is almost literally an “above-the-fold” area of each email that really does affect whether or not someone may read more.

Does this revelation mean I’ll change my professional recommendation to ignore the fold? No. Absolutely not. Don’t be ridiculous. HEY, even though it's the Internet’s favorite tech company right now, is, and probably always will be a niche product that will not make up more than (or probably even reach) 1% of email opens for any given send. Having said that, it did make me pause and think about what my emails’ (that is to say, the corporate emails I am responsible for) “pre-fold” looks like for a moment.

I think that that feeling is a pretty good representation of my experience with HEY as a whole. It probably isn’t going to actually change the entire email world as we know it. However, it does make one second guess a lot of concepts that I thought were long set in stone, and it does so while you experience actual enjoyment while rifling through your emails.

Black Lives Matter.





Want to learn more?

https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/#educate

Want to donate?

https://secure.actblue.com/donate/bail_funds_george_floyd

Want to find out how to help without money?

https://8cantwait.org/



These are some photos I took at the peaceful protest in Redwood City this past Tuesday. It was over 90 degrees outside, but the protestors didn’t mind. People were giving out free water bottles and hand sanitizer, others were handing out masks.


While the area was boarded up, no looting occurred, and the only “vandalism” was on the temporary plywood boards covering the windows. It was an afternoon of unity, remembrance, and a reminder to our police officers that their duty is to protect and serve the citizens of their community.


All of their citizens, no matter their skin color, economic status, or gender identity.

The murder of George Floyd¹, like so many other police killings, is hard to come to terms with. Some, who may be living with privilege they aren’t even aware of, may look at this as a one time evil act of a single police officer.


The facts², however, are unfortunately far more distressing. If you start to research how frequently this happens, and, more depressingly, how brazenly these killings are taking place, it becomes crystal clear that we cannot just claim “a few bad apples” performed these heinous crimes.


If it were “a few bad apples” then one of the three other police officers standing idly by while George Floyd suffocated to death would have stepped in.


If it were “a few bad apples” then the entire Buffalo Police Department’s Emergency Response Team wouldn’t resign in protest³ after two of their colleagues were suspended for violently pushing a non-violent old man, causing him to fall, hit his head, lose consciousness, and begin profusely bleeding from his ear⁴.


If it were “a few bad apples” we wouldn’t see multiple instances of police officers directly attacking medic stands⁵, stabbing water bottles⁶, targeting medics specifically⁷, and even confiscating masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19⁸.


But of course it isn’t just a few bad apples. That phrase doesn’t even make sense. The full proverb, of course, is that “a bad apple spoils the bunch.”


I think it is time for a new bushel of apples.


¹ https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/31/us/george-floyd-investigation.html

² https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-06-04/police-killings-black-victims

³ https://buffalonews.com/2020/06/05/57-members-of-buffalo-police-riot-response-team-resign/

⁴ https://twitter.com/DavidBegnaud/status/1268716877355810818 (warning: extremely disturbing video)

⁵  https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/2020/06/03/george-floyd-protests-police-destroy-medic-station-asheville/3138339001/

⁶ https://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/local/2020/05/30/breonna-taylor-protest-louisville-police-smash-protesters-supplies/5295840002/

⁷ https://newrepublic.com/article/157985/protest-medics-targeted-police-words

⁸ https://www.businessinsider.com/george-floyd-protesters-face-masks-seized-movement-for-black-lives-2020-6?scrollnoblockerrefresh=1