You can be on Entrepreneur’s cover!

Basecamp's Rebel Recipe for Success: 5 Ways the Software Maverick Made Millions by Being Different Here are the surprising, unorthodox strategies that helped the early software as a service pioneer rise to -- and stay at the top of -- the crowded online project management space.

By Kim Lachance Shandrow

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Want to make a killing in tech, now and for years to come? Don't be cutthroat competitive. Don't work ungodly hours. Don't move fast and break things. And, please, don't be another cocky TechCrunch headline.

Instead, grow slow, stay small, blow off PR (yes, really), and get off your employees' backs. And actually have fun when you work like when you play. This, in a nutshell, is Basecamp's rebel recipe for long-lasting success.

Basecamp's Rebel Recipe for Success: 5 Ways the Software Maverick Made Millions by Being Different - Jason Fried

Jason Fried, co-founder and CEO of Basecamp
Image credit: Basecamp

The Chicago-based software as a service (SaaS) pioneer, originally named 37signals, quietly makes millions every year selling monthly subscriptions to its no frills web-based project management app -- all without a single salesperson, press push, ad campaign or outside money. (Well, almost. In 2006, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos made an undisclosed "minority private equity investment" in the company, though Basecamp claims to have eschewed "over 100 VC and private equity investment offers over the years.")

Related: Want to Be More Productive? Move Across the World.

Basecamp bucked the "go big or go home" trend -- and basically said screw growth -- from the very beginning. So far, it's worked out incredibly well. Perhaps a better mantra for the bootstrapped tech renegade would be "Stay small and work from home."

Established in 1999 as a scrappy, three-person web design shop, now 44 employees strong, Basecamp says it helps "hundreds of thousands" of companies the world over organize, track and collaborate on millions of projects.

Related: Radicals and Visionaries

We tapped Basecamp co-founder and CEO Jason Fried for the secrets to how his company is still going strong after 15 years in business. Here are his five unorthodox strategies for lasting success.

1. Tell customers what you can do for them, don't show them. When Basecamp went live with its first website in 1999, Fried says most other companies in the tech industry were creating busy bragbook sites crammed with images and work samples.

Not Basecamp. Still called 37signals at the time, the company opted for a blank white landing page on its inaugural site. No background. No images. No slogans. It displayed one thing only: A short, snappy manifesto in list form that rattled off "37 nuggets of online philosophy and design wisdom."

"It became this lightning rod," Fried says, "where people were like, "You can't do that. You can't sell websites and design services without showing previous work.' Well, yeah, we can, actually, and we did.'"

Taking a bold, barebones tell-don't-show approach attracted the right kind of clients from the start, he says. Basecamp only showed work samples to potential customers who came to them first via the website.

Related: Juggling Too Many To-Dos? Try These Helpful Task Management Apps.

"We didn't lead with the work. We led with our ideas and our minds, and the customers who believed in what we were saying and doing came. It was unusual and it gave us permission to do a string of other things that were unusual, and that why we're still here 15 years later."

If you list it, they will come. Just ask Buzzfeed.

2. Let your employees work wherever they want, anywhere in the world. While he recognizes that telecommuting isn't for everyone, Fried remains an outspoken advocate for hiring the best people you can find, regardless of where they are. "The more you trust people to do their jobs, in front of your or not, the better work you're going to get from them anyway."

In his best-selling book about the rise of telecommuting, Remote: Office Not Required (Crown Business, 2013), he argues that embracing remote work is "commonsensical," offering "access to the best talent, freedom from soul-crushing commutes, and increased productivity outside the traditional office."

Fried says bosses spin all kinds of excuses not to hire telecommuters because they're afraid it will take away some of their power. "Their job is to manage you, to oversee and to watch over, and if they can't see people [employees], then they feel like they're losing something themselves and they can't do a good job."

Related: How the Silicon Valley Entrepreneur Stereotype Is Killing Entrepreneurship

No one's looking over anyone's shoulder at Basecamp. The company started as a core team of telecommuters and it still is today, only bigger. It now has just under four dozen full-time staffers flung across 30 cities throughout world, including in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Russia and Europe. Only 14 people, Fried among them, work out of Basecamp's 10,000-square-foot headquarters, formerly Crate and Barrel's photo studio, located in Chicago's West Loop neighborhood.

3. Just say no to PR, advertising and salespeople. If you position your value proposition -- and your brand story -- on your website in a straightforward, succinct and sincere way, you might never have to spring for marketing and advertising.

"That's why we don't have any salespeople," Fried says. "We never have, and we've signed up thousands of customers without a single one."

In its early days, he says Basecamp hired a PR firm but quickly ditched it. "It just wasn't the thing for us. Instead we chose to be opinionated and share our stories openly and without pulling punches, without being afraid. When you do that, people pay attention and you build a really loyal following."

Related: When to Say No to Venture Capital

Instead of spending on marketing and advertising, Fried suggests regularly putting out your own high-quality content, just like a magazine or an author would, "and not just to build a customer base, but to build an audience, too." Spin your own messages your way.

"That way you won't have to invest in expensive campaigns because people will already be waiting for what you have to say, and sometimes you'll say you're selling a new product."

4. Don't be self-centered. It's perfectly normal, even expected, that you talk up your brand from time to time. But it's never okay to do it to the point of overkill, as in every day. Fried stresses only puffing up your own company "occasionally."

"No one cares about or wants to follow someone who's just talking about themselves," he says.

To avoid brand burnout, Basecamp purposely breaks up announcements about its products and services by writing even more about topics its current and potential clients are most likely interested in.

Related: 10 Legendary Maverick Entrepreneurs

Fried and his colleagues do this passionately and often on Basecamp's popular blog, Signal vs. Noise, which attracts some 100,000 readers per day, he says. It's a long-form sounding board where staffers share their opinions on a smorgasbord of web content- and design-related subjects, like "why most copywriting on the web sucks" and "The problem with the tech world's "swing for the fences' approach." Companies that are similarly "Bootstrapped, Profitable, and Proud" are called out on the site from time to time as well.

"The blog helped us slowly but surely build up a fan base that was interested in products we launched, like when we rolled out the original Basecamp tool in 2004. Our readers were mostly designers, people who would actually be our customers. It's been an organic word-of-mouth spread ever since."

5. Don't act like a Silicon Valley startup. In Fried's view, the stereotypical Silicon Valley darling asks people to put in ungodly hours, raises a bunch of money, raises some more, then tries to sell the company in a few years or go public. "To me, that's about the end game. It's not about building something that lasts, something with consistency and continuity."

He says companies big and small in the trendy tech hotbed tend to suffer from homogenous "groupthink," which gives them a "distorted sense of reality" everywhere else. "Silicon Valley's such a bubble that it's hard [for companies there] to get a perspective on what customers really do care about on what's really going on outside of that bubble."

Related: 10 Questions to Ask Before Allowing Employees to Telecommute

Unlike many Silicon Valley startups and corporations, Fried doesn't ask his employees to put in 70, 80 or even 90 hours a week. "When you're part of that, when you're over there, when you're in that world, that becomes normal and I don't think it's normal at all. There's nothing normal about burning people out."

Fried's solution for employee burnout: Let them work less. Every year, from May to October, Basecamp transitions to a four-day workweek ("not 40 hours crammed into four days, but 32 hours comfortably fit into four days"). The main benefit, he said in a New York Times op-ed, is better work. "When there's less time to work, you waste less time."

Full disclosure: The writer of this article has been a paying Basecamp subscriber for several years and currently is.

Related: When Does Switching to a Remote Workplace Make Sense?

Kim Lachance Shandrow

Former West Coast Editor

Kim Lachance Shandrow is the former West Coast editor at Previously, she was a commerce columnist at Los Angeles CityBeat, a news producer at MSNBC and KNBC in Los Angeles and a frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Times. She has also written for Government Technology magazine, LA Yoga magazine, the Lowell Sun newspaper,, and the former U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. C. Everett Coop. Follow her on Twitter at @Lashandrow. You can also follow her on Facebook here

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Side Hustle

This Dad Started a Side Hustle to Save for His Daughter's College Fund — Then It Earned $1 Million and Caught Apple's Attention

In 2015, Greg Kerr, now owner of Alchemy Merch, was working as musician when he noticed a lucrative opportunity.

Growing a Business

Bantam Bagels' Founder Fell Into a Mindset Trap 'People Don't Talk About' After Selling the Now-Defunct Business for $34 Million — Here's What Happened

Elyse Oleksak and her husband Nick founded their mini bagel business in 2013 — and it was an instant hit.

Business News

I Designed My Dream Home For Free With an AI Architect — Here's How It Works

The AI architect, Vitruvius, created three designs in minutes, complete with floor plans and pictures of the inside and outside of the house.

Money & Finance

Setting Your Business Up for Success Through the Rest of 2024

CFO's mid-year update: Understanding the latest trends and regulations impacting business finance.

Business News

Yes, You Can Buy a Foldable Tiny Home on Amazon — And Now It's Selling for Less Than $12,000

The waterproof and flameproof house was listed around $35,000 a few months ago.

Thought Leaders

We Live in a Data-Driven World — Here's a Case For Listening to Your Gut Instead

Honing and trusting one's intuition can lead to quicker, more effective decision-making. Here's how to harness the power of listening to your gut to make the best choices.