Basecamp. We love it so much, we named our company after it in 2014. On our website, we say Basecamp is a private, secure space online where people working together can organize and discuss everything they need to get a project done. See it, track it, discuss it, act on it. Tasks, discussions, deadlines, and files — everything’s predictably organized in Basecamp. But we want it to be more than that. In mid-2016, we decided to focus on helping small business owners manage their businesses and help alleviate growth and organizational pains they’re facing. Project management was our bread and butter for over 15 years. But we were inspired by how we, internally, have used Basecamp to run Basecamp, and we want to extend that philosophy to our current customers and scores of brand-new customers.
But let’s take a look back. In 2003, Basecamp was called 37signals and was a web design firm made up of 4 people. We always had work, but we were disorganized. With so many concurrent projects, things began to slip through the cracks. Projects dragged on too long. We dropped the ball on key deliverables. We had some major miscommunication. As many people even still do, we relied on email for everything. Things inevitably got lost, people get left out of conversations, there’s nowhere to go to see what’s left to do.
So we started looking for a project management tool. We tried a few tools, but they were complicated and didn’t fit what we needed. Frustrated, we decided to build our own simple project management app. A few months later we had something ready, and we immediately started using this tool with our existing clients.
Lo and behold, our projects ran better! We regained the sense of order and calmness we’d been craving. And clients noticed — they really appreciated the improved communication and organization. Soon after, our clients started asking us what software we were using to run these projects. Turns out they wanted to use it for their own in-house projects! So, we polished it up and put it on the market. On February 5th, 2004, Basecamp was born, and within a year, Basecamp was generating more income for us than our web design business, so we shuttered the web design firm to focus solely on Basecamp. That original Basecamp is called Basecamp Classic, and it still retains quite a few loyal customers! In 2012, we released our second version of Basecamp, referred to as BCX.
Fast forward to 2014. We’d been feeling pulled in too many directions for too long. Campfire, Highrise, Backpack, and a host of other products were taking away from what we really wanted to do: maintain and improve Basecamp. So we spun off, sold, or otherwise sunset our ancillary products, and dedicated the entire company’s efforts to Basecamp. We even changed our name from 37signals to Basecamp to reflect the new direction. Finally, in 2015 we launched our third version of Basecamp, called BC3.
HEY is our love letter to email. While our internal communications are almost exclusively in Basecamp (with code reviews in GitHub the primary exception), we still correspond with some external service providers and customers via email. Every time we needed to do that, we felt the drag: how much harder it was to manage and stay on top of email. So we eventually decided to do something about it. After over two years of work, we launched HEY in June 2020.
When 37signals became Basecamp in 2014, we decided to spin off or sell our other (very successful!) applications. One of those was Highrise, our customer relationship management (CRM) tool. Highrise became a subsidiary of Basecamp run by its own board, executive, and staff. In 2018, we took back control of Highrise, disbanded the separate company, and turned off new signups. Highrise is now, as Basecamp Classic, Basecamp 2, Backpack, and Campfire, part of our until-the-end-of-the-internet legacy. Maintained for existing customers, but no longer developed for new features or new customers.
Ten years ago, to-do list apps were few and far between. So, we created Ta-da List as a stand alone free subscription app at tadalist.com in January 2005. Now that people have to-do lists on their phones, desktops, laptops, tablets, and refrigerator doors, we recognized that Ta-da List was a little outdated. We closed new signups to tadalist.com in 2012, but existing customers were able to retain their accounts.
We created Backpack in May 2005 as a supplement to Basecamp Classic. Backpack existed as an organizer: “a place to keep life’s loose ends together”. Users could make lists, notes, add files, upload pictures, and create Writeboards to share with other users. When we restructured in 2014, we closed Backpack to new customers, but existing customers still use (and love!) Backpack.
A tool called Writeboards lives in Basecamp Classic and Backpack. A Writeboard functions as a very simple, minimally formattable text document. In October 2005, we launched Writeboards.com, so people who wanted to use the tool without a Basecamp or Backpack subscription could do so. When we became Basecamp in 2014, we retired Writeboards.com, but they still work in existing Basecamp Classic and Backpack accounts.
In 2006, we built Campfire to help businesses communicate better. It’s a simple, real-time web-based group chat tool that lets people set up password-protected chat rooms super quickly. At the very beginning it didn’t integrate with Basecamp, but when it did it took off. Signups for Campfire were closed in February 2017.
The 37signals Suite was a bundle of Basecamp Classic, Highrise, Backpack, and Campfire that allowed businesses to get big savings across the apps, simplify billing, and unify users across the apps. We retired the 37signals Suite offering after BCX was launched.
In 2012, we launched Echo, which turned into Breeze, a mailing list tool for small groups. We were excited about it, tried for a year to build up the product and bring in customers, but the product didn’t take off like we hoped it would. Only about 1,200 customers signed up in that year, so rather than watch it limp along, we closed it down in August 2013.
Unlike our other retired products, we refunded our customers’ money and closed the product entirely so not even existing customers could retain their subscription. We directed them to other small scale mailing list alternatives, and apologized for the hiccup.
Basecamp has run a job board since 2006, helping connect small businesses with good designers and programmers for full-time jobs, freelance gigs, and internships.
In 2014, Basecamp revamped our job board and launched We Work Remotely. After Jason and David published their book REMOTE, we realized we wanted to be on the forefront of promoting remote work. So, we created and hosted WeWorkRemotely.com, which contains job postings for programmers, designers, marketing professionals, customer service representatives, writers, and more — all remote work positions. To post a job, a company needs to fill out a form on our site with information about the job, pay Basecamp $200 for a 30 day posting, and then verify that they are in fact offering a remote job. We’ve posted over 3,500 jobs over the last few years. In Spring 2017, we sold We Work Remotely to Metalab, to cut down on manual labor taken to run the board and focus more on our core business — Basecamp!
In 2009, Basecamp launched Sortfolio (previously named Haystack) to help clients find the right web designer in a more efficient way. Clients are able to filter by city and typical budget range and then peruse the results in a more visual way. We ended up selling Sortfolio in 2013 to be able to focus more on Basecamp and allow another company to give Sortfolio the love and attention it deserves.
Know Your Team (formerly Know Your Company)
In 2013, Basecamp created a software tool that allows managers to ask questions to gain insight into what their employees think about work, the culture, the direction of the company, what people are working on, or even something personal like their favorite recent movie. We created Know Your Team because when the Basecamp team grew to about 30 people, Jason realized he didn’t know the company or its people as well as he should have. So, Know Your Team was created initially as an internal tool that eventually became a product that we sold to customers. In 2014, we sold Know Your Team to Claire Lew, and she’s been running it ever since!