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Ask HN: Companies with a culture similar to Basecamp's?
103 points by kxr on Dec 27, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 54 comments
I am a big fan of how Basecamp is run as a company, and of the work environment they create for their employees. (Or at least seem to. I don't have first-hand experience.)

You can get a sense of their philosophy by reading what the company's cofounders have written on the subject [0][1]. They've even written a book about it.

You may not buy it, and that is absolutely fine.

If you do however, and if you've ever worked at a company that works similarly, can you post about it here?

[0] https://medium.com/@dhh [1] https://medium.com/@jasonfried

Plenty of companies if you don't limit yourself to "startups".

For instance, my company (I'm the Director of Technology) is like that (just listened to DHH's interview on Ruby Rogues this morning, so many of these are fresh in my mind):

1) Pay talent fairly

2) Customers are more important than technology

3) Small team

4) Reasonable hours

5) Tight focus

6) Trust your talent

7) Remote friendly (people think this first when they think Basecamp, but I think that's just one piece of the culture)

(And since it will be asked: No, we're not currently "hiring", but always interested in conversations if you reach out to me)

Great advice. Here’s a good list of remote-friendly companies: https://github.com/remoteintech/remote-jobs/blob/master/READ...

Discourse is not hiring right now but we will definitely be hiring a lot more in the year to come. We’re all of the things above, plus a 100% Rails based, open source product.

I'm the CTO at Parse.ly, you can visit us at https://parse.ly.

We run a fully distributed team. We have commented on our culture around this in these two blog posts--

The How & Why of Parse.ly's Fully Distributed Team:


Fully Remote, But Here For Each Other:


We actually recommend "Rework" and "Remote" as two reading materials for new hires when they join the company.

As for financing, Parse.ly is no longer a bootstrapped company, but we do take a "lean" approach to SaaS VC fundraising.

My co-founder wrote a bit about this in this post--

A Different Way — Thoughtful Financing, Or Why We Said "No" to a Lot of Money:


Slightly offtopic but I went to your homepage to check it out. Immediately loved how it looked, but found it hard to find out what products are actually on offer until I went to the separate product pages. In the first two screens of the homepage, the general gist of your products doesn't become clear to me, only your specific Facebook/AMP product. After the first screen ("Do incredible things with your data") I expected the second screen to tell me what those were, and so I would've thought you offered only AMP/facebook stuff, hadn't I noticed later on that it was a "product update".

Just my 2 cts.

Thanks for the feedback. Interestingly, we plan on revamping our homepage and flow a bit in early 2018 to make that sort of thing clearer. Appreciate the comment!

Only a cheeky jab but in fairness it was the first thing I saw in your job ads

> Parse.ly is looking for a motivated Business Development Representative [..] The position will be based in our New York City headquarters

Do you have any concerns of having a HQ and remote workers? From what I've seen and heard from mixed businesses the remote workers tend to become second class citizens when it comes to benefits/promotions/salary/etc. How do you avoid that, if you do?

Great question!

We have two departments, broadly "Business" and "Product". With over 60 full-timers working with the company now, it's important to recognize that these two departments have different cultures, and BDRs joining the Business team end up having a bit of a different experience than, say, a Python programmer joining our Product team.

The "Business" department is centered around sales, marketing, finance, and operations. It only formed as a (large) department of its own in the last 3 years and it has a significant presence in NYC. However, business team hires are even told that "NYC is not HQ" on their first day, and that a better way to think of the office is as the "NYC Internet Cafe". It's a nice Internet Cafe, though! Gigabit Internet, mesh wifi network, and standard issue bamboo sit/stand desks.

The "Product" department is centered around engineering (mostly Python programming), user experience (mostly JavaScript programming) and design (graphic/web). I'm one of the two co-founders of the company and I lead the Product team, and, importantly, I am not based in NYC. This team is 100% remote, and has about 25 people on it. Everyone on this team works either from their (tailored/optimized) home office or from a co-working space. There are actually zero full-time hires on Product that are based in NYC -- this usually elicits some surprise from office visitors.

There is a legitimate concern for some of the Business team hires that if you are not based in NYC but your team lead or some of your team colleagues are, you might suffer from "out of band communication". We try to reduce this by forcing people in the office to use Slack and video conferencing (our conference rooms are set up for GHangouts and Zoom.us) instead of "shout-net" (that is, shouting rudely across the office). This is only a concern on our marketing and support teams, where they have a geographically spread-out team but with a lot of folks in NYC, as well. But they've navigated it well. It doesn't affect our Product team in the slightest because, as I mentioned, we have no team members in NYC and "NYC is just an Internet cafe".

Funny enough, one of our highest-performing salespeople had her best year ever while doing "Remote Year". She wrote about her experience on Remote Year here: https://blog.parse.ly/post/3538/digital-nomad-sales/

We do sometimes use NYC as a retreat location for our Product team. Since it's an easy city to fly to and we have co-working space available via the office, it's often used for week-long hacking sessions of small sub-teams on Product.

p.s. as a result of your comment, I'm going to have the person in charge of hiring Business Development Reps remove 'headquarters' from the job posting -- I think it was just an innocent terminology mistake when drafting the job req.

Thank you for the reply!

Just to note the reason I was asking wasn't to catch you out or anything, I'm trying to encourage a remote work situation at the day job but it always comes down to "we need everyone in the office because communication". Always good to have a few ideas ready to roll in the pocket :)

Why Rework? I'm hoping I missed something the first time I read it, it seems like it would had been better as an office calendar than a book.

I think both Rework and Remote are quick and easy reads that espouse a philosophy toward work that is anti-political, individual contributor focused, and no-BS. That's all I really need for a new hire to feel, so it works for me!

Hijacking the thread a bit, but are there any published negative experiences about working at Basecamp? Everything I know about Basecamp's culture comes from their owners - obviously it is in their interest to be very enthousiastic about it, especially since their product supports a company with their culture particularly well.

There must be downsides. Right? Are there any? For real people at Basecamp?

I have a friend who's close to DHH. He claims that Basecamp has a very very very selective recruiting process. To the point where finding talent is extremely difficult. I suspect their litmus for excellence is the real reason their seemingly "guardrail-free culture" works as well as it does, not the other way around.

Is there any insight publicly available regarding their hiring processes? I am interested in successful small software companies practices in particular, not google/facebook/et al, scale.

Given their retention rates, I'm pretty sure they're doing well in "reality." I don't have data handy, but last time I heard about it, they have very low attrition.

Here’s one which isn’t exactly negative (and note that it’s hosted on their blog...) but does have an example of an employee running up against some limits. Found it pretty thought-provoking when originally published:


I liked parts of the article but this passage really struck me as cultish:

> He [the founder] was right. He was absolutely right. In hindsight, this was something I [the employee] should have thought to talk to him about from the start. But it never occurred to me, and David’s insistence that we not teach the seminars was like a bucket of ice water over my head. I felt like I had been punched in the gut. The metaphorical rug had been pulled out from under me.

> I don’t fault David at all, and I even agree that he was right to do what he did. But at the time I felt immensely betrayed. Capistrano was supposed to be my baby! Why, then, had I just discovered a limit beyond which I was not allowed to take it?

You had a disagreement with your boss and you eventually came round to his position... but it's written like a paean to Basecamp's founder.

I get that the author could totally feel this way... I still would have asked for him to tone it down a notch, lest people think the company was forcing an apology.

I work for Aha![0]. I'm wary of trying to define the culture of one company in terms of another, so I'll just tell you about where I work, and you can decide.

We are a fully distributed team, and we build a lovable product. We published a book called Lovability[1] to help explain how we do it. We support each other, congratulate each other, and push hard to make it happen; these things require trust and talent in every part of the organization. I am a better person (and engineer) for having worked at this company.

Here are the pillars of our culture[2]:

    * Have purpose: You know what you are working towards. You are aware of what success is and guided back to the purpose if you wind up in the weeds.
    * Value work: You have the opportunity to achieve and to do something important. Doing great work is valued and recognized.
    * Teach hard: Direct feedback is given on a regular basis to help you improve your skills every day.
    * Grows talent: There is a framework for success, people are trained on it and given room to grow. There is trust that people will step into challenging roles as the organization needs them to. Promotions occur from within.
    * Honor reality: Neither time nor money is invested in manipulation. Work is guided by values and purpose.
    * Work it: Work sometimes requires great effort. However, it does not burn you out but instead keeps you going.

Some of my favorite blog posts:

  * https://blog.aha.io/your-success-think-like-a-grandpa/
  * all of these :) - https://blog.aha.io/author/why-i-joined-aha/
  * https://blog.aha.io/your-remote-co-workers-feel-left-out/
  * https://blog.aha.io/hey-boss-stop-telling-me-to-bring-you-solutions/

[0] https://aha.io

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Lovability-Build-Business-People-Happ...

[2] https://blog.aha.io/signs-you-love-your-job/

I work at Zapier and have for more than 2 years. Internally, we talk about Basecamp as one of the ideals we strive for and reference their writing frequently.

We're all remote and pride ourselves on being humble, helpful and have a proper work life balance. We sometimes describe it as a midwestern work ethic.

I'm not a founder or executive at Zapier so I can't pitch it from that perspective but as a happy employee and fellow fan of Basecamp I think you should check us out.


Auth0 is probably pretty close. I spent 3 years there (recently left, but not because of anything negative with the company). They hire remote, they are super flexible with work hours, etc. Culture is that of basically be responsible and get your work done. Really high bar on hiring though so it can be tough to get in, but if you do get in it’s an awesome place to work. Retention is super high - I was one of the few people who have ever left the company voluntarily. ;)

I know they are hiring for lots of positions as well. auth0.com/jobs

I assume you meant retention is super high :)

Yes. Thanks. :)

A similar one IMO would be Buffer. Remote, extremely transparent, treating their employees and customer well, etc. One big difference is that Buffer, while initially bootstrapped, did eventually raise VC money, while Basecamp famously never has. You can read more about Buffer at their company blog: https://open.buffer.com/

What does this company actually do? I read through their site and it's just really vague, to me at least.

You might have just been on their blog. If you go to buffer.com you'll see they are a social media management tool

I think they are similar to Publer [https://superpubler.com], and allow you to automate your social media postings and schedule them in future

They provide a tool set for scheduling marketing content across multiple social media services.

Originally, it was built just to schedule tweets in the future.

Also worth noting that they are highly popular among marketers and community managers. It does not say anything about "what they do", but I guess it says something about how well they do it :)

it lets you send out tweets on a schedule.

We (Balsamiq) look up to Basecamp quite a bit, and people have compared our culture to theirs. Check out our blog for some of our policies and other stuff. Any questions, I'm here.


As a user and recommender of your product in the past, that was always the vibe I got from your company. You seemed to espouse many of the same characteristics as basecamp, and I thought of you as very closely related in my mind.

If you were building a super minimal web CMS, what features would be a must have?

Thank you! About a super minimal web CMS... I wouldn't build one. We can discuss more over email if you'd like, so we don't highjack the thread: peldi@balsamiq.com

Hey Peldi,

Do you have remote?

Yes, we're mostly remote.


it's a great question to ask. Lots of great takeaways to be had from their culture, and many would do well to try and adopt some of them.

But what i've observed is there is a tendency to rationalize away much of what basecamp advocates. Sure, it SOUNDS smart and good, but who needs frameworks really? "Rails is overkill" Or work/life balance? "it's about the hustle" or job satisfaction? "we're changing the world of ___".

Basecamp is championed because at every decision, a reflection is made on the impact it has on the workers. That's why they created ruby on rails and why it is the most productive and enjoyable to use. That's why they hire remote and build a tool that helps remote workers. That's why they have sane project schedules, sane work schedules, and give back where they can. They are a creator focused organization, and optimize for creativity and focus.

Most companies do not make such optimizations for their workforce. They have their own specific vision, their own timetable, and their own checkboxes to hit: staffing numbers, tech stack choices, retention numbers, sales goals, etc. To them, workers are more cog-like and treated as such. There's also often venture funding involved - which creates specific pressures that basecamp is specifically free from.

TLDR: It takes a degree of humility, stubbornness, charity, empathy and perspective to do the things basecamp does for the reasons basecamp does it; that most do not posses or have interest in. But we would do well to raise these as standards and expectations; the demand for real leadership of a company.

I work remotely for WorkBeast, a staffing company. We're not tech-driven or a startup, but we're bootstrapped and profitable. My workdays are spent on our custom internal CRM (Rails + AngularJS). I respond directly to the CEO, and have a lot of freedom and responsibility when it comes to my job.

Prior I worked for a handful of local startups and digital agencies - this is the closest to Basecamp culture I've found so far.

Some small non-tech companies share more in common with Basecamp than a lot of tech companies do.

(Sorry, we're not hiring.)

I realize this is off topic. Hope you don’t mind a couple of questions - I’m always interested in companies which choose to invest in custom-built software for seemingly non-core functions.

What was the justification for building an internal CRM vs customizing an API-rich commercial system like Pipedrive. How was the decision made? Did you review SAAS or installed offerings first? Do you consider CRM to be a core part of the business, or does it offer a competitive advantage to the company?


No worries! Unfortunately, the decision was made long before my arrival, so I'm not entirely sure - but I asked about that too during my interview. My CEO reviewed a few SAAS including Salesforce but none of them made sense for how he worked.

Now, I've reviewed SAAS for other purposes with him, and my guess is that pitches went poorly. My boss is particular about his business, and I've witnessed more than one demo fall apart when customization came up.

The CRM could someday be a core part of the business. It probably offers us the same competitive advantage that a secret recipe benefits a restaurant. I've also integrated into it some nifty functionality I haven't seen yet on the market. But ultimately, the business is driven by staffing.

Cloudreach is an amazing place to work for!

Been voted amongst the greatest places to work a number of times, and it's for good reason... the projects are challenging, the perks are amazing, the people are wonderful, company is growing very fast and they live up to its core values:

  * Be easy to work with
  * Promote personal growth
  * Be one step ahead
  * Respect the individual and individuality
Feel free to find me, I'd be happy to help out.

My company runs a very similar operation -- everyone works remotely, open hours, etc. The main difference is do not code in ruby (python) and we build a variety of different products for clients, we are not maintaining our own software.

For more info, see: https://www.mathandpencil.com

I've seen companies that share some (or most) of Basecamp's culture, but I've yet to see one that truly values "personal time" by having a 4-day work week during the summer.

And not that 10 hours for 4 days schedule, but actually 8 hours for 4 days.

Treehouse had a (year-round) 4day/32hour week for a while. But seem to have abandoned it now...

(I’m all for shorter work weeks but the seasonality of the Basecamp version seems to make a few assumptions...)

Good point about the seasonality issue. I do wonder if they will eventually make it the norm if they see there is no real productivity drop.

Customer.io will come pretty close! Fully remote, great team, great culture. I've only recently started working here, but it's been a great place to work. Their interview process was also the best I've come across so far.

Check out GitLab. I don't know how similar their culture actually is to Basecamp, but they seem to put a lot of importance on doing everything possible in the open, so you really get what seems like a good sense of what they are about from reading job postings, their public ops runbooks, mission statements, etc...

In no small part due to that, they are one of the very few companies that I would actively like to work for and frequently check job postings. Unfortunately production ruby experience is a hard requirement for them now, and I've always been in .net/c# + nodejs at work, and my side projects have always been java, node, and python. When I start looking for a new job, the opportunity to get some production Ruby experience somewhere is going to be in the back of my mind as a benefit, just so the door to a job at GitLab might be open in the future.

Is it just me or is their published compensation algorithm not competitive at all? I put in my information and it had me at a ~40k pay cut which seems silly.

I've noticed that. I'm not 100% sure what the deal is.

From what I know, my one major gripe is that they devalue you based on where you live.

Yeah, I actually removed myself from their recruitment pipeline a ways back because I saw the salary calculator. It does not and will not ever make sense to pay talent based on anything other than productivity. Where I choose to live should have no bearing on how much I get paid, ever.

Lots of remote companies if you look hard enough. Wikipedia and Automatic come to mind.

It’s about more than just remote working though. 4 days a week to allow personal time in summer, treating employees as adults (for example credit cards with no approval process for purchases), using asynchronous communications wherever possible so no-one is interrupted are just a few of the things they implement.

Healthy work/life balance and career/personal development as well.

I like this question. Well I can talk about my company. I'm the CTO of http://prestofood.it a small delivery food company based on Sicily. We started with fews resources and we made around 3.000 orders per month. We started from one city with a small team 2 developers. Here our initial configuration:

* Heroku 7.00 per month

* Rails app

* Android and iOS app developed with Turbolinks plugin.

Now we are in 3 other cities and we made a cms and backoffice to handle the orders workflow and we developed a printer system with raspberry-pi. Currently we are the biggest company of delivery food in the south of Italy. We have no investors

Your reply reads like an advertisement for your company, and doesn't mention anything about your corporate culture, which is what OP was asking about.

I think that people that read this news are not our potential customer :) Our culture is implicit in our It stack, we started really small and growing around of orders number with no following the current startup culture(that basecamp team doesn't like it ) We started small and stay still small.

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