Dare to be remarkable? You need to piss some people off
25 March 2017 | 2:32 pm

Art from Kuma’s Corner

Since taking over Highrise in 2014, we’ve heard a lot of feedback. A lot.

It was pent up. Highrise launched in 2007. There was a mostly aesthetic redesign in 2011 and then very little development afterwards. That was the reason to spin it off as its own company — so it could get the attention it deserved.

But OMG the feedback. You could point to any pixel on any page and we had at least 3 emails (more often dozens) on how someone wanted it changed or improved or enhanced for their use case.

The Highrise team wasn’t the original makers of the product though. We didn’t truly understand the core audience. So it was tough to filter out the feedback. Which of it is important? Which feedback might help us unlock more growth? Which should be prioritized?

No idea.

Worthy of being or likely to be noticed especially as being uncommon or extraordinary

My wife and I had lunch the other day at a burger joint near our home called Kumas. Its address: 666 Diversey.

“One who understands can calculate the number of the beast, for it is a number that stands for a person. His number is six hundred and sixty-six” (Rev. 13:18)

666 — the mark of the Beast. The Devil.

This wasn’t an unlucky coincidence. Kuma’s embraces all things heavy metal. The burgers and cocktails are all named after heavy metal bands: Slayer, Black Sabbath, Pantera. There’s band posters everywhere. Heavy metal on the TV. And the most obvious — continuous heavy metal blaring throughout.

There are people in my life who would enjoy eating Kuma’s burgers, but I couldn’t take them there. They’d be extremely uncomfortable.

Kuma’s is alienating potential customers. Their slogan:

Kuma’s has made very simple and yet very strong choices about the business they want to run and product they want to serve. They have no intention of catering to everyone.

And that is one reason they are so remarkable. Kuma’s now at 5 locations is often mentioned as one of the best burgers in Chicago.

Most of us try to cater to everyone. We take customer feedback, and say “We’ll certainly consider doing that.” We try to balance all the requests and make the product that makes the most people happy.

And then we wonder why we’re lost in the crowd. We all look the same.

I think some of our work at Highrise suffers from trying to cater to everyone. I know it does.

Over the last couple years it’s been tough to make strong and sometimes alienating choices about where our product will go since we only had a vague view of who was using the product.

Recently however, we’ve done a series of customer interviews that have made that so much clearer. I can see exactly who is using the product and why they came in the first place.

Someone the other day mentioned if we could add Markdown as a way to style Notes in Highrise. I enjoy Markdown, I’m using it this very second to write these words in Draft (writing software I’ve made). We’ve received this same request dozens of times. I’ve told requesters before: “We’ll certainly consider adding Markdown as we improve the product in the future.”

I feel much more confidant now saying, “We won’t be adding Markdown to Highrise.” The core job we set out to accomplish for the customers who need us the most doesn’t entail supporting Markdown to format their Notes. That’s not to say they don’t need better Note formatting. But our core customers need a CRM immediately that takes zero training to get their team started. Our killer feature: no manual needed. Markdown always needs a manual for the unfamiliar. And our customers are mostly unfamiliar with Markdown.

I realize they may be at least one person reading this hoping we’ll add Markdown to Highrise who will look elsewhere for a Markdown friendly CRM. That’s fine. It won’t be us.

Doing that series of customer interviews has given me much more courage to make choices like Kumas. I know it won’t make everyone happy, but at least we’ll have a chance at being remarkable.

P.S. If you enjoyed this article, please help spread it by clicking that below. And if you are interested in more, you should follow my YouTube channel, where I share more about how history, psychology, and science can help us come up with better ideas and start businesses. And if you need a simple system to track leads and follow-ups you should give Highrise a look.

Dare to be remarkable? You need to piss some people off was originally published in Signal v. Noise on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The importance of sucking
23 March 2017 | 5:58 pm

Lessons from a bruised leg…

My leg looked liked this a few months ago:


No, I didn’t get surgery. No, I was not mauled by a bear.

I went snowboarding for the very first time over New Year’s.

The experience was brutal, needless to say. I fell probably a hundred times. Over and over and over. For those of you who’ve learned to snowboard before, you know what I’m talking about :-)

Surprisingly, the most painful part of the experience was not the physical aching of my knees or my wrists or my butt.

Rather, the greatest pain I felt was a sinking sensation I had in the pit of my stomach: I was really bad at snowboarding. I wasn’t picking it up “as fast as I thought I was supposed to.” I was frustrated and embarrassed.

I recall thinking to myself, “Maybe snowboarding just isn’t meant for me…

Then, I tried to remember the last time I felt this way. When was the last time I was this bad at something?

I couldn’t remember. I couldn’t remember the last time I was this outside my comfort zone. I hadn’t dared to suck at something — to allow myself to be vulnerable, to look a little “dumb” to my friends — in a very, very long time.

As adults, we gravitate toward the things that we initially have the least resistance to. The new hobbies I’ve tried to pick up as an adult — whether it’s screen printing or yin yoga — are all things I’ve already had a predisposition for. I’ve already been painting and doing yoga for quite a while. It wasn’t a stretch to try those new mediums and related activities.

But with snowboarding, I was in foreign territory. I wasn’t predisposed to snowboarding. And I’d forgotten the importance of doing the things you’re not predisposed to.

When you let yourself be bad at something, you regain your humility. Sucking at something humbles you. As adults, we protect our egos by not allowing ourselves to be bad at things.

You also remember what the point of learning is: to learn. When you learn, you mess around and you mess up. You’re not supposed to be proficient from the get-go.

And, you rediscover that persistence leads to progress. Day 3 of snowboarding was 10X better than Day 1. I got better. In fact, I got back from my second snowboarding trip just yesterday… and I did a few runs without falling once!

I couldn’t be more grateful that I was so bad at snowboarding. It was the reminder I needed to push myself outside my comfort zone more often. To fight the instinct to expect excellence when I learn something new.

Now, I want to seek out more things I’ll suck at.

How about you?

Have you had your own “snowboarding moment” when you realized the importance of being bad at something? Would love to hear from you in the comments or on Twitter (I’m at @cjlew23).

And, if one of the things you feel you’re bad at is giving feedback… we can help. Our software Know Your Company makes giving open, honest feedback in the workplace feel easy and friendly — not dreaded and a drag. Give Know Your Company a spin today.

The importance of sucking was originally published in Signal v. Noise on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

A static business is a healthy business
22 March 2017 | 10:08 pm

Is that the sun? No, it’s our business. Read on…

Aim for many nondescript dots, not a few obvious ones

Last year I wrote an article suggesting that you shouldn’t let any one (or small group) of customers overpay you.

If you have a small handful of customers paying you significantly more than most of your customers, you’re no longer a product company — you’re actually a consulting company working for those big payers. You’ll do what they say — often at the detriment of your smaller customers — because the big guys pay the big bucks.

And if you don’t follow their money with your effort, an exodus of just one or two big customers could seriously impact your bottom line. It could put you at major risk.

So instead we take the other approach — a broad customer base where nearly everyone pays us roughly the same amount per month, all things considered. Over 100,000 companies pay for Basecamp, and we don’t play favorites.

Remember that picture up at the top of this article? This one…

Our star

That chart represents the lifetime revenue per Basecamp account. Each dot represents the lifetime $billings of a single account.

See how uniform that is? It looks like static. Static is a healthy business. No outliers, no major splotches. If you removed any one dot — or even any 10, 20, or 100 dots — you’d barely notice. You could probably remove 1000 random dots and it would still look the same.

You know what else it looks like? Insulation. Because it is insulation — insulation from risk. We wouldn’t want this to happen, but because our revenue is so equally distributed across a large number of independent customers, if a random 10% of our customers left tomorrow, we’d be fine. We’d never have to cross our fingers and hope that “Customer X” wasn’t part of that 10%. Can you say that about your business?

If you mapped your customers like this, what would your your star look like? If you started pulling away your 10 biggest customers, would you see big gaps, or would the holes be swallowed up by the whole? Would it be obvious with a few removed or would you be able to even tell the difference? Are you diversified or dangerously dedicated to a few big bets?

Over 100,000 companies pay for Basecamp. If you’re still running your business on email, text, chat, and meetings, come on over and see how much better things can be with Basecamp 3. There’s nothing else out there like it.

A static business is a healthy business was originally published in Signal v. Noise on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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