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What’s happening at Basecamp?

I’ll admit it: this one has been difficult to read about and think through on my end. Basecamp is one of my favorite companies out there, if not the most favorite. I’ve followed the company, its work, and ideas since the early days of my career. I’m a customer of both of Basecamp’s current products and many others throughout the years. I’ve made most of my career working in Rails, created by David Heinemeier Hansson and in large part the team at Basecamp. So it stings a bit to see a company you admire miss the mark.

Miss the mark they did. This one is a mess and they’re feeling the heat from the community right now, for good reason.

It started this week with a post from Jason Fried about some changes at Basecamp. Several of them are worth discussion, but the one that has been causing most of the discussion is this point:

No more societal and political discussions on our company Basecamp account

My initial reaction to all of this is that it shouldn’t be happening in public. Basecamp is not a public company and its internal discussions and happenings aren’t really the business of any of us. If they are having an issue with political discussions internally, then they should sort it out internally.

Why is the CEO of a company letting its employees know about a very controversial change with a public blog post? Reading a few accounts of Basecamp employees I follow it’s clear that they were not briefed on these changes before the public post. This is a complete failure of leadership on many levels, but the most egregious is not handling it delicately with your employees before (if at all) posting the news to the public.

I’m not saying that the decision to make this change was a good one. But if you’re going to make such a change: talk with your people about it, understand them, and make sure it’s the right move to make. Starting the discussion in public communicates very clearly that the changes are not negotiable the decision is made regardless of how it will impact and affect the team. I think that’s wrong.

Here are a few other of the links and interesting happenings regarding this story:

  • Casey Newton, writing in his excellent Platformer newsletter, had some insight and details from employee interviews yesterday. It seems that a certain list of customer names from years ago had caused some of the internal controversy which led to the changes. It is worth a read to understand some of the reaction from various folks within the company itself.
  • DHH followed up this morning with another post “letting out” all of the details mentioned in Casey’s article from yesterday. This includes a brief note about offering severance to any employees that want to leave the company.
  • The Basecamp Rework podcast is “going dark” with a very odd message from the hosts, Wailin Wong and Shaun Hildner, about not being sure they want to continue. Yikes, this is a mess. Listen to the awkwardness in their voices.