Success On Rails
We are beginning a series of short, snappy interviews, on some of the world’s biggest achievers who’s lives we believe can inspire us all to achieve great things. The first of these is David Heinemeier Hansson, partner of Basecamp (formerly 37signals). David is a Danish programmer and the creator of the popular Ruby on Rails web development framework and the Instiki wiki, and has been coveted by organisations such as Google for his contribution to the tech world.
We were keen to know whether his success with Basecamp was a full time endeavour from the start, or whether it’s possible to have something as a side project and still give it the time and energy that it deserves.
“That’s how we did it with Basecamp. It started as a side-project that we were doing next to projects that were actually paying the bills. We basically treated Basecamp as one client out of many. I spent about 10 hours/week on the technical side, and I would imagine Ryan and Jason spent about the same, or maybe a little more, on the design side. It wasn’t until a year after launching Basecamp that it was able to pay our salaries and we could focus on it full time.”
In his personal life, David is also an accomplished racing car driver, competing in Le Mans 24 and joining the OAK Racing team in 2013. With more than just a little air of Tony Stark about him, we asked whether it was important to have passions outside of your work, and if it can be difficult to switch off to pursue them.
“I think it’s imperative that you involve your life with other things besides work if you intend to do it for the long term. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Dull in productivity, dull in creativity, dull in life’s worth. I find that many of my best insights for work and the company come when I return from being away for a bit.”
While many of us can identify with the need for a break, often it’s easy to get trapped in an all or nothing mindset which can lead to burning out, fast. The idea that one of the tech world’s leading innovators has his best ideas away from the computer may provide a refreshing take on what productivity really looks like. But is it hard for a pioneer in the digital age to stay motivated about your product? And is it tempting to want to go on and create something else just as great and do it all again?
“Motivation is easy when you love what you do and you believe in the benefit you’re bringing to the world. We’ve helped millions of people work on projects together of all sorts and magnitude. That’s a fulfilling pursuit. At the same time, we get to explore our creativity by constantly redesigning and reimagining the core product. And finally, work is one factor out of several to complete a good life style – not the only one. Sticking with it is the hardest goal of all. Everyone wants to be a serial-entrepreneur these days, it seems. Not I. I’d be perfectly content if Basecamp is the last professional endeavour I partake in. That doesn’t mean I can’t also enjoy working on other things, but Basecamp is not a stepping stone to something else. It’s a destination in itself.”
At 35 years old, to have such international acclaim can have adverse affects on your ego and character. And yet David comes across grounded and pragmatic. When asked on how he maintains his level headed mindset, he offers the following advice –
“Never listen too much to neither praise nor scorn. Set your own measurement of improvement and success. There is no single piece of advice that’s going to solve it all. Getting good and having success is a collection of a thousand little things.”
So what does the future hold for one of the tech world’s most brilliant minds? Is it likely that we will see him moving onto other companies and working his way up the corporate ladder? We asked whether David was bored now he’s achieved so many of his goals, and what his dream CEO position would be with any company in the world – his answer will be reassuring to all Basecamp users out there.
“I wouldn’t trade Basecamp for any other company in the world. I’m content, which is a very tranquil state of being. It’s not ecstatic, it’s not bored. It’s a sustainable, rewarding place where there’s nothing I have to prove, none I have to convince. I can just spend my days making great software for both customers and friends in the open source world. Couldn’t imagine anything better than that.”