The Focusing Power of “No”

Lance Discipline, Excellence Leave a Comment

I just love this.

We also established very clearly from the start that we’d never allow a customer to pay us more than that top-tier price. Not even for a customized version of Basecamp for a massive enterprise company that’s offering to throw $100,000 our way. We would never waver from our mantra: If you’re a big company with special demands, we don’t want your money.

We believe if you have a large pool of customers all paying you roughly the same amount, and then a small handful of customers paying you 100x that much, you’re no longer a product company — you’re actually a consulting company working for those big payers. You’ll do what they say because they pay.

Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson, and the rest of the crew at Basecamp understand the power of focus, of disciplined refusal, and of the humble aspiration of excellence. As they put it in their fabulous book, Rework:

Great businesses have a point of view, not just a product or service. …

We’re willing to lose some customers if it means that others love our products intensely. That’s our line in the sand. …

There’s no point in selling a few more sandwiches if the bread isn’t good. A few bucks isn’t going to make up for selling food we can’t be proud of.

It’s a message they have been living from their first days as 37signals, an interface design company of four:

Not Full Service

We’re designated hitters

We don’t do your database integration. Or your search engine submissions. Or your online media buying. We do interfaces and the strategy behind them.

Why? Because we think companies that claim they can do everything actually excel at nothing. That’s why we choose to do one thing and do it right.

Being Excellent often times meaning using the word “No” to leave money on the table and lay down the ambition of being the Biggest.