Jason Fried: How Covid Changes Work and Industries, and Designing for Platforms

Jason Fried: How Covid Changes Work and Industries, and Designing for Platforms.

We talked with Jason Fried, founder of Basecamp and Hey, in advance of his session at Business of Software USA Online to get some of the important but unnecessary stuff out of the way in advance.

Part 3 of 3 – here we share Jason’s thoughts on the evolution of work and industry post Covid, why designing for platforms is important and the differences between office/remote work and physical/online events. Also, some nice things to say about your favorite conference.

To see the whole discussion in one place… Or pick your topic…

Of course, there is plenty more to talk about and we’re looking forward to spending time with Jason and David Heinemeier Hansson, neither of whom are short of opinions, to delve deeper at Business of Software Conference Online 21-23 September.

You should be in the (Zoom) room where it happens.

Jason Fried Basecamp Hey

On the ‘new’ remote working in the time of Covid

Mark: “<Sarcasm> How are you going to manage the change to your way of working now everyone’s gone remote? </Sarcasm>”

Jason: “You know we’ve always remote! Always. Yeah. Although what’s interesting is we’ve had an office for 10 years, our lease is up in nine days and we’re not renewing. So we’re literally not going to have an office, we’re finally going to be fully remote – truly fully remote – as of nine days from now. Then we’ll play it by ear we’ll see how it works out.”

Mark: “Do you get a sense of how other companies are approaching it? Certainly over here in the UK, in most of the software companies I know of, no one’s planning on being in their office till 2021.”

Jason: “Yeah, I think all the companies I know are also staying away. Basically the thinking is until there’s a vaccine we don’t go back to work. That’s our take. It seems to be everyone’s general take because working all day in an office with a mouse has gone away. Why not just be at home? What was the reason to be in an office and in that kind of environment in the first place?”

Covid’s effect on other industries

Jason: “I think commercial real estate is probably gonna get hammered pretty hard I would imagine. I’m not so sorry for those guys. The conference industry must be completely decimated – the people, hotels – crushed. I’m sure you don’t feel that bad for them but it’s also sad because there’s a lot of workers who rely on that business and concessions and catering and it’s brutal.”

Mark: “As you said it’s always the people that do the work that suffer the most. The big organizations, big venue companies, the senior people in those companies have been taking plenty of money out of the company for the years for years and years and years. They’ll probably also still be taking money out as they navigate through getting rid of everybody too. It’s a terrible thing for the people that do the real work. The hourly workers are in a terrible position. Brutal.”

Conferences in the time of Covid

Mark: “From our perspective, our business was about hiring a room, shoving people in, shaking it up and seeing what happens. So we’ve certainly made some very significant changes to that. We have thought from the get-go however that it’s a long term, not short term thing. Our first Online Conference was March, BoS Europe. The difference from day 1 and day 2 was the government announced on the evening of day 1 that everyone had to stay at home. I remember some of the conversations. ‘How we going to get through the next two or three weeks?”…!”

Jason: “Shut up. This is going to be a 2 or 3 years thing potentially.”

Mark: “Yes!”

Designing for the medium

Mark: “And so right from then, right from the beginning of the year, we’ve been thinking about online. There’s some really super cool things that work online that just don’t work in real life at all. I think a standard traditional conference format doesn’t transition online in a great way at all. Have you seen Tiger King the Netflix show?”

Jason: “No, but just the name sounds mad.”

Mark: “Yeah it’s great! Like one of those sort of sofa binge-watching things you keep watching and watching. Each episode, it’s 28 minutes or something, then the next one starts and you get sucked in. All of a sudden you’ve been watching it for five hours. I watched it in the first week of lockdown post-BoS Europe. That’s exhausting – and it’s entertainment. It made me realise expecting people to watch a screen for one day, two days, three days, concentrating and absorbing knowledge is fanciful. There is only so much of the wisdom of CEOs or whatever it is that people can stomach in one go!”

Online events as a platform

Mark: “We’ve gone down a very different route to a lot of events which have just gone online to attend for free or virtually nothing and just tried to move a physical event online. Now everyone’s available to talk. So you just get an endless kind of series of talks and the networking is about pitching people services in a text Chatbox. Horror! We’ve really tried to get to know what people want by thinking about their Jobs-to-be-Done. We also know that quality is its own economy – a high density of quality people makes for conversations/interactions that are brilliant in many formats.

“It’s great to sit in a room talking about whatever it is and meet different people in a hotel bar or wherever. Interestingly the quality of the conversations you have online and in well-moderated groups can be an order of magnitude better. Everyone’s who’s been at a conference bar late at night will now you think you’ve solved the world’s problems, formed some incredible partnerships with people you just met…

“In a good online environment, the ‘noise’ is so different. There’s a different vibe to the bar room networking – one that I really like.”

Jason: “That’s an interesting point. I think over dinner and drinks there is a real exaggeration. And everyone knows it’s kind of bullshit like you’re not intentionally bullshitting but you just kind of do. It’s this frothiness which goes away online. It’s the day and we’re more serious at the time and we’re talking and that’s why we’re here.”

The Similarities between online events and remote work

Jason: “I think Online Conferences can be done really well – it’s similar to remote work. I’ve been talking to journalists who have been asking me for my take on remote working.

“You should think of remote work as a platform. What I mean by that is it never works to port one thing to another thing – porting Windows software to the Mac doesn’t end up with good software. You could tell it’s been ported back. When the internet first started the early designs were like CD ROM interfaces to the Web. Multimedia was all people knew, so they would port those designs.

“These different mediums and different platforms have their own pros and cons. Their own advantages and disadvantages. If you just port office work to online office work it doesn’t work either. Remote working is different than working locally.

“Remote conference are different to local conferences. If you just take your local conference and try to push it online it doesn’t work because all the magic is not just in the moments where people are talking, there’s more to it. You have got to think differently about it. So I think that events like BoS that really consider the differences, the advantages and disadvantages, are going to do well. I’ve seen a lot of conferences scrambling and just throwing their stuff online as if it’s the same as in person. They’re going to suffer because it’s hard to sit through. We can’t sit through eight hours of Zoom calls.”

The challenges of the event business model

Mark: “You’re right. I think that is there with some of the bigger events. They have momentum with multi-year sponsors and things and the business models are almost entirely driven by lead generation for sponsors. <Sarcasm> There’s a real importance in having a high volume of people and being able to give sponsor companies email addresses at the end so that they can follow up and tell the attendees how amazing they are… </Sarcasm>

“The big challenge in the longer term then becomes that the experience is not great for attendees, free passes attract low-value people so sponsors don’t end up converting leads and then what? In the longer term, the sponsors are unhappy, attendees have a sub-optimal experience, albeit at a lower cost, everyone is less inclined to take part in the future. This approach might have worked if this was a short term – 2-3 month problem. It is not. I think as an industry we’re going to run out of sponsor steam very quickly. Fortunately/unfortunately we’ve never been very kind of sponsor-driven – we’ve always been very kind of driven by the content and bringing entrepreneurs together and getting them to talk. I wouldn’t pretend it’s an easy market whatever route you choose though at the moment.

“Looking at our business in the second week of January, we were thinking we’re going to have our best year ever…”

Jason: “And conferences have got a lot of costs upfront as well…”

Mark: “That is very true!”

How BoS Conference is adapting

Mark: “Our aim is to make something work that will become a core part of the future business. We’ve always thought about online as an interesting ‘thing’, it’s just that ‘thing’ we haven’t quite focused on because it hasn’t been pressing enough. Now it’s pressing! There’s a few other things going on as well… Our aim is to change the way people think about events and online events. It has been brilliant working with some very smart and interesting people with creative ideas about what that looks like. It’s been great. Alex Osterwalder said, ‘Oh I don’t have to do a talk? That’s great, we can do something more interesting. How about…?’ Both he and Bob Moesta were so excited about the innovation and creativity of something different online for example.

“I think from that perspective it’s exciting. We can give people some core reading, watching, preparation in advance and then, on the day, because we’ve got smart engaged people, cool stuff happens. We can use some online collaboration tools, work through some problems in real life. I’ve seen Alex do that in a group of a couple of hundred people with Strategyzer and it is powerful. Those sorts of things I think are energizing.”

What is different for you about Business of Software Conference? You’ve said it is very different in the past.

Jason: “I love this conference. To me, your conferences, and a lot of other conference organizers aren’t gonna be happy I’m saying this perhaps, but it’s one of the few conferences that I would really like to go to. I don’t really go to conferences anymore. I haven’t because I’ve got kids – traveling is kind of tough for me right now. But if I had to pick three conferences to go to per year this would be one of them.

“Every time I’ve gone I’ve sat in the audience and listened to all the other talks that day. It’s rare that I that I feel like doing that.

“To be honest a lot of conferences don’t have the content – people are putting slides up that are B.S. The quality of the speakers at the show you put on, the audience, it’s such a wonderful honest conference. That’s the thing I love about it. No one told them to go there to give this presentation. These are people who want to be there and who want to really literally share insider stuff stuff that really matters to them like the real deal.

“That’s what I’ve always loved about Business of Software and I’ve watched a number of the talks online and and it’s an honor to be back again. I love it. Great, great, show.”

The BoS Magic

Mark: “We have a very intentional, keep it small, keep it focused, keep a high-quality audience approach that’s going to be important to maintain.”

Jason: “Yeah. Well you’ve proven to be to be able to to rise above. I mean how many… there’s thousands of conferences.”

Mark: “There are almost as many software conferences as there are project management SaaS companies…!”

Jason: “Ha! I mean everybody who speaks about Business of Software speaks about it in a different tone. It is a special conference. People want to speak there. People wanted to attend that you come away knowing something or knowing someone differently. It’s wonderful.

“So like if someone can pull it off I’m certain you guys can do it. So we’re all rooting for you to pull it off because of course conferences are at risk right now. There’s no question about it. Like I can’t. I can go to a conference sit in the audience for six hours and endure maybe a couple talks that aren’t really my thing but like OK but you can’t do that sitting in front of your laptop staring at a screen – you’re out! If things are interesting you’re going to be out because it’s just exhausting. It’s different.”



To see the whole discussion in one place… Or pick your topic…

Join Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson to delve deeper at Business of Software Conference Online 21-23 September. Be in the (Zoom) room where it happens…

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