David Heinemeier Hansson

October 20, 2023

Buying the seller

We've just moved the 37signals podcast to Buzzsprout. Podcast hosting is to some extent a commodity market, so this was less about pining for a specific feature or even working to reduce the bill. This was about buying from Tom Rossi, the technical cofounder of HigherPixels (who make Buzzsprout), and his team, because we'd just prefer to do business with them.

I've known Tom from the Rails community for years, but at Rails World a few weeks ago, I really got to know him better. He was there as a supporter of the conference, sponsoring a podcasting booth for Rails podcasts recording on site. We talked about bootstrapping, managing a small company, and working with Rails. We literally saw eye to eye.

This in-person encounter made me reflect on modern commerce. How impersonal it is most of the time. Which is probably more efficient, and, as an introvert, preferable much of the time. I usually would rather deal with a web form than a salesperson, but it's different when you can establish a connection to someone actually running the show.

The last time I really felt this was when we switched to Braintree for our payment processing. Bryan Johnson, the company's CEO, was based in Chicago while Jason and I were both there too. He reached out. He made himself available. He made it feel like we were buying from Bryan, more so than buying from Braintree. He also had a great service at a great price, but it was Bryan who sealed the deal. (And we're still using Braintree, some fifteen years later!).

This is one of those unique advantages available to small and medium-sized businesses, and any type of startup. You can far more easily cultivate and maintain these personal connections. Make the exceptions when that's needed. Be available when it matters. And by doing so, you allow your customers to buy the seller rather than just the product or service. That's a powerful advantage, especially in commodity markets (like payment processing or podcast hosting!).

This also represents an opportunity for buyers to directly vote with their wallet for what they'd like to see more of in this world. I'd like to see more businesses run by people like Tom or Bryan, so I've voted for their success with my dollars. It feels good.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.