David Heinemeier Hansson

February 1, 2024

Campfire is now for sale

After a couple of weeks of final Patek-level polishing with early-access customers, Campfire is finally for sale for all! This is The Moment of Truth where we get to see whether all that excitement turns into credit card swipes. That release rush. I love it.

And I especially love this release, because we’re trying to validate an entirely new-old way of selling software. Almost every major web system sold in the last 15-20 years has been Software as a Service. We helped kickstart that craze with Basecamp back in 2004. And my lord has it eaten the world.

I still love SaaS. It makes a lot of sense for a lot of systems in a lot of cases. Very hard to imagine HEY as a product, because email systems require so much continued maintenance and management these days. But it’s not for all systems, not for all cases, not for all people.

ONCE, the umbrella brand we’re building to sell installable web software, is the argument that thanks to technological progress, it’s now both viable and desirable to make software products again – rather than services.

Campfire is the perfect first step into this new-old world. Company chat has become a commodity, thanks to Slack and Teams. But it’s still priced like a novel luxury. And it’s exactly the kind of software where a simple version that nails the basics is all you need. So why would you pay $1,000,000/year for a system where you might be held for a $78,000 ransom in case you want your data back out? Or even $10,000/year? Or even $100/month? If all you need is chat, that’s just bonkers.

So Campfire is priced at just $299. One payment, no subscription. You can use that license to run a chat system on your own server, and you’ll pay nothing more than the cost of the license. Or you can buy a cloud VM from Hetzner with 2 CPUs/4GB of RAM for ~$5/month. That system is good enough to run at least 500 concurrent users. Something that would cost you a staggering $7,500/month, if you were using Slack on their  monthly Business+ plan.

Just look at that 3-year total cost of ownership. Campfire running on Hetzner would cost you $479 for 500 users over three years ($299 + 36 * $5). Slack with the same number of seats would cost you $270,000!!! The ONCE solution is literally 99.9% cheaper. It’s crazy.

But that’s the kind of crazy you need to bring real competition to a stale distribution space for software. You’re not going to unseat Slack being 10% cheaper. But 99.9% cheaper? Yeah, that might get people’s attention!

Of course you’re getting “more” with an enterprise product like Slack. There’s screen after screen of enterprisey settings. And maybe you need that. Maybe that’s worth 1000x more to you. Totally fine if it is. But also, maybe it isn’t, and now at least there’s an easy, commercial alternative from a company with a 20-year record of standing behind its products.


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.