David Heinemeier Hansson

June 20, 2023

Until the end of the internet

It's hard to know what'll stick around when shopping for software online. Popular services and crucial products get shut down all the time. You can't even trust that major conglomerates like Google to provide something you can count on two-five-ten years from now. And if you're betting on something backed by venture capital, well, you know that the odds of permanence are as long as can be. It needn't be this way.

Look at some of the most beloved brands of the 20th century. The Leicas, the Rolexes, the Porsches of the world. Companies that proudly embrace their legacy, and ensure that enthusiasts can still service their camera, watch, or car, even if it's fifty-plus years old. What a beautiful model, and what a contrast to what passes for product dedication these days in the digital realm.

If anything, it should be easier for companies like Google to honor their legacy than the likes of Leica, Rolex, and Porsche. The latter have to keep generations of old spareparts in warehouses, just in case that 1959 Leica M3, 1967 Rolex Daytona, or 1974 Carrera needs a replacement bit. Software services look comparably trivial to maintain in contrast.

Not that it's entirely free, mind you. We've been keeping virtually every single service we've ever sold or offered running over the past twenty years. There's the occasional security updates that need applying, the relocation to new servers, and the continued monitoring of uptime. It's an expense, but an oh-so-worthwhile one.

Take Basecamp, for example. The original version went live back in February of 2004. That's before the iPhone! Before SaaS was even coined as a concept! It built the business we run today, but by 2010, we decided to do a full rewrite, and from 2012 onward sold a totally new version of the software to new customers. Yet, we kept the old version running for all who enjoyed that.

That's the nasty secret of SaaS. Even if the service doesn't just disappear entirely, like it often does, it might well "evolve" in a direction you don't care for one bit. But what choice do you have? Almost all companies will simply tell you to get with the program, find where they hid the cheese now, and just be grateful that updates are even rolling out.

We choose a different path. That original version of Basecamp, developed from 2004-2010, continues to exist for the customers who are happy to use it. And there are thousands of customers, generating millions in revenue, who are just that, happy with what they got. Not in the market for something new. And we are thrilled to serve them! Like I imagine a Rolex executive feeling a pang of pride when spotting a Daytona 6263 in the wild.

What we've done with the original version of Basecamp, we've done with all our major services that are no longer for sale to new customers. Highrise, our beloved CRM, is still also used by thousands of companies, generating millions in revenue. Same too with Campfire, our old chat tool. Backpack, our old personal information manager. The revenue we make continuing to offer these services would never interest the likes of a Google, but so what? It makes us proud and our customers happy, do we need any other justification?

This is exactly what I mean when I say marketing is everything we do. Keeping even free services like Ta-da List around might not make strict financial sense in isolation, but it sends a signal to the market that we're here for the long term. That if you sign up for Basecamp today or HEY tomorrow, you can count on those services being here for probably decades to come. That means something, that's worth something.

We're here until the end of the internet.

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.