David Heinemeier Hansson

January 9, 2023

We don't A/B test core values

Carlos Trujillo recently had to cancel a Basecamp account, but we managed to leave a warm, lasting impression by making it effortless. No last-minute offers, no pressure to get on a call to "explain", no dark patterns of any kind. Just gratitude that we could be of service while it lasted. It seems self-evident that it should always be like this with subscription services, but disappointingly often that's not the case.

A clue as to why came from the discussion that followed when I share Carlos' story on my LinkedIn feed. Someone asked how this "strategy" of simply letting customers cancel without questions or hassle could be substantiated by data. Like, what measurements, what tests drove us to this place? It's a perfectly fair question in a world saturated with Growth Hacking, Chief Revenue Officers, and endless aspirations for exponential growth. But it's ultimately the wrong way to look at it.

We don't hassle customers who want to cancel Basecamp because that simply feels like a shitty thing to do. Few things in the world of business aggrieves me as much as being held hostage to a subscription I no longer desire to keep. It always leaves an incredibly sour taste, ruins any residual affection I might have had for the service, and dials in a determination to spread that ill will far and wide.

It's easy to quantify the value of these hassling and haggling measures when they somehow manage to save a few customers, even if that is just 0.1% of those subjected. See! We earned an extra $32,856 last year putting everyone who wanted to cancel through the wringer. Yes, but at what cost?

This is the tyranny of easy metrics. It's easy to measure how much money is saved by preventing cancelations, it's much harder to measure how much long-term business is lost by poisoning your reputation with the 99.9% of customers who had to jump hoops and dodge sleazeballs to get out of the subscription. But the latter could well be orders of magnitude money more over the long run.

Yet even that is the wrong way to look at it. Because this isn't just about the money, it's about running a business in a way you can feel proud about. And the only way to do that consistently is by not A/B testing your core values.

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.