Jason Fried

April 4, 2023

How we built something useful

The product development process encompasses many moments. Moments of novel breakthrough, moments of mundane maintenance, and everything in between. But some of the most rewarding moments consistently come from making something simply useful.

Yesterday we shipped a feature in HEY called "Reply to Everyone" that was exactly that: Simply useful.

One of the things that makes something simply useful is a clear line from problem to solution. From hassle to effortlessness. From a lot of time to nearly no time at all. From creating work to eliminating work.

So let's trace Reply to Everyone back to the initial germ of the idea.

It all started with frustration. This is a great place to start any feature. In fact, the closer you start to frustration, the more fuel you have to burn up the problem.

What was frustrating? Well, I write a fair bit on my personal HEY World blog. That's where this exact post is hosted, and I have close to 10,000 subscribers who receive the posts via email. And whenever I write, I typically get a heavy handful of people who write me back. HEY World blogs don't have comments, they simply have replies, like any other email. So that's how responses come in, as replies.

None of that is frustrating. I love hearing from readers.

Some of the replies I get are detailed, personal accounts relating to something I said. And with those, I typically take the time to write commensurate replies.

But many of the replies I get are simple gestures of thanks. "Thanks for that — really enjoyed the read" or "That one really resonated, thanks" or "I appreciate that you took the time to write that up." Stuff like that. Or, as often happens, I'll have a typo in my original post and 27 people reply to let me know.

I wrote, they replied, and I feel like I should thank them back. But here's the reality: As I've amassed a larger number of subscribers, I've been getting a larger number of simple thank you emails. Again — it's lovely, I appreciate them. But it's become more time consuming to reply in kind with a "no, thank YOU" (or "you're welcome, thanks for subscribing to the newsletter") to their thank you.

It got to the point where I stopped replying to people because I didn't want to write 24 separate emails basically saying the same thing. It became too time consuming, yet I still felt people deserved replies. So I started to feel a bit guilty. But I didn't start writing to feel guilty, so... What to do?

What I wanted to do was send a single, kind reply to 24 people at once. But I didn't want to gather up their emails and do some strange BCC thing. That's also a hassle, and BCC's feel spammy.

Now, I know I'm not the only one who runs into these sorts of situations. There are a number of scenarios where you may want to write the same thing to a collection of people in individual emails. Maybe you had 8 bills to pay, which you paid, and you wanted to let those 8 people know "Just paid, you should see the payment hit your account within 24 hours." Or maybe a dozen people write you separate "Welcome back from your trip!" emails, and you want to reply with a single email with some pictures, links, some notes from the trip. I'm sure you've run into similar situations in your own email lives.

Wouldn't it be useful to write once, send many? Without cc, bcc, or some complicated concatenation of email addresses from different people who shouldn't know each other? Yes, it should be! And yes, it's frustrating that email apps don't make this easier.

Since HEY is all about turning complicated workarounds into simple workflows, we set out to solve this one.

And three weeks later, with a two-person team (one programmer and one designer) making it happen, we have it. It's called Reply to Everyone. And now all our HEY customers have it too.

Now you can respond to as many people you want with a single email. Each person gets their own copy of the email so there's no cc/bcc, and each email stays in its original thread so there's a full history of the conversation. It's as fast as writing a single email, and now the "it's too much of a hassle to deal with all these replies" problem is dissolved. What was a hassle is now no big deal. In fact, it's a pleasure.

That's the joy of building software. That's why we do what we do. That's why Basecamp and HEY are both outstanding products — they're rooted in real problems, eliminating real frustrations, and flipping hassles into hell-yeahs.

Bonus content: If you're curious, here's a live design review I did with Jason Zimdars, the designer on the project. We walked through the initial stab at the idea, riffed on some improvements, and set the course to finish things up. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5Q-Lnx2LmA

If you're a HEY customer, we hope you find Reply to Everyone useful. If you're not using HEY yet, now's the perfect time to dive in and take back control of your email, your time, and your attention.


About Jason Fried

Hey! I'm Jason, the Co-Founder and CEO at 37signals, makers of Basecamp and HEY. Subscribe below to follow my thinking on business, design, product development, and whatever else is on my mind. Thanks for visiting, thanks for reading.