Jason Fried

November 19, 2022

On company size

I have no idea how the the Musk-era Twitter saga plays out. That's a time will tell situation.

And this isn't a post about Elon, his personality, his management style, decisions being made, talent drain, morale at the company, or the thousands of people who've been laid off or outright quit. There's plenty to be said there, and plenty of people are saying it — many on Twitter, no less.

But I do want to comment on one point.

There's this prevailing, anchoring notion that a company that had about 8000 or so people a few weeks ago must have close to that many — or even half that many — to run effectively. I don't believe what you had has anything to do with what you need.

I know this from personal experience. I've run a company for 23 years that has been competing directly with massive companies for many of those years. And while all those companies think they need that many people to run their operations and support their business, I know you can do a whole lot with a whole lot less. And not just do, but do just as well — or better.

Every company has different priorities of course, but let's examine a few things.

With the information I was able to find online...

  • Monday has about 1500 employees.
  • Asana has about 1600 employees.
  • Clickup has about 1000 employees.
  • Slack has about 2500 employees.
  • Smartsheet has about 3000 employees.

These companies compete directly with my company, 37signals. Each of these companies has somewhere between 100-150k paying customers. Give or take a few ten thousand. And thousands more free users too.

Guess what? We do too. We're right in that ballpark as well. None of these companies, us included, have an order of magnitude more customers than the other. Of course none of this is apples-to-apples, as every company is different, but we're still talking fruit. This isn't apples-to-chickens. We all offer similar kinds of products that do similar-enough things for purpose of comparison. Revenues and profits may be different, but that's a matter of business model, not the number of people served, or the quality of service.

And how many employees do we have at 37signals? Around 80 (which is the most we've ever had). And are they working ridiculous all-nighters or weekends to make up for the significantly smaller team? No — we all work about 40 hours a week.

What's our uptime? Exceptional.

How's our customer service? Friendly, quick, and thorough.

How do our customers feel about our products? Here's what 1000 have to say about Basecamp, for example.

Similar story for HEY. On top of that, we also maintain two previous versions of Basecamp, Highrise, Campfire, and Backpack for thousands of customers who remain on earlier versions or older products.

Building complex, large organizations is a choice, not a requirement. We chose differently. Other companies might as well.

So it's absolutely possible to run a tight ship, deliver outstanding products, offer the highest level of customer service, and have exceptional uptime with a small, focused, high-quality crew working reasonable hours while living in a dozen different cities around the world.

As for Twitter, I don't know what the right number is — and it's really not a number, it's about distribution and concentration. If you had 8000 people at Twitter, and they were all in sales, Twitter would be in trouble. So you obviously have to have the right people in the right places doing the right jobs, but thousands upon thousands is not a requirement simply because there were thousands upon thousands before.

And I'm obviously not comparing the complexity of running a service like Twitter with Basecamp or HEY, but I do think it's very fair to compare Monday and Asana and Clickup and Slack, among others, to Basecamp and HEY. And we're able to service around the same number of customers, and actually generate more profit than all of them combined (since they're losing hundreds of millions annually, between them).

Small is not less than. It's an advantage.


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.