Jason Fried

March 3, 2021

Stem cell or organ?

Lately, I've been thinking about how new features are either launched as stem cells or full blown organs.

I'm well aware this is an imperfect analogy, but I'm OK with that. It's close enough to make me think, which is all that matters in my book.

A stem cell is essentially an undifferentiated cell that can change — or differentiate — into various types of other cells, and, eventually, potentially, organs. A stem cell could eventually become a heart cell. Or a lung cell. Or a brain cell. Once it becomes something else, it stays that something else. It's now been defined, and limits are placed on what it can be, do, and become.

When you put a new feature into a product, and out in the world, it can be partially developed or fully developed. The simpler, tighter, and smaller it is, the more stem-celly it is. The more full-featured, completely defined, it-can-do-a-dozen-things it is, the more organ-like it is.

Take HEY World — the feature I'm using right now to publish this article.

It's pretty stem-celly. It doesn't do much. I email world@hey.com and this article shows up on the web so you can read it. That's pretty much all it does. And since it's so basic, so pure, it could eventually grow into all sorts of things. We have added basic newsletter functionality, but I can imagine a dozen different destinations for HEY World. You could add blogrolls, you could allow someone to create an aggregate blog with many different authors, you could allow people to move existing newsletters over from other services, you could sell access to exclusive content, you could print blogs into books, you could build an entirely different flow for responding to reader feedback, you could have templates, you could... You could build it into anything, eventually!

That's the beauty of starting something so small, so fundamentally basic and unbounded from the start. It can grow, it can change, it can find its way into being whatever it eventually wants to be. We're going to discover a whole lot more about what HEY World can — and wants — to be after it's been floating around in the world for a while. Had we built it into an organ from the start, it would be so clearly defined on day one that we'd be missing out on all the other things we might discover over the next 364 days.

Nothing wrong with releasing organs, but we're enjoying the stem-celly who-knows-where-this-goes nature of HEY World right now.

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.