Jason Fried

July 12, 2023

Who do you do business with?

Way back when we launched the first version of Basecamp in 2004, we ran all our credit card charges through a merchant account provided by JP Morgan Chase.

Charging credit cards wasn't easy in the early 2000s. This was back when being an "internet company" was a major red flag. The process required mounds of paperwork, proof, and business model scrutiny just to get approved. Barely capable, ancient APIs sorta kinda let you hook into internal systems. Charging a card successfully felt like a miracle. You had no idea. It wasn't years later until companies like Stripe made it simple.

While you were never really happy with the service, you had to have it. And switching to another service meant going through the whole ungainly process again. And the grass was probably browner.

However, one day a fellow named Bryan Johnson reached out. He started a company called Braintree that processed credit cards. I can't remember exactly what made them different, although they certainly felt more "modern". Their API looked like it had been written recently, rather than back in the 80s like JP Morgan's.

But more than that, we liked Bryan. He was clearly competent, he was local, he wasn't afraid of the internet, he was aware of what we did, what we were trying to do, and who we were. He wasn't a sales guy trying to close a deal, he was a CEO trying to build his own business. That meant something to us.

So we gave them our business. And nearly two decades later, we're still with them today.

And Bryan didn't just close the deal and move on, he remained our point of contact for years. He was always reasonably available, and would always be willing to dig into an issue if something went wrong. We had his direct cell and his email. He felt like he was on our side.

This whole experience made a major impression on me. It made me really appreciate who we did business with. And even in my personal life, who I do business with.

Can I reach the owner? Can I email the CEO? Who's over there working for me, vs. just selling me and moving on?

This is one of the reasons I really value doing business with smaller businesses. Typically founder-led, or owner-involved companies. Companies that may have structure, but they'll part it like the Red Sea when a customer needs access to the top.

It's also why I make sure I'm accessible to all our customers. I even include my email address — work and personal — in different places when new customers sign up. HEY customers get my jason@hey.com address, Basecamp customers get a welcome letter on the opening screen with my jason@37signals.com address. When people write, I respond. I don't have an assistant, and no one else sees or answers my emails. Customers reach me, and I reach back to them.

I encourage you to think about who you do business with? Are they in it for the long term? Are they reachable beyond the surface level? Do the owners have the time — or even the desire — to interact with their customers? They should. You deserve it.


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.