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Jan 09 2014

The Real Reason 37Signals Is Successful

I’ve had hundreds of conversations last year with founders of startups and agencies.

Often, we’ll discuss companies who are doing well, and who serve as amazing examples of how to run a business.

37Signals was the shop that the people I talked to fawned over most often, by a long shot; everyone wants to build the next Basecamp.

This worries me.

Not because I don’t want startups to be successful (I do).

But because startups are missing the point.

Building the next Basecamp is not what’s going to make you successful.

Yes, you need a good product or service. But thousands of those fail every year.

If there’s one thing, above all others, that has given 37Signals its revered status, it’s storytelling.

This is where most companies — especially agencies — fail. And if you do storytelling well, you can be just as successful as 37Signals, whether you’re serving clients or selling apps.

If you’re going to study 37Signals, don’t study their products, their business model, their team. You’re not 37Signals, and the odds are high that none of those things apply to your business.

Instead, look at what’s made them successful.

Study their website. Their meticulously tested landing pages. The positioning on their blog. The calculated image they work very hard to convey.

Frankly, I disagree with much of their advice (I dont think remote can work for everyone). But their ability to craft a brand around content, thought leadership and product storytelling is undeniable.

Those are the lessons from 37Signals every agency should be applying to their business.

Their products aren’t for everyone, and it’s very easy to argue that they’re not the best on the market. But that doesn’t matter.

Take a headline from one of their latest landing pages for Basecamp:

Last week 4,245 companies signed up for Basecamp to manage their projects. Today it’s your turn.

No sign of self-indulgent declarations like Basecamp is the best project management software out there.

Instead of selling a product, they sell a story. That’s where they excel, and you can do the same, regardless of what kind of business you are.

— Nick Kishfy (@kishfy)

Nick Kishfy