You're not 37signals

Last week 37signals launched Haystack, a directory for finding web designers. I don’t have a strong opinion about the site itself one way or the other, but upon it’s launch I couldn’t get this thought out of my mind: 37signals could start selling boxes of sh!t and people would buy them.

(By the way, if you’re in the market for that kind of thing, a service for you already exists).

I’m not saying that 37signals products aren’t great in their own right — I’ve used, purchased and recommended many of their products and services — I’m saying that they’ve built up an incredible platform that increases their odds for success hundredfold, almost regardless of the product. And that’s what I admire the most about them.

Basecamp was making $5k/mo just six weeks after it’s launch, something few startups will come anywhere close to replicating (considering it was their first product and probably had an average customer spend of about $30/mo). Subsequent product launches did even better, and they appear to see similar success with their book and job board.

Hundreds of companies launch better products and do “all the right things”, yet hardly get off the ground, much less thrive. There’s just an incredible advantage when you launch products targeted at the very people that are already listening to you, especially when there are hundreds of thousands of thousands of said people.

I believe they’ve had to work incredibly hard to build that audience — nobody’s just given that kind of attention and respect. And they’ve also done a tremendous job of not disappointing their audience (as some have done).

So what does this mean for us mere mortals — those of us who measure our FeedBurner stats in units of tens or hundreds?  Once you realize that you’re not 37signals, it’s important to emulate the right things. Recognizing what makes companies like 37signals successful means that you don’t emulate things they do that might be  wrong for you. You might need to offer phone support for your customers, accept checks, or focus on just one project instead of 7.

The corollary of this is that you shouldn’t believe what 37signals tells you to do. Listen to them frequently, but put what they say into context. Much of what they say is probably good advice, but there’s no good way to differentiate what works to make them successful from what works because they’re successful.

Of course, this certainly holds true for anyone you’re listening to. Listen to me least of all.

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