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The 2009 Creativity 50: Jason Fried

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Credit: Photo by Jess Gorriti
Saying goodbye to bloat is at the heart of 37signals, a software company that has raised eyebrows in the business world for its products—and philosophies—promoting efficiency in the workplace. Driving all this is the company's principled and often outspoken CEO Jason Fried. His nine-year-old web-design-turned-software company has maintained a steadfast insistence on core principles of flexibility and simplicity, embodied in its manifesto, a 37-point straight talk about web design. Fried later elaborated on those ideals in a full-fledged tome on efficient application-building, Getting Real.

The company's products only back up his thinking. 37signals morphed from a web interface design shop to a software-seller in 2003, when its internal project management tool, Basecamp, became more profitable than client work. The tool's Ruby on Rails framework, written by David Heinemeier Hansson, was widely used, popular with the small business community. 37Signals continued to turn out other applications, including information manager Backpack, editor Writeboard, secure chat Campfire and others. Despite the company's success, it has also raised the ire of critics, who assail 37Signals' insistence on giving customers what it thinks they need, not the features they come asking for. The company's credo is keeping things simple; not getting caught up in the approach Fried labels as "marketing software via a features list." Nevertheless, last year 37Signals remade Backpack, changing it from a sort of storage-enabled Wiki to a multi-user business intranet project, doubling revenue from the product in the process.

Fried on the Web 2.0 trend of turning knowledge and infrastructure to the public, such as Amazon's opening of its web services, and the similarities to Basecamp's early life: "The things that people build for themselves are going to be better than something you have to build for somebody else. I think if Amazon was hired to build this S3 and EC2 it wouldn't have been very good. It's good because it solved an actual problem that they had, not an imaginary problem somebody else cooked up. Business isn't really that different for everybody; the truth is, especially in the entrepreneurial world, people don't have time to customize stuff, they just want something that works. They can live with something that isn't 100% tailored to them."

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