Not Everyone Is The Right Customer

A few days ago, Christian Jung, a designer and consultant from Germany wrote an interesting post – Goodbye Basecamp, This Is The End Of A True Love. My Heart Is Broken, explaining why he would no longer use Basecamp, popular project management software created by 37signals.

Christian decided that after six years, his needs changed and Basecamp was no longer the best solution for him.

Christian’s post prompted a spirited discussion on Hacker News – the discussion is worth a read. I was most intrigued by a comment posted by Jason Fried of 37signals:

For reference, here’s our original post on this very topic in June of 2006 when Basecamp was 2.5 years old.…

Today Basecamp is 7 years old. Signups are stronger than ever.

Whenever we survey customers asking them what they love most about Basecamp, the top response by a mile is: it’s simple, easy, and their co-workers and clients actually use it. It’s not multiple choice either – the words “simple” “easy” “intuitive” show up more than any others in the open ended textarea.

We’ve made Basecamp a lot better over the years. Some people still ask for more. Others say it’s too complicated and they wish it was even simpler.

Software development is a challenge. Everyone wants something different. So you do what you can to thread the needle and make as many of the right customers as happy as possible. Not everyone is the right customer.

It sucks to lose a customer because we did something wrong, but it’s OK to lose a customer if we just aren’t the right fit anymore. People move on from all sorts of things. Clothes, houses, cars, jobs, relationships… Why not software? As circumstances change, one product may not fit someone forever. That’s OK as long as it fits plenty of other people at the same time.

Some customers stick with you forever. Others come and go. Many who go come back after trying other tools that promise them more but that no one actually used. In the end, the tool that actually gets used is the one that’s the right fit for someone. It’s really really hard to get people to actually use things.

We’ve found that the simplest stuff is what actually gets used. It’s why email is still the world’s most popular project management tool.

The temptation to accept any and all business, especially when a company is young, can be blinding. Many young companies have failed because they tried too hard to cater to the whims of a few customers.

Not everyone is the right customer.

Do you agree?