TB! > Hey Jason, good morning/afternoon/evening/whatever. How’s everything going for you at the moment?
JF! > It’s midnight so that makes it… Morning? Night? I never know. Everything’s good though. Curious to see what 2009 brings.
TB! > What did you have for breakfast this morning?
JF! > Two Van’s Maple waffles. Damn good, all natural, full of Omega-3s, and just plain satisfying. I also usually have a handful of pistachios, a bowl of matcha tea, and a small glass of orange juice (blood orange if in season) or grapefruit juice.
TB! > And speaking of breakfast - how early do you usually get to the office in the morning? I know you guys do the whole 4 day work week.
JF! > I start the work day by checking email and yesterday’s sales at about 8am. I don’t actually get productive until around 11 though, and I’m most productive at night. Darkness dissolves a lot of distractions for me.
TB! > As both the owner of a business with a cult following and just a regular guy - tell us a short bit about yourself. Maybe in the context of telling my mother who has no idea what 37signals is.
JF! > Me… I don’t really like talking about myself, but here are some random bits: I’m intensely curious about a lot of things. I’m fascinated by the things I don’t know. I’m a tea fanatic. I want to be a great cook. If I had to do something else I’d probably want to be a landscape architect or open a tea shop. I don’t like boats. Great jazz drummers blow me away. My life generally revolves around avoiding hassles. I can be very impatient. I need to get better at sending thank you notes. I like things that are hand made. The Aston Martin V8 Vantage is the most beautiful car on the road. I think farmers have better answers than politicians. I admire old people’s simple wisdom. Fine details and beautiful craftsmanship make my day. I thought I knew it all until I was about 27 (I’m 34 now).
TB! > Can you describe your daily role at 37signals? What’s a typical day like?
JF! > I’m a free agent. Sometimes I’m designing or sketching something, sometimes I’m thinking about something, sometimes I’m doing the accounting, sometimes I’m writing, sometimes I’m coding CSS/HTML, sometimes I’m brewing up strategy, sometimes I’m reviewing someone else’s work, sometimes I’m pitching a new idea to the crew, sometimes I’m just browsing the web, sometimes I’m just sharing links of interest, etc. I’m not technical, so you’ll find me doing just about anything besides programming and sys admin stuff.
TB! > You guys have been super, super transparent with your earnings - I was actually a bit shocked you guys would be that open about how well you’re doing. Was there a ‘whoa’ moment for you guys when you realized you were going to be really successful as a company?
JF! > We don’t actually share specific earnings numbers for our products, just some of our other things like our book (http://gettingreal.37signals.com) and job board (http://jobs.37signals.com). As far as success goes, I’ve always assumed we’d be successful. I don’t buy into the whole “most new businesses fail” cynicism. Other failures have nothing to do with you. I think if you’re going to do something, assume it’s going to be successful. Assume you’re going to be able to make it work. It’s not that hard as long as you keep your costs low, focus on the basics, deliver quality, and give your customers something they can’t get anywhere else.
TB! > You do speaking engagements quite a bit. And you’ve been doing some rather large ones lately. Was that something you were comfortable with right away - or did it take time?
JF! > I was terrified the first time I went in front of an audience. It was in 2000, I think, in San Francisco at an AIGA event. We presented on eNormicom—our parody of the logo design, company naming, and marketing tagline industry. I think there were about 400 people there and I was literally shaking. Knees knocking. But I made it through and it’s gotten easier since then. I don’t get nervous at all anymore, it but took a long time to get there.
TB! > Do you watch Steve Jobs keynote on YouTube to get psyched beforehand? Joking. (Kind of.)
JF! > Sometimes I watch Steve’s 2005 Stanford commencement speech if I need some motivation. I love the simple story telling, the focus on what you love message, and his humble delivery. He opened up in ways he never does when he has his game face on.
TB! > What was your first job? And/or what was your first self-owned entrepreneurial project?
JF! > I bagged groceries at the local grocery store in the town where I grew up. Started at 13. The day I turned 13 my dad took me down to get a worker’s permit so I could get a job. Then he took me to the local store so I could fill out the application. I think I worked there for a year or two. I’ve done a lot of different things including selling shoes and pumping gas.
My first self-owned entrepreneurial project was selling stereo equipment and computer equipment through a distributor. I think I did that when I was about 16. I advertised on local BBSes (this was before the internet). I didn’t sell much, but I got a taste. I’ve been hooked ever since.
TB! > How important do you think education/college is?
JF! > Education is important, but I don’t equate college with education. Education can come from anywhere. The best education is experience. I think college interferes with your education - at least it did with mine. I couldn’t wait to get out so I could get to work. Learning by doing is the only real learning.
That said, I’m glad my surgeon has a degree.
TB! > One or two companies you’d love to be the CEO of for a year or two and why?
JF! > 1. Microsoft. I think it would be a interesting challenge to wade through everything they do, trim the fat, and instill a “back to basics” culture.
2. Aston Martin. Employee discount.
TB! > What’s the desktop image on your computer right now?
JF! > Rotates through Apple’s “Plants” default set.
TB! > Pine trees or palm trees? Excel or Google Docs spreadsheets? Sunsets or star-gazing? Coke or Pepsi. Wings or ribs? Text or call?
JF! > Palms over pines, but oaks over palms. I don’t use spreadsheets. Star-gazing. Cities have erased the night sky. I’m completely blown away when I get out the country on a clear night and just look up. It grounds you. It’s unreal. And to think that’s always there, but we just can’t see it. Shame. I like Coke Zero. Ribs definitely over wings. Twin Anchors in Chicago are my favorite ribs. I’m a text guy—I don’t like the phone anymore.
TB! > Organize a concert with 5 of your favorite artists/groups - dead or alive.
JF! > Oh I don’t know… Zeppelin, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Calexico, and Wilco. Add Johnny Cash to make it 6.
TB! > I read your guys blog and check your twitter, etc. You guys seem to be in a constant mode of analyzation and critique on how products, services, things, etc can be be easier, simpler, better, more beautiful. Is that something you can kind of mentally turn off…or is a gift+curse?
JF! > I can’t stop looking at things, exploring things, discovering things, and trying to figure out how they work and how to make them better. I love thinking about why things are the way they are—and what’s wrong with them. What decisions were involved in the design process? What considerations and tradeoffs were made? How did it end up like this? And it’s not all bad—I’m fascinated and humbled by great craftsmanship and attention to detail.
TB! > And with that, there is the whole trend of super simple web applications - sometimes it seems with the whole purpose of being super simple just to make a statement. Can things be too simple?
JF! > Simple is just right. So no, something can’t be too simple. But, simple fails when it’s just a veneer. Complexity masquerades as simplicity when it’s just about spare design or white space. That’s not simple, that’s just empty. That said, I don’t really think about simple anymore. I’m more concerned with clarity. Clarity is what gets me excited.
TB! > Creative ruts, imagination-block, bummer days, etc. Do you have a specific way you get out of them?
JF! > Not really. They’re things that come and go. It’s good to have periods of frustration. When it comes to inspiration, I like looking at architecture, landscape design, furniture, and nature. When I really need to think about something I go for a long drive.
TB! > What’s your favorite logo of all time?
JF! > I don’t really have one, but if pressed I’d probably say the Nike logo.
TB! > How many minutes in your mobile phone plan?
JF! > 700? I never use them and have like a billion rollover minutes.
TB! > Favorite travel destination?
JF! > I don’t have a favorite, but I’ve always liked visiting the desert. Especially Sedona, AZ, although last time I was there I didn’t have a particularly good time. I need to find a new favorite.
TB! > Like shoes, but with more commitment, I think you can tell a lot about a person by what type of sofa they have at home. What’s in your living space?
JF! > Ligne Roset Smala and two Case Study loveseats elsewhere in the house.
TB! > We always ask this question - and I’m honestly a little nervous about your answer, ha. What are your thoughts on THE BRILLIANCE? And had you ever heard of us before?
JF! > I’ve never heard of THE BRILLIANCE before, but I think it’s about time I check it out.