37Signals drops all but one product. What can we learn?

Discovering the importance of focus.

37Signals, the online web-application company, known best for their Basecamp product, has recently announced they are dropping all but one of their products, and renaming the company after the one remaining product (“Basecamp”).

It’s a bold move. It’s not often that a company will do away with a profit generating product line, let alone all but one of them. Especially when they are raking in millions of dollars.

“Nobody does his or her best work when he or she is spread too thin.” Jason Fried, 37Signals Founder

Jason Fried¬†has said, “Focus is where it’s at and we want to regain it.” This move is about regaining focus on what really matters to them, to ensure they can do the best job possible at it.

What can we learn from this?

Basecamp has been their best performer, probably out of everything since they made the slow move from service-based company to product-based company. It makes the most money, and is what they are recognised for.

Cannibalising your own product lines for the sake of focus is a big step, and one I wish people were able to take more often. Too often there is the pressure to be “all things to all people” and to spawn off a variety of brands/products/ministries to meet these needs. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.¬†But the net result is always a split focus. It always results in you concentrating less on that main thing and more on those other things.

“Attention is one of the most valuable modern resources. ”
John Freeman, author of The Tyranny of Email.

Splitting your focus is a distraction. Distractions aren’t what will drive your core brand/product/ministry further. Focus is.

Understanding your main purpose in life and pursuing that allows you to be much more effective.

Realising what this means for us and applying it takes time. It’s not always easy to work out what you should and shouldn’t be focusing on. I get tempted all the time to start new projects; work on new things; help other people; and start something new. There are half a dozen software projects I have ‘kinda-sortof’ going right now, and there are just as many new product ideas I’d love to pursue. A lot of the time I take the bait. Sometimes it works out well. Often times, not so much.

Each time one of these new ‘opportunities’ arises, we should ask ourselves: ‘will this help me fulfil my purpose? Is this worth taking me (and my team) away from something else? What impact will it have?’

The other side of this is, what should I proactively cut from my business in order to improve my focus?

None of this is to say you should only ever do one single thing for the rest of your life. You ought to always keep your options open, and seek out new opportunities. If something is truly worthwhile, then by all means go for it. 37Signals still maintain their popular blog, and are also starting a new publication later this year.

But always consider ‘what is the most important thing I could be working on right now?’ and ensure you devote yourself to that. Until you do that, you cannot be most effective.

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I'm Anthony Eden, and I'm a IT Professional, Broadcast Technician, Software Developer, and Solutions Engineer. I've been working in broadcast media since 2008, and developing software and websites for just as long. Right now, I provide freelance services through Media Realm - in particular, to the media and not-for-profit industries.

Follow Anthony on Twitter: @anthony_eden