The Paradox of Making

Business & Strategy

There are two business leaders — not gurus, note — whom I quite admire.

On the one hand, it seems they could not be any more different. And yet on the other, they are aligned on the fundamentals of what makes people want to buy your products or services.

Jason Fried, the founder of 37signals, is one of my business heroes. He’s built a profitable SaaS product, keeps the blinders on, is all about lifestyle (8’s enough, 40’s plenty), shares as much as possible, and doesn’t even set goals. He literally wrote the book on remote working way before it was cool.

Elon Musk, who owns Tesla, SpaceX, X (formerly Twitter), and others, is also one of my business heroes. He’s built some of the largest, most impactful companies on earth, is the richest man in the world, is vehemently against remote work, and is known for working 80-120 hour weeks.

There is no moral quality to either path.

You could be a little more Jason or a little more Elon. Whatever suits you.

But I’m interested in how both of these men, arguably two of the most successful and influential men in their respective industries, believe that the key to growing your business is not endless promotion or sales teams. You won’t find marketing gimmicks or the “used car salesmen” mentality at Tesla. You won’t find endless marketing emails from 37signals to buy their Basecamp product. (I’ve never received a single marketing email from them.)

A quote I read from Jason really sums up this mentality:

Just keep making great shit, keep your costs in check, charge appropriate prices for your work, share as much as you can, and let the chips fall where they may. Been our strategy from day 1. Going on day 8880.

Whoa. What? That simple?

So… is this the “build it and they will come” idea? That doesn’t work, right?

Right. These men are trading on the idea that great products speak for themselves. The key word is speak. It is not as though the products, companies, or leaders don’t have a voice. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. The other key word is share.

Jason (along with his biz partner, DHH) has been sharing his ideas on the Internet since the late 90’s/early 2000’s. He’s opinionated and creates opinionated products. Elon was the most active and (I think) most followed person on Twitter even prior to purchasing the platform.

These are two businesses driven by what Daniel Priestly calls a Key Person of Influence. Neither of these business leaders build their products on “10 easy steps to…” kind of content. They shared:

  • Behind the scenes of what was happening in their companies
  • With their industries (Elon made Tesla’s plans public and Jason/DHH developed Ruby on Rails)
  • Their thoughts and opinions about the way work (and life) should be
  • What made their products great
  • and a whole lot more

What’s even more interesting, is neither of these two men align on vision. Elon has a grand, multi-planetary plan for humanity and Jason simply wants to punch in tomorrow and do an honest day’s work.


Here’s what this tells me:

There are a lot of things we read in business books that don’t matter. There are a lot of things that we waste time on perfecting that the people actually “DOING” don’t seem to. As far as I can tell, Basecamp nor Tesla have a consistent Unique Value Proposition, a specific commitment to direct response marketing, huge advertising budgets, endless email marketing funnels and campaigns, etc.

They build a great product, put it on display, talk about it, make a profit, and do it again tomorrow. That’s it.

How about we trade the idea of “content marketing” for the above and see how that goes? In today’s world, it will come across a lot more genuine, that’s for sure.

Jan 9, 2024

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