In 2011, Ryan Singer (currently Head of Strategy at Basecamp) was struggling with the difference between what consumers say vs what consumers do. He contacted Bob Moesta and the Re-Wired Group after watching Clayton Christensen’s Milkshake video and identified Bob as the referenced “colleague who did the work” to learn more about the concept.
Jobs To Be Done Interviews
Basecamp was originally built as an internal project management tool for their software development company in order to keep communication clear between the company’s team and clients. It kept everything in one place making it easy for all company/customer team members to be on the same page. At that time, the owners knew exactly what the Basecamp product was and who it was for. The problem started, ironically enough, when Basecamp became successful.
Basecamp grew, attracting customers of its own, beyond the parent software development enterprise. That’s great but the team realized they were having trouble understanding just what the new customers wanted. They really didn’t understand why companies that were not software developers wanted Basecamp. And, of course, that means the Basecamp team didn’t know which features were important to these new customers. In short, Basecamp didn’t know how to define itself now that people were using it so differently from its original premise.
Basecamp had talked to its customers before. They asked what customers liked about the Basecamp product and what they didn’t like. This gave the Basecamp team a superficial understanding of what customers said they liked. But it didn’t tell the team why customers’ actions were so different from their comments. Nor did it provide clear direction on what to do following these conversations.
The team hired The Re-Wired Group to help it figure out why customers hire Basecamp. What were the customers trying to do with the Basecamp product? How did the customers understand their own problems? How did the customers define progress? Basecamp was searching for the emotional stories and deep insight that comes with understanding root causes–the real reasons for buying or quitting a product.
Using The Re-Wired Group’s Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) framework, Basecamp and Re-Wired interviewed 15 customers to find out exactly why people make the choices they do. The interviews focused on identifying a customer’s ‘struggling moment.
Let’s take a moment ourselves to define that term–struggling moment. What does that mean? Well usually people don’t wake up one day with an urge to buy your product. No, they have been asking themselves questions for a while before they take any action. They’ve been doing something that hasn’t been getting them to the outcome they really want. Unearthing those questions is a valuable way to begin to understand what the customer is going through and what they are looking for in a product to help them. But it’s not so simple. At the same time that the customer wants to move from Point A to a happier Point B, they may feel anxious about trying something new. Maybe they’re afraid that things will actually get worse if they stop doing what they’re doing. Or maybe it’s just inertia.
JTBD helps you understand that moment for the customer before your product is even in the picture. It begins by pushing customers to refine their language in interviews. Basecamp asked its customers to clarify what they were trying to describe.
For example, many customers said they chose Basecamp because it was easy. How do you take a word like easy and translate it into product development and marketing specifications? The interview team pushed further, asking:
Digging deeper, the team found that easy was important because everything else in the customer’s life was complicated. It was actually an emotional response because, for them, easy gave them a moment to relax and feel good. Once you understand the emotional responses, you can change the way you explain your product and how you market it to potential clients, sparking that connection instead of simply listing a boring set of facts and features.
But you also have to be careful that you aren’t just hearing the words and not truly understanding what those words mean. A designer/developer may run with the word easy and create very different features, possibly more than your customers really need. You could create the wrong–perhaps too complicated–product.
Basecamp and The Re-Wired Group picked and prodded and finally began to hear what customers truly value about Basecamp. The team then understood the progress customers were trying to make and why they hired Basecamp to do these jobs.
For eight years Basecamp had positioned its product as a project management tool and built the expected features a project management tool would have. The language used in marketing materials and product development briefs was aimed at enabling people to do project management without learning the structures of project management. Basecamp’s goal was to make it easy, so easy anyone could do it.
And yet. Few customers interviewed talked about project management. They didn’t use the term or connect it to Basecamp. What an eyeopener!
Basecamp is a very successful product so they knew they were doing something right. But they also realized that maybe they didn’t really know why people were using Basecamp. They heard the customers talk about issues with adoption, making sure others would use it with them, the customers. The clients talked positively about accountability, responsibility and audit trails, things that are built into the product and handled very well. But clients never said Basecamp allowed them to manage their products better. Clients didn’t care about that. They cared about the little things that added up to make Basecamp a tool they could depend on.
The JTBD interviews uncovered five jobs to help Basecamp identify the features its team needed to focus on, the features their customers value. These include:
These jobs are for Basecamp to provide organization, control, collaboration, history and proof. Looking at the product from that angle helped developers see it in an entirely new way.
Marketing changed the way it explained the product and created new demos, answering customer questions, helping them work through their struggling moments and make the switch. It opened up a lot of new creativity for the Basecamp team.
Their messaging evolution from feature based communication to more emotional and relatable positioning that quickly connects because it’s talking directly about the job. Images below (top to bottom) are a landing page with project management management from a long time ago, a landing page from 2013 and Basecamp’s “Hair on Fire” landing page from mid 2018.
A landing page with project management management from a long time ago
Basecamp landing page from 2013
Basecamp “Hair on Fire” landing page mid 2018
Another example of product development aimed at the job ‘Help me manage the project and don’t let anyone else take control.’ Basecamp created a new feature, Loop-In. The job was originally identified in part by interviews with an architect in a struggling moment. He wanted to have every task and deliverable in his project checked in and checked off. However he was anxious about other people moving things around in the system. He wanted people to interact in the system but he was afraid of losing control.
Loop-In solves the problem by making sure any email attachments are automatically uploaded into the correct folder without the need for someone to log in and do it manually.
This deeper understanding of the job helps manage feature creep, focusing on creating features that add real value. The job defines how to design the feature and when it’s needed.
Basecamp also created a streamlined and dedicated environment for each customer, based on what job they want to accomplish. This is very different from how Basecamp used to work with customers. Now instead of a routine procedure that’s the same for everyone no matter their needs, Basecamp software matches the customer to the job they need Basecamp to do. People learn only what they need to know rather than being forced to learn all the features of the software. So if a client doesn’t care about having people log in or not, that client doesn’t need to learn Loop-In.
Using the JTBD framework and interviewing technique changed the way Basecamp thinks about its entire business. Indeed, Basecamp has become an advocate for the approach. Because, to put it simply, they know it works. Their ongoing growth proves it. Basecamp has hundreds of millions of users and continues to grow every year.