Goodbye, Basecamp

Yesterday, we decided to move away from Basecamp for business uses along with my own personal uses. This includes the core product along with Hey and Hey for Work/Domains. There’s been plenty of great coverage on this already, so I’m not going to go too far into the details, but I did want to share my thoughts, especially as a person who thinks cancel culture has gone too far.

First, a little background for folks who haven’t been following the story closely. On Monday, Jason announced a series of new policies that took immediate effect internally at Basecamp. Among changes were a ban on societal and political discussions, getting rid of paternalistic benefits and communities, no longer dwelling on past decisions, and lastly, stopping 360 reviews.

The announcement that got the most criticism was the ban on political and societal discussions, and frankly, I don’t blame those who work at Basecamp. In today’s world, these topics are becoming ever more relevant, even in a work environment, and banning these discussions can cause adverse effects. Part of the reason for the criticism was the hypocrisy — both Jason and David often talk about these topics on Twitter & their blogs. Plus, it didn’t help that the post lacked detail on this policy at first (Jason has since revised it to add more context). By far the most telling part of the post for me was this, however;

Who’s responsible for these changes? David and I are. Who made the changes? David and I did. These are our calls, and the outcomes and impacts land at our doorstep. Input came from many sources, disagreements were heard, deliberations were had. In the end, we feel like this is the long-term healthy way forward for Basecamp as a whole — the company and our products.

By the response from employees at Basecamp, perhaps they should have gotten a bit more input. Seeing all of this play out felt odd, to say the least. It felt like these changes came out of nowhere. And then, Casey Newton released an article in which he interviewed dozens of Basecamp employees in part about a list that contained “funny names” of those who had written into customer support. This list had been maintained for over a decade and had been known about by senior company leadership, including Jason and David. Not only was the list called disrespectful and a violation of customers’ privacy, but it was also accused of being racist. And DHH’s response to this, which is now public, was also accused of being racist and was reported to HR. A committee focused on diversity and inclusion had just been starting internally and was dissolved when these changes were announced. It seems like that change, in addition to the political discussion change were, at least in part, instituted to prevent talking about the events that had unfolded. Rather than discussing what had happened and moving on, they banned all discussion around these types of issues. Basecamp has always believed in not looking back, which is one of their core ideologies I’ve always disagreed with, and making it an official change seems like a step in the wrong direction.

I normally like to stay out of it with stuff like this, especially if it doesn’t affect me directly. But all of this is shocking coming from Basecamp. Obviously, David is a loss cannon, and I’ve never been a fan of the some of the things he’s said, and that has especially played out on Twitter over the past few days, but it goes beyond that. A good amount of these changes and the response to them seem to go against everything Basecamp stands for & their core values.

Plus, it seems everyone knows the company essentially exists for the enjoyment of Jason, David, and perhaps Ryan. Product and company decisions are really made by a small group, based on what they want for themselves. Until a few months ago, I was 100% fine with this because they seemed to be, for the most part, good decisions. But if the direction things have gone in over the past week or so is any indication, I bet those won’t be the best decisions going forward, ultimately affecting the customer.

Everything combined has encouraged us to look elsewhere in terms of software. A big reason we used the product in the first place was because of (what I thought was) their ideology when it came to work, and (the feeling of) being treated well as a customer. We’d been thinking about it for a few weeks already, and this just pushed it over the edge. I really do hope they have a change in heart & I’ll still be following Jason’s writing and keeping an eye out for new products. I think with them losing about 35% of their staff, however, product improvements will be delayed. We’ll be fully migrated out of all their software by the end of May at the latest.

That’s about it. I’ll conclude with this tweet from 2019.

My thoughts on fin-tech

Anyone who knows me well has probably heard me complain about the banking system at some point. Although there are many fundamental issues with the system that one party can’t address, such as the ridiculousness of banking if you happen to be under 18, ACH’s & wires, and more, there have been some innovative fin-tech players that have grown in dominance over the past few years. You may have heard some names before, like Robinhood and Acorns, but others are gaining prominence and are personal favorites. The only traditional players that I really tolerate are AMEX, Charles Schwab & Chase. Today, I wanted to share some of the favorite tools we use that are disrupting the traditional banking system. Maybe there are a few you’d be interested to start using. Let’s get right into it;

Ally Bank

Ally is where I do most of my personal banking (in a joint/custodial account, of course). They are entirely internet-based, which means they operate with far less overhead than traditional banks. This allows them to pass some of the savings onto you with higher interest rates for your money. The rates have dropped drastically with COVID but still, sit at .5%. Historically, they have been above 2% at some points. Although they are based 100% online, their customer service rocks, and they still have all the backing a traditional bank has. You can still get a debit card, you can still use an ATM, and it still has FDIC insurance (up to $250,000, of course). They have hardly any fees and are transparent about the ones they do have. Right now, my two major complaints are that they don’t offer business banking and don’t offer a credit card. 

There are many internet-based banks out there, but Ally is the most prominent and is where I’d put my money. They aren’t just a higher-interest savings account. They are a fully functional bank that happens to have some great interest rates — heck, their interest rates on checking accounts are better than most bank’s interest rates on savings accounts.

Stripe

If you haven’t heard of Stripe, you probably live under a rock, but I still thought I’d mention it because lots of people don’t understand the full power of what Stripe does. Over the past few years, they have given businesses of all sizes the tools that previously only large organizations had, which happens to be what we’re all about at Z Mark
When most people think of Stripe, they think of that payment processor that lets them process payments for 2.9% with a few clicks. This itself is a remarkable feat – I would not wish the process of setting up a custom payment stack on anybody. I won’t bore you with the details, but you have to find a processor, negotiate the fees, get underwritten and approved, and sign a contract. You may think you are done, but at this point, you are just getting started. You still have to find a gateway, integrate that processor with your gateway, and then integrate that gateway with whatever you are using to take payments. In theory, you are done at this point, but in application, usually, the UI’s are so hard to navigate that you need to use a tool like Chargedesk to even work with any payments. All of these costs add up, and if something breaks, your whole infrastructure is damaged. Stripe streamlines all of this, but what’s crazier is that you are granted instant approval with a flat fee; it’s not a drawn-out process. Not to mention their customer service rocks.

They don’t stop at a payment processor, though. Other products they offer include Stripe Issuing, which allows you to create virtual or physical credit cards for your customers, your team, and yourself, Stripe Connect, which allows you to forget about accounts payable and easily distribute payments to vendors, and now Stripe Treasury which offers banking as a service. Although these are just a few of the many products Stripe offers, you could argue that some such as Billing and Radar should not be marketed as separate services and add extra fees. Either way, Stripe is undoubtedly an innovative company that needs to go public soon (maybe via IPOF)

Privacy

I’ve been using this more and more over the past few months. It allows you to create virtual cards for use at one merchant. You can set spending limits and quickly turn them off. Plus, earn 1% cashback. It’s a simple concept but can make a world of difference in managing your finances. 

Cash App

It pains me to include this in the list, considering I’m not the biggest fan of Jack Dorsey, but I enjoy Cash App. It’s user-friendly, has great design, and has lots of great features. Especially for those who are new to managing & investing money, it makes things simple with stocks, securities. Not to mention the debit card is surprisingly good, and the core feature of sending money to folks is solid.

Plaid

Plaid is a disruptor, and I guess that you have used it without even knowing. Ever connect your bank or even a credit card to a financial service or just to pay for something quickly via ACH? That’s Plaid. They take what was historically a multi-day long process filled with complexities and make it almost instant. Be it for a simple ACH payment or analyze each transaction from a bank account for a book-keeping service, Plaid streamlines the process.

Wise

Wise (previously know as Transferwise) is by far the easiest way to send money abroad. You can send money using Western Union, PayPal, or even try using your bank. Still, the issue is the conversion rate — even if you don’t know it, the conversion rate is being marked up drastically, meaning you are paying more than you should. Wise makes sending money abroad easy because it never actually crosses any borders. You send the funds to their U.S. account, and they pay out your vendor through the account in the relevant country.

There are, of course, other players in the space, which I wasn’t able to mention today. Some honorable mentions are Zelle, a peer-to-peer service allowing you to send funds directly to someone’s bank account, Cushion, which works to get any bank fees you encounter waived and refunded. And lastly, Sofi — I’ve never actually used it myself, but have heard great things about it. Essentially it centralizes all of your finance tools — loans, bank accounts, credit cards, investment, mint.com type tools, and more. 

I’d be curious to hear if there’s any fin-tech companies you think I should know about, and I hope I was able to help you discover a new tool or two!