Do Less Than Your Competitors to Beat Them

Last Updated Jun 5, 2008 9:39 AM EDT

Do Less Than Your Competitors to Beat ThemI love products made by 37signals and now, thanks to innovation blogger Bill Taylor, I now admire the company as much as what it makes.

As Taylor points out in an enlightening Harvard Online post, 37signals lives as a company by the same principles it embraces in its productivity software: non-complex, do more with less, solve simple problems better than anyone else.

As company founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson tell Taylor:

"When you're competing against companies that have so much more, the only answer is to do less ... do less than your competitors to beat them. Instead of one-upping other companies, one-down them. Instead of out-doing other products, under-do them."
37signals has accomplished that mission with products including BaseCamp, a practical project management program; Highrise, for managing contacts; and Campfire, a real-time group chat app. Its target audience is not the Fortune 500 but rather the Fortune 5,000,000, which Taylor articulates as "software for entrepreneurs and small companies where the executives who buy the product also use the product."

The do less to do more mantra is part of 37signals' corporate DNA. It recently switched to a four-day work week to keep employees fresh and focused.

If you feel that you are trying to do too much with your business -- creating too many products, serving too many customers, hiring too many employees, working too many hours -- the 37signals story might be a good antidote.

(37signals image by Elliott P., CC 2.0)

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.