A new high
Most people who’ve read this blog know something of my origin story. It even sounds like the beginning of a Spiderman movie.
I used to be a Chemical Engineer in school, but couldn’t stand working at a uranium processing plant during a summer internship. It wasn’t a radioactive spider that bit me, but a broken ankle tied me to a desk and computer for the rest of the summer because management didn’t want my cast to get contaminated. There goes my superhero career.
So I sat there and programmed. And I fell in love with it.
I worked as hard as I could remaking myself into a software developer, and I dreamed of running my own software company. I remember taking a plane in college and someone spotted me with my Entrepreneur magazine. He asked if I had my own company. “Not yet,” I said. “One day, I hope.”
After college, I took a job as a consultant with Accenture and later a job at a medium sized software company. And seven years later, I still didn’t have my own software company to show for it. I had tried various things. The biggest attempt was spending a couple years working on some mobile database administration software that no one besides me ever saw. I just couldn’t ship anything.
I was a big reader of Slashdot back in 2004/2005. I remember coming across an article about Ruby on Rails. It looked interesting. It looked a whole lot more interesting than the work I was doing porting an Enterprise Java Bean application from one Java application server to another.
Then I started digging into where it came from, and learned that some guys in Chicago had created it while building something called Basecamp.
The company was 37signals.
I was addicted. I devoured every single blog post of theirs and the stories of how Basecamp was created. These guys were doing exactly what I wanted to be doing.
It was the jolt I needed to reboot my life again.
Less than a year later I had quit my job and started my own company, Inkling, built on… Ruby on Rails. Instead of sitting in a folder on my computer for years, I was now building less, worrying about problems only when they were actually problems, and building a business from customer money rather than VC money - all lessons I took from 37signals and their book Getting Real.
Over the last 8 years I’ve been creating and running my own software businesses Inkling and later Cityposh, and though it’s had its occasional downsides and challenges, it’s been a dream come true.
But there was still something missing.
On August 9, 2007 I spoke at a networking event here in Chicago - the Entrepreneurial Summer Social. It was a casual event, and one I’m sure most attendees wouldn’t even remember seven years later, but it was memorable for me. It was my first opportunity to introduce my new company, Inkling, to a crowd of Chicagoland entrepreneurs who I had been admiring for years.
I met Zack Kaplan, CEO of Inventables, whose work I was familiar with because he and his partner went to the same university as me.
I met Dick Costolo, now CEO of Twitter, but at the time had just sold his company Feedburner to Google. Twitter was unlikely even a glint in his eye yet.
And I finally got to meet Jason Fried, the founder and CEO of 37signals.
After the meetup, I’d send Jason the occasional email to keep up a relationship. Of course, most didn’t turn into much conversation. I didn’t expect them to. But a few did…
One email turned into getting me listed as a security researcher when I helped find bugs in Basecamp.
Another led to Jason becoming an advisor for Draft. We’d meet every few months to go over product design decisions. You see his invaluable feedback in things like “comment out” your writing.
And those emails helped build a relationship that has now developed something I’m excited to finally share.
Back in February of this year, Jason announced that 37signals would be renaming themselves Basecamp, and focusing on their flagship, project management product. To do so, they would sell or spin-off their other successful and profitable products like Highrise, a small business CRM tool.
Now, last week, seven years after we met at that talk I gave, Jason, his business partner, David Heinemeier Hansson, and I signed a deal to spin-off Highrise as its own company - a company I’m taking over as CEO.
As a subsidiary of Basecamp, I will have a ton of help from the awesome customer support team and talented employees of Basecamp. Highrise will continue to run smoothly and securely through it’s current resources. But I’m building a team now to focus on product development and will gradually transition the rest of the pieces that make Highrise run.
I’ve been a Highrise user for years, and the people joining my team have been as well. We have a lot of good ideas and personal interest in making the product as awesome as we can.
If you are a Highrise user, or even if you’ve decided Highrise doesn’t work for you, I’d love to hear your feedback. Please, find me on Twitter at natekontny or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d rather talk than write, please leave me a voicemail here: (773) 359-3352. I won’t be able to return everyone’s message, but I guarantee I’ll listen to all the feedback I get and incorporate it into the decision making of Highrise. (If you have a bug or a problem, please continue to use the super responsive helpdesk.)
And if you are a Draft user, you need to know it’s also a priority for me to keep Draft running smoothly. Writing is important to me, and will be a big way I spread Highrise. Even Jason Fried’s announcement today of Highrise’s future was written in Draft.
Draft continues to make enough revenue to pay for itself, and I am working on hiring help to do customer support and development. Stay tuned for changes there.
It hasn’t been easy getting to this point. I’ve made my share of false starts and taken dead ends. What’s gotten me here though is taking an incredibly long view of what I’ve wanted to achieve, and working insanely hard at emulating the people I respect.
And last, I can’t possibly thank you enough for reading Ninjas and Robots, or using Draft, or sharing my work with your friends and colleagues. It’s because of you I was given this awesome opportunity to partner with the folks I’ve admired for so long. To realize even more of the dream that started at a uranium processing plant, and grew even stronger when I went down a rabbit hole from a Slashdot article.
If I can be of any help to you, please let me know.
P.S. If you are a designer who’s handy with HTML and CSS and wants to help us at Highrise, I’d love to chat. Please reach out (email@example.com).