Employer Branding done right: Basecamp

While most companies struggle when it comes to employer branding and attracting candidates, some don’t. Some companies just shine out from the dust in a huge desert. Every month I will choose one of these outliers and I’ll try to get a sense of what got them to be a top of mind company. Today is about Basecamp.

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My first interaction with Basecamp as a tool was back in 2014 when I used it as a project management tool for event planning, but at that time I did not know anything about the company. A few years later when I started following the start-up community, this company was very often brought into discussion because they were a bootstrapped company and their founders, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (DHH) were very active in the community. But what really got my attention and inspired me to start this series on employer branding was a Tweet from DHH saying that they attracted 1200+ candidates for a programmer job.

 

A short history

Basecamp, formerly known as Signal37, is the company behind the very successful project management tool Basecamp. The story behind is pretty similar to other product companies: a web design agency created a product for internal use, their clients started using it, and for a while, the consulting and product ran in parallel until the product got enough traction to sustain the entire business. 

Since 2004 they switched entirely on product development. Besides the project management tool, they also experienced creating a lot of other products, from a job board to messaging or to-do apps. They sold or shut down some of them, but most of them integrated into the Basecamp app and for the last years this has been their only focus.

The Human Resources community might have heard of Basecamp in the context of fully remote companies because they indeed are a 100% remote company. Jason and DHH even wrote a couple of books about remote work.

Still, what makes this 50+ employee company to be a top employer? Why did 1200+ programmers apply for a job when other companies have difficulties in attracting talent? I did some research and below I will list some of the factors that I in my option let Basecamp where they are today from an employer branding perspective.

 

They create content. A lot of content.

Basecamp has been running a blog for over 20 years. I can’t remember where I read or heard this, but Jason said something like “we didn’t have money for advertising, so we documented our journey instead”. A blog is a great marketing engine for commercial purposes but written in a personal and transparent way, it’s also a great magnet for employer branding. And they blog about everything from how they structure work and team, employee benefits to why and when they freeze the hiring or product updates.

Jason and DHH have written also for some big publications like Inc., the story about how they created Basecamp got a lot of press coverage, they had lots of talks, including a Ted Talk that got over 5 million views.

I don’t know if any of their blog posts went viral, but doing this for such a long time is more about consistency and less about intensity. 

If you check their Signal v Noise blog, you will see that a lot of their employees write articles. Jason said in multiple talks that one of the skills he is looking for when hiring is the ability to write. 

Besides the blog, Basecamp is also running a podcast where they go into detail on various topics that they write about in their blog posts or interview people. My personal favorite podcast episodes are the mailbag ones where Jason and DHH answer listener questions. In case you are a video consumer, they also have a very active Youtube Channel.

 

Transparency

When it comes to employer branding, I find transparency as probably the most important aspect. I feel that most of the companies try to show only the best parts, the shiny ones. I think I speak for a lot of us when I say that I am tired of those video interviews and B-rolls that show how great a company is. 

Basecamp does a brilliant job instead. They make clear the recruitment process time, with time intervals and the exact steps:

Picture from this job post.

They are also open about the salary range for each position they hire:

Picture from this job post.

They explain very precisely the job titles and their requirements. 

Picture from here.

All of the above together with their perks and benefits, how the team is distributed and more other info about Basecamp can be found in their Employee Handbook – an example of how a handbook should be. 

 

Everyone on Support

You may be familiar with cross-functional initiatives that big companies are doing, but Basecamp took it to the next level: every person in the company, no matter what their day by day activity is, spends a day every 8 weeks or so on customer support. This is a simple and brilliant way to make all your employees understand the business. 

 

Remote working promoters

Although Basecamp headquarters is located in Chicago, their team is distributed all around the globe. And has been from the beginning. 

Their founders explain how they built the culture and the processes of working remotely in the Remote book, but it’s important to understand that they have been working like this before remote work became a hot topic.

Jason Fried is a well-respected speaker in the start-ups’ scene and DHH is the creator of Ruby on Rails, a very popular web development framework. You might think that most of the success of the employer brand of Basecamp is due to their founders’ personal brand. It might be true, but their personal brand was built at the same time with Basecamps.

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