The Death of a Successful Product

By Ernesto Tagwerker

I have been using Highrise since June 2011, and I have been very happy with the product for a long time. It has been very helpful for both our consulting business and our own software-as-a-service solution.

I’m a big fan of all things Basecamp, especially the simplicity behind all of their products. That’s why it is so hard to write this open letter criticizing one of their last decisions.

I keep coming back to this issue: If Highrise is such a successful product, why are you killing it? Is it just me or is there something definitely dissonant about this decision?

This is part of their farewell message:

What started out as a simple tool to keep track of who you talked to, what was said, and when to follow up next, eventually matured into a full-fledged CRM trusted by more than 10,000 companies around the world. It’s been a big success.

If more than 10,000 companies are happy with your service, doesn’t that mean that you are raking in a decent amount of money per month?

It seems that 4 years ago Highrise was making several million dollars in annual profit:

On its own, Highrise generates several million dollars in annual profits, so we figured it would be attractive to someone. (Source)

So, seriously, what went wrong? Something must have gone so wrong that several million dollars in annual profits weren’t enough to keep development going.

The explanation behind this decision is not good enough. It has been a huge disappointment. Would it have been better if they had shared all the things they tried? Maybe.

In many ways, that’s a baffling business decision. We know how many Highrise customers love and depend on the product, and had hopes for future development. It sucks to disappoint good customers like that. It stings to turn down the future prospects of a successful business. But it’s decisions like this that allows us to be the kind of company that we are.

Yes, indeed it is. It is so baffling that it doesn’t really make sense. If the past handoff didn’t work, why not try with another team?

Just because it didn’t work once it doesn’t mean that it will never work with another home.

I know, I know: Focus is saying ‘no’, but sometimes that ‘no’ feels like a big middle finger to your clients.

This open letter feels like criticizing a ‘sacred cow’ and it has taken me days to actually publish it. But I would love to know more about what happened between 2014 and today.

Maybe it is just me, but I am used to transparent post-mortem reports. This farewell message falls short of what I would expect of Basecamp.