growing your company vs empowering your users

Joeri Poesen //

Over at SVN Jason Fried just posted an excellent thought on pressure to grow.

Jason explains how 37Signals decides not to grow in numbers, but in software quality. They empower their users by allowing them to have full control over their webapps and they throw in user interfaces so intuitive your blind grandma can master them with one arm tied behind her back. This allows 37signals to grow their customer base without the need for additional developers or support staff.

Another nice example of this approach is Slicehost, a very well-run VPS host with a killer set of features:

  • They allow you to upgrade/downgrade at will and this is linked to the automated billing system.

  • They’ll let you manage your DNS entries, backup/restore settings and snapshot instances.

  • They make it impossible for you to shoot yourself in the foot by providing a set of emergency access tools you can use to get access, even after locking yourself out (fun with iptables) or fracking up your config some other way.

Bottom line: the slicehost staff rarely need to intervene personally because they invested time and brainpower into created a simple yet effective UI that empowers their customers to do whatever they want, including fixing their own mess.

Though not every company is based around a set of online tools like 37signals and Slicehost, the 37signals approach does have merit for every IT company out there:

  • the level of usability of your user interfaces is reversely proportional to the time you’ll need to spend on end user support

  • when the perceived need to grow arises, evaluate your level of efficiency. Do you really need to grow or can you optimize your processes?


The importance of the UI also ties in nicely with the point Dries repeatedly makes: Drupal needs a better user interface. Drupal needs usability ninjas.

If Drupal is to grow as a platform, developers need more time to develop. Providing your users with a better, cleaner interface means less people asking for help, more happy customers, a broader Drupal install base and a shorter, flatter learning curve for new Drupal users.

Dries was right to make better usability the corner stone of Drupal 7. Let’s all put our shoulders behind this and make Drupal easier.

Now, on a slightly related note, to whom it may concern: growing is good. I like growing. Growing makes me happy.