After a controversial blog post in which CEO Jason Fried outlined Basecamp’s new philosophy that prohibited, among other things, “societal and political discussions” on internal forums, company co-founder David Heinemeier Hansson said the company would offer generous severance packages to anyone who disagreed with the new stance. On Friday, it appears a large number of Basecamp employees are taking Hansson up on his offer: according to The Verge contributing editor Casey Newton’s sources, roughly a third of the company’s 57 employees accepted buyouts today. As of Friday afternoon, 18 people had tweeted they were planning to leave.
Not long after Fried’s Monday blog post went public — and was revised several times amid public backlash online — Hansson outlined the terms of the new severance offer in a separate Wednesday blog post.
Yesterday, we offered everyone at Basecamp an option of a severance package worth up to six months salary for those who’ve been with the company over three years, and three months salary for those at the company less than that. No hard feelings, no questions asked. For those who cannot see a future at Basecamp under this new direction, we’ll help them in every which way we can to land somewhere else.
Among those who announced on Twitter they’re leaving the company are reportedly head of marketing Andy Didorosi, head of design Jonas Downey, and head of customer support Kristin Aardsma. Most cited “recent changes” at the company as their reason for leaving.
“Given the recent changes at Basecamp, I’ve decided to leave my job as Head of Design,” Downey tweeted. “I’ve helped design & build all of our products since 2011, and recently I’ve been leading our design team too.”
Software developer John Breen is tracking additional Basecamp departures in this Twitter thread.
The original blog post that started the brouhaha at the tiny company with an outsized voice also detailed how Basecamp would do away with “paternalistic benefits,” committees, and would prohibit “lingering or dwelling on past decisions.” But it was the “societal and political discussions” item that stirred up the most reaction:
Today’s social and political waters are especially choppy. Sensitivities are at 11, and every discussion remotely related to politics, advocacy, or society at large quickly spins away from pleasant. You shouldn’t have to wonder if staying out of it means you’re complicit, or wading into it means you’re a target. These are difficult enough waters to navigate in life, but significantly more so at work. It’s become too much. It’s a major distraction. It saps our energy, and redirects our dialog towards dark places. It’s not healthy, it hasn’t served us well. And we’re done with it on our company Basecamp account where the work happens. People can take the conversations with willing co-workers to Signal, Whatsapp, or even a personal Basecamp account, but it can’t happen where the work happens anymore
While the company argued that it was just trying to get its own employees focused on work, company founders don’t tend to shy away from “societal and political discussions” online, with Hansson in particular having become a vocal critic of Apple’s App Store policies, to the point that he has testified in favor of antitrust regulation.
As The Verge later reported, the initial motivation for the letter stemmed from internal disagreement over a controversial list of “funny names” of Basecamp customers. Several of the names on the list, which resurfaced several times over the years and of which management was well aware, were of Asian or African origin. Employees considered their inclusion inappropriate at best, and racist at worst.
Hansson acknowledged the list and tried to move on (you can read his internal communications here), but employees pressed the issue.