Many podcasts in the business category follow the same predictable format — interviews or group discussions on something topical followed by key lessons and takeaways for listeners. And while there’s nothing wrong with sticking to a tried and true approach, what would it look like to do something different?
At Basecamp, they’ve bucked this trend like a bronco at a rodeo. Instead of dishing out conventional business wisdom to their audience, their podcast Rework shares stories of companies that embrace unconventional wisdom to run their business better. This fresh approach allows Basecamp to spread their unique perspective to the masses, and, more importantly, cut through the noise produced by all the boilerplate podcasts out there.
We sat down with Wailin Wong, an Audio Producer at Basecamp, to learn more about how they use their unique point of view to their advantage, and how they created a podcast all about breaking the rules.
“Go against the grain” is a motto that Basecamp lives and dies by, especially when it comes to tech industry issues. It not only enables the company to stand out from the crowd but also allows them to dip into a deep well of topics that spark conversations. This is their point of view — broaching issues that are often difficult to discuss and taking a firm stand.
“’Go against the grain’ is a motto that Basecamp lives and dies by, especially when it comes to tech industry issues.”
“Being extremely contrarian and extremely loud is burned into Basecamp’s identity,” says Wong. “There’s certainly no shortage of things in the tech world that you can be upset about, so there’s more than enough to cover on Rework.”
With a slew of topics at their disposal, Basecamp can use each one to promote their point of view, which, in turn, helps them promote their software. “At the end of the day, we’re in marketing, so we’re promoting our software,” says Wong. “But promoting our point of view is really what promotes our software.”
After running a publication-turned-podcast called The Distance, Basecamp’s Co-Founder and CEO, Jason Fried, asked Wong and her Co-Producer, Shaun Hildner, to pitch him a new podcast. Wong decided to pick up where Fried’s book, Rework, left off.
“Rework was a New York Times bestseller in 2010, and it still resonates with people today,” says Wong. “Jason still gets emails and letters about Rework to this day. That made me realize that these ideas are still relevant.”
“Rework was a New York Times bestseller in 2010, and it still resonates with people today. That made me realize that these ideas are still relevant.”
To craft episodes for the Rework podcast, Wong sifted through the book and pulled out some of the major themes, like workaholics aren’t heroes, people should get enough sleep, ASAP is poison, and meetings are terrible — to name a few.
She also planned to invite Basecamp’s Co-Founders and other employees onto the show to chat about what’s going on behind-the-scenes at the company and further explore and share their point of view.
Rework’s initial concept was a huge hit but has matured and evolved over the years. This happened organically as Wong and Basecamp’s Co-Founders’ passions started to shift.
Rework’s evolution has been unique. As the show grows, Wong doesn’t just take a page from your standard podcast playbook by listening to the market and adapting accordingly. She simply covers whatever she and Basecamp’s Co-Founders have developed a new personal interest in. After all, their point of view is ultimately the company’s point of view.
“What we personally care about and cover on the show now revolves around privacy, the surveillance economy, equity issues, and anxieties around late-stage capitalism. They’re very much at the forefront of the stories we explore,” says Wong. “That wasn’t the case when we started the podcast, but we built a framework for the show that would be flexible enough to do this.”
Even though the podcast has changed over the years, Wong doesn’t see its evolution as a reimagining of its premise. From the beginning, the show’s concept has always been, “Let’s talk about big issues that we’re passionate about.”
“From the beginning, the show’s premise has always been, ‘Let’s talk about big issues that we’re passionate about.’”
“We developed this idea of creating a sandbox where anything that interests us would be fair game for Rework,” says Wong. “And we’ve stuck to it.”
Wong is always hunting for exciting stories, trends, and topics that Basecamp can explore on the show. But lately, they’ve stretched their editorial scope to support timely causes that they’re truly passionate about. More specifically, they’re giving a much-need platform to the voices that are often left out in tech, such as people of color, and highlight small businesses that have adapted in the wake of COVID-19.
“On Rework, we featured a fitness business, a family-oriented business, and a brick-and-mortar retailer, so there wasn’t a very strong tech component in those stories, aside from the fact that a lot of these brick-and-mortar businesses have to figure out how to set up shop online,” says Wong. “These are stories about small businesses in the fight. They weren’t very explicitly tech. And there wasn’t necessarily a strong Basecamp angle in there, except for the fact that Basecamp really just cherishes small businesses.”
Listen to this episode of Rework about three business owners in the fitness and wellness industry who’ve pivoted and how they’re continuing to look after their communities' well-being during a difficult time.
Another compelling nugget about Rework’s current editorial strategy is that Wong would rather interview a laundromat that has managed to stay in business for 20 years than the next big tech unicorn. Why? Because the latter would get lost in the sea of timeworn tactics.
“I interviewed a friend of mine, a journalist named David Sax, who wrote a book called The Soul of an Entrepreneur. It expands the notion of entrepreneurship beyond this very narrow definition of a twenty-something white guy who raises a bunch of venture capital and launches a startup,” says Wong. “He explores other kinds of entrepreneurs to paint a more equitable, interesting, and fuller picture of entrepreneurship in North American and across the globe.”
“We spent time talking about how when you come from extreme privilege, which a lot of our standard Silicon Valley startup founders do, it’s just not that interesting,” adds Wong. “We don’t need to highlight these stories because they don’t reflect what it means to be an entrepreneur or a small business owner. We’re trying to do something different.”
Having a strong point of view not only piques people’s interest and starts a conversation, but it can also build a loyal, passionate audience for your show. It’s worked wonders for Basecamp — and it can do the same for you.