You try to send a mass email. Then the messages bounce back. And maybe a few minutes later you realize you forgot someone.
Jason Fried's company, 37signals, is trying to solve those problems with Basecamp Breeze. The new product is so simple the company thinks it can charge for it — even though Google and a number of other juggernauts offer a similar service for free.
For $10, you create an email address, such as firstname.lastname@example.org, and then add up to 50 people to the recipient list. Now anytime you or any of the group's members email email@example.com, the email goes to everyone. Only people in the group can send an email to the address.
The magic is that no one, other than the organizer, has to register for anything. (There is nothing I hate more than having to create another password.)
Fried, 38, is a guru among Chicago geeks. His company, 37signals, is behind Ruby on Rails, the open source software upon which many fast-growing websites have been built (Scribd, Groupon and Hulu). His firm also created Basecamp, which helps small businesses keep projects on track and collaborate online. Fried described it as the ultimate cover-your-rear tool. (He didn't use the word "rear.") It has millions of users.
He has a lot of opinions, some of which you can read in his book, "Rework," which he co-wrote with his business partner, David Heinemeier Hansson. Others can be found on his design blog, Signals vs. Noise. He eschews venture capital in favor of bootstrapping companies with existing cash flow. He believes in patience. He believes in simplicity. His products are always elegant.
Fried thinks email is elegant.
"Techie people are always trying to replace stuff," he said. "That's their whole M.O. They think, because email has been around a few decades, it's old and should be replaced. Email is still the best invention there's ever been in the tech world; it's even more important than the Web, because it's completely reliable and everyone has it."
Basecamp Breeze is 37signals' first product for normal people. It is designed for mom's book club, grandma's prayer group and a sister's umpteen bridesmaids. It's also 37signals' first product that isn't a subscription model. You pay for the email address once, and that's it.
Some hackers have groused about the fee — as well as the claim that it's simpler, given one must enter credit card information.
Yet, nearly 400 people have purchased email addresses in only a week, Fried said. It also has a viral nature, as every person added to a group learns about the service.
As for how Fried determined the value of an email address, well, he kinda guessed.
"We thought about anything from $5 to $20, and we basically settled on $10," he said. "Ten dollars felt right to us. We may experiment with price down the road, but that wouldn't affect anyone who already paid for it."
That's another lesson for entrepreneurs. When it comes to pricing, Fried said never ask, "What would you pay for this?" or "Would you buy this for $20?"
"The only answers that matter are dollars spent," he wrote recently on his blog. "People answer when they pay for something. That's the only answer that really matters. So put a price on it, and put it up for sale. If people buy, that's a yes. Change the price. If people (still) buy, that's a yes. If people stop buying, that's a no. Crude? Maybe. But it's real."
Ford returning to Motor Row
In a few weeks, a car dealership will open on historic Motor Row — just west of McCormick Place — something that hasn't happened in a long time.
It's a Ford dealership from a big name, Daniel DeVos, son of billionaire Richard DeVos of Grand Rapids, Mich. But the opening isn't being stripped across business pages because the dealership will only be there until 2015.
That's when DeVos will move Fox Ford Motors of Chicago to a new facility in Lincoln Park.
"Nowadays you need a different type of facility," DeVos explained. "Ford requires a different size and different customer service aspects, like all manufacturers. So part of the agreement when we were allowed to buy the franchise was that we would build a new store."
DeVos, chief executive of Fox Motors of Grand Rapids, said part of the reasoning behind the expansion was personal.
"Being from western Michigan, we have a lot of people going back and forth to Chicago," DeVos said, adding that he and his wife, fashion designer Pamella Roland, own a home downtown. "So we wanted to spend some more time here, and my wife said that if we were going to spend time down here, I had to find something to do so I wouldn't bug her all of the time."
The dealership will open Feb. 1 at 2401 South Michigan Ave., formerly home to Joyce Ford.