GET REAL BY JASON FRIED
I Oughta Be in Pictures
We just hired a full-time filmmaker to document
our every move. Perhaps you should, too
There’s a new story at your business every
day. Maybe you dreamed up a great idea or
shot down a bad one. Maybe a customer
surprised you with the way he or she uses
your product. Perhaps a client or an
employee came to you with a suggestion for
something you’d never thought of before.
There are hidden opportunities in
these everyday moments. They make
great stories—and in today’s business
world, you’re missing an opportunity if
you ignore a good story. That’s because great brands are the ones that tell
the best stories. Sure, good products and service matter, but stories are
what connect people with companies.
At 37signals, the Chicago software company I co-founded, we’ve always
been big believers in storytelling. On our blog, Signal vs. Noise, you’ll find
explanations of our design philosophies, details of our business decisions,
arguments about our approaches to technology, opinions about what’s going
on in our industry, new ideas that excite us, and more. We’ve written books
and articles about most of these things, too.
But just about all of these things have been expressed with words, not
images. We’ve probably written close to a million words over the past 10 years;
in that same period, I’d guess that we’ve taped fewer than 10 hours of video.
And that began to seem a bit off. Video is a great way to show off a company’s
personality, people, culture, and customers. It helps humanize a business.
So a few months ago, we decided it was time to change our approach to
We’re far from complete strangers to video. But when we have opted to
storytelling—and start recording on camera what happens here.
record something, we’ve outsourced the work to our friends at Coudal
Partners, a design and product development shop down the street. Steve
Delahoyde, Coudal’s resident filmmaker, has shot, edited, and produced a
variety of videos for us—including customer testimonials, trailers for our
book, and interviews with entrepreneurs.
Unfortunately, outsourcing isn’t exactly compatible with spontaneity. If
we have an idea right now, we want to get it on film right now. So we decided
to hire a full-timer. We put a job ad up on our blog, describing the role and
why we wanted to fill it. We listed the kinds of projects we had in mind
(customer stories; documenting the way we work together; even showing
our lives outside of work, because we have a lot of interesting people here).
The key was that every video had to be interesting. (You can view the full ad
The applications came rolling in. I was quickly
surprised—as well as relieved—to see how many
really good filmmakers there are in Chicago. We got
more than 100 applications, narrowed those down
to about a dozen, and then asked those finalists to
produce a three-minute video about a person or
business they found interesting. They were given
just about a week to do it. The video was to be shot,
edited, and produced entirely solo—no crew or
assistants allowed. Their only direction was to tell us
a good story.
One applicant made a video about a guy who
ground prescription eyeglasses in his house. Others
profiled a glass blower and a physicist in his lab at
Northwestern University. All the videos were pretty
great. We shared them around the office and asked
Steve, our soon-to-be former contractor, what he
thought. We wound up hiring Shaun Hildner, a
Chicago-based filmmaker who worked at a digital
media school. We liked his eye, his approach, and his
ability to make people feel comfortable in front of the
camera. Further, he had experience in motion graphics.
Shaun just started, so we don’t have anything to
share just yet. But we’re really looking for ward to telling
our stories and sharing our ideas in an entirely new
way. The plan is to produce at least 25 videos next year.
So, as they say on the set: Action!
Jason Fried is co-founder of 37signals, a Chicago-based software
firm, and co-author of the book Rework.
illustration by laurent cilluffo
november 2011 | INC. | 41