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Hey, What's Going On?

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Basecamp has launched Hey, a new email platform with a strong point of view. It’s also one of the stupidest things Basecamp has ever attempted. Co-founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson talk about the philosophy around time, attention, and privacy that forms the backbone of Hey, why Inbox Zero is a tyrannical scam, and what Hey does differently.

The Full Transcript:

[00:00:00] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.

Shaun: [00:00:01] Welcome to Rework, a podcast by Basecamp about the better way to work and run your business. I’m Shaun Hildner.

Wailin: [00:00:06] And I’m Wailin Wong. On June 15th, Basecamp launched Hey, a new email service that we’ve been working on for about two years. You’ve heard us mention it a bit on the podcast, and now the first group of people who signed up for access are able to get their email addresses and start trying it.

Shaun: [00:00:23] For the next few weeks, we’re going to be talking a lot about all different aspects of Hey which is the most ambitious launch Basecamp has undertaken in almost a decade. As Basecamp CEO Jason Fried says in this episode, it’s one of the stupidest things we’ve ever done.

[00:00:39] So in the coming weeks we’ll take you behind the scenes of how we designed and built an email service from scratch. To kick things off, here are Basecamp co-founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson with an introduction to Hey.

Wailin: [00:00:51] I was wondering if you could start out by establishing the stakes of what we’re talking about today. I think in a message to the company you called it the most ambitious project we’ve undertaken as a company since Basecamp 2, which was quite a while ago.

Jason: [00:01:07] Sure, and a paragraph before that, I said it was also the stupidest thing we’ve ever done, which I mean in the most positive possible sense. That we should do some stupid things, some risky things. We should make some big bets occasionally. It’s not something we want to do every year. This is a huge bet. Probably definitely the most ambitious thing we’ve done in eight years? Basecamp 2 came out about eight years ago. We’re taking on email which is basically considered a solved problem. The last time anyone really came out with something really, really different that felt different, was 16 years ago when Gmail came out.

[00:01:43] Probably many of you who are listening, who’ve been around for a while, remember going to claim your Gmail email address or getting that invite from your friend or whatever it was. That’s 16 years ago, and since then, it’s kind of, there’s been some stuff but there hasn’t been a moment where people are like, I want to grab a new email address, and that’s what we’re offering here. Because this is not just an email client.

[00:02:01] And the difference by the way, for those who are listening who don’t know. A client essentially lives on top of someone else’s platform. So there are email apps that you can get that will check Gmail, but just check it in a different way or make it look different. A platform, or a service is what we’re building with Hey, which is actually an email provider. You’re going to get a new email address, an email address. And that’s a big deal. So if you’re going to do that, you have to take on a whole lot of technical challenges, first of all, and also product design challenges, and there’s a whole bunch of things you have to do to actually come into that arena and say, we’re basically on par with the other major email providers, which essentially are Google, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo!. That’s a very short list, and most of those companies are worth, collectively, worth well over a trillion dollars. And here we are, this small, independent, essentially, who’s willing to go out and do this.

[00:02:53] So the stakes are high but at the same time, we don’t really think of it that way. We think of it something as like, we want to do this, we want to build this, we want this for ourselves. We’re excited about it, we’re going to make a bet on it. We don’t get nervous about the stakes. The stakes aren’t something we talk about much. But yeah, objectively yes, the stakes are high.

Wailin: [00:03:11] And what’s interesting is you didn’t set out to remake email from the ground up. You had mentioned on a previous episode, the Q&A you did with Ryan on product development, that this came out of an entirely different conversation about improving Highrise, which is our old CRM product. Can you talk about that process and what the turning point was where you realized that you were now looking at building an entirely new thing?

Jason: [00:03:38] Highrise has been around since 2007 and we spun it off into sort of a separate company for a while, and then we took it back in. And when we took it back in, we started thinking, well, what should we do with this? Can we make some massive improvements to it. And as we got down the road exploring this idea, we kind of started to realize that most of our communication with the outside world, things we’d use CRM for, it’s basically email conversations with attorneys and the press and vendors. That kind of stuff is all happening via email. So we’re kind of building this CRM thing, but at the same time really building a better email system, or client at the time. We didn’t really know what it was going to be.

[00:04:13] We started realizing, we actually just want this for all of our email. This isn’t just the business CRM-y kind of email. Why shouldn’t I be able to do these things for any email that I get. And that’s where the idea began to splinter and lean more towards, let’s actually make an email thing. We didn’t know during the time, was this going to be a client, was this going to be a service? But as we got into it, we got more and more ambitious and enjoyed working on it more and more and more and we decided to go pretty much all in on that direction.

[00:04:42] We were wandering around for a while, trying to find the right hooks and the right ways to pitch this and the right things that make it compelling enough that people would consider switching from Gmail or from Outlook, or from whatever they use, because that’s a pretty big ask. So we had to make it interesting enough and have a unique approach that people, I think when you start using this, you go, I wouldn’t want to go back to the other way. That’s what we had to find. We had to find those things that made you feel like, I don’t want to go back.

[00:05:09] So once we finally got that, we got really excited about it and have just continued to hone it ever since.

Wailin: [00:05:14] And Hey, I think, well, I don’t think, I know, because this is what we talk about all the time. It breaks down some central assumptions that we’ve all been living with about email and how email should work and how we should have a relationship with email. Can you kind of pick off some of your top two to three email myths that you’re busting with Hey and talk about what Hey does differently?

Jason: [00:05:36] One of the things is that email apps that exist today pretty much don’t come with a philosophy. They come with a lot of features but how do you use them? What’s the right way to use them? What’s the right way to email? That’s missing from almost every software email tool I’ve ever used. And I’ve used many of them. And I think that’s really unfortunate, because I don’t think people even really know how to manage email.

[00:05:59] So we’ve tried to layer in some really clear workflows around things that people often do. Things like, for example, you’ll get an email from someone and you know you need to reply to them, but you don’t have time right now. So what do you do traditionally, in normal email tools? Well, you mark it unread again or you star it or flag it or put it in a folder or something that’s like, I need to get back to this person later. So it’s this abstraction. Marking something unread doesn’t mean reply later. It means unread but that’s the only tool you have because other email apps basically only give you that tool and they don’t really tell you how to work.

[00:06:34] So in Hey, for example, you can mark anything as reply later. And when you mark it reply later, it goes into this little neat pile at the bottom of the screen so you can kind of triage things. And then when you have a free moment, whatever that might be, you can click on that pile and enter what’s called reply mode, which lets you knock out replies one after the other without being distracted by anything else that might come in your inbox. It’s those kinds of things that we packed into Hey that I think there’s a handful of them that people are really going to see and go, this is something different.

[00:07:02] Another thing, a really small thing here is that just the inbox is organized by default. So, again, you look at people who use Gmail, or pretty much any email app, you’ve got a mixture of read and unread emails sitting there together in the same pile. Maybe four or five bold lines which are unreads and then a bunch of reads and maybe one more unread. You’ve got this just striping of reads and unreads, and it’s just kind of a chaotic mess.

[00:07:26] With Hey, every unread email, any email you haven’t read just floats to the top, automatically. It’s always grouped together in the section called “New for You” so you can see all the stuff you haven’t seen yet and then down below is a list of everything you’ve seen, you’ve sent, you’ve looked at. We have this sense of basic lo-fi groupings which really just bring a sense of order and organization, and a sense of “I’ve got this” to email that doesn’t exist in any other email app that I’ve seen before.

[00:07:55] There’s also the notion which we hadn’t talked about yet, which is, first of all, consent is required to even land in your inbox in Hey. It’s kind of baffling that in 2020, anyone with your email address can reach you. With Hey, before anyone can land in your inbox, you have to say yes to them. So the first time someone sends you an email, it shows up in what’s called the screener. And the screener is basically just like you screen your calls. You don’t just pick up your phone no matter who’s calling. And so, with Hey, you see people who are emailing you for the first time, and you get to basically go yea or nay to them. And if you say nay, they’ll never land in your inbox. And so, right from the start, you’re in control which is completely opposite of what email is to everybody else, which is out of control. Anyone can land in your inbox. Everyone who lands in your inbox gets a slice of your attention regardless of—even if you delete it, it takes a second of thought to go, do I care about this? Do I care about this? Yes or no, and they can keep landing in your inbox and you still have to keep doing that. And it’s really frustrating, so, right from the start, we put you in control and we keep you in control all throughout your usage of the product.

Wailin: [00:08:57] And just to make clear, this is separate from a spam filter, right? So this is even more control over your inbox?

David: [00:09:04] Yeah, spam filters are not great because the majority of email that people get that they don’t want is not spam in the technical sense. It’s not like an offer for penis pump or some Nigerian prince that wants to give you a quarter of a billion dollars. It’s stuff like sales people. It’s stuff like people working tech. It’s recruiters. The screener sits above the spam filter and basically says, it may very well be that you wrote an email that has all the right words in it. It uses my name and no spam filter in the world is going to catch it, but I’m not interested. I don’t care whether you wrote me a detailed, specific message if what you’re selling is perhaps a list of contacts that we can funnel illegitimately into our marketing program, which is one of my favorites. I get that several times a week. I just, I don’t want to hear from you.

[00:10:01] With the screener, all you have to do is say no and you’ll never hear from that person again, which is so different from how spam filters work today with people’s experience. If someone writes you, a sales person for example, that you’re not interested in hearing from again. You can’t just push spam. It doesn’t actually do the thing you think it does. When you click spam in most email clients, what it does is it’ll analyze the text of that and it’ll try to be really smart with some machine learning to build this into this grand matching protocol such that if there’s another email that kind of looks like that in the future, maybe it will also get classified as spam.

[00:10:40] And as you can see, it doesn’t really work for these things that aren’t just sort of sent out en masse. Hey has a spam filter, it just doesn’t lean on it very much at all because spam is not the number one problem with email anymore, because you’re getting so many emails that you don’t really want. Or you’re getting emails that you sort of kind of perhaps want, but not at this time. And traditional email clients do so little to help you with that.

[00:11:04] Or, if they try to help you with that, which Gmail, for example, with its promotions tab and it’s social tab, and so on. It’s all based on machine learning and the machines just get it wrong. The spam filter for us is the last line of defense after all human expertise has been exhausted. And it just means that the majority of email that lands and goes through Hey never sees the spam filter because we don’t have to lean on it because we’re leaning on your assessment, basically saying, do I want to hear from this person or not? And it’s just a completely different experience of using email like this.

[00:11:39] And I think that that gets to the root of why Hey is such an exciting product, I think for both Jason and I and many other people at Basecamp who use email a lot. Is because our personal experience of dealing with email is just night and day. Throughout the development of Hey, and we’ve been using Hey internally for, I think about a good year or so. I’ve gone a couple times back into the Gmail that I also have and when I look at it, I just go like, how did I used to live like this?

Wailin: [00:12:07] And can you talk a little bit about the myth of inbox zero? This idea that we’re chasing a false promise of inbox zero? Can you talk about how Hey is not designed to get you to inbox zero?

David: [00:12:18] Yeah, I think it’s not actually an inbox zero myth, it’s an inbox zero tyranny because it’s not that you can’t do it. In fact, I ran inbox zero as my methodology of how to deal with email for over a decade. And I now look back upon that time with just a terrible sense of regret. What an utter waste of time and attention. Because in a traditional inbox, and traditional email system, emails just arrive. Whenever they’re sent, they arrive straight, right there, in your inbox, in your face. And if you’re running inbox zero, you have this urge to deal with that, right? If you’re at inbox three, well, you’re three emails away from your goal, inbox zero. So you process those three emails.

[00:13:07] And a lot of times that means processing or reading or digesting things right when they’re sent to you regardless of whether that’s a good time. And all the stuff is at a completely different level of urgency. Out of those hundred emails, maybe there’s like three of them that are truly urgent and important and it matters that you dealt with them right when they arrive. And then there’s the other 97 who you could have read tomorrow. On the weekend. Not at all.

[00:13:36] Inbox zero does a really poor job at distinguishing amongst those things. Inbox zero also hinges on this idea that you have sort of this system set up with folders and you’re perhaps trying to configure these email rules to route things and it just, it doesn’t work. It ends up being this tyranny where email takes over far too great of an importance in your life. You get this email in from a sales person and bam! You’re going to have the urge to reply to that, to do something with that. And because you don’t control the flow, you’re constantly chopping up your day into these tiny little work moments. When I think of the best times I have at work, they’re when I have long stretches of uninterrupted time to really dive into a problem deeply. How can you do that if you’re trying to keep inbox zero throughout the day? Even when you were quote-unquote good at email, I’d say I was good at email, right? I’d get back to people really quickly. I’d run an inbox zero most of the time. But then at the same time, email wasn’t working for me at all. It was taking a completely disproportionate amount of attention in these drops throughout the day. And that wasn’t serving me. It wasn’t helping me.

[00:14:50] So we’ve designed Hey from the get-go for people who felt bad about never subjecting themselves to the tyranny. Because that’s the other thing, right? You look at someone’s screenshots online from their iOS and it says, like, 43,237. You’re like. How does that even work? And of course, it doesn’t work, right? That’s the point. But at the same time, a lot of people feel bad about that. That that’s a reflection of their poor character, that they’re not getting back to everyone on email, which is just nonsense.

[00:15:20] So Hey, instead says, no. Let’s stop this nonsense. Inbox zero is not a goal. As Jason says, we have these two sections. New for You, which are things you’ve never opened before. As soon as you open any email, it goes down into previously seen. And previously seen is not for you to manage. It’s a river. And it’s going to flow, and it’s going to flow off the screen, and it’s going to be fine. You will pluck out the things that matter. For example, as Jason said, you’d put something in reply later, because you need to get back to someone later, and you’ll deal with it, as I do now, twice a week, perhaps. I reply to email in bulk about twice a week. I used to reply to all the emails as soon as they came in. It is so much better to bundle things.

[00:16:06] So you pluck things out into either reply later, or the other box we have, which is set aside. Which is basically, I have to deal with this thing. Maybe it’s a bill, or maybe it’s something else you need to process. It’s not something you need to reply to. And then everything else, which is the vast majority of stuff, it just flows past.

Wailin: [00:16:24] Did building Hey feel like the logical culmination of all of the other work you’ve been doing in Basecamp these last 15, 20 years? Because I feel like this broader philosophy of reclaiming your time and attention, it feels like a long time coming, and that you’ve been working on it and working on it, and this seems like the strongest statement to date of, we are here to reclaim your time and attention.

Jason: [00:16:48] It’s kind of the most important thing you have right now, and everyone’s out to get it. And so if there’s anything that’s worth working on, in my opinion, especially in modern technology right now, it is things that can preserve your time and attention. If anyone has your email address, which everyone does, anyone can get your time and attention. At least a tiny slice of it. But you add that up throughout the day and it turns out to be a lot. So I do think that this is a fundamental thing that we’re going to be focusing more and more on with Basecamp 4, which is coming next year, we’re probably going to be focusing a lot on that with Basecamp as well.

[00:17:20] So this is sort of something that’s top of mind, and I think really important and we all feel like we’re under attack in a lot of ways for our time and attention. So if we can push back on that and give people, essentially, a shield, I think that’s well worth doing.

David: [00:17:35] I think it’s also one of those areas where we’re institutionally well-positioned to do so. Most other apps, especially consumer apps, they’re free. And when they’re free, at least in terms of you don’t have to pay money directly to use them, you have to pay with something else and that, most of the time, is literally your eyeballs. That’s what it’s called in the marketing world. How many eyeballs can we get on this, for how long can we get these eyeballs to look at the thing that we have. Everyone is out to, essentially steal your attention. And here we are, selling a tool, first of all, that’ll try to protect your attention, and a tool that doesn’t care how much you use it. We don’t have any metrics internally that go on how sticky is this? Is anything better for us if we can get people to use the software more? No. It’s not.

[00:18:28] In fact, we do our job with Hey the best when email assumes an appropriate amount of time in your life. Where you feel like the time you spend on email was time well spent. Google makes more money, the more time you’re in Gmail. They have more opportunities to fixate your eyeballs on any of the ads that they have. Many of the other vendors are very explicit about it. Verizon, which controls AOL mail and Yahoo! Mail are now explicitly marketing to companies the opportunity to steal your attention at your most vulnerable time. They have this thing, I think it’s called timed placement, or something, where if you sign up as a marketing partner, this is all these euphemism bullshit words they use, right?

[00:19:14] A marketing partner. You can pay them money such that your email goes to the top of your inbox. Verizon has the data that you’re most vulnerable to click on it. I mean, what? Why is your email client conspiring with the people who are trying to steal your attention, and then selling that privilege off? That is just all levels of yuck. And why does that happen? Well, how much do you pay for your Yahoo! Mail?

[00:19:43] The whole dynamic is just fucked, right? There’s no chance you’re going to end up with a system where the people making the system are on your side. No, they’re conspiring with the people who want to take things from you. That’s screwed up.

Wailin: [00:19:58] yeah, my favorite Hey feature is the pixel tracking blocker? Do you want to talk about that? We actually haven’t explained what that does yet.

David: [00:20:04] So when we started building Hey, I had this sort of vague idea, that there were ways that perhaps emails could spy on you a little bit. And then I learned exactly how they do it, and it was just terrible. I’ve been pretty cynical about marketing tools and surveillance tools and the eroding privacy that we have online. But I did not know how deep the rabbit hole went when it comes to email surveillance.

[00:20:31] We call it spy pixels, and it’s what happens when a sender puts in this little tracker, usually it’s something called a 1x1 pixel, which basically just means it’s invisible. You don’t know it’s there. It’s not announcing itself. There’s not a banner that says, hey, the person who sent you this email would like to spy on you. Nope. It’s just happening behind the scenes, but the result is the same. When you open an email from someone who put a spy pixel in that email, they can see that a) you opened it, when you opened it, where you were when you opened it. What computer you used when you opened it, how long you spent looking at it. What?

[00:21:10] This is just being done because it can be done. Because consumers, by and large, don’t know about it and if you tell them about it, they’re usually disgusted, like, we were—The only people I’ve ever heard defend spy pixels are, surprise, surprise, people who work in internet marketing. Because then they can hone their marketing messages such that they can be 2.46% more efficient. You know what? That’s not my objective. I’m not interested in being 2.64% more susceptible to clicking on your e-commerce link. That’s not on my list of priorities for the day. My list of priorities are, hey, no, fuck you. You don’t get to see when I open your damn email. There’s just a core sense of privacy that’s being grossly violated when anyone who sends you an email gets to spy on whether you open it.

[00:22:03] There’s countless examples of people using spy pixels and then using that information against you. The most common example of this is a salesperson will send you a pitch and then, like, hey, do you have 15 minutes on Thursday to talk about bullshit. And you go, you know what, not interested in answering that email. So you just delete it or whatever. Then you get another email that says, oh, hey, Jason. I saw you looked at my other email. Is now a good time? I’ve retweeted a bunch of these examples that are just getting incredibly invasive in ways like…

[00:22:39] There was this car dealership where the salesperson had sent an offer on something and would just follow it up five times. I can see you’re opening my emails but you’re not replying! Imagine a sales person outside your door just hammering on your door. I can see you’re in there! I have a vacuum cleaner I want to sell you! Come out!

[00:22:59] And this harassment, we just take it for granted on the internet because that’s what the internet is now. No. We’re going to change the god-damned internet. The internet should not work like this. The fact here is that spy pixeling is a general tactic, but the vast, vast majority of them are sent by a handful of vendors. Perhaps 40 to 50 different vendors will be responsible for 99.99% of all spy pixels sent on the internet.

[00:23:25] Hey, we can figure that out. We can figure out who they are, and we did. We made a list. And it’s got all these vendors on it and it’s got all their tricks on it. Whether they’re putting the spy pixel in as that 1x1 pixel, or they’re trying to hide it into font files or other places they’re trying to stick these bugs such that they hope you won’t detect them. Do you know what? Well, we found most of the tricks. I won’t say it’s 100% guaranteed, because nothing ever is, especially when it comes to this kind of malware-like or virus-like detection, but it’s pretty good.

[00:23:55] So we found all of these patterns and now we call it out. If someone uses, for example, something called Superhuman, which was one of the ones that really just made my skin crawl because this is a personal email client. It’s not like just sort of some generic marketing tool that blasts out an email to everyone. No, this is a person-to-person tool, right, where they’re using this same spy technology to let a single individual spy on another individual, which I think, in terms of graduation of how bad this is? That’s the worst.

[00:24:23] So now we will call it out if, let’s say, Jack writes you an email and he puts a Superhuman spy tracking pixel in that email, we’ll say, hey! Warning. Jack just sent you an email, it’s sent through Superhuman. It includes a spy pixel, here’s what that spy pixel can do to you. This is the kind of privacy it can steal from you, but don’t worry. We blocked it. Because we did. We found the spy pixel, we made a little note of it, and then we took it out.

[00:24:49] So that’s the first level of defense is that we have about 50 of these services that we’ve reverse-engineered, if you will, not that it’s all that difficult. I mean, the spy pixel is in the email, and you just have to kind of look for it. It’s possible that maybe they’ll change their patterns or there’s some we didn’t find. So we have a next level of defense, which is basically just all the general patterns that people use to embed these spy pixels, 1x1 pixels, or these background images, or other of these things that you can kind of sneak this stuff into. We take that out, too.

[00:25:20] In those cases, we can’t necessarily pin it on someone, so we’re not going to blame them for it. But it’s going out. And then finally, if something, somehow makes it through these two filters, we still have our last line of defense which is essentially like a VPN for email. It’s this proxy tool, as it’s called, which makes it such that whenever an email embeds an image or something else like that, you never ask for the image directly. You ask Hey to get the image for you. So the sender will only ever say that Hey came to ask for this image to be displayed, which means that you won’t leak your IP address, as it’s called, which is the address that gives you where you are, and sort of what computer you were using and all these other things. So that will always be blocked.

[00:26:07] And that’s kind of like that three filtering step. It’s kind of like a sewage cleaning process, right? You take all the big shits out first, and then some of the small stuff goes through, and there’s another filter, and there’s a chemical process and in the end, you have some pretty clean water that’s hopefully drinkable or, at least can be piped somewhere else. That’s what we’re trying to do, is keep all the shit out.

Wailin: [00:26:29] Can I ask you what you have against email signatures? I like email signatures.

David: [00:26:33] Oh, man. That’s a good one, too. We like labeling stuff like spy pixels. The term I have for email signatures is footer crap because for a lot of people, they stick in all sorts of things. Maybe there’s some inspirational quote that they thought were particularly charming. There’s this legal mumbo-jumbo, unenforceable bullshit about if you’re not the intended recipient, you are obliged by law. Doesn’t exist. Whatever bullshit. To delete this, right? Otherwise you’re liable to all sorts of things that do not exist. A personal favorite is these five paragraphs about how you can save a whale if you don’t print this email, which is not a thing that happens. In fact, if you then do print that email, you’re going to use another page just for that disclaimer about how you could have saved the whale. It doesn’t work.

[00:27:21] Then there’s also all the sort of social icons. I’ve seen, just so many people will embed a logo for Facebook, a logo for Instagram, and a logo for, I don’t know, Snapchat or whatever. Dude, this is going out in every single email you send. Why do you have to do this free promotion for these kind of things? And worst of all, for a lot of emails, the footer crap takes up more space than the email itself. If you think of all the emails that are sent around the world, all the processing power, all the storage that’s required for it. Footer crap sucks up an enormous amount of energy and storage and processing and I’m pretty sure that we could have saved 500 whales and at least 2,000 polar bears if we drop all this sort of footer crap and we saved all the resources that goes into processing and storing and sending and transporting all that footer crap.

[00:28:16] So we can’t fix that problem, unfortunately. It would be great if I just had this magic tool that could just snip out all email signatures around the world from all the other email clients that people use. We can’t do that. But what we can do is be the change we want to see.

[00:28:33] So, in Hey, there are no signatures. You cannot enter an automatic signature.

Wailin: [00:28:38] I like signatures!

David: [00:28:41] You do, and do you know what, some people like to print emails all the time, and some people don’t like polar bears, and—

Wailin: [00:28:45] Don’t lump me with the people who print emails. I just enjoy putting a link to the Rework podcast in my signature.

Jason: [00:28:53] Wailin, here’s what you can do. You can get one of those TextExpander apps.

David: [00:28:56] Yes.

Jason: [00:28:57] You know, on the Mac, and just say, like, sig for sig, and boom, fill it right in yourself.

Wailin: [00:29:01] Oh, okay.

David: [00:29:03] It’s also one of those things where even if, Wailin, you’re the one responsible signature user. You are the minority, right? The majority of people who use elaborate signatures, they’re not responsible with it. It’s kind of like they’ve just gone wild. There’s 400 different fonts and sizes and just the amount of footer crap that it produces, it’s not worth it. So, I’m like, this is some collateral damage that goes into it. Even you, the responsible signature user, you’ll have to find a work around. I mean, there’s plenty of these workarounds, right?

Wailin: [00:29:34] Okay.

David: [00:29:34] We’re basically just staking a pin here saying, footer crap is not good. Footer crap is bad and you shouldn’t do it and we won’t allow you to do it in Hey. So there’s no footers, which is funny because I email a lot, right? There’s no one who’s ever sent me back a thing saying, like, hey! Where’s your footer? Can you please put that in. Because the thing I keep hearing from people is like, well, what if there was one time where I really needed their phone number and it wasn’t in there and I was in a hurry and I couldn’t find the phone number, and like? What the fuck kind of story is this you’re making up? When it has to be this elaborate for you to justify the fact that there’s all this footer crap floating around the internet just because you could make up one story in your head about the one time it would have been slightly more convenient if there was a phone number in the footer of that email you just received?

[00:30:25] It doesn’t make any sense. It’s disproportionate, and I think that’s part of those hard choices, right? Most email clients will simply do and implement the features that people ask for. Right? That’s how we ended up with spy pixels. And they never stopped to think, like, hey, okay, I can do it. They’re asking for it, but should we do it?

Jurassic Park: [00:30:44] Ian Malcolm: But your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.

David: [00:30:47] This is what Jason was talking about in terms of having a philosophy of email. We have a philosophy of email that goes much deeper than just is it nice to use, is it productive to use? No, is it moral to use? Are we contributing to problems that are bad? If we are, we should not. And I think that this is the thing, perhaps above all else, that motivates me to build Hey and why I’m so excited about it is because it seems to be that there are not that many people making software who are willing to make these kinds of choices that we are privileged enough to make.

[00:31:22] We don’t have investors breathing down our neck, telling us, hey, you could juice this quarter’s earnings if you just implemented the number one requested feature, which is a tower of footer crap or three tons of spy pixels. No one is telling us what to do. We can simply do what’s right. And I mean, obviously what’s right is our perception of what’s right, but that’s pretty important.

[00:31:42] I keep hearing from people who were forced or feel forced to build a certain kind of software they don’t believe in themselves. That’s not us. If there’s one privilege that we’ve developed over 20 years of building software, it’s that we don’t have to listen to any of that. We can do what’s right and what we feel is good and then we can put a product out there that will appeal to people who feel the same way. It doesn’t have to appeal to everyone, right? There will be people who go, and email client that doesn’t do footer crap is not an email client for me. Okay. There’s all the other email clients that will let you do whatever you want with footer crap and pollute the internet oceans like that. It’s all there.

[00:32:22] We’re not adding anything to email if we just do the same thing that everyone else does. I once gave a presentation of Ruby on Rails, the toolkit that we use to build all our stuff, and Shopify and Twitter and whatever have used. And the signature line in that presentation went, “Look at all the things we’re not doing.”

[00:32:40] And I feel like that’s a perfect tag line for Hey as well. Look at all the things we’re not doing. We’re not doing spy pixels. We’re not doing footer crap. We’re not doing notifications on by default. We’re not doing counts. There’s not unread counter. You’ll never get to 42,763 unread emails because we just don’t count. All the things we’re not doing are as important to the product as all the things we are doing.

[00:33:05] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.

Shaun: [00:33:10] Rework is produced by Wailin Wong and me, Shaun Hildner. Music for the show is by Clip Art.

[00:33:16] Shownotes for this episode are at and we’re on Twitter at @reworkpodcast.

Wailin: [00:33:21] Right now, access to Hey is invite-only. But don’t worry, getting on the list is easy. Send an email to and tell us how you feel about email. There are currently around 50,000 people on the invite list and we’re opening up access a little bit at a time in these early stages, so when you sign up it may take some time for your invite to arrive. But don’t worry, we will get you in there.