All posts filed under “Analysis

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China in Space – This is BIG!

I personally don’t believe a recent news story has received nearly enough attention: on Saturday, 27 September 2008 a Chinese astronaut made a successful spacewalk from a Chinese craft.

HOLY ****!

Why do I say this?

In less than two years the Space Shuttles are scheduled to be retired, leaving the United States without the capability to get manned missions into orbit. Meanwhile, we’ll be paying the Russians to get to the International Space Station and the Chinese will be progressing toward their stated goal of putting a Chinese astronaut on the moon.

Here’s a quick reminder: the United States went from the first spacewalk to landing men on the moon in 4 years and 1 month. I don’t think there’s anything standing in China’s way from doing the exact same thing. (Though according to Wikipedia their plans aren’t nearly that ambitious time-wise.)

I bring this up because I’m quite concerned about the United States’ competitive capacity and ability to innovate on the governmental level. While smaller firms have seen good success (Scaled Composites with the X Prize/Virgin Galactic, SpaceX with modern launch vehicles) I feel we’re falling behind on major government-level initiatives. That it’s feasible in five years’ time that the United States has to pay Russia just to get into space while China is landing missions on the moon at will is unacceptable. It’s a competitiveness issue and a national security issue, and it needs to be better understood by Americans.

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iPhone – Impressions after a bit of ownership


So I’ve had my iPhone for a little while now, having never owned or used an iPhone or Blackberry before. These are my thoughts:

The Great:

  • REAL web browser. This is just such a killer app. Whether a website has been “optimised” for the iPhone or not, it looks awesome, can be navigated easily, and is pretty damn quick! I use this extensively.
  • App Store: infinite possibilities. I love the potential that’s wrapped up in the Apple App Store. Right now I’ve downloaded a bunch of different applications, though I only use a few regularly. (New York Times reader… awesome when it works!) As the iPhone ecosystem expands, there will likely be more and more very valuable apps here that will make the iPhone much more powerful.
  • Push e-mail. While I have it turned off most of the time (I prefer to get e-mail on MY terms, not on a timer), it is fantastic when I’m expecting something important to land in my inbox. With this, who needs a Blackberry?
  • GPS. This is awesome, especially when I’m out and about in London and need to figure out a) where the hell I am, and b) how to get home or wherever else I’m looking to go. The integration with Google Maps is fantastic.

The Horrible:

  • SMS. Ouch, this is bad. I mean, yes you can text. You can even text multiple people. But you CAN’T save a draft text, you CAN’T setup standard template texts, and if a phone number is wrong, you CAN’T tell the status of a message after it’s been sent. (Or if you send it to one person with a correct number and a different person with an incorrect number, it will throw up an error, but won’t tell you if anything got sent at all.)

    This is really pretty damn bad. They are all features that I used a lot on my old phone, which was a Motorola RAZR I bought nearly THREE YEARS ago. I really hope this gets sorted out soon.

  • MobileMe. I signed up with .Mac when it was still free so I could get the username that I wanted. I’ve paid for it since then, with decreasing value every year. I was initially really excited about MobileMe… push e-mail/calendar/contacts to the cloud, etc. But Apple’s roll-out has been AWFUL. I couldn’t access e-mail at all for the first 24/36 hours after MobileMe went live, it still acts up at times so reliability is still a problem. And then one day most of the phone numbers and a good chunk of my iPhone contacts just disappeared! They were still in the cloud, but no longer on my iPhone!

    Luckily this has since been solved, but I’m still very wary of MobileMe. I hope they actually get it to a point where it’s reliable enough for me to depend on day-to-day.

  • Copy-and-paste. Everyone has been complaining about the lack of copy-and-paste on the iPhone since it came out. I don’t think it’s a horrible issue, but there are times (such as when I can’t forward a text) when I really wish I could do this.
  • GPS. Yep, I listed it as one of the best things, but it’s also one of the worst. When it works, it’s awesome. But there are too many times where it just can’t seem to pick up a GPS signal worth a damn, even when I’m not near tall buildings or other signal blockers. I don’t know what the hell is going on with this, but I don’t like it very much.

So those are my opinions about the iPhone. Overall, a fantastic phone with a LOT of potential. (I can’t wait for the next software update to get rid of the 2.0 system bugs, though.)

What do you think?

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37signals is one hell of a profitable business

[UPDATE]: Based on a number of comments below, via e-mail, and through additional research I’ve updated my original estimates.  I think 37signals had revenue of ~$4million in 2007 and ~$8million in 2008.  Please read my new post for details and to download the updated spreadsheet to play with the model on your own.

Inspired by a recent post on 37signals’ Signal vs. Noise blog, I decided to play around and see if I could try and figure out exactly how much money they’re making. Though my analysis is crude (as they obviously won’t release key figures), I think I’ve got a pretty decent handle on their turnover. Based on my calculations, they made around $3.5 million in 2007 alone, and look to make over $5 million in 2008.

So how did I come to this? Let’s dig a little deeper…


37signals clearly doesn’t talk about specific numbers much at all. They’re private and close-held, so there’s no reason to. That said, they have provided some numbers in three key posts that I’ve seen:

What’s making money and how much had some initial discussion and a datapoint for number of Basecamp projects.
Ask 37signals: Numbers had key data for all of the different products.
The New Backpack’s first 24 hours provided a few new numbers on Backpack.

To complete the analysis I took pricing data from the various pricing pages and other data from the overall 37signals website(s).

General Model

There were a few different ways that I could have modeled 37signals’ revenue. I decided to look at the data the same way that 37signals charges for their products: month-to-month. Each month, a certain number of people sign up for accounts. A large majority of these are free accounts, so the use of these accounts are limited. (And some people will just register and try them out, never to return.) A slice of these accounts will be (or will turn into) paying customers.

Each subsequent month, a new group of accounts are registered. However, this time a certain number of accounts are carried over (except for those that cancel the service), and these are added to the new paying accounts for that month.

What 37signals provided in their “Ask 37signals: Numbers” post was not the number of accounts, but instead they posted:

  • Basecamp: # of projects
  • Backpack: # of pages
  • Campfire: # of rooms
  • Highrise: # of contacts

They posted more information, but I decided that I would try to create a model that would match these datapoints.

Essentially I use this model with assumptions on how each pay and free account generate new projects/pages/etc., play with the numbers within general assumptions of growth and ratio of free/pay accounts, match the data provided, then calculate monthly revenue based off an assumed revenue per pay account times the number of current pay accounts. Simple!

General assumptions

I had to make some assumptions to use the model above:

  • Only 1-3% of new accounts are pay accounts
  • Each free account creates a certain # of projects, rooms, pages, etc. over the lifetime of the account
  • Each pay account creates a certain # of projects, rooms, pages, etc. per month while a pay account
  • Between 1-10% of pay customers cancel their service each month
  • The growth of people registering for new accounts has been growing steadily since each service launched

More on each application


Basecamp is clearly the main revenue generator for 37signals. It’s been going the longest, and so has built up a good number of pay accounts and people who really value the service. I estimate that at the beginning of 2008, 37signals is making nearly $300k per month from about 5k pay accounts.


Backpack is the second oldest application for 37signals, and with the recent changes to make it multi-user, I think this is really set for a lot of growth in 2008. Up until now, I estimate that 37signals is making about $35k per month from about 2300 pay accounts.


Campfire was released in early 2006. This is a hard product to estimate, but based on my (rather wild-ass) guesses, I believe they are making about $9k per month from 600 pay accounts.


Highrise is the new kid on the block, and competes with more sophisticated CRM software. (I’m sure Jason and Co. would describe their competition as needlessly complicated CRM software.) I estimate that over the past year Highrise has grown to contribute $30k per month to 37signals from 1100 pay accounts.

Other streams

37signals doesn’t just make money from their web applications. There are three other streams that should be taken into account:

  • Job Board (and Gig Board)
  • The Deck
  • Getting Real book sales

Since each Job Board ad runs for 30 days and costs $300, I just counted the number of current advertisements to guess their revenue. From this alone it looks like 37signals is making nearly $40k per month! The Gig Board adds to that, but it looks to be negligible. Please note the sampling error… to make a more accurate measurement I would need to count the number of ads every “x” many days and average them all out. My version is quick and should at least be in the right ballpark.

The Deck is an advertising network that runs on the 37signals blog. I calculated the total revenue for the Deck based on the cost of an ad and the number of advertisers, divided by the number of blogs on which Deck ads appear, and added in a factor that represents a somewhat larger share of the revenue for 37signals since it’s one of the most prominent blogs in the network. Based on all of this, I estimate that they earn about $6k per month from The Deck.

Finally, they have certainly made some money from selling copies of Getting Real. 30k copies of the PDF version sold for about $19 each, and the book version sells for $25. I estimate that they earn about $10k per month from these sales (PDF and hard copies).

Grand Total

All together, I believe 37signals currently generates revenue of approximately $400k per month from a diverse stream of applications and other revenue sources. If this continues, they are on track for yearly revenues of almost $5 million. This makes them incredibly profitable. They have 9 employees, plus some other help from time to time (it appears.) Jason Fried and DHH (and Jeff Bezos) must be doing quite well.

Think I’m full of s**t?

Well, I don’t blame you. To quote a great Radiohead song, I might be wrong. This analysis is a bit crude because of a lack of data. You may have very different assumptions that you would use in this analysis would could dramatically change the figures here. My growth model might be quite a way off.

Here’s the Excel file I used to calculate everything; try it out for yourself.

Right-click this link to download the 37signalsRevenueModel.xls

Just plug the assumptions into the relevant boxes and see how the figures line up for you.

Summary and why?

Let me make it clear that I’m both a big fan of 37signals and a user of their applications. I did this partly for my own edification and partly to better understand the industry of SaaS. (I’m working on an app of my own, but since I’m not a professional developer it’s taking quite me a while.)

Clearly 37signals has be incredibly successful, and I’m very happy for them. They clearly give back, through Ruby on Rails, thoughtful blogging, etc. And if they’re making $5 million a year, it’s no wonder why Jeff Bezos wanted to invest!

That said, 37signals clearly laid out in Getting Real that “Outside money is plan B.” With revenues of $3-5million and a small team, that fits completely with Furqan’s thoughts on early-stage venture capital funding. They could probably scale their apps a lot larger, but by maintaining a clear and consistent focus, they’re able to do what they do best and keep their quality and craftsmanship at the highest levels.