Always Yours, Jason

How 37signals use Founder Letters as landing pages.

Hey — It’s Nico.

This is Behind Tactics 🧠, the Failory newsletter where I share the strategies behind the best startups.

In this issue:

  • How Jason Fried and 37signals use "Founder Letters" as landing pages to share their vision and sell their products.

  • The impact of ONCE and HEY’s Founder Letters in challenging industry norms and offering innovative solutions.

  • Why this strategy can drive high conversion rates and serve as a unique marketing stunt.

  • How to apply this strategy to your startup by finding an enemy, explaining the problem, and offering a solution.

Let’s get into it.

The Strategy

Homepage Founder Letters

You have to be very unique for ChatGPT to describe you as a founder with “unconventional business practices.”

Jason Fried is one of those people in startups everyone looks to for his next moves. His approach is refreshingly different, and his ideas often challenge the status quo.

From promoting remote work long before it became mainstream to advocating for a calm and focused work environment, Jason has always done things his way. I’m sure I could write various of these Tuesday newsletters analyzing each of his unique business practices.

Among these unique practices, there’s one I could hardly find any other company doing, and I feel like it’s particularly clever: Jason Fried uses "Founder Letters" as his companies' landing pages to share his vision and sell.

Founder Letters are personal messages Jason writes on his company’s landing pages, directly addressing his audience.

In these letters, Jason shares stories, insights, and the rationale behind his company’s decisions. He talks about the problems the startup aims to solve, the principles it stands by, and why these principles matter.

Note that these letters are not a subsection of the homepage — they are the homepage.

No short copy, no visuals, no divisions — Jason doesn’t care about the general copywriting advice. His homepages are just pure copy in the form of a letter, written in a conversational and authentic tone that reflects Jason’s unique approach to startups.

Jason’s parent company is called 37signals. He has built several software businesses within this company, including HEY and ONCE. In these two, Jason has used the Founder Letter strategy.

ONCE’s Founder Letter

ONCE is the latest company among Jason Fried’s ventures. The whole concept of the startup is to build software that customers pay for once and own forever, with no recurring subscription fees.

In a world where all companies are adopting subscription models, Jason calls for the “post-SaaS era” and launches one-time-fee products. What’s a better way to share this vision than through a letter?

That’s exactly what Jason does on ONCE’s homepage:

It’s a copywriting masterpiece — let’s break it down:

  1. Identifying the Problem: It starts by describing the problem of perpetual subscription fees.

  2. Touching on the Pain Point: The letter directly addresses the reader’s pain with the line, “Add up your SaaS subscriptions last year.”

  3. Offering the Solution: It then introduces ONCE, a line of software products you pay for once and own forever, emphasizing “Once” four times to reinforce the concept.

  4. Building Trust: Finally, it builds credibility by referencing their pioneering role in the SaaS revolution in the early 2000s, indicating their expertise and reliability.

This letter shares Jason’s vision and persuades readers by addressing their pain points, providing a clear solution, and establishing trust—all in a conversational and authentic tone.

HEY’s Founder Letter

HEY is one of Jason’s most ambitious projects: an email app that aims to compete with Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, and Apple.

This is what HEY’s homepage looked like when it launched:

It’s another brilliant example of effective copywriting:

  1. Identifying the Problem: It starts with, “We need to talk about email,” immediately drawing attention to the issue.

  2. Nostalgia for the Good Old Days: It reminisces about the time when email felt great, with lines like, “It feels great to get an email from someone you care about.”

  3. Highlighting the Culprits: The letter suggests that major email providers have broken email, stating, “Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, and Apple just let it happen.”

  4. Reaffirming Email’s Value: It reminds readers that email remains a valuable tool, saying, “Email remains a wonder.”

  5. Proposing the Solution: It positions HEY as the solution, asserting, “Email deserves a dust off… With HEY, we’ve done just that.”

  6. A Fresh Start: It emphasizes the idea of HEY as a return to better days with “A fresh start, the way it should be.”

Most importantly, this letter makes the reader feel like they’re joining a movement to reclaim email’s best aspects. It's all about bringing people together to rediscover what made email great.

Note: HEY’s homepage has since changed, but the letter is still part of it.

Should I?

Why This Works

  • This can convert well. Unlike what copywriting rules would say, a founder’s letter can drive high conversion rates for some products in some industries. The main reason is it feels personal and authentic — it doesn’t feel like you’re being sold. Ali Ansari tried this strategy for his startup, micro1, and it increased conversion rates x2.

  • It serves as a marketing stunt. I recently wrote about how startups were creating incredibly designed homepages to drive attention on social media. Unbelievably, a homepage as simple as a letter also attracts a lot of attention. The reason is that what matters is just making something very different from the rest.

  • Shares the business’ vision. A letter is the best way for a founder to explain to the world the problem the company is solving, why it’s important to solve it, and how it’s solving it. This makes people empathize with the company.

How to Apply It

  • Find an enemy. A common enemy is stronger than a shared love, and Jason knows this. In the case of ONCE, the enemy is SaaS companies, which are taking advantage of their customers by charging them monthly. In the case of HEY, the enemy is Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, and Apple, who broke the email experience.

  • Explain the problem and the why. The reader might not know or understand what’s wrong with the enemy, so it’s important to problematize the situation. In ONCE’s letter, Jason claims the importance of giving back to customers what they should own. In HEY, Jason reminds the user about how vital email is and some of the pains of today’s email experience.

  • Offer a solution. Only at the end of the letter, when the reader has already purchased the idea that an enemy is causing a big problem, suggest your company as a solution and add a CTA to convert.

Yes, But

  • This doesn’t work for everyone. For more commoditized software ideas, your homepage will probably convert better if you describe your features and share product screenshots, rather than if you talk about your company’s vision.

  • Few people will read. Founder’s letters might not engage all potential customers. Many visitors prefer concise information and visuals. Long-form letters will deter this part of your users.

  • Jason Fried is a particular case. Founder letters rely heavily on the founder’s personality and credibility. This strategy will not work as effectively for startups without a charismatic or influential founder.

Keep Learning

Others Playing It

Rehance created a landing page in the form of a letter.

  • Problem: People are building the wrong AI features in their software.

  • Solution: An AI assistant that helps software users get things done.

  • Problem: Recruiting a software engineer takes too much time.

  • Solution: A 48-hour matching service.

Coho has the letter as its homepage. The founder said doing this was “one of the best recent decisions.”

  • Problem: Employee onboarding is broken.

  • Solution: A platform that connects new hires with their peers.

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