Towards a Document-First Culture

February 16, 2024

When building a company, one of the things that get defined early on is the way in which people communicate. It’s important to let this grow organically, but it’s also important to be mindful of the “mode” you’re getting into so that you can decide on it intentionally. If you don’t, the lowest-friction mode will always win (say, chats + meetings).

At BaseHub, we’re building a place to write stuff which you’ll distribute through the Internet, such as this blog you’re reading. So for us, writing not only makes sense for our communicational efficiency, it also makes sense for our business: the better we get at writing, the more we’ll want to write, and the more we’ll dogfood our product.

But writing is hard. Writing a static piece of text with the objective of expressing a clear message is hard because it forces us to pause and clear our minds. We have time. We can undo, and re-write stuff which, on the one hand, is great—there’s less room for mistakes—, and on the other, it’s a great burden—the expectations on that piece are higher.

It doesn’t only require us to clear up our existing thoughts, it also requires us to come up with new thoughts which can explain the thing we’re trying to explain better. In writing, the best thoughts win. Contrast that to talking, or chatting, in which we express whatever comes to mind, like a first-in-first-out queue.

Finding Balance

I work towards towards a document-first culture. A culture in which our people understand our business and prouduct deeply, and if they don’t, they get to exercise that muscle with writing. When deciding where we’re going next, we’ll create a document titled “where we’re going?” or something of that sorts. When planning a specific feature, we’ll write “feature X“ and explain the problems it solves, and how it should be built. When someone is stuck with a problem, they’ll start a doc explaining what it is about and what solutions have they’ve tried.

Now, for urgent matters, we obviously meet. We’re a small team. For saying “gm”, we chat. For brainstorming, we meet. Every method is important, but intentionally working towards a document-first culture—which requires discipline—reduces the chances of falling into the trap of lower-friction, “cheaper” methods of communicating.

  • “Writing, Briefly”, Paul Graham (source)

  • “The Day You Became A Better Writer”, Scott Adams (source)

  • “Hire Great Writers”, Rework Podcast (source)

  • Jeff Bezos’ management strategy around six pagers (source)