Book Review: Rework

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Just finished reading the new book Rework written by the founders of the very successful software company 37signals, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. If you are unfamiliar with 37signals and their blog, then this business book will be a very interesting read for you. Their take on business is very unorthodox to say the least. That said I think many will find it very useful. It’s also a very short read. It’s less than 300 pages of essays punctuated by illustrations capturing the concept covered.

I’ve heard Jason Fried talk about the book twice: once at the Chicago Tech Meetup and once again at SXSW Interactive at his book reading. I would say this book doesn’t apply to everyone. If you are running a consulting company with thousands (or tens of thousands) of employees, this book is probably not for you. In fact you’ll probably come of thinking this book was a huge waste of time for you. Jason and David’s perspective comes from owning a small but highly scalable and profitable software as a service (SaaS) company.

Let’s get on with the book review. Rework aims to dispel some myths in business and entrepreneurship as well as rituals in companies that have been taken for granted. Here are some examples.

Planning is guessing. Let’s just call planning what it really is – guessing. So instead of saying business plan, it’s a business guess. When startups write business plans, they typically write one before they’ve started their business so everything’s just a guess at best. I couldn’t agree more.

Start a business not a startup. This idea comes from their belief that you need to charge for your product and stop giving it away for free. A lot of startups believe that the laws of business physics do not apply to their business. Let’s just get eyeballs and give away our product and somehow we’ll make money. By calling a startup a business it’s clearer as to what it should and shouldn’t do.

Focus on the core of your business. A business has to think about a ton of things all at once. When deciding what to do and what not to do, one should focus on the core. A good analogy that the book gives is the hot dog stand. What is the one thing that a hot dog stand must have in order to be in the hot dog business. It’s not the stand, the bun, the ketchup or the mustard. Absolutely focus on the hot dog because without it, it’s not a hot dog stand.

Be a curator. Your product should be like a museum. If a museum had every piece of art in the world, it’s not a museum, it’s a warehouse. The museum is a museum precisely because it turns down most of the pieces of art and curates only the best ones. Likewise, learn to say no to feature requests.

Sell your byproducts. Every business produces products, but they also produces byproducts. The lumber industry produces wood, but also sawdust which it can then sell. 37signals produces their software but in the process, what they’ve learned, they’ve turned into blog articles and their books.

Interruption is the enemy of productivity. The work day is full of interruptions. Creatives need uninterrupted spaces of time in order to do their best work.

Innovation is overrated. Useful never goes out of style. Today’s innovation is tomorrow’s norm. By focusing on useful, you’ll create a longer lasting business. Ex – PostIt notes will still be around 10 years from now.

If some of these ideas appeal to you, then you owe it to yourself to check the book out. It’s a fast read and should take you less than 3 hours. 37signals has also released a series of commercials to promote the book. This one below is my favorite.

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Takeaways from “Speaking of Success” with Jason Fried of 37signals

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Just got back from a great talk hosted at Chicago’s ITA TechNexus on 200 S Wacker. The speaker for this event was Jason Fried, co-founder and President of 37signals, a private Chicago based software company whose products include, Basecamp, Highrise, Backpack and Campfire to name a few.

The question was posed of how Jason became so popular over the years. He attributed his success to his sharing of knowledge and ideas. He advocates outsharing and outteaching rather than trying to outspend the competition in the marketing department. The small guy simply cannot win by outspending the competition on advertising.

On Exit Strategies
He doesn’t believe in them. Rather, his long term goal is to simply stay in business and be happy.

On the Current State of Software
The current model of software is broken. Companies are too feature obsessed. Also in the enterprise market, there is a disconnect between the buyer and the end user. Software is made to tailor to the buyer with disregard to the actual person using it.

Good software should do a few things well and get out of your way. His analogy was the hammer. It’s a one purpose tool and it does its job really well and you can charge money for it.

Release half a product, not a half assed product.

Favorite Word: Clarity. The word simplicity has been so overused that to him, it has ceased to mean anything. However, a good tool is clear and effective.

He’s a big fan of “good enough”. A software product shouldn’t take more than 3-4 months to develop. Otherwise the feature set has to be parred down. I couldn’t agree more. I’m a big fan of release early, feedback and iterate.

On Being the 1st Mover
Jason also doesn’t think that its important to be a first mover. Many of the software giants and brandnames today were not first movers – they were just better.

On Ad Support Sites and Applications
those applications are optimized for the advertisers and not for the users. Again, the disconnect between the user and the “buyer”.

I totally agree with his statement that us software developers are EXTREMELY lucky in that it’s very easy to create and change software. We don’t have to worry about issues such as warehousing, inventory, waterproofing. Even changing software is much easier than changing a building once its built. Truly. Software developers live in an age where we can create applications and businesses at a very low cost now than ever before.

On Beta
Beta is BS. If it’s out there, it’s not Beta. Private betas are ok.

On PR
Had a PR firm for about 3 months. PR and marketing is just what you do. Just be yourself. All the press has come from sharing, being opinionated (because boring people are not newsworthy).

On the Team Being Spread Apart
Get more done when not together. People meet all the time when they are together and lose work time.

New Stuff On the Horizon

  • Tighter integration between the products
  • New book on entrepreneurship
  • Products sold as a suite

On Jeff Bezos, investor in 37signals
Jeff has a similar mindset to Jason – a long term view not driven by quarterly earnings or a need to cash out. Jeff is in it for the long run.

On What to Focus On
Focus on things that don’t change. Invest in usability and reliability for example. “Ten years from now, who knows if Facebook is going to be around, but people probably don’t want harder to use software or unreliable software.”

On Hiring
Hire when you absolutely need to. Hire when it hurts.

On Growth
When asked if he wanted to be a 100 person company, he didn’t particularly care. The metric he’s more interested in is revenue per employee. Dude is speaking my language.

Some sites he considers cool:

After the talk, I went up to him and got to say hello and shake his hand. He’s a pretty cool guy, very approachable. I was surprised that some of the people in the audience weren’t even familiar with him. I guess I don’t expect people to think of him as a huge Hollywood celebrity, but it’s just strange to go listen to someone talk if you’ve never even heard of him.

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