Rework is Brilliant

I just read Rework, the new book by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson of 37Signals.  It’s fantastic.  If you are starting a business, or thinking about starting a business, or running a business, or breathing air, this is a book you should read.

There are an endless array of “startup books” to choose from.  Most suck.  Many are ego trips for successful entrepreneurs.  Others are self-help books from entrepreneurs that haven’t been successful, but are trying to be successful as entrepreneurial self-help book writers.  Very few are useful, authentic, or powerful.

Rework nails it on every dimension.  I was annoyed during the first chapter since the book started out with the typical “bootstrap your business rather than raise money from clueless investors” screed that Fried is famous for.  While I strongly agree that is one way (my first company was started with $10 and that was all the money we ever raised), it’s not the only way and I get tired of hearing polarizing rhetoric around this.

It turns out that was Fried and Heinemeier’s way of getting my attention.  Rather than passively rolling into chapter two, I was fired up.  And then, in the style of Gary Vaynerchuk, they Crushed It (another awesome book, BTW).  I was glued to my couch for the next hour as I pounded my way through the book.  It’s a collection of short essays and cool drawings built around one liners that everyone running a business should ponder.  As a bonus, they have a great essay on four letter words and why “fuck” and “shit” are not ones you should be concerned with.  And, in a demonstration of their mad skills, they have an awesome attack ad for the book.

I spent most of today grinding through another draft of “The Tao of TechStars”, a book that David Cohen and I are writing based on lessons we’ve learned from TechStars.  After reading Rework, I’m hopeful that we’ve written something as good, and as important, as what Fried and Heinemeier have written.  Time will tell.

  • Currently reading this book, I love it! Have you read there book "Getting Real"?

    • I haven’t read Getting Real.  Unfortunately it’s not available on the Kindle.

  • Thanks for the review Brad! One more reason to push Rework to the top of my reading list 🙂 m/

  • Steven

    I'm a bit curious but why didn't you raise funding for your first startup?

    • Why do you assume he needed to?

      • Steven

        I never assumed anything. Not every company raise money because they need the funding. Some companies do it for other reasons. And Brad have said so time and again he feels raising capital is a good thing (coming from a VC perspective) so I wanted to ask him a legitimate question on why he didn't want funding. Why would you assume that's the only reason he needed to raise? What if he never considered it or what if he wanted to but didn't have the chance?

    • The primary reason was that we simply didn’t consider it an option.  I started the company in 1985 when I was 19 and had a partner join me in 1987 when I was 21.  While some companies were raising money from either VCs or angels, it wasn’t something we had been exposed to in any meaningful way.  While my partner had previously worked for a VC-funded startup (Viewlogic), it was very different than the business we were creating.  In addition, we focused quickly on becoming cash flow positive and – once we were – never needed to raise any outside money.  It was a classic bootstrapping story.

  • Glad to hear your thoughts on this book. I couldn't decide if I should buy it because their whole "bootstrap is the only way to go" mantra is so over the top it bothers me.

    I'm going to buy it now. It's a good excuse to play with the new Amazon Kindle for Mac app as well.

    Also, I'm glad to hear that you and David are sharing what you've learned through TechStars. You guys are just different than any of the other incubators, and that's why we're so interested in being a part of it.

  • I’m about 3/4 of the way through Rework now, but so far I agree that it’s an excellent book. To follow up with other comments, Getting Real is a great read too. It’s available as a PDF, which I assume you can read on your Kindle…though maybe not very easily(?).

  • I also reviewed Rework for UK print magazine PCPro:

    Summary: loved it! I’m going to tear pages out and stick them on the wall to remind me not to slip back into bad ways.

  • Great book. I was listening to [email protected] 142 where they interviewed Fried and DHH about the book. I knew I had to get a copy that day. Then I couldn't put it down. I needed the fire the workaholic chapter more than anything. Also check out DHH and Jason C. on TWIST, it's a great debate that DHH wins hands down.

  • Great book, I agree.

    If it's not optimum to read the PDF version of "Gettng Real" on the Kindle, you can easily convert it via tools like Mobipocket Creator or Auto Kindle eBook Converter (free versions available for each). Although it's usually not perfect, it's quick and definitely worth converting.

  • Tom Godin

    Don't remember seeing a review of Crush It here. Brad, in a few sentences could you summarize what you liked so much about it? what about other readers of this blog?

    • If you are a novice at social media, Gary gives you both a great story and tons of advice for how to not only do it, but how to Crush It!

  • "There are an endless array of “startup books” to choose from. Most suck. Many are ego trips for successful entrepreneurs. Others are self-help books from entrepreneurs that haven’t been successful, but are trying to be successful as entrepreneurial self-help book writers. Very few are useful, authentic, or powerful."

    But if your belief that failure is more instructive than success is true, we should want more self-help books from entrepreneurs who have failed.

  • 37 Signals is very good at promoting themselves. It's important to take what they say with a billion grains of salt.

    First, their products totally totally suck. Absolutely no features, they give new meaning to the term "feature lite." Somehow they have convinced a sufficient number of suckers, er customers that a product with no features is a good thing. How many dummies are there out there who are going to keep falling for that? They follow the 80-20 rule, which Joel Spolsky has already proved is wrong:

  • 37 Signals is very good at promoting themselves. It's important to take what they say with a billion grains of salt.

    First, their products totally totally suck. Absolutely no features, they give new meaning to the term "feature lite." Somehow they have convinced a sufficient number of suckers, er customers that a product with no features is a good thing. How many dummies are there out there who are going to keep falling for that? They follow the 80-20 rule, which Joel Spolsky has already proved is wrong:

    • James,
      I use Basecamp and find it really useful. Why do I need a ton of features in order to manage projects? More features would that it would take up more of my time, which is exactly what it's NOT supposed to do. It is great to get all of your projects, messages and conversations in one place. Why do I need much more than that?

      Please write a blog on your own site as opposed to polluting Brad's blog with all of these nonsense comments.

      • I don't have a blog, but I do have my own site. As I mention in no. 51 at

        51. When purchasing software, less is rarely if ever more. Rather, more is more. In almost all cases, you are better off purchasing a full-featured, even high software package or service that you will never outgrow, rather than software with training wheels and no features whose capabilities you will quickly exhaust. Switching software packages is difficult and expensive and it makes much more sense to choose sensibly and correctly the first time, even if the learning curve is a bit steeper for the full featured package. Thus, it is in most cases simply dumb to choose packages or services such as 37 Signals, which offer essentially no features and whose limitations you will quickly become frustrated with.

  • James – I couldn’t disagree with you more.  A number of early stage companies that I’m an investor in use 37Signals products and are delighted with them.  I’m also a user in a number of cases and they do more than enough in many cases.

  • Their "you don't need to have any features in your product" advice is bad enough. In some ways, it is a filter — if you are too stupid to not know this is dumb, then you are too stupid to start a successful company. Maybe it is a secret test.

    But in their latest book, they outdo themselves in bad advice, arguing that you don’t need to work very hard. Forget working five days a week, at 37 Signals apparently most of their employees work four days a week. Maybe that is why their products do not do anything, all of the developers are playing golf rather than writing code.

    Their advice is contrary to 99.99 percent of the empirical data. Every successful entrepreneur I know busted ass for years and years in order to become successful. As Jeff Atwood and Joel Spolsky note, it takes 10 years to become an overnight sensation:

    Yes, there are a few noteable exceptions, such as Marcus Frind, who started Plenty of Fish and supposedly works a couple of hours a day. He is the exception, not the rule.

  • So perhaps the 37 Signals guys offer a new roadmap:

    1. Don't work hard.

    2. Develop a product that does not do anything. That is not hard, and about all you can do since all of your employees are at the beach.

    3. Promote yourself as a business guru. Write books, give speeches, write blogs, do videos, on "How I make so much money yet I don't do any work"

    4. You will get a ton of free publicity, which means some people (people who do not know better) will purchase your product.

    A nice gig if you can get it.

    James Mitchell

  • Um – I read the book.  I didn’t interpret their point as “don’t work hard”

  • Man – you’ve got an axe to grind with these guys.  I guess you aren’t a Ruby on Rails fan!

    • Ruby (the programming language) is extraordinary, currently probably the best overall, general purpose programming language there is.

      Rails is quite good and very useful. Most of my systems are .Net based, but if they were not, I would go with Ruby and then use the Rails framework. But it is tainted by the 37 Signals approach. Going from the previous version to the current version, they are cutting features. In other words, version X had 1, 2 and 3 features, and version X+1 will eliminate them. Anyone who knows anything about software knows it is really bad to take features away from users, it just pisses them off.

      I find the 37 Signals story interesting, since I cannot figure out why so many people have drunk the Koolaid. Why use crap software when there are so many better alternatives?

      And some of the things they do are quite good. They are really good at interface design. Their story in "Getting Real" about launching Basecamp without the ability to charge credit cards, since they would not be charging people for 30 days and they could write that part in the meantime, was utterly brilliant. They are obviously very talented guys, I find it a shame they won't set serious about writing great software, they could no doubt make a great contribution. I would love if someone like Google — who has brilliant people and infinite resources — decided to go after them and put them out of business.

  • I'm about half way through, and I agree. They endorse working smart. For them, this means they don't need to work 100+ hours every week. It totally makes sense to me. I've seen myself work 100 hour weeks where I don't get nearly as much done as a week where I only put in 40-60. Hour is a bad way to measure work. Results are all that matter.

  • Brad, go to the excerpt:

    Look at the first page of text (p. 25):


    Our culture celebrates the idea of the workaholic. We hear about people burning the midnight oil. They pull all- nighters and sleep at the office. It’s considered a badge of honor to kill yourself over a project. No
    amount of work is too much work. Not only is this workaholism unnecessary, it’s stupid. Working more doesn’t mean you care more or get more done. It just means you work more. Workaholics wind up creating more problems than they solve. First off, working like that just isn’t sustainable over time. When the burnout crash comes— and it will— it’ll hit that much harder.

  • Every successful entrepreneur I know gives workaholic new meaning. Yes, there are some that currently are sipping pina coladas on the beach, but that is only because they worked like dogs for ten years before that.

  • James, I definitely think I'm a workaholic, and I do think that 37Signals is a little bit over the top in the way they state things, but they do that to make a point. One hour of work is not necessarily as productive as the next. That is the key thing to understand.

    • Certainly true. I would argue (i) it is really hard to start a successful business, much harder than the media makes it out to be, and (ii) you will have to work really hard, and work long hours, and (iii) you had better work pretty smart, most or almost all of the time. You need (ii) and (iii) together. They argue you just need (iii).

      Putting aside my pet peeves against these guys, I would say the emperical evidence supports my view. On their side, they go themselves, Plenty of Fish and the guy who wrote "The Four Hour Work Week" (which deals with managing a business that is already up and running, so it's not the same anyway). On my side, I've got about 500,000 data points.

      When I casually observed Brad getting Feld Technologies off the ground (Brad used to live in Boston), I saw a lot of (ii) and (iii), not just (iii). Plus Brad had an outstanding partner, which makes it a lot easier.

  • James, have you actually read the book?

  • Jameson – totally agree with you on both points.

  • Right now I am doing a startup. Not 100 hours a week, probably more than like 85, starting about two years ago. A few hours a week are wasted, probably no more than 3 or 4 a week. I suspect younger entrepeneurs have a higher wasted time ratio, but once you have done this once or twice, you should have a very low wasted time ratio. I like to delegate but there is always a bunch of stuff that I have to do, particularly if I want it done right.

    Not only do their products have no features, but they offer almost no technical support. In one of his videos, Jason says one person (a low level person) does email support, and there is no telephone support. Sure, if your products do not do anything and you don't offer real support, you don't need to work even four days a week, you could probably work two days a week. But except for 37 Signals, I don't think that is a very good way to build a successful company.

  • Just ordered Rework two days ago. Now Im more excited to read it. Did you see @DHH on #TWiST last week? He's pretty passionate guy, it's rare that someone will challenge @Jason that much.

  • Nos. 52 and 53 are:

    If 37 Signals published a word processing package in 2010, they would not offer styles, keep with next, footnotes, kerning, mail merge, table of contents, sections, track changes, sequences, bookmarks or cross references, and they would certainly not include Visual Basic for Applications. They would argue that since they do not need those features, and since writing such features is hard and what is most important is that their software developers work a 4 day work week rather than busting ass to develop a great word processor, you do not need those features, you only think you do. They would offer the equivalent of Easy Writer, a program that IBM sold along with the first IBM PC in 1981. IBM chose Easy Writer because it was so underpowered that IBM did not need to worry about canabilizing sales of its more profitable dedicated word processing stations. And like the several dozen competitors of Microsoft Word that tried such a feature-lite approach in the 1980s, 37 Signals would quickly be put out of business.

    37 Signals is emperical proof that P.T. Barnum was correct. There is a sucker born every minute.

    • Basecamp is a total joke. Until recently, they did not even have due dates! So you waste your time signing up, use it for 20 minutes or so, then you realize it is missing basic features, and then you have to go find a better solution. In the meantime, since they have first move advantage, they make it more difficult for a new company, one that would do it right, to start a non-retarded approach.

      These guys are parasites. They refuse to offer decent products themselves but at the same time, due to their being well known, they capture some percentage of the market that should be given to a company that knows how to develop good software.

  • ReWork was good but doesn't live up to all the praise on their cover. Getting Real was much better but their best book imho really hasn't been written yet.

    I've known plenty of companies that have produced great software and have gone completely nowhere because they couldn't market themselves.

    The 37 Signals crew produces great software but really excels at marketing, yet has never really addressed it in either of their books. Least not more than what one could easily learn from doing a little research on the web.

    I'd gladly pay more than the product price total of both of their books if they wrote the definitive book on web marketing.

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  • thanks… 37 Signals is very good at promoting themselves. It’s important to take what they say with a billion grains of salt.

  • hey Brad
    I will finally read the book, heard quite different reviews, and that makes it more interesting( maybe).
    The guys behind 37signals created so many awesome programs like Basecamp, for me it is an important thing- they care for their time.
    Have you read: "Delivering happiness" by Tony Hsieh?


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