🚮

Rework

🔖How would I describe this book in 1 sentence?

Great work philosophy for entrepreneurs of small to medium sized businesses.

🗺️What was the role of this book in my journey?

I read it by the recommendation of my friend and colleague Vadym. Insights from Rework are very relevant to almost everything I do on a daily basis, so there was a huge value in reading it.

Some of the principles described by the authors didn't go in line with my existing beliefs, for example approach to planning, goal setting, and prioritization. But I found good reasoning and merit in them, therefore adjusted my philosophy to understand how new approaches will work out.

Some ideas about the business strategy were insightful and though-provoking, such as selling of by-products and highlighting your product weaknesses.

I believe that I'm going to get back to the ideas from this book for a long time.

💡Key Insights

  1. 'That would never work in the real world.' You hear it all the time when you tell people about a fresh idea. The real world isn't a place, it's an excuse. It's a justification for not trying. It has nothing to do with you.
  2. In the business world, failure has become an expected rite of passage. You hear all the time how nine out of ten new businesses fail. You hear that your business's chances are slim to none. You hear that failure builds character. People advise, 'Fail early and fail often.' With so much failure in the air, you can't help but breathe it in. Don't inhale. Don't get fooled by the stats. Other people's failures are just that: other people's failures.
  3. When you turn guesses into plans, you enter a danger zone. Plans let the past drive the future. They put blinders on you. 'This is where we're going because, well, that's where we said we were going.' And that's the problem: Plans are inconsistent with improvisation
  4. Working without a plan may seem scary. But blindly following a plan that has no relationship with reality is even scarier.
  5. Small is not just a stepping-stone. Small is a great destination in itself.
  6. Don't sit around and wait for someone else to make the change you want to see. And don't think it takes a huge team to make that difference either.
  7. If you're going to do something, do something that matters.
  8. When you build a product or service, you make the call on hundreds of tiny decisions each day. If you're solving someone else's problem, you're constantly stabbing in the dark. When you solve your own problem, the light comes on. You know exactly what the right answer is.
  9. When you want something bad enough, you make the time--regardless of your other obligations. The truth is most people just don't want it bad enough. Then they protect their ego with the excuse of time. Don't let yourself off the hook with excuses. It's entirely your responsibility to make your dreams come true.
  10. Great businesses have a point of view, not just a product or service
  11. If no one's upset by what you're saying, you're probably not pushing hard enough. (And you're probably boring, too.)
  12. Standing for something isn't just about writing it down. It's about believing it and living it.
  13. The start up is a magical place. It's a place where expenses are someone else's problem. It's a place where that pesky thing called revenue is never an issue. It's a place where you can spend other people's money until you figure out a way to make your own. It's a place where the laws of business physics don't apply. The problem with this magical place is it's a fairy tale. The truth is every business, new or old, is governed by the same set of market forces and economic rules. Revenue in, expenses out. Turn a profit or wind up gone.
  14. You need a commitment strategy, not an exit strategy
  15. The more expensive it is to make a change, the less likely you are to make it.
  16. 'I don't have enough time/money/people/experience.' Stop whining. Less is a good thing. Constraints are advantages in disguise. Limited resources force you to make do with what you've got. There's no room for waste. And that forces you to be creative.
  17. Lots of things get better as they get shorter. Directors cut good scenes to make a great movie. Musicians drop good tracks to make a great album. Writers eliminate good pages to make a great book.
  18. Details make the difference. But getting infatuated with details too early leads to disagreement, meetings, and delays. You get lost in things that don't really matter. You waste time on decisions that are going to change anyway. So ignore the details--for a while. Nail the basics first and worry about the specifics later.
  19. You don't make a great museum by putting all the art in the world into a single room. That's a warehouse. What makes a museum great is the stuff that's not on the walls.
  20. Remember, fashion fades away. When you focus on permanent features, you're in bed with things that never go out of style.
  21. People use equipment as a crutch. They don't want to put in the hours on the driving range so they spend a ton in the pro shop. They're looking for a shortcut. But you just don't need the best gear in the world to be good. And you definitely don't need it to get started. Use whatever you've got already or can afford cheaply. Then go. It's not the gear that matters. It's playing what you've got as well as you can. Your tone is in your fingers.
  22. Your day is under siege by interruptions. It's on you to fight back.
  23. Let's say you're going to schedule a meeting that lasts one hour, and you invite ten people to attend. That's actually a ten-hour meeting, not a one-hour meeting. You're trading ten hours of productivity for one hour of meeting time
  24. Problems can usually be solved with simple, mundane solutions. That means there's no glamorous work. You don't get to show off your amazing skills. You just build something that gets the job done and then move on. This approach may not earn you oohs and aahs, but it lets you get on with it.
  25. If you think a competitor sucks, say so. When you do that, you'll find that others who agree with you will rally to your side. Being the anti-______ is a great way to differentiate yourself and attract followers.
  26. Do less than your competitors to beat them. Solve the simple problems and leave the hairy, difficult, nasty problems to the competition. Instead of one-upping, try one-downing. Instead of outdoing, try underdoing.
  27. There are always more people who are not using your product than people who are. Make sure you make it easy for these people to get on board.
  28. You can't paint over a bad experience with good advertising or marketing.
  29. No one knows who you are right now. And that's just fine. Being obscure is a great position to be in. Be happy you're in the shadows. Use this time to make mistakes without the whole world hearing about them. Keep tweaking. Work out the kinks. Test random ideas. Try new things. No one knows you, so it's no big deal if you mess up. Obscurity helps protect your ego and preserve your confidence.
  30. All companies have customers. Lucky companies have fans. But the most fortunate companies have audiences.
  31. You've probably heard of Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali, Bobby Flay, Julia Child, Paula Deen, Rick Bayless, or Jacques Pepin. They're great chefs, but there are a lot of great chefs out there. So why do you know these few better than others? Because they share everything they know. They put their recipes in cookbooks and show their techniques on cooking shows. As a business owner, you should share everything you know too. Businesses are usually paranoid and secretive. They think they have proprietary this and competitive advantage that. Maybe a rare few do, but most don't. And those that don't should stop acting like those that do. Don't be afraid of sharing. No one's going to buy his cookbook, open a restaurant next door, and put him out of business. It just doesn't work like that. Yet this is what many in the business world think will happen if their competitors learn how they do things. Get over it.
  32. People are curious about how things are made. It's why they like factory tours or behind-the-scenes footage on DVDs.
  33. Talk like you really talk. Reveal things that others are unwilling to discuss. Be upfront about your shortcomings. Show the latest version of what you're working on, even if you're not done yet. It's OK if it's not perfect. You might not seem as professional, but you will seem a lot more genuine.
  34. Drug dealers are astute businesspeople. They know their product is so good they're willing to give a little away for free upfront. They know you'll be back for more--with money.
  35. Marketing isn't just a few individual events. It's the sum total of everything you do.
  36. Trade the dream of overnight success for slow, measured growth. It's hard, but you have to be patient. You have to grind it out.
  37. Don't worry about 'the one that got away.' It's much worse to have people on staff who aren't doing anything meaningful.
  38. If you don't need someone, you don't need someone.
  39. There's surprisingly little difference between a candidate with six months of experience and one with six years. The real difference comes from the individual's dedication, personality, and intelligence
  40. With a small team, you need people who are going to do work, not delegate work. Everyone's got to be producing. No one can be above the work.
  41. Managers of one are people who come up with their own goals and execute them. They don't need heavy direction. They don't need daily check-ins. They do what a manager would do--set the tone, assign items, determine what needs to get done, etc.--but they do it by themselves and for themselves.
  42. Being a good writer is about more than writing. Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking. Great writers know how to communicate. They make things easy to understand. They can put themselves in someone else's shoes. They know what to omit. And those are qualities you want in any candidate.
  43. When something bad happens, tell your customers (even if they never noticed in the first place). Don't think you can just sweep it under the rug. You can't hide anymore. These days, someone else will call you on it if you don't do it yourself. They'll post about it online and everyone will know. There are no more secrets.
  44. Getting back to people quickly is probably the most important thing you can do when it comes to customer service.
  45. Everyone on your team should be connected to your customers--maybe not every day, but at least a few times throughout the year. That's the only way your team is going to feel the hurt your customers are experiencing. It's feeling the hurt that really motivates people to fix the problem. And the flip side is true too: The joy of happy customers or ones who have had a problem solved can also be wildly motivating.
  46. Negative reactions are almost always louder and more passionate than positive ones. In fact, you may hear only negative voices even when the majority of your customers are happy about a change. Make sure you don't foolishly backpedal on a necessary but controversial decision.
  47. Artificial culture is paint. Real culture is patina
  48. Don't worry too much about it. Don't force it. You can't install a culture. Like a fine scotch, you've got to give it time to develop.
  49. Don't make up problems you don't have yet. It's not a problem until it's a real problem. Most of the things you worry about never happen anyway.
  50. Instead of thinking about how you can land a roomful of rock stars, think about the room instead. We're all capable of bad, average, and great work. The environment has a lot more to do with great work than most people realize.
  51. But packing a room full of these burn-the-midnight-oil types isn't as great as it seems. It lets you get away with lousy execution. It perpetuates myths like 'This is the only way we can compete against the big guys.' You don't need more hours; you need better hours.
  52. Policies are organizational scar tissue. They are codified overreactions to situations that are unlikely to happen again. They are collective punishment for the misdeeds of an individual.
  53. Talk to customers the way you would to friends. Explain things as if you were sitting next to them. Avoid jargon or any sort of corporate-speak. Stay away from buzzwords when normal words will do just fine. Don't talk about 'monetization' or being 'transparent;' talk about making money and being honest. Don't use seven words when four will do.
  54. Write to be read, don't write just to write. Whenever you write something, read it out loud. Does it sound the way it would if you were actually talking to someone? If not, how can you make it more conversational?
  55. If you want to do something, you've got to do it now. You can't put it on a shelf and wait two months to get around to it. You can't just say you'll do it later. Later, you won't be pumped up about it anymore. If you're inspired on a Friday, swear off the weekend and dive into the project. When you're high on inspiration, you can get two weeks of work done in twenty-four hours. Inspiration is a time machine in that way. Inspiration is a magical thing, a productivity multiplier, a motivator. But it won't wait for you. Inspiration is a now thing. If it grabs you, grab it right back and put it to work.

Insights

🦅Key Principles

  1. Don't let your plans blind you. Plans are inconsistent with improvisation
  2. Ignore the people who say your idea wouldn't work in the "real" world
  3. Don't breathe in failure. Other people's failures are just that: other people's failures.
  4. Learn from successes instead of failures
  5. Long-term planning is guessing. Start referring to your plans as guesses
  6. Don't be insecure about aiming to be a small business. Small is not just a stepping-stone. Small is a great destination in itself.
  7. Working too much confuses judgements. Don't overwork for the sake of work
  8. Don't sit around and wait for someone else to make the change you want to see
  9. If you're going to do something, do something that matters. Make a dent in the universe
  10. Scratch your own itch. Create a product or service that you want to use
  11. No time is no excuse. There's always enough time if you spend it right. When you want something bad enough, you make the time
  12. Know what you believe in. Great businesses have a point of view, not just a product or service
  13. Live by your mission statement
  14. Avoid outside funding. Outside money is Plan Z
  15. Start as frugal as possible
  16. Start a business, not a startup
  17. You need a commitment strategy, not an exit strategy. Focus on making your project grow and succeed, not how you're going to jump ship
  18. The more expensive it is to make a change, the less likely you are to make it. Avoid accumulating mass whenever you can to be able to make changes easier
  19. Embrace constraints. Constraints are advantages in disguise. Limited resources force you to make do with what you've got
  20. Drop things that are good to leave the room for things that are great. Start chopping
  21. Start at the epicenter. Which part of your equation can't be removed?
  22. Ignore the details early on
  23. Commit to making decisions. Swap 'Let's think about it' for 'Let's decide on it.'
  24. Be a curator. Constantly look for things to remove, simplify, and streamline. Stick to what's truly essential
  25. Throw less at the problem. Cut back
  26. Focus on what won't change
  27. Sell your by-products
  28. Your tone is in your fingers. Don't overinvest in gear. Use whatever you've got already or can afford cheaply. Then go. It's not the gear that matters. It's playing what you've got as well as you can
  29. Launch now. Don't hold everything else up because of a few leftovers
  30. Remove layers of abstraction. If you need to explain something, try getting real with it. Instead of describing what something looks like, draw it. Instead of explaining what something sounds like, hum it.
  31. Constantly reassess why are you doing the work you are doing. Ask yourself a set of questions:
  32. Interruption is the enemy of productivity. Schedule long stretches of alone time without any distractions
  33. Meetings are toxic for productivity. Avoid meetings unless it's essential
  34. When good enough gets the job done, go for it. Don't waste time on a perfect but complicated solution
  35. Momentum fuels motivation. Release something every 2 weeks. Build a steady stream of good news
  36. Don't be a hero. Don't try to complete something not worth completing just because you put time into it already
  37. Don't forgo sleep
  38. Avoid long-term estimates. Break your time frames down into smaller chunks. From 12-weeks to 1-week, from 30 hours to 6-10 hours.
  39. Long lists don't get done. Divide problems into smaller and smaller pieces until you're able to deal with them completely and quickly.
  40. Make tiny decisions. Take it one step at a time
  41. Don't copy. Be influenced but don't steal
  42. Pour yourself into your product and everything around your product. Make you part of your product or service. Inject what's unique
  43. If you think a competitor sucks, say so. Differentiate yourself by picking the right fight
  44. Underdo your competition. Do less than your competitors to beat them. Solve the simple problems and leave the hairy, difficult, nasty problems to the competition
  45. Don't shy away from the fact that your product or service does less. Highlight it. Be proud of it. Sell it as aggressively as competitors sell their extensive feature lists.
  46. Say no by default
  47. Don't pay much attention to the competition. Focus on yourself instead
  48. Allow your customers to outgrow you. Stay true to the type of the customer you want to serve instead of an individual customer
  49. Don't act on ideas in the heat of the moment. Write them down and park them for a few days. Then, evaluate their actual priority with a calm mind
  50. Make your products to be more impressive "at-home" than in the store. Be at-home good
  51. Don't write down what customers want. The requests that really matter are the ones you'll hear over and over
  52. Welcome obscurity. Use this time to make mistakes without the whole world hearing about them. Keep tweaking. Work out the kinks. Test random ideas. Try new things
  53. Build an audience, not customers
  54. Out-teach your competition
  55. Share everything you know
  56. Let people go behind the scenes
  57. Show your imperfections. Nobody likes plastic flowers
  58. Don't write generic press releases. Get personal
  59. Forget about the Wall Street Journal. Focus on small media outlets
  60. Give away some of your product for free upfront. You should know that people will come back for more
  61. Marketing is not a department
  62. Trade the dream of overnight success for slow, measured growth
  63. Never hire anyone to do a job until you've tried to do it yourself first
  64. Hire only when it hurts
  65. Pass on great people if there is no place for them
  66. Hire slowly. Avoid 'strangers at a cocktail party' problem
  67. Ignore resumes, pay attention to cover letters
  68. Ignore years of experience. How long someone's been doing it is overrated. What matters is how well they've been doing it
  69. Ignore formal education
  70. Avoid hiring delegators. Hire people who are going to do the work
  71. Hire managers of one — people who can do things by themselves and for themselves
  72. Hire great writers
  73. Geography doesn't matter anymore. Hire the best talent, regardless of where it is
  74. Have 2-4 hours of time zone overlap within your remote team
  75. Test-drive employees. Hire them for mini-projects
  76. Own your bad news. When something bad happens, tell your customers
  77. Speed changes everything
  78. When you apologize, keep in mind how would you feel on the other end. There are plenty of terrible ways to say sorry
  79. Put everyone on the front lines
  80. When people complain about the new feature or change, let things simmer for a while. Let them know you're listening. But explain that you're going to let it go for a while and see what happens
  81. Don't try to install culture. Like a fine scotch, you've got to give it time to develop.
  82. Don't make up problems you don't have yet. Pay attention to today and worry about later when it gets here. It's not a problem until it's a real problem
  83. Skip the rock stars. Develop a rockstar environment instead
  84. Don't treat employees like children. Don't monitor and survey. Trust them with their work
  85. Send people home at 5. You don't need more hours; you need better hours.
  86. Don't scar on the first cut. Don't create a policy because one person did something wrong once
  87. Sound like you. Talk to customers the way you would to friends. Write to be read, don't write just to write
  88. Don't use the words need, must, can't, easy, just, only, and fast. These words get in the way of healthy communication
  89. Stop saying ASAP. Save it for the emergencies
  90. Inspiration is perishable. If you want to do something, you've got to do it now.
Principles

✍️Notes

Introduction

  • These critics don't understand how a company can reject growth, meetings, budgets, boards of directors, advertising, salespeople, and 'the real world,' yet thrive. That's their problem, not ours. They say you need to sell to the Fortune 500. Screw that. We sell to the Fortune 5,000,000.
  • They don't think you can have employees who almost never see each other spread out across eight cities on two continents. They say you can't succeed without making financial projections and five-year plans. They're wrong.
  • They say you need a PR firm to make it into the pages of Time, Business Week, Inc., Fast Company, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Atlantic, Entrepreneur, and Wired. They're wrong. They say you can't share your recipes and bare your secrets and still withstand the competition. Wrong again.
  • They say you can't possibly compete with the big boys without a hefty marketing and advertising budget. They say you can't succeed by building products that do less than your competition's. They say you can't make it all up as you go. But that's exactly what we've done.
  • They say a lot of things. We say they're wrong. We've proved it.

1. Rework

Ignore the real world

  • 'That would never work in the real world.' You hear it all the time when you tell people about a fresh idea
  • Don't believe them. That world may be real for them, but it doesn't mean you have to live in it
  • The real world isn't a place, it's an excuse. It's a justification for not trying. It has nothing to do with you.

Learning from mistakes is overrated

  • In the business world, failure has become an expected rite of passage. You hear all the time how nine out of ten new businesses fail. You hear that your business's chances are slim to none. You hear that failure builds character. People advise, 'Fail early and fail often.'
  • With so much failure in the air, you can't help but breathe it in. Don't inhale. Don't get fooled by the stats. Other people's failures are just that: other people's failures.
  • What do you really learn from mistakes? You might learn what not to do again, but how valuable is that? You still don't know what you should do next.
  • Success gives you real ammunition. When something succeeds, you know what worked--and you can do it again. And the next time, you'll probably do it even better.
  • Evolution doesn't linger on past failures, it's always building upon what worked. So should you.

Planning is guessing

  • Unless you're a fortune-teller, long-term business planning is a fantasy. There are just too many factors that are out of your hands. Writing a plan makes you feel in control of things you can't actually control.
  • Start referring to your business plans as business guesses, your financial plans as financial guesses, and your strategic plans as strategic guesses. Now you can stop worrying about them as much. They just aren't worth the stress.
  • When you turn guesses into plans, you enter a danger zone. Plans let the past drive the future. They put blinders on you. 'This is where we're going because, well, that's where we said we were going.' And that's the problem: Plans are inconsistent with improvisation
  • The timing of long-range plans is screwed up too. You have the most information when you're doing something, not before you've done it. Yet when do you write a plan? Usually it's before you've even begun. That's the worst time to make a big decision.
  • Give up on the guesswork. Decide what you're going to do this week, not this year. Figure out the next most important thing and do that. Make decisions right before you do something, not far in advance.
  • It's OK to wing it. Just get on the plane and go. You can pick up a nicer shirt, shaving cream, and a toothbrush once you get there.
  • Working without a plan may seem scary. But blindly following a plan that has no relationship with reality is even scarier.

Why grow?

  • People ask, 'How big is your company?' It's small talk, but they're not looking for a small answer
  • What is it about growth and business? Why is expansion always the goal? What's the attraction of big besides ego? (You'll need a better answer than 'economies of scale.') What's wrong with finding the right size and staying there?
  • Maybe the right size for your company is five people. Maybe it's forty. Maybe it's two hundred. Or maybe it's just you and a laptop. Don't make assumptions about how big you should be ahead of time. Grow slow and see what feels right--premature hiring is the death of many companies
  • Small is not just a stepping-stone. Small is a great destination in itself.
  • Don't be insecure about aiming to be a small business. Anyone who runs a business that's sustainable and profitable, whether it's big or small, should be proud.

Workaholism

  • 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 make the people who don't stay late feel inadequate for 'merely' working reasonable hours. That leads to guilt and poor morale all around.
  • If all you do is work, you're unlikely to have sound judgments. Your values and decision making wind up skewed. You stop being able to decide what's worth extra effort and what's not. And you wind up just plain tired. No one makes sharp decisions when tired.
  • Workaholics aren't heroes. They don't save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is already home because she figured out a faster way to get things done.

Enough with 'entrepreneurs'

  • Let's retire the term entrepreneur. It's outdated and loaded with baggage. It smells like a members-only club. Everyone should be encouraged to start his own business, not just some rare breed that self-identifies as entrepreneurs.
  • Anyone who creates a new business is a starter. You don't need an MBA, a certificate, a fancy suit, a briefcase, or an above-average tolerance for risk. You just need an idea, a touch of confidence, and a push to get started.

2. Go

Make a dent in the universe

  • To do great work, you need to feel that you're making a difference. That you're putting a meaningful dent in the universe. That you're part of something important.
  • Don't sit around and wait for someone else to make the change you want to see. And don't think it takes a huge team to make that difference either.
  • If you're going to do something, do something that matters.

Scratch your own itch

  • The easiest, most straightforward way to create a great product or service is to make something you want to use. That lets you design what you know--and you'll figure out immediately whether or not what you're making is any good.
  • When you build a product or service, you make the call on hundreds of tiny decisions each day. If you're solving someone else's problem, you're constantly stabbing in the dark. When you solve your own problem, the light comes on. You know exactly what the right answer is.
  • Best of all, this 'solve your own problem' approach lets you fall in love with what you're making. You know the problem and the value of its solution intimately. There's no substitute for that

Start making something

  • We all have that one friend who says, 'I had the idea for eBay. If only I had acted on it, I'd be a billionaire!' That logic is pathetic and delusional. Having the idea for eBay has nothing to do with actually creating eBay. What you do is what matters, not what you think or say or plan.
  • Ideas are cheap and plentiful. The original pitch idea is such a small part of a business that it's almost negligible. The real question is how well you execute.

No time is no excuse

  • There's always enough time if you spend it right. And don't think you have to quit your day job, either. Hang onto it and start work on your project at night.
  • Instead of watching TV or playing World of Warcraft, work on your idea. Instead of going to bed at ten, go to bed at eleven. We're not talking about all-nighters or sixteen-hour days--we're talking about squeezing out a few extra hours a week. That's enough time to get something going.
  • When you want something bad enough, you make the time--regardless of your other obligations. The truth is most people just don't want it bad enough. Then they protect their ego with the excuse of time. Don't let yourself off the hook with excuses. It's entirely your responsibility to make your dreams come true.

Draw a line in the sand

  • As you get going, keep in mind why you're doing what you're doing. Great businesses have a point of view, not just a product or service. You have to believe in something. You need to have a backbone. You need to know what you're willing to fight for. And then you need to show the world.
  • For everyone who loves you, there will be others who hate you. If no one's upset by what you're saying, you're probably not pushing hard enough. (And you're probably boring, too.)
  • When you don't know what you believe, everything becomes an argument. Everything is debatable. But when you stand for something, decisions are obvious.
  • For example, Whole Foods stands for selling the highest quality natural and organic products available. They don't waste time deciding over and over again what's appropriate. No one asks, 'Should we sell this product that has artificial flavors?' There's no debate. The answer is clear. That's why you can't buy a Coke or a Snickers there.

Mission statement impossible

  • There's a world of difference between truly standing for something and having a mission statement that says you stand for something.
  • It's like when you're on hold and a recorded voice comes on telling you how much the company values you as a customer. Really? Then maybe you should hire some more support people so I don't have to wait thirty minutes to get help.
  • Standing for something isn't just about writing it down. It's about believing it and living it.

Outside money is Plan Z

  • If you're building something like a factory or restaurant, then you may indeed need that outside cash. But a lot of companies don't need expensive infrastructure--especially these days.
  • We're in a service economy now. Service businesses (e.g., consultants, software companies, wedding planners, graphic designers, and hundreds of others) don't require much to get going. If you're running a business like that, avoid outside funding.
  • Spending other people's money may sound great, but there's a noose attached. Here's why:
    • You give up control. When you turn to outsiders for funding, you have to answer to them too. That's fine at first, when everyone agrees. But what happens down the road? Are you starting your own business to take orders from someone else? Raise money and that's what you'll wind up doing.
    • 'Cashing out' begins to trump building a quality business. Investors want their money back--and quickly (usually three to five years). Long-term sustainability goes out the window when those involved only want to cash out as soon as they can.
    • Spending other people's money is addictive. There's nothing easier than spending other people's money. But then you run out and need to go back for more. And every time you go back, they take more of your company.
    • It's usually a bad deal. When you're just beginning, you have no leverage. That's a terrible time to enter into any financial transaction.
    • Customers move down the totem pole. You wind up building what investors want instead of what customers want.
    • Raising money is incredibly distracting. Seeking funding is difficult and draining. It takes months of pitch meetings, legal maneuvering, contracts, etc. That's an enormous distraction when you should really be focused on building something great.
  • It's just not worth it. First, you get that quick investment buzz. But then you start having meetings with your investors and/or board of directors, and you're like, 'Oh man, what have I gotten myself into?' Now someone else is calling the shots.
  • Before you stick your head in that noose, look for another way.

You need less than you think

  • Do you really need ten people or will two or three do for now?
  • Do you really need $500,000 or is $50,000 (or $5,000) enough for now?
  • Do you really need six months or can you make something in two?
  • You get the point. Maybe eventually you'll need to go the bigger, more expensive route, but not right now.
  • There's nothing wrong with being frugal. Great companies start in garages all the time. Yours can too.

Start a business, not a startup

  • The start up is a magical place. It's a place where expenses are someone else's problem. It's a place where that pesky thing called revenue is never an issue. It's a place where you can spend other people's money until you figure out a way to make your own. It's a place where the laws of business physics don't apply.
  • The problem with this magical place is it's a fairy tale. The truth is every business, new or old, is governed by the same set of market forces and economic rules. Revenue in, expenses out. Turn a profit or wind up gone.
  • Anyone who takes a 'we'll figure out how to profit in the future' attitude to business is being ridiculous. That's like building a rocket ship but starting off by saying, 'Let's pretend gravity doesn't exist.' A business without a path to profit isn't a business, it's a hobby.
  • So don't use the idea of a startup as a crutch. Instead, start an actual business.

Building to flip is building to flop

  • Another thing you hear a lot: 'What's your exit strategy?'
  • Would you go into a relationship planning the breakup? Would you write the prenup on a first date? Would you meet with a divorce lawyer the morning of your wedding? That would be ridiculous, right?
  • You need a commitment strategy, not an exit strategy. You should be thinking about how to make your project grow and succeed, not how you're going to jump ship.
  • When you build a company with the intention of being acquired, you emphasize the wrong things. Instead of focusing on getting customers to love you, you worry about who's going to buy you. That's the wrong thing to obsess over.
  • You often hear about business owners who sell out, retire for six months, and then get back in the game. They miss the thing they gave away. And usually, they're back with a business that isn't nearly as good as their first.
  • If you do manage to get a good thing going, keep it going. Good things don't come around that often. Don't let your business be the one that got away.

Less mass

  • Right now, you're the smallest, the leanest, and the fastest you'll ever be. From here on out, you'll start accumulating mass. And the more massive an object, the more energy required to change its direction.
  • Mass is increased by ...
    • Long-term contracts
    • Excess staff
    • Permanent decisions
    • Meetings
    • Thick process
    • Inventory (physical or mental)
    • Hardware, software, and technology lock-ins
    • Long-term road maps
    • Office politics
  • Avoid these things whenever you can. That way, you'll be able to change direction easily. The more expensive it is to make a change, the less likely you are to make it.
  • Huge organizations can take years to pivot. They talk instead of act. They meet instead of do. But if you keep your mass low, you can quickly change anything: your entire business model, product, feature set, and/or marketing message. You can make mistakes and fix them quickly. You can change your priorities, product mix, or focus. And most important, you can change your mind.

3. Progress

Embrace constraints

  • 'I don't have enough time/money/people/experience.' Stop whining. Less is a good thing. Constraints are advantages in disguise. Limited resources force you to make do with what you've got. There's no room for waste. And that forces you to be creative.
  • Southwest--unlike most other airlines, which fly multiple aircraft models--flies only Boeing 737s. As a result, every Southwest pilot, flight attendant, and ground-crew member can work any flight. Plus, all of Southwest's parts fit all of its planes. All that means lower costs and a business that's easier to run. They made it easy on themselves.
  • Before you sing the 'not enough' blues, see how far you can get with what you have.

Build half a product, not a half-assed product

  • You just can't do everything you want to do and do it well. You have limited time, resources, ability, and focus.
  • So sacrifice some of your darlings for the greater good. Cut your ambition in half. You're better off with a kick-ass half than a half-assed whole.
  • Lots of things get better as they get shorter. Directors cut good scenes to make a great movie. Musicians drop good tracks to make a great album. Writers eliminate good pages to make a great book.
  • So start chopping. Getting to great starts by cutting out stuff that's merely good.

Start at the epicenter

  • There's the stuff you could do, the stuff you want to do, and the stuff you have to do. The stuff you have to do is where you should begin. Start at the epicenter.
  • For example, if you're opening a hot dog stand, you could worry about the condiments, the cart, the name, the decoration. But the first thing you should worry about is the hot dog. The hot dogs are the epicenter. Everything else is secondary.
  • The way to find the epicenter is to ask yourself this question: 'If I took this away, would what I'm selling still exist?'
  • Figure out your epicenter. Which part of your equation can't be removed?

Ignore the details early on

  • Architects don't worry about which tiles go in the shower or which brand of dishwasher to install in the kitchen until after the floor plan is finalized. They know it's better to decide these details later.
  • Details make the difference. But getting infatuated with details too early leads to disagreement, meetings, and delays. You get lost in things that don't really matter. You waste time on decisions that are going to change anyway. So ignore the details--for a while. Nail the basics first and worry about the specifics later.
  • You often can't recognize the details that matter most until after you start building. That's when you see what needs more attention. You feel what's missing. And that's when you need to pay attention, not sooner.

Making the call is making progress

  • When you put off decisions, they pile up. And piles end up ignored, dealt with in haste, or thrown out. As a result, the individual problems in those piles stay unresolved.
  • Whenever you can, swap 'Let's think about it' for 'Let's decide on it.' Commit to making decisions. Don't wait for the perfect solution. Decide and move forward.
  • When you get in that flow of making decision after decision, you build momentum and boost morale.
  • Decisions are progress. Each one you make is a brick in your foundation. You can't build on top of 'We'll decide later,' but you can build on top of 'Done.'
  • Long projects zap morale. The longer it takes to develop, the less likely it is to launch. Make the call, make progress, and get something out now--while you've got the motivation and momentum to do so.

Be a curator

  • You don't make a great museum by putting all the art in the world into a single room. That's a warehouse. What makes a museum great is the stuff that's not on the walls.
  • The best is a sub-sub-subset of all the possibilities.
  • It's the stuff you leave out that matters. So constantly look for things to remove, simplify, and streamline. Be a curator. Stick to what's truly essential. Pare things down until you're left with only the most important stuff.

Throw less at the problem

  • The menus at failing restaurants offer too many dishes. The owners think making every dish under the sun will broaden the appeal of the restaurant. Instead it makes for crappy food (and creates inventory headaches).
  • That's why Ramsay's first step is nearly always to trim the menu, usually from thirty-plus dishes to around ten. Think about that. Improving the current menu doesn't come first. Trimming it down comes first.
  • When things aren't working, the natural inclination is to throw more at the problem. More people, time, and money. All that ends up doing is making the problem bigger.

Focus on what won't change

  • A lot of companies focus on the next big thing. They latch on to what's hot and new. They follow the latest trends and technology. That's a fool's path. You start focusing on fashion instead of substance. You start paying attention to things that are constantly changing instead of things that last.
  • The core of your business should be built around things that won't change. Things that people are going to want today and ten years from now. Those are the things you should invest in.
  • Remember, fashion fades away. When you focus on permanent features, you're in bed with things that never go out of style.

Tone is in your fingers

  • You can buy the same guitar, effects pedals, and amplifier that Eddie Van Halen uses. But when you play that rig, it's still going to sound like you.
  • Fancy gear can help, but the truth is your tone comes from you.
  • People use equipment as a crutch. They don't want to put in the hours on the driving range so they spend a ton in the pro shop. They're looking for a shortcut. But you just don't need the best gear in the world to be good. And you definitely don't need it to get started.
  • In business, too many people obsess over tools, software tricks, scaling issues, fancy office space, lavish furniture, and other frivolities instead of what really matters. And what really matters is how to actually get customers and make money.
  • Use whatever you've got already or can afford cheaply. Then go. It's not the gear that matters. It's playing what you've got as well as you can. Your tone is in your fingers.

Sell your by-products

  • When you make something, you always make something else. You can't make just one thing. Everything has a by-product. Observant and creative business minds spot these by-products and see opportunities.
  • Maybe you don't even think you produce any by-products. But that's myopic.
  • Examples of by-products
    • Our last book, Getting Real, was a by-product. We wrote that book without even knowing it. The experience that came from building a company and building software was the waste from actually doing the work. We swept up that knowledge first into blog posts, then into a workshop series, then into a .pdf, and then into a paperback. That by-product has made 37signals more than $1 million directly and probably more than another $1 million indirectly. The book you're reading right now is a by-product too.
    • The rock band Wilco found a valuable by-product in its recording process. The band filmed the creation of an album and released it as a documentary called I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. It offered an uncensored and fascinating look at the group's creative process and infighting. The band made money off the movie and also used it as a stepping-stone toward reaching a wider audience.
    • Henry Ford learned of a process for turning wood scraps from the production of Model T's into charcoal briquets. He built a charcoal plant and Ford Charcoal was created (later renamed Kingsford Charcoal). Today, Kingsford is still the leading manufacturer of charcoal in America
  • Software companies don't usually think about writing books. Bands don't usually think about filming the recording process. Car manufacturers don't usually think about selling charcoal. There's probably something you haven't thought about that you could sell too.

Launch now

  • When is your product or service finished? When should you put it out on the market? When is it safe to let people have it? Probably a lot sooner than you're comfortable with.
  • Just because you've still got a list of things to do doesn't mean it's not done. Don't hold everything else up because of a few leftovers.
  • Think about it this way: If you had to launch your business in two weeks, what would you cut out? You suddenly realize there's a lot of stuff you don't need. And what you do need seems obvious. When you impose a deadline, you gain clarity. It's the best way to get to that gut instinct that tells you, 'We don't need this.'
  • Put off anything you don't need for launch. Build the necessities now, worry about the luxuries later.
  • The best way to get there is through iterations. Stop imagining what's going to work. Find out for real.

4. Productivity

Illusions of agreement

  • If you need to explain something, try getting real with it. Instead of describing what something looks like, draw it. Instead of explaining what something sounds like, hum it. Do everything you can to remove layers of abstraction.
  • The problem with abstractions (like reports and documents) is that they create illusions of agreement. A hundred people can read the same words, but in their heads, they're imagining a hundred different things.
  • Get the chisel out and start making something real. Anything else is just a distraction.

Reasons to quit

  • It's easy to put your head down and just work on what you think needs to be done. It's a lot harder to pull your head up and ask why. Here are some important questions to ask yourself to ensure you're doing work that matters:
    • Why are you doing this? Ever find yourself working on something without knowing exactly why? Someone just told you to do it. It's pretty common, actually. That's why it's important to ask why you'reworking on______. What is this for? Who benefits? What's the motivation behind it? Knowing the answers to these questions will help you better understand the work itself.
    • What problem are you solving? What's the problem? Are customers confused? Are you confused? Is something not clear enough? Was something not possible before that should be possible now? Sometimes when you ask these questions, you'll find you're solving an imaginaryproblem. That's when it's time to stop and reevaluate what the hell you're doing.
    • Is this actually useful? Are you making something useful or just making something? It's easy to confuse enthusiasm with usefulness. Sometimes it's fine to play a bit and build something cool. But eventually you've got to stop and ask yourself if it's useful, too. Cool wears off. Useful never does.
    • Are you adding value? Adding something is easy; adding value is hard. Is this thing you're working on actually making your product more valuable for customers? Can they get more out of it than they did before? Sometimes things you think are adding value actually subtract from it. Too much ketchup can ruin the fries. Value is about balance.
    • Will this change behavior? Is what you're working on really going to change anything? Don't add something unless it has a real impact on how people use your product.
    • Is there an easier way? Whenever you're working on something, ask, 'Is there an easier way?' You'll often find this easy way is more than good enough for now. Problems are usually pretty simple. We just imagine that they require hard solutions.
    • What could you be doing instead? What can't you do because you're doing this? This is especially important for small teams with constrained resources. That's when prioritization is even more important. If you work on A, can you still do B and C before April? If not, would you rather have B and C instead of A? If you're stuck on something for a long period of time, that means there are other things you're not getting done.
    • Is it really worth it? Is what you're doing really worth it? Is this meeting worth pulling six people off their work for an hour? Is it worth pulling an all-nighter tonight, or could you just finish it up tomorrow? Is it worth getting all stressed out over a press release from a competitor? Is it worth spending your money on advertising? Determine the real value of what you're about to do before taking the plunge.
  • Sometimes abandoning what you're working on is the right move, even if you've already put in a lot of effort. Don't throw good time after bad work.

Interruption is the enemy of productivity

  • If you're constantly staying late and working weekends, it's not because there's too much work to be done. It's because you're not getting enough done at work
  • At 2 p.m., people are usually in a meeting or answering e-mail or chatting with colleagues. Those taps on the shoulder and little impromptu get-togethers may seem harmless, but they're actually corrosive to productivity. Interruption is not collaboration, it's just interruption. And when you're interrupted, you're not getting work done.
  • Interruptions break your workday into a series of work moments. Forty-five minutes and then you have a call. Fifteen minutes and then you have lunch. An hour later, you have an afternoon meeting. Before you know it, it's five o'clock, and you've only had a couple uninterrupted hours to get your work done. You can't get meaningful things done when you're constantly going start, stop, start, stop.
  • You should get in the alone zone. Long stretches of alone time are when you're most productive
  • During alone time, give up instant messages, phone calls, e-mail, and meetings. Just shut up and get to work.
  • When you do collaborate, try to use passive communication tools, like e-mail, that don't require an instant reply, instead of interruptive ones, like phone calls and face-to-face meetings. That way people can respond when it's convenient for them, instead of being forced to drop everything right away.
  • Your day is under siege by interruptions. It's on you to fight back.

Meetings are toxic

  • The worst interruptions of all are meetings. Here's why:
    • They're usually about words and abstract concepts, not real things.
    • They usually convey an abysmally small amount of information per minute.
    • They drift off-subject easier than a Chicago cab in a snowstorm.
    • They require thorough preparation that most people don't have time for.
    • They frequently have agendas so vague that nobody is really sure of the goal.
    • They often include at least one moron who inevitably gets his turn to waste everyone's time with nonsense.
    • Meetings procreate. One meeting leads to another meeting leads to another ...
  • If it only takes seven minutes to accomplish a meeting's goal, then that's all the time you should spend. Don't stretch seven into thirty.
  • The true cost of meetings is staggering. Let's say you're going to schedule a meeting that lasts one hour, and you invite ten people to attend. That's actually a ten-hour meeting, not a one-hour meeting. You're trading ten hours of productivity for one hour of meeting time. And it's probably more like fifteen hours, because there are mental switching costs that come with stopping what you're doing, going somewhere else to meet, and then resuming what you were doing beforehand.
  • Think about the time you're actually losing and ask yourself if it's really worth it.
  • If you decide you absolutely must get together, try to make your meeting a productive one by sticking to these simple rules:
    • Set a timer. When it rings, meeting's over. Period.
    • Invite as few people as possible.
    • Always have a clear agenda.
    • Begin with a specific problem.
    • Meet at the site of the problem instead of a conference room. Point to real things and suggest real changes.
    • End with a solution and make someone responsible for implementing it.

Good enough is fine

  • A lot of people get off on solving problems with complicated solutions. Flexing your intellectual muscles can be intoxicating
  • Find a judo solution, one that delivers maximum efficiency with minimum effort. Judo solutions are all about getting the most out of doing the least.
  • Problems can usually be solved with simple, mundane solutions. That means there's no glamorous work. You don't get to show off your amazing skills. You just build something that gets the job done and then move on. This approach may not earn you oohs and aahs, but it lets you get on with it.
  • When good enough gets the job done, go for it. It's way better than wasting resources or, even worse, doing nothing because you can't afford the complex solution. And remember, you can usually turn good enough into great later.

Quick wins

  • Momentum fuels motivation. It keeps you going. It drives you. Without it, you can't go anywhere.
  • The way you build momentum is by getting something done and then moving on to the next thing.
  • Excitement comes from doing something and then letting customers have at it. So don't wait too long--you'll smother your sparks if you do.
  • If you absolutely have to work on long-term projects, try to dedicate one day a week (or every two weeks) to small victories that generate enthusiasm. Small victories let you celebrate and release good news. And you want a steady stream of good news. When there's something new to announce every two weeks, you energize your team and give your customers something to be excited about.
  • Ask yourself, 'What can we do in two weeks?' And then do it. Get it out there and let people use it, taste it, play it, or whatever. The quicker it's in the hands of customers, the better off you'll be.

Don't be a hero

  • A lot of times it's better to be a quitter than a hero.
  • For example, let's say you think a task can be done in two hours. But four hours into it, you're still only a quarter of the way done. The natural instinct is to think, 'But I can't give up now, I've already spent four hours on this!'
  • So you go into hero mode. You're determined to make it work (and slightly embarrassed that it isn't already working). You grab your cape and shut yourself off from the world.
  • Even heroes need a fresh pair of eyes sometimes--someone else to give them a reality check.
  • If anything takes one of us longer than two weeks, we've got to bring other people in to take a look. They might not do any work on the task, but at least they can review it quickly and give their two cents. Sometimes an obvious solution is staring you right in the face, but you can't even see it.
  • Keep in mind that the obvious solution might very well be quitting. People automatically associate quitting with failure, but sometimes that's exactly what you should do. If you already spent too much time on something that wasn't worth it, walk away. You can't get that time back. The worst thing you can do now is waste even more time

Go to sleep

  • Forgoing sleep is a bad idea. Sure, you get those extra hours right now, but you pay in spades later: You destroy your creativity, morale, and attitude.
  • If it becomes a constant, the costs start to mount:
    • Stubbornness: When you're really tired, it always seems easier to plow down whatever bad path you happen to be on instead of reconsidering the route. The finish line is a constant mirage and you wind up walking in the desert way too long. Lack of creativity: Creativity is one of the first things to go when you lose sleep. What distinguishes people who are ten times more effective than the norm is not that they work ten times as hard; it's that they use their creativity to come up with solutions that require one-tenth of the effort. Without sleep, you stop coming up with those one-tenth solutions. Diminished morale: When your brain isn't firing on all cylinders, it loves to feed on less demanding tasks. Like reading yet another article about stuff that doesn't matter. When you're tired, you lose motivation to attack the big problems. Irritability: Your ability to remain patient and tolerant is severely reduced when you're tired. If you encounter someone who's acting like a fool, there's a good chance that person is suffering from sleep deprivation.

Your estimates suck

  • We're all terrible estimators. We think we can guess how long something will take, when we really have no idea.
  • That's why estimates that stretch weeks, months, and years into the future are fantasies. The truth is you just don't know what's going to happen that far in advance.
  • Plus, we're not just a little bit wrong when we guess how long something will take--we're a lot wrong. That means if you're guessing six months, you might be way off: We're not talking seven months instead of six, we're talking one year instead of six months.
  • The solution: Break the big thing into smaller things. The smaller it is, the easier it is to estimate. You're probably still going to get it wrong, but you'll be a lot less wrong than if you estimated a big project.
  • Keep breaking your time frames down into smaller chunks. Instead of one twelve-week project, structure it as twelve one-week projects. Instead of guesstimating at tasks that take thirty hours or more, break them down into more realistic six-to-ten-hour chunks. Then go one step at a time.

Long lists don't get done

  • Start making smaller to-do lists too. Long lists collect dust.
  • Long lists are guilt trips. The longer the list of unfinished items, the worse you feel about it. And at a certain point, you just stop looking at it because it makes you feel bad
  • Break that long list down into a bunch of smaller lists. For example, break a single list of a hundred items into ten lists of ten items. That means when you finish an item on a list, you've completed 10 percent of that list, instead of 1 percent.
  • Whenever you can, divide problems into smaller and smaller pieces until you're able to deal with them completely and quickly. Simply rearranging your tasks this way can have an amazing impact on your productivity and motivation.
  • Don't prioritize with numbers or labels. Avoid saying, 'This is high priority, this is low priority.' Likewise, don't say, 'This is a three, this is a two, this is a one, this is a three,' etc. Do that and you'll almost always end up with a ton of really high-priority things.
  • Prioritize visually. Put the most important thing at the top. When you're done with that, the next thing on the list becomes the next most important thing. That way you'll only have a single next most important thing to do at a time. And that's enough.

Make tiny decisions

  • Big decisions are hard to make and hard to change. And once you make one, the tendency is to continue believing you made the right decision, even if you didn't. You stop being objective.
  • Make choices that are small enough that they're effectively temporary. When you make tiny decisions, you can't make big mistakes. These small decisions mean you can afford to change. There's no big penalty if you mess up. You just fix it
  • Making tiny decisions doesn't mean you can't make big plans or think big ideas. It just means you believe the best way to achieve those big things is one tiny decision at a time.
  • Attainable goals like that are the best ones to have. Ones you can actually accomplish and build on. You get to say, 'We nailed it. Done!' Then you get going on the next one. That's a lot more satisfying than some pie-in-the-sky fantasy goal you never meet.

5. Competitors

Don't copy

  • Sometimes copying can be part of the learning process. When you're a student, this sort of imitation can be a helpful tool on the path to discovering your own voice.
  • Copying in the business arena is usually more nefarious. Maybe it's because of the copy-and-paste world we live in these days. You can steal someone's words, images, or code instantly.
  • The problem with this sort of copying is it skips understanding--and understanding is how you grow. You have to understand why something works or why something is the way it is. When you just copy and paste, you miss that. You just repurpose the last layer instead of understanding all the layers underneath.
  • So much of the work an original creator puts into something is invisible. It's buried beneath the surface. The copycat doesn't really know why something looks the way it looks or feels the way it feels or reads the way it reads.
  • If you're a copycat, you can never keep up. You're always in a passive position. You never lead; you always follow.
  • How do you know if you're copying someone? If someone else is doing the bulk of the work, you're copying. Be influenced, but don't steal.

Decommoditize your product

  • If you're successful, people will try to copy what you do. It's just a fact of life. But there's a great way to protect yourself from copycats: Make you part of your product or service. Inject what's unique about the way you think into what you sell. Decommoditize your product. Make it something no one else can offer.
  • Pour yourself into your product and everything around your product too: how you sell it, how you support it, how you explain it, and how you deliver it. Competitors can never copy the you in your product.

Pick a fight

  • If you think a competitor sucks, say so. When you do that, you'll find that others who agree with you will rally to your side. Being the anti-______ is a great way to differentiate yourself and attract followers.
  • Dunkin' Donuts likes to position itself as the anti-Starbucks. Its ads mock Starbucks for using 'Fritalian' terms instead of small, medium, and large. Another Dunkin' campaign is centered on a taste test in which it beat Starbucks. There's even a site called DunkinBeatStarbucks.com where visitors can send e-cards with statements like 'Friends don't let friends drink Starbucks.'
  • Audi is another example. It's been taking on the old guard of car manufacturers. It puts 'old luxury' brands like Rolls-Royce and Mercedes 'on notice' in ads touting Audi as the fresh luxury alternative. Audi takes on Lexus's automatic parking systems with ads that say Audi drivers know how to park their own cars. Another ad gives a side-by-side comparison of BMW and Audi owners: The BMW owner uses the rearview mirror to adjust his hair while the Audi driver uses the mirror to see what's behind him.
  • Apple jabs at Microsoft with ads that compare Mac and PC owners, and 7UP bills itself as the Uncola. Under Armour positions itself as Nike for a new generation.
  • All these examples show the power and direction you can gain by having a target in your sights. Who do you want to take a shot at?
  • Having an enemy gives you a great story to tell customers, too. Taking a stand always stands out. People get stoked by conflict. They take sides. Passions are ignited. And that's a good way to get people to take notice.

Underdo your competition

  • Conventional wisdom says that to beat your competitors, you need to one-up them. If they have four features, you need five (or fifteen, or twenty-five). If they're spending $20,000, you need to spend $30,000. If they have fifty employees, you need a hundred.
  • Cold War mentality is a dead end. When you get suckered into an arms race, you wind up in a never-ending battle that costs you massive amounts of money, time, and drive. And it forces you to constantly be on the defensive, too. Defensive companies can't think ahead; they can only think behind. They don't lead; they follow.
  • Do less than your competitors to beat them. Solve the simple problems and leave the hairy, difficult, nasty problems to the competition. Instead of one-upping, try one-downing. Instead of outdoing, try underdoing.
  • Don't shy away from the fact that your product or service does less. Highlight it. Be proud of it. Sell it as aggressively as competitors sell their extensive feature lists.

Who cares what they're doing?

  • In the end, it's not worth paying much attention to the competition anyway. Why not? Because worrying about the competition quickly turns into an obsession. What are they doing right now? Where are they going next? How should we react?
  • The competitive landscape changes all the time. Your competitor tomorrow may be completely different from your competitor today. It's out of your control. What's the point of worrying about things you can't control?
  • Focus on yourself instead. What's going on in here is way more important than what's going on out there. When you spend time worrying about someone else, you can't spend that time improving yourself.

6. Evolution

Say no by default

  • It's so easy to say yes. Yes to another feature, yes to an overly optimistic deadline, yes to a mediocre design. Soon, the stack of things you've said yes to grows so tall you can't even see the things you should really be doing.
  • Start getting into the habit of saying no--even to many of your best ideas. Use the power of no to get your priorities straight. You rarely regret saying no. But you often wind up regretting saying yes.
  • Don't be a jerk about saying no, though. Just be honest. If you're not willing to yield to a customer request, be polite and explain why. People are surprisingly understanding when you take the time to explain your point of view.
  • Your goal is to make sure your product stays right for you. You're the one who has to believe in it most. That way, you can say, 'I think you'll love it because I love it.'

Let your customers outgrow you

  • Maybe you've seen this scenario: There's a customer that's paying a company a lot of money. The company tries to please that customer in any way possible. It tweaks and changes the product per this one customer's requests and starts to alienate its general customer base.
  • When you stick with your current customers come hell or high water, you wind up cutting yourself off from new ones. Your product or service becomes so tailored to your current customers that it stops appealing to fresh blood. And that's how your company starts to die.
  • We started getting some heat from folks who had been with us from the beginning. They said they were starting to grow out of the application. Their businesses were changing and they wanted us to change our product to mirror their newfound complexity and requirements. We said no. Here's why: We'd rather our customers grow out of our products eventually than never be able to grow into them in the first place. Adding power-user features to satisfy some can intimidate those who aren't on board yet. Scaring away new customers is worse than losing old customers.
  • When you let customers outgrow you, you'll most likely wind up with a product that's basic--and that's fine. Small, simple, basic needs are constant. There's an endless supply of customers who need exactly that.
  • And there are always more people who are not using your product than people who are. Make sure you make it easy for these people to get on board.
  • People and situations change. You can't be everything to everyone. Companies need to be true to a type of customer more than a specific individual customer with changing needs.

Don't confuse enthusiasm with priority

  • Coming up with a great idea gives you a rush. You start imagining the possibilities and the benefits. And of course, you want all that right away. So you drop everything else you're working on and begin pursuing your latest, greatest idea. Bad move.
  • The enthusiasm you have for a new idea is not an accurate indicator of its true worth. What seems like a sure-fire hit right now often gets downgraded to just a 'nice to have' by morning
  • Let your latest grand ideas cool off for a while first. By all means, have as many great ideas as you can. Get excited about them. Just don't act in the heat of the moment. Write them down and park them for a few days. Then, evaluate their actual priority with a calm mind.

Be at-home good

  • You know what it feels like. You go to a store. You're comparing a few different products, and you're sold on the one that sounds like it's the best deal. It's got the most features. It looks the coolest. The packaging looks hot. There's sensational copy on the box. Everything seems great. But then you get it home, and it doesn't deliver. It's not as easy to use as you thought it'd be.
  • You just bought an in-store-good product. That's a product you're more excited about in the store than you are after you've actually used it.
  • Smart companies make the opposite: something that's at-home good. When you get the product home, you're actually more impressed with it than you were at the store. You live with it and grow to like it more and more. And you tell your friends, too.
  • Being great at a few things often doesn't look all that flashy from afar. That's OK. You're aiming for a long-term relationship, not a one-night stand.
  • You can't paint over a bad experience with good advertising or marketing.

Don't write it down

  • How should you keep track of what customers want? Don't. Listen, but then forget what people said. Seriously.
  • The requests that really matter are the ones you'll hear over and over. After a while, you won't be able to forget them. Your customers will be your memory. They'll keep reminding you. They'll show you which things you truly need to worry about.
  • If there's a request that you keep forgetting, that's a sign that it isn't very important. The really important stuff doesn't go away.

7. Promotion

Welcome obscurity

  • No one knows who you are right now. And that's just fine. Being obscure is a great position to be in. Be happy you're in the shadows.
  • Use this time to make mistakes without the whole world hearing about them. Keep tweaking. Work out the kinks. Test random ideas. Try new things. No one knows you, so it's no big deal if you mess up. Obscurity helps protect your ego and preserve your confidence.
  • You don't want everyone to watch you starting your business. It makes no sense to tell everyone to look at you if you're not ready to be looked at yet.
  • Keep in mind that once you do get bigger and more popular, you're inevitably going to take fewer risks. When you're a success, the pressure to maintain predictability and consistency builds. You get more conservative.
  • These early days of obscurity are something you'll miss later on, when you're really under the microscope. Now's the time to take risks without worrying about embarrassing yourself.

Build an audience

  • All companies have customers. Lucky companies have fans. But the most fortunate companies have audiences.
  • Instead of going out to reach people, you want people to come to you. An audience returns often--on its own--to see what you have to say. This is the most receptive group of customers and potential customers you'll ever have.
  • When you build an audience, you don't have to buy people's attention--they give it to you
  • Build an audience. Speak, write, blog, tweet, make videos--whatever. Share information that's valuable and you'll slowly but surely build a loyal audience. Then when you need to get the word out, the right people will already be listening.

Out-teach your competition

  • Instead of trying to outspend, outsell, or outsponsor competitors, try to out-teach them. Teaching probably isn't something your competitors are even thinking about. Most businesses focus on selling or servicing, but teaching never even occurs to them.
  • Teach and you'll form a bond you just don't get from traditional marketing tactics. Buying people's attention with a magazine or online banner ad is one thing. Earning their loyalty by teaching them forms a whole different connection.
  • Teaching is something individuals and small companies can do that bigger competitors can't. Big companies can afford a Super Bowl ad; you can't. But you can afford to teach, and that's something they'll never do, because big companies are obsessed with secrecy. Everything at those places has to get filtered through a lawyer and go through layers of red tape. Teaching is your chance to outmaneuver them

Emulate chefs

  • You've probably heard of Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali, Bobby Flay, Julia Child, Paula Deen, Rick Bayless, or Jacques Pepin. They're great chefs, but there are a lot of great chefs out there. So why do you know these few better than others? Because they share everything they know. They put their recipes in cookbooks and show their techniques on cooking shows.
  • As a business owner, you should share everything you know too.
  • Businesses are usually paranoid and secretive. They think they have proprietary this and competitive advantage that. Maybe a rare few do, but most don't. And those that don't should stop acting like those that do. Don't be afraid of sharing
  • A recipe is much easier to copy than a business.
  • No one's going to buy his cookbook, open a restaurant next door, and put him out of business. It just doesn't work like that. Yet this is what many in the business world think will happen if their competitors learn how they do things. Get over it.
  • So emulate famous chefs. They cook, so they write cookbooks. What do you do? What are your 'recipes'? What's your 'cookbook'? What can you tell the world about how you operate that's informative, educational, and promotional?

Go behind the scenes

  • Give people a backstage pass and show them how your business works. Imagine that someone wanted to make a reality show about your business. What would they share? Now stop waiting for someone else and do it yourself.
  • Think no one will care? Think again. Even seemingly boring jobs can be fascinating when presented right. What could be more boring than commercial fishing and trucking? Yet the Discovery Channel and History Channel have turned these professions into highly rated shows: Deadliest Catch and Ice Road Truckers.
  • People are curious about how things are made. It's why they like factory tours or behind-the-scenes footage on DVDs.
  • Letting people behind the curtain changes your relationship with them. They'll feel a bond with you and see you as human beings instead of a faceless company. They'll see the sweat and effort that goes into what you sell. They'll develop a deeper level of understanding and appreciation for what you do.

Nobody likes plastic flowers

  • The business world is full of 'professionals' who wear the uniform and try to seem perfect. In truth, they just come off as stiff and boring. No one can relate to people like that.
  • Don't be afraid to show your flaws. Imperfections are real and people respond to real.
  • Leave the poetry in what you make. When something becomes too polished, it loses its soul. It seems robotic.
  • So talk like you really talk. Reveal things that others are unwilling to discuss. Be upfront about your shortcomings. Show the latest version of what you're working on, even if you're not done yet. It's OK if it's not perfect. You might not seem as professional, but you will seem a lot more genuine.

Press releases are spam

  • What do you call a generic pitch sent out to hundreds of strangers hoping that one will bite? Spam. That's what press releases are too: generic pitches for coverage sent out to hundreds of journalists you don't know, hoping that one will write about you.
  • You want the press to pick up on your new company, product, service, announcement, or whatever. You want them to be excited enough to write a story about you.
  • If you want to get someone's attention, it's silly to do exactly the same thing as everyone else. You need to stand out.
  • Call someone. Write a personal note. If you read a story about a similar company or product, contact the journalist who wrote it. Pitch her with some passion, some interest, some life. Do something meaningful. Be remarkable. Stand out. Be unforgettable. That's how you'll get the best coverage.

Forget about the Wall Street Journal

  • Pitching a reporter at one of these places is practically impossible. Good luck even getting ahold of that guy. And even if you do, he probably won't care anyway. You're not big enough to matter.
  • You're better off focusing on getting your story into a trade publication or picked up by a niche blogger. With these outlets, the barrier is much lower. You can send an e-mail and get a response (and maybe even a post) the same day. There's no editorial board or PR person involved. There's no pipeline your message has to go through.
  • These guys are actually hungry for fresh meat. They thrive on being tastemakers, finding the new thing, and getting the ball rolling. That's why many big-time reporters now use these smaller sites to find new stories. Stories that start on the fringe can go mainstream quickly.
  • Articles in big-time publications are nice, but they don't result in the same level of direct, instant activity.

Drug dealers get it right

  • Drug dealers are astute businesspeople. They know their product is so good they're willing to give a little away for free upfront. They know you'll be back for more--with money.
  • Make your product so good, so addictive, so 'can't miss' that giving customers a small, free taste makes them come back with cash in hand.
  • Don't be afraid to give a little away for free--as long as you've got something else to sell. Be confident in what you're offering. You should know that people will come back for more.

Marketing is not a department

  • Do you have a marketing department? If not, good. If you do, don't think these are the only people responsible for marketing. Accounting is a department. Marketing isn't. Marketing is something everyone in your company is doing 24/7/365.
  • Just as you cannot not communicate, you cannot not market:
    • Every time you answer the phone, it's marketing.
    • Every time you send an e-mail, it's marketing.
    • Every time someone uses your product, it's marketing.
    • Every word you write on your Web site is marketing.
    • If you build software, every error message is marketing.
    • If you're in the restaurant business, the after-dinner mint is marketing.
    • If you're in the retail business, the checkout counter is marketing.
    • If you're in a service business, your invoice is marketing.
  • Marketing isn't just a few individual events. It's the sum total of everything you do.

The myth of the overnight sensation

  • You will not be a big hit right away. You will not get rich quick. You are not so special that everyone else will instantly pay attention. No one cares about you. At least not yet. Get used to it.
  • You know those overnight-success stories you've heard about? It's not the whole story. Dig deeper and you'll usually find people who have busted their asses for years to get into a position where things could take off
  • Trade the dream of overnight success for slow, measured growth. It's hard, but you have to be patient. You have to grind it out.

8. Hiring

Do it yourself first

  • Never hire anyone to do a job until you've tried to do it yourself first. That way, you'll understand the nature of the work. You'll know what a job well done looks like. You'll know how to write a realistic job description and which questions to ask in an interview. You'll know whether to hire someone full-time or part-time, outsource it, or keep doing it yourself (the last is preferable, if possible).
  • You'll also be a much better manager, because you'll be supervising people who are doing a job you've done before. You'll know when to criticize and when to support.

Hire when it hurts

  • Don't hire for pleasure; hire to kill pain. Always ask yourself: What if we don't hire anyone? Is that extra work that's burdening us really necessary? Can we solve the problem with a slice of software or a change of practice instead? What if we just don't do it?
  • Similarly, if you lose someone, don't replace him immediately. See how long you can get by without that person and that position. You'll often discover you don't need as many people as you think.
  • The right time to hire is when there's more work than you can handle for a sustained period of time. There should be things you can't do anymore. You should notice the quality level slipping. That's when you're hurting. And that's when it's time to hire, not earlier.

Pass on great people

  • Some companies are addicted to hiring. Some even hire when they aren't hiring. They'll hear about someone great and invent a position or title just to lure them in. And there they'll sit--parked in a position that doesn't matter, doing work that isn't important.
  • Pass on hiring people you don't need, even if you think that person's a great catch. You'll be doing your company more harm than good if you bring in talented people who have nothing important to do.
  • Problems start when you have more people than you need. You start inventing work to keep everyone busy
  • Don't worry about 'the one that got away.' It's much worse to have people on staff who aren't doing anything meaningful.
  • If you don't need someone, you don't need someone.

Strangers at a cocktail party

  • Hire a ton of people rapidly and a 'strangers at a cocktail party' problem is exactly what you end up with. There are always new faces around, so everyone is unfailingly polite. Everyone tries to avoid any conflict or drama. No one says, 'This idea sucks.' People appease instead of challenge.
  • You need to be able to tell people when they're full of crap.
  • You need an environment where everyone feels safe enough to be honest when things get tough. You need to know how far you can push someone. You need to know what people really mean when they say something.
  • So hire slowly. It's the only way to avoid winding up at a cocktail party of strangers.

Resumes are ridiculous

  • We all know resumes are a joke. They're exaggerations. They're filled with 'action verbs' that don't mean anything. They list job titles and responsibilities that are vaguely accurate at best. And there's no way to verify most of what's on there. The whole thing is a farce.
  • That's why half-assed applicants love them so much. They can shotgun out hundreds at a time to potential employers. It's another form of spam. They don't care about landing your job; they just care about landing anyjob.
  • If someone sends out a resume to three hundred companies, that's a huge red flag right there.
  • You want a specific candidate who cares specifically about your company, your products, your customers, and your job.
  • So how do you find these candidates? First step: Check the cover letter. In a cover letter, you get actual communication instead of a list of skills, verbs, and years of irrelevance.
  • Trust your gut reaction. If the first paragraph sucks, the second has to work that much harder. If there's no hook in the first three, it's unlikely there's a match there.

Years of irrelevance

  • Of course, requiring some baseline level of experience can be a good idea when hiring
  • There's surprisingly little difference between a candidate with six months of experience and one with six years. The real difference comes from the individual's dedication, personality, and intelligence
  • How do you really measure this stuff anyway? What does five years of experience mean? If you spent a couple of weekends experimenting with something a few years back, can you count that as a year of experience? How is a company supposed to verify these claims? These are murky waters.
  • How long someone's been doing it is overrated. What matters is how well they've been doing it.

Forget about formal education

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education -MARK TWAIN
  • There are plenty of intelligent people who don't excel in the classroom. Don't fall into the trap of thinking you need someone from one of the 'best' schools in order to get results. Ninety percent of CEOs currently heading the top five hundred American companies did not receive undergraduate degrees from Ivy League colleges. In fact, more received their undergraduate degrees from the University of Wisconsin than from Harvard (the most heavily represented Ivy school, with nine CEOs
  • Too much time in academia can actually do you harm. Take writing, for example. When you get out of school, you have to unlearn so much of the way they teach you to write there. Some of the misguided lessons you learn in academia:
    • The longer a document is, the more it matters.
    • Stiff, formal tone is better than being conversational.
    • Using big words is impressive.
    • You need to write a certain number of words or pages to make a point.
    • The format matters as much (or more) than the content of what you write.
  • It's no wonder so much business writing winds up dry, wordy, and dripping with nonsense.
  • The pool of great candidates is far bigger than just people who completed college with a stellar GPA. Consider dropouts, people who had low GPAs, community-college students, and even those who just went to high school.

Everybody works

  • With a small team, you need people who are going to do work, not delegate work. Everyone's got to be producing. No one can be above the work.
  • You need to avoid hiring delegators, those people who love telling others what to do. Delegators are dead weight for a small team.
  • Delegators love to pull people into meetings, too. In fact, meetings are a delegator's best friend. That's where he gets to seem important. Meanwhile, everyone else who attends is pulled away from getting real work done.

Hire managers of one

  • Managers of one are people who come up with their own goals and execute them. They don't need heavy direction. They don't need daily check-ins. They do what a manager would do--set the tone, assign items, determine what needs to get done, etc.--but they do it by themselves and for themselves.
  • These people free you from oversight. They set their own direction. When you leave them alone, they surprise you with how much they've gotten done. They don't need a lot of hand-holding or supervision.
  • How can you spot these people? Look at their backgrounds. They have set the tone for how they've worked at other jobs. They've run something on their own or launched some kind of project.
  • You want someone who's capable of building something from scratch and seeing it through. Finding these people frees the rest of your team to work more and manage less.

Hire great writers

  • If you are trying to decide among a few people to fill a position, hire the best writer. It doesn't matter if that person is a marketer, salesperson, designer, programmer, or whatever; their writing skills will pay off.
  • Being a good writer is about more than writing. Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking. Great writers know how to communicate. They make things easy to understand. They can put themselves in someone else's shoes. They know what to omit. And those are qualities you want in any candidate.
  • Writing is making a comeback all over our society. Look at how much people e-mail and text-message now rather than talk on the phone. Look at how much communication happens via instant messaging and blogging. Writing is today's currency for good ideas.

The best are everywhere

  • It's crazy not to hire the best people just because they live far away. Especially now that there's so much technology out there making it easier to bring everyone together online.
  • To make sure your remote team stays in touch, have at least a few hours a day of real-time overlap. Working in time zones where there's no workday overlap at all is tough.
  • You don't need eight hours of overlap, though. (Actually, we've found it preferable to not have complete overlap--you get more alone time that way.) Two to four hours of overlap should be plenty.
  • Also, meet in person once in a while. You should see each other at least every few months.
  • Geography just doesn't matter anymore. Hire the best talent, regardless of where it is.

Test-drive employees

  • Interviews are only worth so much. Some people sound like pros but don't work like pros. You need to evaluate the work they can do now, not the work they say they did in the past.
  • Hire them for a miniproject, even if it's for just twenty or forty hours. You'll see how they make decisions. You'll see if you get along. You'll see what kind of questions they ask. You'll get to judge them by their actions instead of just their words.

9. Damage Control

Own your bad news

  • When something goes wrong, someone is going to tell the story. You'll be better off if it's you. Otherwise, you create an opportunity for rumors, hearsay, and false information to spread.
  • When something bad happens, tell your customers (even if they never noticed in the first place). Don't think you can just sweep it under the rug. You can't hide anymore. These days, someone else will call you on it if you don't do it yourself. They'll post about it online and everyone will know. There are no more secrets.
  • Here are some tips on how you can own the story:
    • The message should come from the top. The highest-ranking person available should take control in a forceful way.
    • Spread the message far and wide. Use whatever megaphone you have. Don't try to sweep it under the rug.
    • 'No comment' is not an option.
    • Apologize the way a real person would and explain what happened in detail.
    • Honestly be concerned about the fate of your customers--then prove it.

Speed changes everything

  • 'Your call is very important to us. We appreciate your patience. The average hold time right now is sixteen minutes.' Give me a fucking break.
  • Getting back to people quickly is probably the most important thing you can do when it comes to customer service.
  • Customers are so used to canned answers, you can really differentiate yourself by answering thoughtfully and showing that you're listening. And even if you don't have a perfect answer, say something. 'Let me do some research and get back to you' can work wonders.

How to say you're sorry

  • There's never really a great way to say you're sorry, but there are plenty of terrible ways.
  • One of the worst ways is the non-apology apology, which sounds like an apology but doesn't really accept any blame. For example, 'We're sorry if this upset you.' Or 'I'm sorry that you don't feel we lived up to your expectations.' Whatever.
  • A good apology accepts responsibility. It has no conditional if phrase attached. It shows people that the buck stops with you. And then it provides real details about what happened and what you're doing to prevent it from happening again. And it seeks a way to make things right.
  • Here's another bad one: 'We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.' Oh, please. Let's break down why that's bad:
  • 'We apologize ...' If you spilled coffee on someone while riding the subway, would you say, 'I apologize'? No, you'd say, 'I'm so, so sorry!' Well, if your service is critical to your customers, an interruption to that service is like spilling hot coffee all over them. So use the appropriate tone and language to show that you understand the severity of what happened. Also, the person in charge should take personal responsibility. An 'I' apology is a lot stronger than a 'we' apology.
  • '... any inconvenience ...' If customers depend on your service and can't get to it, it's not merely an inconvenience. It's a crisis. An inconvenience is a long line at the grocery store. This ain't that.
  • '... this may have caused' The 'may' here implies there might not be anything wrong at all. That's a classic non-apology apology move. It slights the very real problem(s) that customers are experiencing. If this didn't affect them, you don't really need to say anything. If it did affect them, then there's no need for 'may' here. Stop wavering.
  • So what's the perfect way to say you're sorry? There's no magic bullet. Any stock answer will sound generic and hollow. You're going to have to take it on a case-by-case basis.
  • The number-one principle to keep in mind when you apologize: How would you feel about the apology if you were on the other end? If someone said those words to you, would you believe them?
  • Keep in mind that you can't apologize your way out of being an ass. Even the best apology won't rescue you if you haven't earned people's trust. Everything you do before things go wrong matters far more than the actual words you use to apologize. If you've built rapport with customers, they'll cut you some slack and trust you when you say you're sorry.

Put everyone on the front lines

  • The people who make the product work in the 'kitchen' while support handles the customers. Unfortunately, that means the product's chefs never get to directly hear what customers are saying. Too bad. Listening to customers is the best way to get in tune with a product's strengths and weaknesses.
  • The more people you have between your customers' words and the people doing the work, the more likely it is that the message will get lost or distorted along the way.
  • Everyone on your team should be connected to your customers--maybe not every day, but at least a few times throughout the year. That's the only way your team is going to feel the hurt your customers are experiencing. It's feeling the hurt that really motivates people to fix the problem. And the flip side is true too: The joy of happy customers or ones who have had a problem solved can also be wildly motivating.
  • So don't protect the people doing the work from customer feedback. No one should be shielded from direct criticism.

Take a deep breath

  • When you rock the boat, there will be waves. After you introduce a new feature, change a policy, or remove something, knee-jerk reactions will pour in. Resist the urge to panic or make rapid changes in response. Passions flare in the beginning. That's normal. But if you ride out that first rocky week, things usually settle down.
  • People are creatures of habit. That's why they react to change in such a negative way. They're used to using something in a certain way and any change upsets the natural order of things. So they push back. They complain. They demand that you revert to the way things were.
  • But that doesn't mean you should act. Sometimes you need to go ahead with a decision you believe in, even if it's unpopular at first.
  • Negative reactions are almost always louder and more passionate than positive ones. In fact, you may hear only negative voices even when the majority of your customers are happy about a change. Make sure you don't foolishly backpedal on a necessary but controversial decision.
  • When people complain, let things simmer for a while. Let them know you're listening. Show them you're aware of what they're saying. Let them know you understand their discontent. But explain that you're going to let it go for a while and see what happens. You'll probably find that people will adjust eventually. They may even wind up liking the change more than the old way, once they get used to it.

10. Culture

You don't create a culture

  • Artificial culture is paint. Real culture is patina
  • You don't create a culture. It happens. This is why new companies don't have a culture. Culture is the byproduct of consistent behavior.
  • Don't worry too much about it. Don't force it. You can't install a culture. Like a fine scotch, you've got to give it time to develop.

Decisions are temporary

  • 'But what if ...?' 'What happens when ...?' 'Don't we need to plan for ...?'
  • Don't make up problems you don't have yet. It's not a problem until it's a real problem. Most of the things you worry about never happen anyway.
  • Besides, the decisions you make today don't need to last forever. It's easy to shoot down good ideas, interesting policies, or worthwhile experiments by assuming that whatever you decide now needs to work for years on end. It's just not so, especially for a small business. If circumstances change, your decisions can change. Decisions are temporary.
  • The ability to change course is one of the big advantages of being small.
  • Pay attention to today and worry about later when it gets here. Otherwise you'll waste energy, time, and money fixating on problems that may never materialize.

Skip the rock stars

  • A lot of companies post help-wanted ads seeking 'rock stars' or 'ninjas.' Lame. Unless your workplace is filled with groupies and throwing stars, these words have nothing to do with your business.
  • Instead of thinking about how you can land a roomful of rock stars, think about the room instead. We're all capable of bad, average, and great work. The environment has a lot more to do with great work than most people realize.
  • Rockstar environments develop out of trust, autonomy, and responsibility. They're a result of giving people the privacy, workspace, and tools they deserve. Great environments show respect for the people who do the work and how they do it.

They're not thirteen

  • When you treat people like children, you get children's work.
  • When everything constantly needs approval, you create a culture of nonthinkers. You create a boss-versus-worker relationship that screams, 'I don't trust you.'
  • You're not going to get a full eight hours a day out of people anyway. That's a myth. They might be at the office for eight hours, but they're not actually working eight hours. People need diversions. It helps disrupt the monotony of the workday. A little YouTube or Facebook time never hurt anyone.
  • Then there's all the money and time you spend policing this stuff. How much does it cost to set up surveillance software? How much time do IT employees waste on monitoring other employees instead of working on a project that's actually valuable? How much time do you waste writing rule books that never get read? Look at the costs and you quickly realize that failing to trust your employees is awfully expensive.

Send people home at 5

  • The dream employee for a lot of companies is a twenty-something with as little of a life as possible outside of work--someone who'll be fine working fourteen-hour days and sleeping under his desk.
  • But packing a room full of these burn-the-midnight-oil types isn't as great as it seems. It lets you get away with lousy execution. It perpetuates myths like 'This is the only way we can compete against the big guys.' You don't need more hours; you need better hours.
  • When people have something to do at home, they get down to business. They get their work done at the office because they have somewhere else to be. They find ways to be more efficient because they have to.
  • 'If you want something done, ask the busiest person you know.' You want busy people. People who have a life outside of work. People who care about more than one thing.

Don't scar on the first cut

  • The second something goes wrong, the natural tendency is to create a policy. 'Someone's wearing shorts!? We need a dress code!' No, you don't. You just need to tell John not to wear shorts again.
  • Policies are organizational scar tissue. They are codified overreactions to situations that are unlikely to happen again. They are collective punishment for the misdeeds of an individual.
  • This is how bureaucracies are born. No one sets out to create a bureaucracy. They sneak up on companies slowly.
  • So don't scar on the first cut. Don't create a policy because one person did something wrong once.

Sound like you

  • The stiff language, the formal announcements, the artificial friendliness, the legalese, etc. You read this stuff and it sounds like a robot wrote it. These companies talk at you, not to you.
  • There's nothing wrong with sounding your own size. Being honest about who you are is smart business, too.
  • That applies to the language you use everywhere--in e-mail, packaging, interviews, blog posts, presentations, etc. Talk to customers the way you would to friends. Explain things as if you were sitting next to them. Avoid jargon or any sort of corporate-speak. Stay away from buzzwords when normal words will do just fine. Don't talk about 'monetization' or being 'transparent;' talk about making money and being honest. Don't use seven words when four will do.
  • And don't force your employees to end e-mails with legalese like 'This e-mail message is for the sole use of the intended recipient(s) and may contain confidential and privileged information.' That's like ending all your company e-mails with a signature that says, 'We don't trust you and we're ready to prove it in court.' Good luck making friends that way.
  • Write to be read, don't write just to write. Whenever you write something, read it out loud. Does it sound the way it would if you were actually talking to someone? If not, how can you make it more conversational?
  • Who said writing needs to be formal? Who said you have to strip away your personality when putting words on paper? Forget rules. Communicate!
  • And when you're writing, don't think about all the people who may read your words. Think of one person. Then write for that one person. Writing for a mob leads to generalities and awkwardness. When you write to a specific target, you're a lot more likely to hit the mark.

Four-letter words

  • There are four-letter words you should never use in business. They're not fuck or shit. They're need, must, can't, easy, just, only, and fast. These words get in the way of healthy communication. They are red flags that introduce animosity, torpedo good discussions, and cause projects to be late.
  • When you use these four-letter words, you create a black-and-white situation. But the truth is rarely black and white. So people get upset and problems ensue. Tension and conflict are injected unnecessarily.
  • Here's what's wrong with some of them:
    • Need. Very few things actually need to get done. Instead of saying 'need,' you're better off saying 'maybe' or 'What do you think about this?' or 'How does this sound?' or 'Do you think we could get away with that?' Can't. When you say 'can't,' you probably can. Sometimes there are even opposing can'ts: 'We can't launch it like that, because it's not quite right' versus 'We can't spend any more time on this because we have to launch.' Both of those statements can't be true. Or wait a minute, can they? EasyEasy is a word that's used to describe other people's jobs. 'That should be easy for you to do, right?' But notice how rarely people describe their own tasks as easy. For you, it's 'Let me look into it'--but for others, it's 'Get it done.'

ASAP is poison

  • Stop saying ASAP. We get it. It's implied. Everyone wants things done as soon as they can be done.
  • When you turn into one of these people who adds ASAP to the end of every request, you're saying everything is high priority. And when everything is high priority, nothing is.
  • ASAP is inflationary. It devalues any request that doesn't say ASAP. Before you know it, the only way to get anything done is by putting the ASAP sticker on it.
  • Most things just don't warrant that kind of hysteria. If a task doesn't get done this very instant, nobody is going to die. Nobody's going to lose their job. It won't cost the company a ton of money. What it will do is create artificial stress, which leads to burnout and worse.
  • So reserve your use of emergency language for true emergencies. The kind where there are direct, measurable consequences to inaction. For everything else, chill out.

11. Conclusion

Inspiration is perishable

  • We all have ideas. Ideas are immortal. They last forever.
  • What doesn't last forever is inspiration. Inspiration is like fresh fruit or milk: It has an expiration date.
  • If you want to do something, you've got to do it now. You can't put it on a shelf and wait two months to get around to it. You can't just say you'll do it later. Later, you won't be pumped up about it anymore.
  • If you're inspired on a Friday, swear off the weekend and dive into the project. When you're high on inspiration, you can get two weeks of work done in twenty-four hours. Inspiration is a time machine in that way.
  • Inspiration is a magical thing, a productivity multiplier, a motivator. But it won't wait for you. Inspiration is a now thing. If it grabs you, grab it right back and put it to work.