Just before starting my digital agency in 2015, I was binge-reading business books day in, day out. I was seeking advice that assured me I was on the right path. That this was not a giant mistake.
While all the books I read during this time were immensely insightful, nothing triggered that eureka moment in me where I said: “Yes, this is exactly what I was looking for!” A business book that served as an impetus for doing what I was about to do. That was until I grabbed a copy of Rework.
I first heard of Rework from a talk given by Rameet Chawla, co-founder of Fueled Collective, an app design agency. I wish I could link to the video on YouTube, but for some reason I’m just not able to find it. Anyway, it was one of his must-read books for entrepreneurs — a book by the founders of Basecamp (formerly called 37signals), Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.
Without wasting any time, I bought a Kindle version of the book and skimmed through the first few chapters in a daze. I realized this is the book I was waiting for all along. The book that would give me the much-needed confidence boost to venture out on my own.
The numerous pieces of business advice in the book were scary, yet reassuring at the same time. After finishing it, I read it one more time within the week, picked up a paperback version of the book, and since then I revisit this book every six months to get my dose of startup wisdom and inspiration. Also, on a side note, the book contains illustrations by Mike Rohde which are simply brilliant.
(Above) A couple of illustrations by Mike Rohde from Rework
Rework is a quick read with bite-sized chapters. The book contains valuable business lessons for entrepreneurs from all walks of life — entrepreneurs who are currently dealing with self-doubt for taking perhaps the most important decision in their lives.
If this person is you, then I’d urge you pick up a copy of Rework immediately.
In the meantime, here are 7 of the most important business lessons I learned from Rework.
1. Planning is guessing
“Plans more than a few pages long just wind up as fossils in your file cabinet.”
Long-term planning is a waste of time because there are too many factors that are completely out of your control. Factors such as market conditions, the economy, competition, etc. As a result, plans let the past define your future and give an illusion that you’re in control of things when you really aren’t.
Fried and Hansson suggest that you start treating plans as they really are: guesses. This will enable you to stop stressing about them too much and focus on the next most important thing to do.
2. Stay lean, agile, and flexible
“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.”
There’s nothing wrong with staying small. Expansion is not always the right goal. Staying small and lean is a great goal in itself. Having a sustainable business is all that matters.
Fried and Hansson believe that businesses should avoid huge growth spurts and grow at a pace that feels right. Growth should not come at the cost of profitability and sustainability.
3. Execution is everything
“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.”
It doesn’t matter how brilliant or revolutionary your idea is. If you’re not able to execute it well, it amounts to nothing.
Fried and Hansson illustrate this point by offering an example of the iconic filmmaker Stanley Kubrick whose advice to aspiring filmmakers was this: “Get hold of a camera and some film and make a movie of any kind at all.”
Kubrick knew the importance of starting and creating, and entrepreneurs need to do the same to be successful in their endeavors.
4. Don’t delay the launch
“Don’t hold everything else up because of a few leftovers. You can do them later.”
When it comes to launching your product, you need to stick to strict deadlines. Even if you have a list of things you need to do before your product is fully ready, the best approach would be to launch now, and do iterations and improvements to your product later.
Fried and Hansson suggest that it’s always better to launch a minimum viable product (MVP) first and then make iterations as you gain feedback from your audience. Take care of the necessities first and worry about the luxuries later.
This approach is also supported by Eric Ries who pioneered the MVP concept in his book The Lean Startup, and by Seth Godin’s ‘shipping approach’, a concept explained in detail in his book Linchpin.
5. Interruption kills 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. And the reason is interruptions.”
You’re most productive when you are all alone. When there’s no one interrupting your flow of work. When you’re not constantly being bombarded by phone calls, meetings, and Skype messages. So it’s important that you value alone time that’ll enable you to get things done.
Fried and Hansson suggest that we set aside long stretches of alone time with no interruptions from instant messages, phone calls, emails, and meetings. Allow passive communication tools like email that don’t require an instant reply.
6. Make smaller to-do lists
“Long lists collect dust.”
The longer your to-do list, the worse you feel when you have unfinished items on your list. On the other hand, smaller to-do lists can have an amazing impact on your productivity and motivation.
Fried and Hansson suggest that we break our long list of to-do items into a bunch of smaller lists. When you look at the small picture and find progress, that’s a lot better than staring at the huge picture and being terrified and demotivated.
7. Choose niche media over mainstream media
“Articles in big-time publications are nice, but they don’t result in the same level of direct, instant activity.”
When you’re just starting out, it’s virtually impossible to get attention from mainstream media outlets like the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Forbes. Instead, you should focus on getting your story published in niche media outlets and blogs which are always on the lookout for interesting new stories.
Fried and Hansson have had stories about Basecamp published on numerous mainstream publications like Wired and Time, but they’ve noticed more traction by publishing on sites like Lifehacker and Daring Fireball.
Rework is a book I revisit every six months and each time, I’m able to gain fresh perspective and find new lessons which I then incorporate firmly into my business philosophy.
I was also able to grab the latest book by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson — “It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work“, but sadly, I was a bit underwhelmed. Perhaps my expectations were too high after reading Rework.
Just the same, I couldn’t recommend this book more highly. If you found the business lessons listed above intriguing, then I’d urge to buy a copy of Rework right away. You won’t be disappointed.
Have you read Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson? What business lessons were you able to learn from this book? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you.