This is a comprehensive summary of the book Rework by Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson (part of the business book summaries collection). Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski.
Printable: Download the interactive sheet for taking notes.
The Book In Three Or More Sentences:
Easily digestible, motivating, inspiring. Rework is a different type of business book. It’s different from all the other books out there about starting and running a business. Rework shows you a better, easier way to succeed in your market by explaining in plain English, what you should do, and naturally what you should avoid doing.
The Core Idea:
The authors of the book, who are the founders of Basecamp 3 (and now Hey.com), are sharing their own personal experience about building and running a business. It’s not a book where some old business veterans share fancy stories, add cheesy headlines, and repeat “you can do it”. Jason Fried and David Hansson advise us to stay small and focus on the essential things in your company. Urge business folks to avoid meetings, long detailed business plans, expensive equipment, a fixed mindset… Primarily, it’s a book about ignoring: Ignoring what everyone else is telling you about running a successful company and focusing on the things that matter for your specific niche.
- Fancy gear and gizmos won’t make you good at doing something.
- To ensure that your project is not stalling, make quick decisions. You can always iterate later.
- Don’t aim to be big. Focus on doing a few things very well.
5 Key Lessons from Rework:
Lesson #1: Small, Frugal, Profitable
Some will say that you can’t compete with the big boys who are already operating in the niche you’re about to enter without heavy marketing, big advertisement budget, or by building a product that does fewer things than your competition.
Some will be right.
Still, do you need all that many clients at first?
You might say “yes, of course,” but imagine that you start an online business today, and tomorrow, you get a thousand clients. OK, let’s make
Think about this for a moment: Can you handle the load? All the emails? All the calls? Can you ship all of the orders all by yourself? Yes, you can hire a guy, five guys. But can you trust these people when you’re just starting? Do you think the people you just hired will share your passion for the product you’ve launched?
If you’re a one-man army you probably don’t need 100,000 customers. If you want to escape the modern struggles and the busy atmosphere of your current job, I bet you don’t want 16 hours working days, 7 days in a week, 365 days of the year. You will want to expand, yes, but at a certain point where it will be comfortable and still fun – like when you got your first order.
A lot of people think that they need thousands of customers to make a living doing what they love. In reality, you need only 1,000 true fans. If a thousand people give you $10 each month for what you offer, your product, service, book, whatever, you will have $10,000 a month. I believe that’s a good salary for a small business owner.
You don’t need an office. You don’t need $50,000 to start. You don’t need a PR firm or a professional web designer to create your logo – you can draw something on Paint for a start. You don’t even need a retail store, you can start by selling stuff online. You don’t need people to answer emails or pick up the phone, you can do all these things by yourself.
“Think about it this way: If you had to launch your business in two weeks, what would you cut out?” Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson
Lesson #2: Don’t Postpone Decisions
Making timely decisions allows you to move forward and make progress. If you wait, postpone, things will pile up. And piles are either ignored or have the power to suck the life out of us.
Avoiding decisions is contagious. I know a lot of people who constantly postpone making decisions in favor of doing other things, things that feel exciting. The favorite expression in their vocabulary is: “I will do that later.” However, later is indefinite. It can be today, tomorrow, next month, or never.
Commit to making decisions in time. There will never be a perfect solution or a perfect time for anything. Make a choice and move forward. This will help you build momentum and move things into the Done folder faster.
Even if the decision/solution is not perfect, you can always try to make things better in time. However, postponing and waiting for the perfect moment is the worst possible option.
This applies both for
“When you don’t know what you believe, everything becomes an argument. Everything is debatable. But when you stand for something, decisions are obvious.” Jason Fried & David Hansson
Lesson #3: Gear Doesn’t Matter, Your Vision Does
When people decide that they want to create their own YouTube channel. Website. Write their first book. Or simply want to shoot photos. Their first thought is about what gear they will need before they can actually start: “Oh, I can’t start my vlog until I don’t have the same camera Casey Neistat has.” Or, “I can’t start writing a book until I have the perfect pen.”
I get it. I also think about those things sometimes. Getting new equipment – camera, laptop, headphones, skateboard, even a freaking mouse is cool, it’s sexy, exciting. It gives you a dose of dopamine. However, even if you buy the same camera, microphone, tripod stand, and even the same glasses Casey has, you will still lack the essential – it will be still you behind the camera.
People who are successful nowadays, have succeeded because of these two things: First, they have been around the block for several years constantly producing content which allows them to get better. Secondly, they have their own vision, which is definitely different from yours. And of course it’s different, you and Casey Neistat (for example) are not the same people.
A new laptop or an expensive camera won’t automatically type the words for you or shoot great pictures. Fancy gear can help, yes, but in reality, the editor of the content is still going to be you. Meaning, you should focus more time on improving your skills. Not focusing on “what new thing I should get.”
Lesson #4: It’s OK If It’s Not Perfect
Everyone around us is constantly striving for perfection. We see well-designed magazine covers, perfectly shot commercials, well-arranged desks, people with ripped, symmetrical bodies who look like they’ve never tasted a burger.
We see all these things and we start believing that if it’s not perfect it’s not worth creating in the first place. That’s why a lot of people never start a business. They think that no one will like it since it’s not going to be perfect in the beginning.
However, when something is too polished, it loses its identity. It sounds fake. And people can spot fake from a mile away.
When you reveal your flaws to the world, people will connect with you, understand you, like you. You might not seem as professional as the other self-proclaimed “experts”, but you will seem a lot more genuine.
People all around the world are trying to sound big. We see these things all the time: the stiff language, the formal announcements, the fake smiles, etc. They think that this kind of behavior is making them look better in the eyes of others. But it really, it just makes them sound ridiculous. It sounds like they’re reading from a script. Maybe they do have the knowledge, and the expertise, but they lack the charisma, which is an essential characteristic if you want to be accepted and understood.
Jason Fried and David Hansson urge us to talk like we talk with our friends. Prompt us to go for it even it the design is not perfect.
Or in other words, put your idea out there. People will love to see what’s cooking and help you make it even better over time.
“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.” Jason Fried & David Hansson
Lesson #5: Question Before You Start
Before you start, anything, ask yourself questions. Difficult questions. You can start with these:
- Why are you doing this? You can easily find yourself doing something only because someone else is doing it or because someone told you to do it. It’s quite common these days. You see someone starting a vlog and you end up spending a week trying to start your own but not really knowing why. So, the first question you need to ask yourself before executing any task is: Why are you working on this? What is this for? Who will benefit from it? These questions will help you formulate your why.
- What problem are you solving? I read somewhere that if you’re planning to write a book, and if you want the book to sell like crazy, it should be either fun, entertaining, emotional or it should educate the reader. So think about this: What kind of problem your book (project) is solving? Novels don’t solve a problem, but they give emotional delight. If you’re going to educate people, what are you going to teach them? What kind of problem will they solve after they read your stuff?
- Are you adding value? Creating a product is fairly easy. In contrast, adding value is really hard. You can write your own book and self-publish it. Still, if the book is not adding any real value to the reader it will be “just another book on the shelf.”
- Is this really worth it? Probably the most important question: Is what you’re doing worth it? Do you want to be an author? Is it worth spending one year writing a book? Think about what kind of value the thing you’re so obsessed with will going to bring in your life and in the life of others. If it’s not enough, then it’s probably not worth starting at all.
- What could you be doing instead? This question applies to basically everything in life: What else can I do? It keeps you vigilant and curious. You’re thinking of starting a website to sell your own paintings? OK, but starting a website is a daunting task. It will cost you a lot of time and money if you don’t know how to do it. So, ask yourself: What can I do instead? For example, you can start by sharing your art on social media and selling pictures there, initially. This will cost you nothing and it will take only a few minutes of your time. At a later stage, you can create a site.
- Be a curator: Make conscious decisions about what should stay and what should go both in your life and in your business.
- What’s your core? What’s the core function of your product or service? You need to figure out the core function of your product and focus all of your energy on making it the best it can be. Everything else is secondary.
- Say no by default: Saying yes to people, to more features, to more equipment, to more, in general, it’s easy. You probably say yes to avoid confrontation with other people but this is never good in the long-term. The more you say yes, the more you’ll have to handle. In contrast, the more you refuse, the more time you’ll have for doing what’s really important for you and your business.
- Do it yourself: If you’re starting a business, a new business, there will be a lot of things on your plate. A lot of things you need to think about and even more that needs execution. Even though you’ll be tempted to hire someone to help you with something, try doing it yourself first. Hire only when it’s absolutely necessary. “Hire when it hurts,” as the authors say.
- Start at the epicenter: When you start a new project, there will be a variety of things that will fight for your attention. A gazillion amount of things that you’ll think are necessary in order for the project to run. However, the thing you need to focus on is usually one. For example, the main thing about running a website is having content. Yes, the design, the logo, the hosting, domain, colors, are important, but if you remove the content from the site there will be only fancy pages.
Commentary and My Personal Takeaway
Every other workbook, textbook, or book about running a business will blow your mind with things to do. Not Rework. Even though the authors clearly state that success won’t happen overnight, which is a good thing, it helped me realize that you don’t need to do a lot of things in order to create a company. You also don’t necessarily need to wish and strive for becoming constantly bigger.
Bigger means more problems. More people. More room for mistakes. More time
To succeed, you basically need one good idea and a small staff of people (or only you) to make this idea genuine, something people can relate to.
I definitely recommend reading this book.
“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.” Jason Fried & David Hansson
“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.” Jason Fried & David Hansson
“What you do is what matters, not what you think or say or plan.” Jason Fried & David Hansson
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