Anant Jain

It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Work

Book Review

Like most people in the tech industry, I’m a huge fan of Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (DHH) — two programmers who co-founded a small web app development agency called 37Signals in 1999, and over time grew it to multi-million dollars in profit through their Basecamp product. In fact, they have renamed the company to Basecamp now). Moreover, DHH is more popularly known as the inventor of Ruby on Rails, the immensely popular web development framework at the core of products like AirBnb, GitHub, Shopify, and of course, Basecamp itself. The duo have written four books so far — the first three being Getting Real, Remote and Rework. This is the fourth book by the them and it came out this year after a hiatus of full 5 years.

Although I’m a huge proponent of the Basecamp work philosophy, I’m not a big fan of this book itself. If you’ve read the first three books, you can safely skip this one — or, maybe you can read it (as I did) as a refresher to some of the things that make Basecamp unique and successful. As with most non-fiction books, a snapshot of the index is the best summary. So here you go:

Index, Page 1

Some of the points worth taking away from here:

  • Your Company is a Product: As a founder, your job is to first make a product — something people want, and then move on to making your company, something smart people want to work at. This second step is crucial and it’s a great idea to think of your company as another product.
  • Our Goal: No Goals: This is pretty unusual, but they don’t have goals at Basecamp. None. No Quarterly numbers to hit, no Big Hairy Audacious Goals. If you must have a goal, theirs is to just stay profitable and in business.
  • 8’s Enough, 20’s Plenty: They work 32 hour weeks over the summers, and 40 hour weeks over rest of the year. Yes, a day is capped at 8 hours, and you get Fridays off to spend more time outside with your friends and family during the summer months. I still haven’t heard of any other company do this!
  • Low-Hanging Fruit Can Still Be out of Reach: “Declaring that an unfamiliar task will yield low-hanging fruit is almost always an admission that you have little insight about what you’re setting out to do. And any estimate of how much work it’ll take to do something you’ve never tried before is likely to be off by degrees of magnitude.” Empirically, I’ve seen this play out so many times that I’m glad these guys included this.

Index Page 2

  • Ignore the Talent War: “Nurturing untapped potential is far more exhilarating than finding someone who’s already at their peak. We hired many of our best people not because of who they were but because of who they could become.”
  • Library Rules: “Open-plan offices suck at providing an environment for calm, creative work done by professionals who need peace, quiet, privacy, and space to think and do their best. People who visit our office for the first time are startled by the silence and serenity. It doesn’t look, sound, or behave like a traditional office. That’s because it’s really a library for work rather than an office for distraction.”
  • Compromise on Quality: “You just can’t bring your A game to every situation. Knowing when to embrace Good Enough is what gives you the opportunity to be truly excellent when you need to be.”
  • Startups are Easy, Stayups are Hard: Anyone can start a startup. The real challenge is in building a profitable business that’s default alive.

This is #45 in a series of book reviews published weekly on this site.