Review: Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

Do you hate deadlines?

I hated deadlines in school and college! I wasn’t good at time management back when. Every assignment with a deadline tormented me. Most of my classmates felt the same. Today, I love deadlines! I love constrains and clear focus. One reason I changed my opinion is Rework. This book changed many of my beliefs and changed the way I work.

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson wrote Rework as a by-product of their work at Basecamp. Jason Fried founded 1999 with Carlos Segura, and Ernest Kim Basecamp, as a web design company. Segura and Kim left. Fried hired Hansson to build a web-base project management tool. Later, he became a partner at Basecamp.

They recommend to out-teach your competition:

“Out-teach your competition

You can advertise. You can hire salespeople. You can sponsor events. But your competitors are doing the same things. How does that help you stand out?

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.”

They followed their own advice and wrote great articles on Basecamps blog. In those articles they explained the way Basecamp works and gave advice on many business related topics. Rework is a neat and brief summery of Hanssons and Frieds business advice.

It is a collection of ideas, best practices, methods, and advice that made Basecamp successful. I read many books about business last year. Such as: 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, Start with Why, The lean Startup, The Personal MBA. But, Rework is different. Fried and Hansson argue that we have a new reality:

“There’s a new reality. Today anyone can be in business. Tools that used to be out of reach are now easily accessible. Technology that cost thousands is now just a few bucks or even free. One person can do the job of two or three or, in some cases, an entire department. Stuff that was impossible just a few years ago is simple today.

You don’t have to work miserable 60/80/100-hour weeks to make it work. 10–40 hours a week is plenty. You don’t have to deplete your life savings or take on a boatload of risk. Starting a business on the side while keeping your day job can provide all the cash flow you need. You don’t even need an office. Today you can work from home or collaborate with people you’ve never met who live thousands of miles away.”

A new reality requires breaking with old rules and apply new ones. Rework questions old assumptions and shows that they are wrong.

Here are some great examples:

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.”

. . .

Don’t get fooled by the stats. Other people’s failures are just that: other people’s failures.

. . .

Another common misconception: You need to learn from your mistakes. 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.

Contrast that with learning from your successes. 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.

. . .

That shouldn’t be a surprise: It’s exactly how nature works. Evolution doesn’t linger on past failures, it’s always building upon what worked. So should you.”

Why grow?

“Why is that? 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. And avoid huge growth spurts too—they can cause you to skip right over your appropriate size.

. . .

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.”


“Our culture celebrates the idea of the workaholic. We hear about people burning the midnight oil. They pull all-nighters and sleep at the office. It’s considered a badge of honor to kill yourself over a project. No amount of work is too much work.

Not only is this workaholism unnecessary, it’s stupid. Working more doesn’t mean you care more or get more done. It just means you work more.

. . .

Workaholics miss the point, too. They try to fix problems by throwing sheer hours at them. They try to make up for intellectual laziness with brute force. This results in inelegant solutions.

. . .

In the end, workaholics don’t actually accomplish more than nonworkaholics. They may claim to be perfectionists, but that just means they’re wasting time fixating on inconsequential details instead of moving on to the next task.”

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.

. . .

Instead of entrepreneurs, let’s just call them starters. 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.”

Rework Review

I enjoyed reading Rework. I found many new ideas and a new perspective on business. And, I will try to apply each one in the future. I also like the way it is structure. The small, brief chapters are easy to read.

I have only one complaint with Rework. Fried and Hansson only use Basecamp as an example. The advice they give can be applied. They tried everything successful with Basecamp. But, Basecamp is not like other businesses. I assume that the ideas in Rework work best for small, lean companies. There are also parts that can be applied to huge companies, but Rework is for small companies.

Overall, I recommend Rework every entrepreneur / starter. They benefit most from it. I also recommend Rework to people who try to work smarter, not harder.

David Heinemeier Hansson

During my computer science study I tried a web-framework called Ruby on Rails. I immediately loved it. Rails is easy to use, elegant and effective. Rails introduced me to David Heinemeier Hansson. He created Rails to aid his work at Basecamp. Basecamps project management tool was the first Rails application.

They released Rails as open source software. Anybody can use and build web applications with it for free. Today, Rails is the favorite web framework for startups. Sites like Twitter and Shopify started and still use Rails as their foundation.

Since my first steps with Rails I kept an eye on Hansson. He is a controversial character in the programing world.

Years later, I watched recordings of his conference speeches. He spoke to me. I like the way he thinks; pragmatic.

David Heinemeier Hansson, like Michael Jordan and Richard Feynman, became one of my role models.

If you like pragmatic thinkers you should keep an eye on David Heinemeier Hansson.

Have you read Rework? If so, what do you think about it? Please tell us in the comment section.

Deo volente,

Gaius Wolf



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