Dave Concannon

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In Pure Water, No Fish

Book Review: “Rework” by 37Signals

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I’ve been eagerly awaiting the arrival of “Rework” since I preordered it back in January. I’m a big fan of 37signal’s work, their blog, and loved David Heinemeier Hansson’s talk at FOWA Dublin in ‘09. I’m not a huge fan of “Rework”.

Testimonials

Before getting to the actual content of the book, the reader will be confronted by some of the most overly-enthusiastic praise from recognized industry figures that I can ever recall seeing in a publication. This almost stopped me from buying the book in the first place. Mark Cuban is someone I’d gladly sacrifice a major appendage to work for, but check out this effusive gibberish:

If given a choice between investing in someone who has read Rework or has an MBA, I’m investing in Rework every time… a must-read.

Or this mental breakdown from Tom Peters:

The clarity, even genius, of this book actually brought me to near tears on several occasions. Just bloody brilliant, that’s what.

Content

37signals typically write in a blunt, straight-shooting style, and they pull no punches in “Rework”. Don’t get me wrong – there are a few gems, but also several essays which really don’t make any logical sense. One or two of the essays remind me of “The Sphinx” from the movie “Mystery Men” – amusing upon first read, but logically empty. In particular, the introduction sets up some weak straw-man arguments about what ‘conventional critics’ say is not possible that comes across sounding like teenage rebellion.

Getting Real” was a breath of fresh air in an industry that seemed to have learned little from the Dot Com crash. It was absolutely original and controversial when released, and inspired people around the world. At least part of the reason for the success of “Getting Real” was it’s contrarian stance on what was then normal industry practice – their advice to do less, avoid feature bloat, have passion for what you do, and their simple functional design theories were revolutionary.

The problems with success

It may be that they’ve actually been too successful at promoting their philosophy because for the most part “rework” doesn’t feel like it’s saying anything very unconventional. Here’s an (admittedly out of context) quote from the book that I found ironic:

When you’re a success, the pressure to maintain predictability and consistency builds. You get more conservative. It’s harder to take risks. That’s when things start to fossilize and change becomes difficult.

If you’ve been following resources like Andrew Warner’s interviews with entrepreneurs, or the surge of interest in concepts like the Lean Startups philosophy, a lot of the advice in this book just feels like common sense. Maybe I’m just not in the target demographic? It is to 37signals’ credit that they have inspired so many with their work and there is a lot of good advice for those who are not familiar with what they’ve already done, but some of “Rework” just doesn’t hold up to the light. It’s Seth Godin’s easy conversational writing style but missing some essential nugget of truth.

To make sure I’m not just whinging in this post I’ll clarify that there are the occasional diamonds in the rough. I particularly enjoyed:

  • Meetings are toxic – Good advice on how to run a meeting if it’s really necessary
  • Let your customer outgrow you - Don’t pander to every change request
  • Scratch your own itch – Solve one of your own problems and you’ll find a market
  • The myth of the overnight sensation – The only path to success is hard work
  • Marketing is not a department - Everyone is responsible for the public face of your company

Buy it?

My critical process for reading any article, blog post, or book is to ignore who the author is and concentrate on the actual content. In this instance I wasn’t overly impressed.  Let’s be honest though – this book is going to be a resounding success whether I praise it or slate it. 37signals have a very large audience among whom they’ve reached a certain level of rockstar infamy. If I can riff on this tenuous rockstar analogy – “Getting Real” is to the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” as “Rework” is to whatever that last album was called.

With all the points above in mind, there is still enough good advice in this book that I would recommend getting a copy if you haven’t already read “Getting Real”, and don’t subscribe to their blog.  There are four of the better essays from the book on Tim Ferriss’s blog if you want a sampler to make up your mind.

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15 Great Customer Development, Lean Startups, and Entrepreneurship Resources

The types of sites I read have slowly migrated away from pure technical sites talking about monkeying around with with code towards sites discussing business, customer development, marketing, and general startup concepts. Here’s a list of my favorite authors, blogs, podcasts, and forums dealing with these topics. Who else should I be listening to? Let me know in the comments.

Update: All the best Lean Startup and Customer Development resources in one place: http://www.leanstartupfeed.com/

Customer Development and Lean Startups

Steve Blank Steve Blank

Steve Blank is a successful startup veteran and MBA lecturer in the Haas School of business at UC Berkeley. He took the lessons he learned in successfully marketing his startups to develop the concept of Customer Development in the must read book “The Four Steps to the Epiphany“. Seriously, if you’re working in a startup – you need to read this book.

http://steveblank.com/

Eric Ries Eric Ries

Eric Ries developed the Lean Startup methodology by combining concepts from the Toyota Production System (Lean Manufacturing), Agile Software Development, the OODA loop, and Steve Blank’s Customer Development model. The combination of these ideas results in a low-cost startup that is critically focused on rapidly producing a product which satisfies customer needs. There are some fantastic concepts in his writing which will inspire (Minimum Viable Product) and possibly scare the crap out of you (Continuous deployment for example).

http://www.startuplessonslearned.com/

Dave McClure Dave McClure

Dave McClure is a successful entrepreneur and angel investor. Dave mainly writes about using startup metrics to drive success. His “Startup Metrics for Pirates” presentation describes essential metrics any web application needs to measure to turn first-time users into obsessed fans. His refreshingly informal writing style pulls no punches, and his violent use of text color will make your eyes bleed. (The reason I have pictures next to each of these authors is mainly due to this loud advice. He’s right.).

http://500hats.typepad.com/

Individual Article of Merit:

This epic saga by Recess Mobile tries to map out the entire landscape of Customer Development and Lean Startups. I can only imagine how long it took them to write this one.

Startup Marketing

Sean Ellis Sean Ellis

Sean is a seasoned startup marketer having led several companies through to IPO. He writes about Customer Development, PR, and startup marketing.  As a quick taster, check out his Venture Hacks interviews on bringing a product to market – Part One on what to do before Product/Market Fit & Part Two on what to do after Product/Market fit.

http://startup-marketing.com/

Brant Cooper Brant Cooper

Brant is another very experienced startup marketer who is developing a series of tools and models based around the Customer Development methodology. He recently conducted a survey into the current Customer Development landscape which can be found here: Customer Development Survey. Most recently he put together a simple model which ties Customer Development, the standard sales funnel, and Dave McClure’s AARRR metrics into one cohesive whole [Available Here]. Highly recommended.

Together with Patrick Vlaskovits (@vlaskovits), he wrote the excellent “Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development“, which I reviewed and would recommend highly.

http://market-by-numbers.com/

Venture Capital and Entrepreneurship

Fred Wilson Fred Wilson

Fred is a VC at Union Square Ventures based in New York, which funds companies such as FourSquare, Boxee, and Etsy. His blog covers a wide variety of topics in the area of entrepreneurship and business strategy, and also a little bit of venture capital concepts. He provides a very interesting critical eye on technology industry news.

http://www.avc.com/

Mark Suster Mark Suster

Mark is a successful British entrepreneur who has “gone over to the dark side” to become a VC. He covers the gamut of entrepreneurial topics from raising startup capital, marketing, right down to the definition of  “Entrepreneurial DNA“. His fantastic interview on Mixergy was quite probably the most inspiring thing I listened to last year.

http://www.bothsidesofthetable.com/

NiviNaval Nivi & Naval (Venture Hacks)

Nivi and Naval have founded successful companies, and invested heavily in startups like twitter. They  cover a full range of startup essentials from securing funding from angel investors, how to choose company advisors, the psychology of a board of directors, and a fantastic selection of case studies on all of the above and more.

http://venturehacks.com/

Business Model Hacking

Alexander Osterwalder Alexander Osterwalder

Alexander’s blog centers around the Business Model Canvas methodology which involves analyzing business models, pulling them apart into their constituent parts and then reassembling them in interesting ways. Lego for business if you will. He uses an interesting tool sheet to aid this, which I think meshes perfectly into the lean startup concept of ‘pivoting’.

http://www.businessmodelalchemist.com/

Podcasts, Interviews, and Videos

Andrew Warner Andrew Warner – Mixergy

Andrew Warner co-founded an internet business with his brother which went on to generate over thirty million dollars a year in sales. With Mixergy, Andrew has conducted some of the most inspiring and amazing interviews with entrepreneurs you’re likely to find. He conducts frank and probing interviews that dig deep into the mindset of his interviewees – people who have either taken their business to dizzying heights, or failed spectacularly trying.  As well as my personal favourite interview with Mark Suster listed above, you should check out this interview with Ben Huh of “Failblog”, or this amusing interview with Neil Patel of KISSMetrics. This is quite simply an amazing resource.

http://www.mixergy.com

Jason Calacanis Jason Calacanis – This Week in STartups

Jason co-founded weblogs Inc which grew to be a huge network of niche content sites, and was eventually acquired by AOL for a giant bag of money. TWiST interviews a wide range of guests in the technology sphere, and intermittent shows where listeners can ask Jason for advice. Very entertaining and informative.

http://thisweekinstartups.com/

Bob Walsh Bob Walsh -  Startup success podcast

Bob specializes in news and advice aimed at MicroISVs at his blog 47 Hats. As opposed to the more general entrepreneurship podcasts listed above, the Startup Success Podcast digs into the more specialized issues faced by independant software vendors.

http://startuppodcast.wordpress.com/

Forums

Lean Startups Circle

A Google group centered around advice for entrepreneurs running lean startups.

http://groups.google.com/group/lean-startup-circle

Business of Software Forum

Joel Spolsky’s forum covering a range of issues faced by developers trying to market software.

http://discuss.joelonsoftware.com/?biz

Hacker News

Everything under the sun relating to technology and entrepreneurship. User driven article voting, hosted by Paul Graham’s startup incubator Y Combinator.

http://news.ycombinator.com/

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