You can have all the fancy gear in the world, but it won't make a difference if you don't know what you're doing.

Show Notes

Any photographer will tell you it doesn't really matter what camera you use if you know how to take a good picture. So often, businesses obsess over getting a fancy office, the best software or breakroom snacks, when they really should be focusing on getting customers and making money. It doesn't matter what gear you have as long as you know what you're doing.

Show Notes

What is Rework?

A podcast by 37signals about the better way to work and run your business. In Season 2, we're going through Rework (the book) chapter by chapter and talking with authors, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, about what's changed in the world of business over the last eleven years since the book was published.

Shaun Hildner (00:00):
Welcome to Rework, a podcast by 37signals about the better way to work and run your business. I'm your host, Shaun Hildner and joining me as always our the co-founders of 37signals and the authors of Rework, David Heinemeier Hansson. How are you today?

David Heinemeier Hansson (00:14):
I am good Shaun.

Shaun Hildner (00:15):
And Jason Fried. How are you?

Jason Fried (00:17):
All right. Hanging in there.

Shaun Hildner (00:19):
Hey. Can't complain, right?

Jason Fried (00:21):

Shaun Hildner (00:21):
This week we're talking about this idea that you don't really need all these fancy tools or fancy gear as long as you know what you're doing. So what are the things that you guys see businesses, especially young businesses obsessing over, instead of focusing on things like making money or getting customers?

Jason Fried (00:40):
This is typically a story of procrastination and it's natural and normal, but it's like, I don't have enough of X, Y, or Z to do what I need to do. I don't have enough money. I don't have enough people. I don't have enough time. The software I have isn't right. I don't have a good enough, my laptop isn't fast enough. This mic that I have is not quality enough to start my podcast. I don't have a preamp. Like there's all these things that like, well, I don't have, so I can't. And again, it's common. It's like common, normal, natural, but it's a good thing to fight against because it's not about the gear. It's just not about the gear.

Shaun Hildner (01:20):
It's like, I can't do this next thing. I can't start my thing until I fulfill this arbitrary checklist of shit I need. Is that kind of what you're saying?

Jason Fried (01:29):
Yeah. And it becomes an increasing list as you procrastinate further, the list gets bigger and sometimes it's like with photography's a good example. Like, well, I can't take a good picture unless I have a Leica or whatever.

Shaun Hildner (01:44):

Jason Fried (01:45):
It's like, no, you can take a great picture with anything. It's not a, I mean, yeah, there is some part about it that's the camera, but that's not really,

Shaun Hildner (01:52):
You do need the camera.

Jason Fried (01:53):
That's not really it though. It can make it better, but you can still take a great picture with any camera. So it's more about your eye and lighting and all that other stuff, but still even not about lighting, it's about your eye.

Shaun Hildner (02:03):

Jason Fried (02:04):
It's really about that initially. So that's kind of what this whole essay is about. And you just got to be careful not to fall in the trap.

David Heinemeier Hansson (02:10):
I think the key trap here too, is thinking that what you really need is money, that whatever you need is something you can buy when that is really the deepest policy of all. And what you need is you need inspiration. You need motivation, you need some degree of competence or a road to competence. You need to know what the hell you're doing. And that doesn't like, well, I can't get started until I've done my 10,000 hours. It's not about that at all. It's about putting in those hours, getting started with those hours, which is how the procrastination becomes a barrier to getting going. Because all the time you are spending researching the gear, the software, the setup, all the other bullshit is hours not spend working on the epicenter.

Shaun Hildner (02:58):

David Heinemeier Hansson (02:59):
Is hours spend not working on the idea itself. And I think that that's partly why this is such an appealing trap to fall into, is because as we've talked about many times before, actually getting going with your idea, oh, that's scary.

Shaun Hildner (03:14):

David Heinemeier Hansson (03:15):
You might find out that the idea isn't good or you aren't well suited for the idea or any of these other things that might shoot down, quote, unquote, your dream. Well, if you just spend your time figuring out like the better gear to do it, like that's a safe space. That is not a threatening environment to your dreams. In fact, that's just like, well, I just, if I get that little bit more of money and I get that little bit better gear and I get that little bit better this, that, and the other thing. I mean, in the tech world, this often manifests itself with people who just read and experiment with a billion trillion, different tools, rather than just fucking pick one, pick anything and get going. For me, I picked early on PHP as a thing we were working with and like that even then, like that wasn't the perhaps top shelf.

Shaun Hildner (04:09):
How did you make that decision? Was it just completely arbitrary?

David Heinemeier Hansson (04:12):
No, it was just the easiest thing.

Shaun Hildner (04:14):

David Heinemeier Hansson (04:14):
It was the path of least resistance. I had worked on something a little bit before, so I knew a bit about it ergo that was the easiest place to get going. I wasn't trapped in this paradox of choice. Like, oh, this entirely open landscape, which one should we do? And then spending eons some time researching that to the nth degree. In fact, even when I, if you will graduated to Ruby, even that was a little bit of the path of least resistance. I didn't do like a full spectrum search. Let's evaluate 20 plus programming environments under core merits. And do the bake off between them. No, I just like, Hey, here's a bunch of cool people who seems to like Ruby. I respect them. Let me just give it a go and then just go with it.

David Heinemeier Hansson (04:55):
And then here we are, 20 years later, I'm still working in Ruby because I'm not in the market for something else. That's not the blocker for any of the ideas we want to express. And even more so perhaps controversially, I'm still using TextMate, which is this Relic of the mid 2000s text editor that some people are whenever I do a demo or Screencast of some people. What editor is that? I'm like that's TextMate. They were like, oh, TextMate. I heard about that from the ancient times. I'm like, yeah, it's just, there's a bunch of text editors come out since like, I don't have a text editor issue.

Shaun Hildner (05:33):

David Heinemeier Hansson (05:34):
Right. Like that's not a thing where I'm like, oh man, I'm really being held back by my text [inaudible 00:05:37].

Shaun Hildner (05:37):
No problem that needs to be solved.

David Heinemeier Hansson (05:38):
It's not a problem that needs to be solved. And I think that's a good way to figure out whether you have a obsession with gear syndrome, right? Like, is that a thing you're like constantly like, Ugh, do I have the latest gear? Is this something I'm stressing about? This is something I'm worrying about or are you trying to look into solving your problems and your ideas? And again, it doesn't mean you can't appreciate your gear, right? Like on the other hand, I want to talk that side up too.

David Heinemeier Hansson (06:02):
Some people are so far, like it's just a tool. It doesn't matter what it is. I'm like no, F that. These tools have to be good. I have to like them. I have to want to work with them. There's a place in the middle here where you don't spend your time obsessing over it, but still go like, you know what? The tools matter. I need to like the grip of the fucking screwdriver I'm using to put this stuff together. But once I found that grip, I don't need to examine 20 grips a month. I don't know. Is that even a thing that they do?

Jason Fried (06:31):
There's an interesting parallel here, and David just kind of hit on it, which is sort of comparison shopping, which is something I've stopped doing. I stopped doing this a few years ago. I wrote a little piece on this, on my HEY world newsletter called, I just bought a sauna. So I bought this sauna. I don't know when it was now, a year and a half ago or something a year ago.

Shaun Hildner (06:49):
Indoor, outdoor, what are we talking about here?

Jason Fried (06:50):
Outdoor sauna. We had a little bit of, we had like a little shed. It's like basically a little shed. And literally there are, I mean, I don't know, 100 saunas you can look at and buy and research. And there's a couple different kinds and you can go down this rabbit hole, like any rabbit hole. I'm just like, I just want a fucking sauna. I just want a fucking sauna. Like I heard about one on a podcast. I'm like, I'll buy that one.

Shaun Hildner (07:13):

Jason Fried (07:14):
It's like, I'm going from no sauna to a sauna. That's enough for me. I don't like, I don't really know how to even evaluate the differences.

Shaun Hildner (07:22):

Jason Fried (07:22):
If I go down the path of comparison shopping, I will no doubt be more confused, not less confused.

Shaun Hildner (07:29):
Or default to just buying the most expensive.

Jason Fried (07:31):
Well, now I'm not buying, this isn't the most, I don't even know. I really don't even actually know where this lines up, but I know like, okay, that seems about reasonable for an outdoor shed thing. I don't know. It's a traditional one. I know I wanted that. Not an infrared because I like the heat and I just bought it.

Shaun Hildner (07:47):

Jason Fried (07:47):
And it's been great. And I guarantee you it's nowhere near the best one I could have. And I'm sure there's another example I could get and that would be better. And, but it doesn't matter. For me in this scenario for what I needed, I just bought one and I moved on. And I found it to be incredibly liberating than just worrying about, did I get the right one? Did I pick the wrong one? Like, gosh, if I would've spent an extra 600 bucks, I would've gotten this feature. I don't care. And it's been, it's just been a wonderful feeling. Again, this is not buying the most expensive thing or the cheapest thing. It's actually not really knowing, but assuming it's probably somewhere in the middle and just going with it.

Shaun Hildner (08:26):

Jason Fried (08:26):
It's similar to like, let's say you have a 500 bucks to spend on a camera. Right. Or let's say your budget's like a 1000 bucks. Any camera that's around that price from any major brand will be just fine. Almost certainly. Now if you have a bunch of lenses from another brand, there's some things. But like, if you don't really know what you're doing, you can't go wrong buying a Fuji, a Cannon or whatever. They're all going to be fucking great. And just get one and enjoy it and learn it and move on. And then maybe a few years from now you can think about getting something better once you've gotten better at that thing.

Shaun Hildner (08:57):
And you have more information.

Jason Fried (08:59):
Yeah. And I think then you have the context and you have the experience to actually decide what the difference is. And when I started quote programming, it was also PHP, which is how I met David. But I just picked up a book. I went to Barnes & Noble and bought a book on programming and it was PHP. And so that's the one I learned like.

Shaun Hildner (09:17):
Because that was the one in the book?

Jason Fried (09:18):
That was the one in the book. And it just so happened the example was what I was trying to build anyway. So like it didn't really matter. And I think anyway, I think there's something special about that. And I think it's become hard to just pick something because there are a million review sites and a million opinions and you go anywhere and search for anything and there's a bunch of conflicting points of view. And you can quickly psych yourself out on anything if you find the wrong review. So I've just stopped looking at reviews. Basically.

Shaun Hildner (09:45):
I like that.

David Heinemeier Hansson (09:46):
I think actually reviews are even worse in some regards in the sense that they have a tendency to bubble up all the edge cases you're never, ever in a billion fucking year is going to hit because say this sauna company, right, they sell, I don't even know 50,000 of those saunas. Right. Do you know what? There's probably like 20 of them that was just badly produced. For some reason, the person who showed up on Monday to do that, did a Monday edition. Right. And it sucked and the person who got the sauna that sucked is going to go on and say, this is the worst fucking sauna I've ever bought. I got scolded because the thing fell up. It's shitty quality dude. Right. Because it's the one out of 50,000. That's always going to be a dud.

David Heinemeier Hansson (10:31):
And that's what you're going to see the vast majority of. The vast majority of people who just fucking bought a sauna was and like, that was a fine sauna. I go in there when I want to do sauna. And like, I don't need to write about it on the internet. Like that's not a thing that's in my sphere of interest here. So what the internet lacks is this just vast, vast middle of people who just bought a product and are totally content with it.

Shaun Hildner (10:58):

David Heinemeier Hansson (10:58):
The internet is full of reviews of people who think this is the worst fucking thing ever. Or this is the best fucking thing ever. Often you go to Amazon or whatever, you see all these reviews, there are four or five stars. Right. And then you see the one stars.

Shaun Hildner (11:11):

David Heinemeier Hansson (11:12):
Like there's not like a ton of yeah, it was fine. Like, yeah, it was fine is not a compelling review. Right. Neither for the person reading it nor for the person writing it yet that is the experience of 98% of people doing anything. Yeah. It was fine.

Shaun Hildner (11:26):
Yeah. Yeah.

David Heinemeier Hansson (11:27):
And I think that that's, once you go down that rabbit hole, as Jason said, you actually end up quite often confused because it seems so much more consequential. Whether you make the one choice or the other choice. God, there's just, like either totally sucks or it's totally great. No, odds are it's just fine.

Shaun Hildner (11:45):
What sort of gear or tools did you have when starting 37signals or more importantly, maybe what didn't you have that most people would assume that a new business would need?

Jason Fried (11:56):
Well, what we didn't have was we didn't have a company. We didn't have like a formal, we weren't an LLC or an S corp. We eventually did that, but we just sat around a table and we're like, Hey, we're a company now. We got a name. Let's do some work.

Shaun Hildner (12:10):
That is one of those things. It's like, oh, I can't start this thing until I register all this nonsense.

Jason Fried (12:15):

Shaun Hildner (12:15):

Jason Fried (12:16):
I mean, maybe this is bad advice, but it didn't really matter. Like we just started doing some web design for a client of ours. That's it. We picked a name that didn't make any sense, like 37signals. It didn't, I mean, it makes sense to us, but didn't really matter. Right. We put up a website actually, we didn't even have a website, sorry, I'm sorry. We didn't have a website. We just had a name. There was three of us sitting around a desk that someone else already had. So we didn't have an office that we, didn't have a different office. We each had laptops. We didn't have a website. We didn't formally have a business. We didn't have an accountant. We didn't have a bank account. We didn't have any of those things. I remember when first got our first check from our first client. We couldn't cash it.

Shaun Hildner (12:57):
Where does this go?

Jason Fried (12:57):
Because it was made out to a company and we weren't officially the company. So eventually we did all that, but we didn't initially and,

Shaun Hildner (13:06):
Oh, that's funny.

Jason Fried (13:06):
It didn't matter. We could just work. And then you get your shit together. But we also could have spent time on lawyers paying money or spending money we didn't have. I'm pretty sure we would've talked ourselves out of the name had we had to make it official. There's this thing like, well, now that it's serious, well, let's maybe not do that. And this happens even today. Like, we'll talk about a feature, we'll build a feature or we'll do something and it's all good and fine until you're about to ship it. And then it quotes gets real.

Shaun Hildner (13:39):

Jason Fried (13:39):
And you make a change in the 11th hour because you're like, well, actually the rubber's about to hit the road. Let's change our mind on something.

Shaun Hildner (13:46):

Jason Fried (13:47):
Or whatever. Right. And I think that had we gone down that road and a lawyer would've been like, it's kind of weird to start a company with numbers. That's just weird. And even maybe the filing system, like to file the official name may not have taken numbers.

Shaun Hildner (14:02):

Jason Fried (14:03):
I just had to set up a new utility, like a new water service. And the online form wouldn't take numbers for this LLC thing. It was a long, so it's like, I would've talked myself out of that. There's all these reasons not to do it. And then we probably would've ended up with something else because the system would've pushed us in a different direction and the whole thing. So, we just did the work,

Shaun Hildner (14:25):

Jason Fried (14:26):
On the laptops that we had. And that was enough. And then we figured out once we had a check, we had to actually make the name official and go down that road and do those things.

David Heinemeier Hansson (14:34):
And I think a great is when basically the opposite happens when you start doing all the upfront work,

Shaun Hildner (14:41):

David Heinemeier Hansson (14:41):
Picking whatever. Like I remember I wanted to learn to play the guitar at some point. And like I did the fucking thing. I researched the guitars. I talked to friends and I finally picked out this way, overpriced guitar. I mean, I'm giving away the story here by basically the intro. How many times do you think I fucking played that thing? I took two lessons and then I realized, Jesus, this is too fucking hard. It's going to take too long. The whole thing of building callus in your fingers is not me. And I then had this fancy guitar that then sat in the damn closet for five years until I gave it away. Versus if I just started like, Hey, I'm interested in guitar. Like I should just borrowed a friend's or gone to some class or whatever. In two seconds, I would've realized, oh, shit actually I don't want to learn the guitar. I like the image or the idea of knowing how to play the guitar, because that sounds fun.

Shaun Hildner (15:31):

David Heinemeier Hansson (15:31):
The whole thing of getting there, eh not so and much. And there's just so many of those things all over and particularly as we've talked about in business and also to forms that you like the idea of you being an entrepreneur,

Shaun Hildner (15:43):

David Heinemeier Hansson (15:43):
You like the idea of you being someone who builds or start something, you like the idea of you being a photographer. You like the idea of all these things and you want to do all the around prep work. And then once the rubber meets the road, you go like, oh, shit actually, no, that's not me. That's not what I wanted.

Shaun Hildner (16:00):
I get asked for gear recommendations all the time, especially with podcasting stuff. And I don't really know what to tell people, but I'm sure you guys get the same thing. What do you tell folks that ask for, oh, what do I need to buy?

Jason Fried (16:13):
Well, the answer is you don't need to buy anything, but if you want to sound better, here's a couple things you could buy.

Shaun Hildner (16:20):

Jason Fried (16:20):
But I think what's nice, so Shaun, you did the work on recommending a mic and this whole setup, right?

Shaun Hildner (16:27):

Jason Fried (16:27):
And we didn't challenge that. I think that's the point. It's like, you're the expert. You said, buy this, buy that. We're like, okay, we'll buy this and we'll buy that. That's the difference. It's okay to like ask a friend what to buy and then you buy that. The thing you don't want to do is you don't want to get the recommendation and then just like put that into the search engine and then ask 50 questions about why not this? Why not that? What about this stand? What about that stand, about this pram? What about that? Just buy the damn thing that someone recommends that you trust and move on.

Shaun Hildner (16:55):

Jason Fried (16:56):
So I think that's, the answer is what do you need? You don't need much, but if you do need something, ask one friend what they would recommend, who knows what they're doing and buy that and just move on. I think that's the lesson.

David Heinemeier Hansson (17:06):
And this is where the internet is just a massive regression for humankind. Because that used to be the way we fucking did everything. You're like, ah, I want to learn the guitar. You'd be like, whoever is the most musical person who happened to be in telephones distance or reach of you, you'd just be like, what should I get? And the person will tell you, get this thing and you just fucking get it. And now we ask how many people in the internet, four billion people, what should I buy and we're so surprised that we get conflicting advice back that actually ends up confusing us more than it otherwise would have. Right. And I think it also leads to this death of diversity. Like you look at these trends in all sorts of things. Watches is a great example.

David Heinemeier Hansson (17:49):
So there's a billion, well, not a billion. There's a lot of companies making a lot of different watches. And the vast majority of them are really good at telling the time. Right. Like it's like we've solved the problem of broadly speaking, making watches that can tell time yet there's just such a now ecosystem of it that homogenizes and conforms all taste into like these are the five watches. These are the ones that it should be. Right. Like the watch market in general is having this huge search right now. But it's not really. It's having a huge search in like five watches because that's the ones that are being featured on Instagram. That's the ones that, oh, this is the best one. What the fuck are you talking about? You can buy literally a $2 watch that'll tell the time until you worn it out, right? Like, no, no, there's no utility here.

David Heinemeier Hansson (18:39):
We just get looped into this. And then we homogenize the whole thing. And that's what the internet does. It's a memetic machine for making us like the same thing that everyone else is like, which is just, the irony of course, is that the internet used to be conceived oh, every niche and every other thing. When it really is actually a narrowing device more than a broadening device. And I think that that's one of the things I've really become a little down on. That like that whole promise of the internet giving rise to all these different choices and whatever. The opposite is happening. It's all getting funneled down to like five things.

Shaun Hildner (19:14):
Well, I think that is a great place to stop. We do have one question here to wrap up and this one was written in by Lucas. Lucas just started his own startup over in Brazil. And he's asking what books do you recommend and helped you during the early stage of starting your business? We haven't done a book recommendation in a long time.

Jason Fried (19:34):
Yeah. I mean, it's always the same. I think David and I both recommend, I think it's out to print now.

Shaun Hildner (19:39):
It's called Rework.

Jason Fried (19:41):
No, it's called Maverick by Ricardo Semler. It was sort of the book I think that feels like it gave us permission to just do things our own way. And in fact, he started a company in Brazil called Semco, so.

Shaun Hildner (19:53):
Oh, perfect.

Jason Fried (19:54):
He's a fellow Brazilian. Yeah. I'd recommend that book. It's called Maverick, Ricardo Semler. That's a great one. There's another great book that I recently picked up on writing, which I think is always helpful even when you're starting a new business, it's called, I'm looking at it right now, Several Short Sentences About Writing. And it's really good. I don't know, David, do you have anything? I like some of your traditional recommendations, like managerial books from the 70s or something. [inaudible 00:20:20].

David Heinemeier Hansson (20:20):
Yeah. I mean, one of them, that's more recent than that is Turn the Ship Around!, I think is one of those classics about managerial approaches. That just is a really compelling story about this guy that was responsible for a nuclear sub and essentially turned it out around for being the worst rated, the worst reviewed nuclear submarine in the Navy to the five star one. Right. I think that one's really good. And I echo also Maverick. Maverick was basically our Rework because I've heard exactly the same thing from people who've read Rework that we were thinking about Maverick, that it gave us permission to. So I like books that essentially give people the confidence to trust in their own instincts because you know what, they're more likely to follow those anyway. Now they might be wrong or not, but oftentimes people sit on good ideas. They're just afraid to pull the trigger on them because they think that they're weird or whatever. So echo on Maverick.

David Heinemeier Hansson (21:17):
One of the really short books, I love short books. One of the best shortest books I've ever read is called Are Your Lights On? by Gerald Weinberg, who's one of my favorite authors of all time. And it's a very short book about problem restatement, which is absolutely key to all the core productivity we've ever had at 37signals. This idea that we can take a customer's problem that seems like it begs a very convoluted, complex solution. And then we can restate that problem to a version of the same thing that's really easy to solve. We used to have this idea of don't solve hard problems, turn hard problems into easy ones, and then solve the easy problems. Are Your Lights On? is just a wonderful approach to systems thinkings and introduction to questioning requirements and so forth. And I really like that.

David Heinemeier Hansson (22:11):
And then on the topic of really short books that you can read in 40 minutes, that'll have a huge impact. I mean, now I'm overselling it, but not really, on your life is called The Manual by Epictetus, which is a sort of core text of stoicism. And I happen to think that stoicism is perhaps the most applicable practical philosophy for people wanting to run and start a business that has ever been devised. It just so happened to be that it's 2000 years old. And The Manual, that you can read in 45 minutes is really the triple espresso version of that, that is sure to kick your ass and your brain and give you a new outlook on life.

Shaun Hildner (22:53):
Well, cool. And all of these will be linked up in our show notes, which you can always find at Thank you for your letter Lucas. If you would like to ask a question of Jason or David, please leave us a voicemail at 708-628-7850 or better yet record a voice memo on your phone and email it to But that will do it for this week. Next week, we're talking about a subject we've actually talked about on this podcast before and one of my favorites in the book, sell your byproducts. As this podcast is a byproduct of the book, I think this will be a fun one. But for now I want to say thank you for joining me, Jason Fried.

Jason Fried (23:35):
Thanks, Shaun.

Shaun Hildner (23:36):
And thank you, David Heinemeier Hansson.

David Heinemeier Hansson (23:38):
Yep. Thanks.

Shaun Hildner (23:40):
We'll see you next week. Rework is a production of 37signals. Our theme music is by Clip Art. We're on the web at, where you can find show notes and transcripts for this and every episode of Rework. We're also on Twitter @reworkpodcast. If you're following along with the book next week, we'll be discussing the chapter, sell your byproducts. And if you like the show, I really appreciate it if you would leave us a review on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, or wherever you're listening to this.