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Getting Real

A review by Andrew Forward, of 37signals' book on building a tech company

What is Getting Real?

This book is best geared for people with an awesome, or not so-so idea. Best suited for entrepreneurs, designers, programmers and marketers.

Overall it is about launching, tweaking, improving your product. The book focuses on software related products, but many ideas are just plain good for any product. It is about less mass, less software, fewer features, less paperwork. It is about staying small and being agile.

AFTER READING Getting Real you will be ready to have a philosophy, build less, execute (ideas to realities), staff your company and be passionate about your work. You will know how to design from the inside out, appreciate words and writing, promote your product, support it and maintain post-launch momentum.

After reading this book you will have little need for timelines beyond a few month, complete functional specs, scalability debates, meaningless meetings, tons of employees, crystal ball roadmaps, endless preference options and outsourced support.

Major themes in the book

BUILDING YOUR COMPANY is about narrowing your focus, solving a real problem and paying your bills with your own money. Prioritize everything and never fall behind on budgets and releases - if anything release less, but do not release late or over-budget.

Underdo your competition

Solve the simple problem, solve it well. Start by solving your own problems, what a great customer to have. You create a tool that you are passionate about, a good starting point to get others to feel passionate about it too. Leave the difficult problems for others to solve, it's only right.

Fund yourself

Other people do not give you money to further your passion, they give you money expecting to get it back (and then some) and quickly. Be creative, launch early, build for quality not for a quick dollar.

Pick a fight

It is much easier to know what you don't want to be - so figure out who your app's enemies are and ensure not to do what they do (especially the stuff that you hate).

It shouldn't be a chore

Passion, excitement shows.

Stay lean

Easier to change.

Be weary of heavy things like long term contract, excess staff, permanent decisions, meetings about meetings, process, inventory, the past predicting the future, long-term roadmaps, office politics.

Embrace things like just-in-time, multi-tasking, contraints, less software, less code, and open-source. Avoid final decisions and seek solutions that take a stance on something but at the same can adapt to change.

The Three Musketeers

Three people for launch: a developer, a designer and a sweeper (can do both). If this seems impossible then change your team or reduce your scope.

EMBRACE CONSTRAINTS Never enough... time, money, people. This is good! Be forced to develop creative solutions in the face on constraints.

Be yourself

Do not try to act big. Enjoy fewer formalities, less bureaucracy, and more freedom. Be closer to your clients. Be closer to your teammates.

What's the Big Idea

What is your application all about - in only one sentence. Why does it exist? What makes it different than other similar products?

Ignore details early on

Success and satisfaction is in the details; but, so is stagnation, disagreement, meetings and delays. Just get the stuff on the page for now, make sure it works and later on you can adjust / perfect it. Details are revealed during use, not during design. The sooner you can use your application ( i.e. ship early) the early you can pay attention to details. You will know which pains to overcome, because we you keep experiencing them.

It's a problem when it's a problem

Do not worry about scaling until you actually have scalling issues. This is for two reasons, first you are delaying shipping your product and priority one should be getting to release 1.0. Second, you will be solving theoretical problems and as we all know theory and practive differ (something greatly) - so your efforts may not only be wasted (because when a problem arises it may not be the same as the problem you envisionned) but you may also make your real problem more difficult to address (because you have all this extra code solving an imaginary problem getting in the way of solving your real problem).

Just wing it - having growing pains is part of the process. Make decisions just in time when you have access to the real information you need.

YOU DO NOT HAVE a scaling problem yet. Create a great app first, then worry about the success of it.

Hire the right customers

The customer is not always right. Do not try to please everyone, please, you will end up pleasing no one. Find your core market and focus on them.

Make opinionated software

Have vision, take sides, ignore feature requests. Do not just provide software to support all modes, but instead provide an approach.

Half, Not Half-Assed

Do it well, just do not do that much.

START WITH NO. All features require design, implementation, testing, support - you don't really want all that. The first step to deciding on a feature is to is to try, hard, to get past no.

All features have a price

Once you get past the no, ensure you understand the true cost of a feature.

Let people solve problems

Provide general features to allow your customers to create their own solutions. Complex workflows and conventions are not only more work for you to implement - but also the limit the way in which people can use your software. Trust that your users are smart enough to create their own conventions and do not always need your software to enforce them!

Where to go from here?

Picture and entire book chalk full of the ideas summarized in the words above. To get your own copy, simply follow this link.

I hope you have enjoyed this summary, if you have any questions I can be contacted at aforward@gmail.com. If you want to be notified of upcoming forward, you can join our mailing list - I am a nice guy and will only send you occasional emails and if you ask nicely (or not so nicely) I will remove you from my newsletter.