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Rework: Insights on Entrepreneurship 2.0

I’ve been a fan of 37Signals for a long, long time. I’ve read and listened to a number of things their core team has produced, including Getting Real. So I was excited to read Rework, their new book on entrepreneurship 2.0 (although they don’t like the word ‘entrepreneurship’).

If you’re thinking about starting a business, or run a team, it should be required reading.

For me, it crystallizes and confirms what we’ve doing for the last two years and that we’re on the right path as many of the chapters hit on themes we emphasize as a team and in and for our community. Of course we always believe we can learn, grow and improve and there’s certainly a ton in the book we can use and implement.

So we’re going to be putting it in our iThemes Library and passing it around this week.

But here’s some insights I gleaned, including some commentary on how we’re doing it at iThemes:

  • Do something – “What you do is what matters, not what you think or say or plan” and “The most important thing is to begin.” Love this emphasis and wanted to start with it. One of the most irritating things in the world to me is someone who thinks she has the most brilliant ideas, but lacks implementation. They are the ones who will live with regret or be bitter because they mistakenly believe they are the only ones with those ideas, and someone else will actually act on the idea. I don’t like to be around those people. They dwell on what could have been. They think other people stole their ideas. At some point if you don’t push the GO button, you’ll be just like them. Don’t. Take the leap. Launch. Push Go. Live life without regrets.
  • Be frugal — “You need less than you think.” That’s so true. Our desks for over a year consisted of plastic white tables. I loved them. Our partners, our team, anyone who saw them loved them. They were a product of our belief that we should be financially conservative. We’re frugal. We spend money on what counts. Sure, we make mistakes, or spend money on things someone might think are extravagant but hopefully never on the essentials (in particular that means people). Bootstrap your business, we did.
  • “Build an audience” — They mention that their blog gets over 100,000 visitors a day. That’s amazing and has been crucial to their success. People (like me) listen when they have an opinion. It’s marketing you can’t buy. They’ve consistently built their brand through education and transparency. I’ve taken notes. That’s one of the reasons why we do a weekly live show and blog about good books I’m reading and learning from and implementing in our business … even when our competition is listening in and reading! (And yes, they are.) More importantly for us too is building and enhancing our community. At the core, that’s where we’re focused first, then of course building a bigger audience who love what we do.
  • “Launch now” – This is a rallying call against perfectionism (never ever achievable), bloat, procrastination and laziness … I believe in launching good, stable products regularly, beta testing them with hyper-users, and making them even better through customer input and use. I loathe having awesome products sit on the development shelves for months. I want our community to get those products because it costs money to build them and we firmly believe we’re building vital solutions to people’s problems. Plus, you never know how a product will sell or be used or succeed if you let it collect dust.
  • “Out-teach the competition” – this one insight is worth the book alone. If you’re a small business, it’s the easiest thing you can do to differentiate yourself against the Big Boys and compete. I use this example a lot, but originally our free WordPress tutorials started out as a paid product. After some encouragement from my friend Ray Edwards, we gave it away and the page is now one of the most visited, linked to and loved parts of our business. Our emphasis on educational marketing, teaching and training is why we continue to do half-day workshops, build as many video tutorials as we can …. and there’s more to come.
  • “Hire great writers” — When all things are equal, they suggest hiring the best writers. And that’s some of the best hiring advice I’ve received. It’s so true. If someone can articulate things in written form, they probably are a great resource. I’d also add though … hire great writers, but also prolific readers. Or encourage your team to read and to be lifelong learners. As I said above, we have an iThemes Library where we pass around books. I’ve encouraged (and sometimes even assigned) many of our team to read certain books.
  • You don’t create a culture, it happens” — That’s so true. Each person on our team adds something special — their own unique personality and contributions — to our ever-shaping company culture. We have a ton of our own inside jokes, jargon and stories that we tell. (ref. The Boom Widget) We like to laugh a lot. (Most of the time at my expense.) We get irritated at each other and we fight but at the end of the day our team believes fundamentally what we have here is pretty dang special. It’s not something we brag about or dwell on because it just happened gradually. It’s changed a lot from when I started the company of course. But it’s something I cherish deeply. To me, it’s about camaraderie. We pull for each other. We pull for our community. My philosophy has always been that because we spend the majority of our time together, I want to enjoy it and each other. As long as we have that … we’ll have fun. And our community will basks in its results.

So now that’s some of the things I wanted to emphasize … here’s a couple of things I disagree or struggle with though …. and why:

  • Stay small — I love their emphasis on staying small but I struggle with it. Small allows us to be more human, more personal and makes decisions faster. But I never ever want to limit growth. Our business is increasingly competitive. We’re just a 2-year-old company. We’ve barely lifted off the ground. I don’t know what small looks like for us in the future, but it’s something we’ve talked about frequently. We love our small team. Everybody knows everybody. We work very well together. My personal intention has never been to build a company with 100 or more employees. I love how I can get to know our team personally. I know all of their spouses and even some of their friends. I enjoy them. But even thinking about having “staying small” as a goal frightens me. We have three brands now – iThemes, PluginBuddy and WebDesign.com – because I like having a diversified business (and even at that, we’re fully invested in the WordPress platform solely, which scares me sometimes). But what staying small means to me is … we must always be personal, kind and human with each other and other community, that we respond to challenges and obstacles quickly, that we as a team work together FOR each other and that we’re always building amazing innovative solutions we’re proud of and that are very well supported.
  • “Pass on great people” — I think they give some good and very valid points about this. But I disagree. If I have done that, I would have passed on many of the people on our current team. I would have missed out personally and our community who trust and support us would have too. And believe me, I’ve made my fair share of hiring mistakes. One thing I’ve learned is that we don’t hire rockstars at iThemes. We struck that word from our vocabulary. We are a team. I’ll take a quality individual who is self-driven, a lifelong learner and in love with how we do business over a talented “rockstar” any day. Last summer, I hired Matt Danner because he was a great person. All I knew was that I liked him, that he loved our business and had a ton of potential. He started out doing sales emails. Now almost a year later, he’s blossomed into an amazing WordPress developer. He’s become that because he grasped the idea that with work and drive he could fill any job he wanted in our company …. so he listened and asked questions intently, studied at night and into the weekends and made mistakes and learned from them to be and do better for himself, our team and our community. (And yes, he’s surpassed me!) So passing on great people is a self-proclaimed “weakness” if you will. I like to see the potential in people if they’ll work at it. So sometimes I hire people for roles we don’t necessarily need. But let’s be honest … this business is about people. And I certainly couldn’t do this by myself. Our biggest monthly line item, like most businesses, is salaries. It wakes me up at night thinking about it sometimes. But when you have an awesome team pulling toward the same goal as you … it’s the best money we can spend! (Having said all that, their advice to “Test-Drive Employees” is pretty good.)

Anyway … I’d highly recommend the book if you’re already an entrepreneur or just a budding one. There’s literally thousands of dollars in value there for the taking … if you act on it. :)

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