Getting Real Summary

One Paragraph Summary The co-founders of Basecamp (formerly 37Signals), Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson know how to build awesome products. In their book, Getting Real, they show us a path to our first, successful web application business.

Jason Fried is also a prolific writer. He has written several other books.

David Heinemeier Hansson is the creator of the Ruby on Rails web development framework

Getting Real Summary

Getting Real—The Smarter, Faster, Easier Way to Build a Successful Web Application
A book by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

  By writing this book summary, I learned the following three things:

  • Features have many costs
  • Don't waste time on problems you don't have yet
  • First-time entrepreneurs should build solutions for a demographic they know best: themselves 

Key Ideas

Constraints drive innovation and force focus. Instead of trying to remove them, use them to your advantage.―37Signals

Build something you would use yourself

When you are a first-time entrepreneur, consider a few things to make building your first product as easy as possible.

Probably the most crucial advice is to build something you would use yourself. But do not create every feature that comes to your mind. You need to aim for a simple, elegant solution.

If there is already a competing product on the market, selecting features will be more straightforward. Just look for the features you find essential. Then cover these in your product.

When building something you will use yourself, you can be sure that other people will find it useful. By doing this, you will be part of the target group of customers you are building the solution for.

Three people should be enough to build your first product

When you have a small team, it will be much easier to implement only the product's core features. A small group can make quick decisions and drop bad ideas more quickly than a big corporation.

According to the authors, a team fo three people should have enough workforce to build your first web application: a developer, a designer, and a sweeper.

A sweeper is the team member who mediates between design and development.

If you can't fit everything in within the time and budget allotted then don't expand the time and budget. Instead, pull back the scope. There's always time to add stuff later – later is eternal, now is fleeting.―Jason Fried

Do you say that three people is not enough to build the first version of your product? Well, the answer from the authors would be that you are probably too ambitious.

Articulate your big idea

To build a great product you need to answer two questions first:

Why does my product exist? What makes my product different from the competition's product?

Answering these two questions will allow you to articulate your big idea. If you have your big idea, it will be easier to target a niche group of customers who will be excited to use your solution.

It is also essential to focus your attention on the now. There are probably a million things you need to do for your new business. But you cannot do them all. You need to set priorities and work on the things that are important now. Solve future problems in the future.

Allow your organization to be productive

Creating a team culture where there is plenty of productive time is a challenge. The more people you onboard to your team, the more difficult it will get. Team members who prefer to work early in the morning or late at night do this because they want to protect their productive time.

The authors recommend to at least allocate halve of the workday to a be distraction-free time. In this period, no one talks or communicates through other channels (phone, email, chat). To learn more about how to get into the zone, read the Deep Work Summary.

Meetings, too, can be optimized to protect your precious time. Limit the time of meetings to no more than 30 minutes and only invite the people who can contribute to the planned outcome of the meeting. It is also vital that every meeting invitation has a clear agenda. If there is no schedule attached to the meeting, you should refuse to attend.

Hire enthusiastic, energetic generalists

When you hire someone, it should not be a specialist. Seek employees who are generalists with in-depth knowledge in one particular area. For example, it is good to hire a developer who also understands the basic principles of design and have the necessary communication skills to work with the support team.

The authors also look for people full of enthusiasm and energy when they seek new talent to join their company. A simple trick can be to look for employees who worked in a big corporation. Often these people are eager to escape the grueling environment typical for impersonal corporations.

The most important thing for growing your team is to hire new people only when it is necessary. Delaying hiring employees is wise because having a small, flexible team is a huge benefit.

Better launch half a product than a half-assed product

When creating a new product, you need to decide which features you want to implement. The more features you pick for the first version of your product, the more difficult it will be to create something beautiful.

Half, Not Half-Assed.―37signals

Try to build a smart and straightforward application with a few core features. Say no to all other functions.

Many customers prefer to use a simplified version of an application if it is easier to learn and work with. Many writers, for example, prefer using distraction-free applications over Microsoft Word, although Word offers many more options in comparison.

The most important part of your application is the user interface

Each page in your web application should have a dedicated purpose. You need to find the essence of each page.

Having a clean user interface will immensely benefit the user, and it will make it easier for your team to program.

In the first version of your application, never offer customizable preferences. Each setting you make customizable means more code. Too many options might even confuse your users.

Make it easy for new users to try your application

Make it as easy as possible for a potential user to try and use your product. Make it obvious for the user that the sign-up process is hassle-free and that one can complete it in under a minute. Ask yourself whether it is even necessary that the user signs up before trying your product. Maybe it is better to let the user experience how great your product is and delay the registration process.

Never ask for the payment information when a user wants to try your application.

Offer monthly billing, which can be canceled quickly. Nobody likes to sign a one year contract when we are not yet happy customers.

It is probably good for your business to also have a blog associated with your web application. Regular advertising is perhaps nothing your early startup can afford. On the other hand, writing articles is inexpensive and probably much more useful to grab a potential customer's attention.

First Insight: Features have many costs

Make each feature work hard to be implemented. Make each feature prove itself and show that it's a survivor. It's like "Fight Club". You should only consider features if they're willing to stand on the porch for three days waiting to be let in. That's why you start with no. Every feature request that comes in to us—or from us—meets a no. We listen but don't act. The initial response is "not now". If a request for a feature keeps coming back, that's when we know it's time to take a deeper look. Then, and only then, do we start considering the feature for real.―37signals

More features are better than fewer features. Is this statement correct? Features always come with inherent costs. Features cost money because someone needs to implement them.

But there are other associated costs as well. More features will often make your application more difficult to use, for example. Even the user needs to invest more time to learn how to use the app.

Next time you get a feature request, let it stand on the porch. If it is still on your porch next year, you might consider opening the door and letting it in.

Second Insight: Don't waste time on problems you don't have yet

Don't waste time on problems you don't have yet Do you really need to worry about scaling to 100,000 customers today if it will take you two years to get there?―Jason Fried,

We think a lot about our future problems. This is just the way most of us get raised. That is why we go to school and try to get a good education.

Believe it or not, the bigger problem isn't scaling, it's getting to the point where you have to scale. Without the first problem you won't have the second.―Jason Fried

Thinking about the future does not stop when you develop software. As a developer, you want to ensure that your application can handle millions of customers. Don't do this. It is fine when your application can handle only 1000 customers because it will take you a long time to acquire those customers. It will be an excellent problem to have.

Third Insight: First-time entrepreneurs should build solutions for a demographic they know best: themselves

Your product has a voice—and it's talking to your customers 24 hours a day.―37Signals

According to 37Signals, the user interface is the most important part of your application. You need to make it a joy to work with. This joy will let your existing customers recommend the app to their colleagues and friends.

Building a great application and user interface is so much easier when you use your product yourself. You will know instantly what features you use most. You know what feature you are missing. This knowledge will allow you to build a better product without the need to spend much time on market research.

Do yourself a favor and build something that will make you happy. Happy customers will follow.


It is never easy to start a new business. Still, if you chose to make your first product a web application, it will be much easier for you to develop and market your offering than having, for example, a physical product. Keeping your focus on the user interface will make your application attractive to potential users and more comfortable for you to program.


  • Chose generalists over specialists when building your team
  • Do not just copy your competition
  • Build something you want to use yourself
  • Do not just copy a successful company
  • Underdo your competitors to build an uncomplicated, excellent working product
  • Implement only half the functionality of your competitor to position yourself as the company with a more straightforward solution
  • Implement only the features you would use yourself
  • Do not seek external funding
  • Build your solution with your available resources and remain your own boss
  • Keep the team small
  • Concentrate on the core features
  • Set your priorities
  • Focus on essential features
  • Say no to non-essential features
  • Aim to build a beautiful and straightforward product with only the core features
  • Use market data to decide which features to develop in the second iteration of your product
  • Focus on the now
  • Don't sweat the details
  • Don't obsess over future issues
  • Do not waste time
  • Maximize the time your team can be productive
  • Protect the fertile time of your team
  • Limit meetings to 30 minutes
  • Refuse to attend conferences that have no clear plan
  • Avoid building silos in your organization as information needs to flow freely between team members
  • Start with a small team
  • Do not hire specialists
  • Do not hire grumpy experts
  • In the first version of your product do not offer customizable settings
  • Think about the user interface first
  • Find the essence of each page in your web application
  • Make your application hassle-free
  • Offer fair and transparent billing
  • Make your application easy accessible
  • Write articles on your blog to promote your web application
  • Do not use traditional advertising
  • Make it easy for potential users to try working with your application

Getting Real Summary—related resources

Read more about Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson on Signal v. Noise.

If you liked reading the Getting Real Summary, you should also read Side Hustle Summary.

Posted on CuteMachine in business and entrepreneurship.

Jo's Profile ImageWritten by Jo who lives and works in Frankfurt building digital doodah. Stalk him on Twitter.

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