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10 mins
book summary business basecamp
Shawn L
Builds stuff minimally
Table of Contents


The real world isn’t a place, it’s an excuse. It’s a justification for not trying. It has nothing to do with you.

Unless you’re a fortune-teller, long-term business planning is a fantasy.

Start referring to your business plans as business guesses.

Decide what you’re going to do this week, not this year. Figure out the next most important thing and do that. Make decisions right before you do something, not far in advance.


To do great work, you need to feel that you’re making a difference.

You should feel an urgency about this too.

Ideas are cheap and plentiful. The original pitch idea is such a small part of a business that it’s almost negligible. The real question is how well you execute.

When you want something bad enough, you make the time.


As you get going, keep in mind why you’re doing what you’re doing. Great businesses have a point of view, not just a product or service. You have to believe in something. You need to have a backbone. You need to know what you’re willing to fight for. And then you need to show the world.

A strong stand is how you attract superfans.

Standing for something isn’t just about writing it down. It’s about believing it and living it.

On funding

You give up control. When you turn to outsiders for funding, you have to answer to them too.

“Cashing out” begins to trump building a quality business.

It’s usually a bad deal. When you’re just beginning, you have no leverage.

Thinking on exit

You should be thinking about how to make your project grow and succeed, not how you’re going to jump ship.

Instead of focusing on getting customers to love you, you worry about who’s going to buy you. That’s the wrong thing to obsess over.


Constraints are advantages in disguise. Limited resources force you to make do with what you’ve got.

Cut your ambition in half. You’re better off with a kick-ass half than a half-assed whole.

The epicenter

The way to find the epicenter is to ask yourself this question: “If I took this away, would what I’m selling still exist?”

Ignore the details—for a while. Nail the basics first and worry about the specifics later.

You don’t have to live with a decision forever. If you make a mistake, you can correct it later.

Cut, simplify

Long projects zap morale. The longer it takes to develop, the less likely it is to launch.

It’s the stuff you leave out that matters. So constantly look for things to remove, simplify, and streamline. Be a curator.

Gordon Ramsay’s first step is nearly always to trim the menu.

People use equipment as a crutch. They don’t want to put in the hours on the driving range so they spend a ton in the pro shop.

What really matters is how to actually get customers and make money.

Reach out

Software companies don’t usually think about writing books.

There’s probably something you haven’t thought about that you could sell too. Think about it this way: If you had to launch your business in two weeks, what would you cut out?


If you need to explain something, try getting real with it. Instead of describing what something looks like, draw it. Instead of explaining what something sounds like, hum it. Do everything you can to remove layers of abstraction.

Before working on something…

It’s easy to put your head down and just work on what you think needs to be done. It’s a lot harder to pull your head up and ask why.


  • Why are you doing this?
  • Why you’reworking on this?
  • What is this for?
  • Who benefits?
  • What’s the motivation behind it?
  • What problem are you solving?
  • What’s the problem?
  • Is this actually useful?
  • Are you making something useful or just making something?
  • Are you adding value? Adding something is easy; adding value is hard.
  • Will this change behavior? Don’t add something unless it has a real impact on how people use your product.
  • Is there an easier way?
  • What could you be doing instead?
  • What can’t you do because you’re doing this?
  • Is it really worth it?


Interruption is the enemy of productivity

When you do collaborate, try to use passive communication tools, like e-mail, that don’t require an instant reply.

Simple solutions

Find a judo solution, one that delivers maximum efficiency with minimum effort.

Problems can usually be solved with simple, mundane solutions. That means there’s no glamorous work. You don’t get to show off your amazing skills.

Finding momentum

The way you build momentum is by getting something done and then moving on to the next thing. No one likes to be stuck on an endless project

The longer something takes, the less likely it is that you’re going to finish it.

That’s why estimates that stretch weeks, months, and years into the future are fantasies. The truth is you just don’t know what’s going to happen that far in advance.

Break the big thing into smaller things.

Prioritize visually. Put the most important thing at the top.


Pour yourself into your product and everything around your product too: how you sell it, how you support it, how you explain it, and how you deliver it. Competitors can never copy the you in your product.

Pick a fight

If you think a competitor sucks, say so.

Worrying about the competition quickly turns into an obsession. What are they doing right now? Where are they going next? How should we react?

Focus on yourself instead. What’s going on in here is way more important than what’s going on out there.

You can’t beat someone who’s making the rules. You need to redefine the rules, not just build something slightly better.


Say no by default

How should you keep track of what customers want? Don’t. Listen, but then forget what people said. Seriously.

The requests that really matter are the ones you’ll hear over and over.


Being obscure is a great position to be in. Be happy you’re in the shadows.

Instead of going out to reach people, you want people to come to you.

Speak, write, blog, tweet, make videos—whatever. Share information that’s valuable and you’ll slowly but surely build a loyal audience.

Instead of trying to outspend, outsell, or outsponsor competitors, try to out-teach them.

Chefs share everything they know. They put their recipes in cookbooks and show their techniques on cooking shows.

Give people a backstage pass and show them how your business works.

Be human

Don’t be afraid to show your flaws. Imperfections are real and people respond to real.

Wabi-sabi values character and uniqueness over a shiny facade.

Pare down to the essence, but don’t remove the poetry. Keep things clean and unencumbered but don’t sterilize.*

Press release

There’s nothing exciting about them. Journalists sift through dozens a day.

Instead, call someone. Write a personal note. If you read a story about a similar company or product, contact the journalist who wrote it. Pitch her with some passion, some interest, some life.

You’re better off focusing on getting your story into a trade publication or picked up by a niche blogger.

Emulate drug dealers. Make your product so good, so addictive, so “can’t miss” that giving customers a small, free taste makes them come back with cash in hand.

Marketing is not a department

A customer support call is marketing. Every email is marketing.

Slow growth

Trade the dream of overnight success for slow, measured growth.

Start building your audience today. Start getting people interested in what you have to say.


Never hire anyone to do a job until you’ve tried to do it yourself first.

Don’t hire for pleasure; hire to kill pain.

Always ask yourself: What if we don’t hire anyone? Is that extra work that’s burdening us really necessary? Can we solve the problem with a slice of software or a change of practice instead? What if we just don’t do it?


They’re too easy. Anyone can create a decent-enough resumé.

They don’t care about landing your job; they just care about landing any job.

So how do you find these candidates? First step: Check the cover letter. In a cover letter, you get actual communication instead of a list of skills, verbs, and years of irrelevance.

Cover letter is a much better test than a resumé.

6 months of experience

There’s surprisingly little difference between a candidate with six months of experience and one with six years.

How long someone’s been doing it is overrated. What matters is how well they’ve been doing it.

Hire managers of one Managers of one are people who come up with their own goals and execute them.

They’ve run something on their own or launched some kind of project.

Choose the better writer

Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking.

Remote team

To make sure your remote team stays in touch, have at least a few hours a day of real-time overlap.

Two to four hours of overlap should be plenty.

Give test jobs

Hire them for a miniproject, even if it’s for just twenty or forty hours. You’ll see how they make decisions. You’ll see if you get along. You’ll see what kind of questions they ask. You’ll get to judge them by their actions instead of just their words.

Damage Control

Getting back to people quickly is probably the most important thing you can do when it comes to customer service.

One of the worst ways is the non-apology apology, which sounds like an apology but doesn’t really accept any blame. For example, “We’re sorry if this upset you.” Or “I’m sorry that you don’t feel we lived up to your expectations.”

A good apology accepts responsibility. It has no conditional if phrase attached.

This is the worst: “We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.”

Show that you understand the severity of what happened.

An “I” apology is a lot stronger than a “we” apology.

It’s not an inconvenience. It’s a crisis. An inconvenience is a long line at the grocery store.

“May” here implies there might not be anything wrong at all.

Most important thing to make an apology sincere: How would you feel about the apology if you were on the other end?

When people complain, let things simmer for a while.


You don’t create a culture. It happens. This is why new companies don’t have a culture.

Cut the crap and you’ll find that people are waiting to do great work. They just need to be given the chance.

When everything constantly needs approval, you create a culture of nonthinkers.

That time doesn’t magically convert to work. They’ll just find some other diversion.

You’re not going to get a full eight hours a day out of people anyway. That’s a myth.


Policies are organizational scar tissue. They are codified overreactions to situations that are unlikely to happen again.

So don’t scar on the first cut. Don’t create a policy because one person did something wrong once. Policies are only meant for situations that come up over and over again.

Four letters words

There are four-letter words you should never use in business: need, must, can’t, easy, just, only, and fast.

Need. Very few things actually need to get done. Instead ask “What do you think about this?”

Can’t. When you say “can’t,” you probably can.

Easy. “That should be easy for you to do, right?” But notice how rarely people describe their own tasks as easy.

Also watch out for their cousins: everyone, no one, always, and never.

This is the worst paragraph you can say:

“We need to add this feature now. We can’t launch without this feature. Everyone wants it. It’s only one little thing so it will be easy. You should be able to get it in there fast!” Only thirty-six words, but a hundred assumptions. That’s a recipe for disaster.

And if you add ASAP to the end of every request, you’re saying everything is high priority.


What doesn’t last forever is inspiration. Inspiration is like fresh fruit or milk: It has an expiration date. If you want to do something, you’ve got to do it now.