Book Review: Getting Real, By 37Signals

For those of you that haven’t heard of 37Signals, they are a software company that has created revolutionary software such as Basecamp, Highrise, and Campfire. These tools are a breath of fresh air in the software world and it’s worth your time to check them out. They also have an excellent blog that can be found here. We’ve modeled much of Marketplace Partner after the 37Signals philosophy, and this book could be considered the outline of what that philosophy is. Around here it’s our software bible, but it’s a useful read even if you’re not creating software.

The main thing that this book and 37Signals stand for is simplicity. So much software today tries to be everything to everyone, and that leaves you with an overwhelming interface of which you only use 20%. More functions lead to more bugs and you ultimately create a monster you can’t maintain. If you’re looking for an enterprise level, completely customizable and uber functional piece of software, then you’re someone else’s customer. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a basic tool that works without any glitches and simply does what it’s supposed to do, then we’re perfect for you.

Another approach we took from this book is to have opinionated software. You are trying to sell product, you don’t need to waste your time on such trivial things as how many products should be visible on your inventory view. We’ve made that decision for you so you can focus on what matters. If you need to be able to sort every product by every header and select which are shown and which aren’t, then again, our product is not for you. We’re building this for those that want a simple tool to sell through, and don’t want to spend their time figuring those things out.

The benefit of this philosophy as outlined in this book, is that we aren’t bogged down trying to create all this functionality and then in turn supporting it, which means we can spend more time on important, revenue generating features that will truly benefit you. This also means we need a smaller support staff, which means we can sell you our product for less.

My favorite section of this book is named ”Half, Not Half Assed”, in which they warn you of the “everything but the kitchen sink” software approach. If you focus only on what’s most important to your customers, then you can create something reliable that is useful to a large majority of online retailers at a low cost. If you, on the other hand, spend all your time trying to be everything to everyone, you’ll only gain another 20% in customers and you’ll spend all your time supporting the various features they need, thereby wasting resources and spreading the cost to all of your customers, most of which have no use for the extra features.

Another aspect of this book I loved is their blunt approach to calling you out on what you think you need vs. what you actually need. It’s bound to keep your company leaner if you heed their advice. It’ll also enable you to be faster to market, which no one will be opposed to.

Overall this book is a great lesson in efficiency. If more companies heeded their advice the world of software would be a much happier, less expensive, and productive place.

Last of all, it’s available as a PDF for FREE (something I didn’t know when I bought it for $20).