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37signals Podcast transcript

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Episode #26: Q and A with Jason and David (May 2011) (listen)

Matt Linderman: Hey, everyone. Welcome to the 37signals Podcast. This is Matt Linderman. Today we're going to be doing Q&A with Jason and David based on reader questions that you guys posted at Signal vs. Noise. So let's get started.

Joe asks, "Are there negotiation insights to learn from how David became a partner at 37signals? Was Ruby on Rails David's leverage to become a partner versus employee?"

David Heinemeier Hansson: I think it was pure awesomeness that actually tipped that scale over. No, actually maybe you should answer that, Jason.

Jason Fried: Rails obviously had a lot to do with it, but David and I had been working together, at that point, for five years or something like that. Is that right? About 2000, 2001.

David: I think about maybe three or four. No, actually you're right. Five years. It was 2000 when we started working together.

Jason: We built a great working relationship. We see things in very similar ways. We get along. We have the same outlook on a variety of things. It was a combination of things. Rails certainly was a big part of it too. It was a variety of things that, I think, all came together at the right time to make that happen.

David: I think the other thing that matters in general when you're trying to pick a business partner or whatever is that it can't just be about the craft. If all I was interested in doing was programming, then I don't think I would have been a good fit for a business partner. If you want to be a partner in a business, you have to be willing to wear many more hats than just that of your craft. You have to dive into all sorts of issues of personnel, building a company, finance, the marketing aspects of it. There are so many other things than just the technical aspect of it.

Jason: I also think it's important to make sure that you've worked with this person for a while. I get emails occasionally from people starting businesses looking for business partners. They're like, "Hey, I just met this guy who's a programmer. Should we go 50/50 on something?" It's like a marriage. You have to date for a while really. You have to work with somebody and get to know them. It is like a marriage. You got to make sure you can get along and you can stand someone for a long period of time and all those things. I think it's important to work with somebody first before you link up in legal terms, because a business is a legal entity and it can be messy if things don't work out.

David: I've seen it not work out a couple of times for people. It's incredibly painful. Once you've split things up into equity and somebody owns a part of your company, it is incredibly painful to divorce yourself from that person. You really have to be sure that it's a good fit. The pain you'll go through if it's not, especially if the business becomes an ongoing operation that you don't want to step away from, is just really painful.

Matt: How did you know when the working relationship was shifting to something that deserved to be an equal partnership or some sort of partnership? Was there a moment? Was it a feeling or a certain stage of the business?

David: I think that what brought it around was I had been working with Jason for a long time on just consulting with 37signals being a web design company. Then by the time we shifted into products, that felt like it was a new phase, the second phase of the company. In many ways, it was a new company. We had actually discussed it as a new company that we were going to create Basecamp LLC, and we were going to be equal partners in that. But it just turned out to make more sense to keep the existing company structure and me becoming a part of that.

Matt: All right. Let's move on. Tyler asks, "Could you talk about the success or failure of our affiliate program and why we're not accepting new affiliates?"

Jason: Well, I think actually the affiliate program, last we looked, you would consider a success. The main reason why we're not adding more affiliates right now is because the way we built it was a very manual process. In order to pay people, we actually had to manually go into PayPal and do this. It doesn't sound like a big deal, but we don't have a lot of slack here at the company. Everyone's busy with things that they're working on. Every month to pay out 30, 40, 50 people was just more work than it made sense for us at the time. So as the affiliate program was growing, it became more and more labor intensive. Certainly we could have an intern do it. We don't have interns. Certainly we could have someone else do it. We didn't have anyone else to do it. It was just a matter of we can control it and we can deal with it right now, and until we actually automate it, which is another thing we can do, we can spend time automating it, but again we're busy with other things.

It's one of the things that we run up against a lot in the business. There are a variety of things we want to do, a lot of things we want to do, limited resources. The options are get more resources, which also has its own set of costs in terms of culture, time to hire people and that whole thing, and assimilation and whatnot, or just don't do it anymore or do less of it. We decided with the affiliate program not to shut it completely, but just to not accept new people so we knew that it would never grow beyond a point that we could handle at this time. If the company changes or we have more people or we automate it in some way, we would probably want to consider reopening it again or simplifying it into a different variation on the theme.

Matt: When deciding to shutter something like the affiliate program or Sortfolio or something else, is there a number that you have? Is there a way of actually measuring it? Is it just a feeling like this just isn't worth it? How do you make that decision?

Jason: It depends on what it is. For example, with the affiliate program, it became not worth it pretty quickly because it was busy work. I was doing it and I don't like busy work. It was easy just to say, "Let's not worry about this right now." Now we have someone else at the company who does the affiliate payments, so it's a little bit easier. We could probably open it up again. But I actually think that if we were to open it up again, we'd want to redo it and simplify it so it's just easier for more people to get the word out than the way we have it set up right now.

Sometimes it's a number. Sometimes it's just "this isn't working." Sometimes it's just a matter of hassle. Sometimes it's a matter of opportunity cost. It depends on what it is. Technically, I guess there is a science to it, but we're not scientific about it. It's more of an art for us.

Matt: Next up, Jigar Patel asks, "What is your take on methodologies like Agile or Waterfall? Do you follow them, or do you pick a feature, code it, test it, and ship it?"

David: Whether you say you follow something or not, you will fall into one or the other camp. I think we strive to be in the camp of the Agile iteration style of doing things, just picking off small iterations that can be done in a couple of weeks and no more, wrap it up in all aspects, and get it ready to ship. But it's actually incredibly hard. We have this dilemma all the time where we set out with the best intentions that we want this to be a short iteration. Then it's very easy to fall into the trap of just adding more and more stuff to this iteration. "Oh, wouldn't it be great if it also did this, that, and the other thing?" Before you know it, you have something that actually does resemble a Waterfall approach where you have, let's say, five things that aren't directly related to each other in such a way that thing number three can't be done without thing number two. But you choose to make them related. Then you're working on five things, and none of those individual five things can be shipped in isolation because you've chosen to intermingle them. Now you're looking at a project that runs much longer than just the one or two weeks you originally had in mind, and nothing can ship before the end. That feels very much like Waterfall.

I think Waterfall has a tendency to be propped up as this mythical approach of the past that no sane person would follow anymore, when the truth is that plenty of so-called Agile shops fall into the same trap that we fall in all the time, which is to bundle too much shit together in such a way that it can't be shipped as independent pieces. The result being long, annoying development processes where it doesn't take one to two weeks to ship something. It takes a month or more or what have you. The answer is neither one or the other. It's sort of a constant struggle between the two. There's not a hard delineation either between what is Waterfall and what is Agile. They've sort of become these, in some ways, cartoon incarnations of themselves. The truth is it's a lot more gray.

Matt: All right. Steve Castaneda asks, "Do you ever find yourself struggling to take action? If so, what sort of advice could you give that has helped you in the past to move beyond a lack of motivation?"

Jason: Sure. I actually think that motivation comes in waves. You can have a really good couple weeks, and then you could be a little bit slow the next week or so. That's how it works for me. I shouldn't generalize and say that's how it always is, but that's how it is for me. If I find myself not being motivated by something, I just try and look for something else to do instead of fight through it. I find that if I try and fight through it, it doesn't work or I rush through it or I don't find the interest again. The interest has to come naturally to me. If I'm working on something and I can't quite make it work, I'll just switch to something else and do that for a while. Maybe I'll never get back to that other thing. Or maybe if I do get back to that other thing, it'll be natural because I'll be motivated to do it again.

David: I completely agree. It's the same way. I have a very hard to impossible time forcing myself to do things that I don't want to do. It only works in very short bursts. I think when you're feeling that lack of motivation, I've found with myself there's always a cause. There's always some reason why you don't want to do this. Either you instinctually know that whatever you're working on is just truly not worth it, that all this effort you're about to put into it is not going to pay off. So it feels like a waste of time, even if you won't admit that to yourself. Or the fact is just that maybe you're not good at this, this is not your force, or more likely that there's something you're more interested in. I find it hard to have a wide array of things that I'm interested in at the same time. I usually pick one thing that I get really interested in solving. Then any other task that doesn't fall under that banner has a hard time capturing my imagination and getting done. I just put that on the back burner until whatever I'm naturally interested in runs out or gets completed.

I think the key is when you have a natural interest in something, your productivity levels are through the roof. When you are naturally inspired to work on something, the amount of work you get done is incredible. I find that even though whatever I'm naturally interested in might not, from an objective point of view, be the most important thing to work on at that one time, it is the most important thing to work on because of the productivity gains you get out of just being super fired up about something. I find that you have to get that out of your system. If you are super fired up about it, you will get it out of your system fast because you'll do it really quickly.

Matt: It also sounds like it's wasteful if you don't work on something when you're inspired on it. You're kind of wasting that.

David: It is. Your efficiency is so much lower. You're not going to be running at 100% efficiency just because you don't really want to do it. You will find many more moments in the day to let yourself be distracted by email or reading on the Web or something else. That's usually the key smell that I detect when I'm working on something I don't really want to be working on. I check email much more frequently. I engage in chats much more frequently about things that aren't related to the things I should be working on. On the flip side, when I'm working on something I'm really fired up about, I couldn't care less about new posts on Twitter or whatever. I will work on getting whatever I'm working on done right now.

Matt: Let's talk about Rails. Shane Pinnel has a couple questions. For David, "Do you ever intend on retiring from Rails development, or do you have an exit plan?" For Jason, "How important is Rails to the operation of 37signals? Do you think 37signals would have the same success using another language or framework?"

David: I'll answer that first. The only time I'm going to be retiring from working on Rails is if I stop working on web applications. Otherwise, it doesn't make sense to me. I am always going to be interested in the tools that I work with and use to build something. If I'm involved in an endeavor that's building web applications, I will have an opinion about how those web applications should be built, and I'm currently expressing those opinions in Rails. I see no end to that since I have no intention of stopping the work on 37signals. We're in this, as we often say, for the long haul. We're going to hopefully be in this for 10, 20, 30 years. If that is the case, I will presumably still be working on Rails or some other variation of a tool set that we will end up using. There's certainly no guarantee that the way we build applications 10 years from now is going to follow the same development paradigm that Rails embodies. If there's a new paradigm or a new approach or something else that we do, then we will probably come up with another tool set, and I will have opinions about how that tool set should be designed and most likely be involved with developing that.

Jason: As far as whether or not Rails is important to 37signals, it certainly is. Of course, you can build any software with pretty much anything. We could build our products with another language or framework. It's totally possible. But it's a matter of how do you want to build these things, who do you want to attract. I think we have the best people in the world because people like working with Rails and like the environment that we've created here. We couldn't have necessarily done that if we worked in a different language or a different framework or whatever. It's not about the language in terms of what the products can do. It's about the language, the framework, and the environment in terms of how much you enjoy working on the products, who you can attract and the other people who appreciate that aesthetic or that environment and then you attract those kind of people. Those are pleasant people to work with and work for. I think that's why it's important to the company.

Matt: Next up, another David asks, "Jason, do you consider being on the board of Groupon a return to consulting work?" Then a question for both of you, "Would 37signals ever consider providing consultation for startups with a lot of cash but no clue what they're doing?"

Jason: The Groupon thing is not consulting. I'm not on the Board of Directors anymore. I'm an advisor now, which is a different position. Before, when I was on the Board, it was a meeting every quarter for a couple hours and maybe a bit of preparation the night before and maybe a phone call here and there. It's not consulting at all. Now it's even less so. I just give my feedback on design, language, and product ideas and whatever occasionally if asked. It's not consulting. It's just basically being a friend as I would be a friend to somebody else if they had a business and they had a question for me. I would be happy to answer it and give my feedback. It's very similar to that.

As far as giving advice to startups with a lot of cash, was it a lot of cash but no clue? Yeah, I don't like that arrangement. I'd prefer a lot of clue and little cash. To me, that's a lot more interesting. If I'm going to help somebody, I'm more interested in helping someone there than I would be helping someone who has a lot of money but doesn't have any idea what to do with it.

David: Also, they're already off to the wrong start. If they don't have a clue and got a lot of cash, they're double worse off. They're much less likely to develop a clue if they have a lot of cash. When you have a lot of cash, you can delude yourself for a very long time and still pay the bills. There's nothing that will bring realism into your world as quickly as realizing that you're out of cash. That is just a smack of real life that will instill sense in almost anybody.

Matt: Mark Neven asks, "How do you prepare for public speaking?"

Jason: It depends. I've changed the way I prepare over the years. I used to practice for hours before I would talk. The night before, I would pace around and practice and practice and practice. I feel like that was a good thing for me at the time because I wasn't great at it, and I got better at it because of that. Now, first of all, I don't really do any public speaking anymore. I'm taking the year off, and I might take off more than just this year. As of late 2010, when I gave my last talk, I pretty much like to go in unprepared now. I feel like I know my material because I know what I'm talking about. I've been talking about it for a while. I live and breathe this stuff. I've found that the less I prepare, the more enjoyable it is for me, because I can go on stage and talk from the heart rather than try and remember back what I thought I was going to say and what I already decided I was going to say. It's been a shift in my public speaking career, if you want to call it that, from very detailed, meticulous preparation to winging it. I find it more enjoyable now just to wing it.

David: I completely agree. I can pretty much only do the wing it style, because I get intensely bored if I know exactly what I'm going to say. I can have some talking points that I'm interested in getting across, but the actual manner of presenting your arguments has to pretty much pop into my head at the time of giving them. Otherwise, I will just be bored. There's nothing more unengaging, to me at least, than a speaker who's bored with his own material. I like to be just surprised by the arguments that will pop into my head as I'm giving them, which sounds like a wrong way to do it. I remember hearing presentations from people who would brag about how little they prepared. I always found that kind of offensive if not annoying. "Oh, I only put this together last night." Well, what do I care? Just give me something good. If you are going to do the just wing it style, at least don't fucking brag about it on stage.

Jason: Yeah, I agree. That's the thing that really bugs me about people. "I did this on the plane over here." You don't need to say that. The truth is, is that even if you're winging it, if you've been doing it for 10 years, you're not winging it because you've got 10 years of practice behind you. It's not winging it. Being totally unprepared and not having an idea of what you want to talk about and then telling people that, to me, is insulting. People paid good money to be at these conferences. You might have been able to go for free because you're speaking, but people traveled and paid big money and took time off work to be there. I think you owe it to them not to tell them that you don't really care about what you're about to talk about. That doesn't make sense to me.

Matt: You guys have both had talks that have gone viral and really spread far and wide. I'm wondering did you know while you were giving them that they were going to be those kinds of talks that really were outstanding or that other people responded to? Is it something that just happened after the fact, or is it something you knew even when you had the idea, you're like, "Oh, this is going to be big"? When does something like that occur to you, like, "Oh, that was a hit speech"?

David: You have to test your material on a live audience. You might have all these ideas, oh, this is such a brilliant point. Then you deliver the point and there's no response. It's sometimes hard to know what kinds of points that are going to be big hits until you get them in front of a live audience and you see the reaction. But that's also the point where you know it. I think the most popular talk I've given was the "How Do You Make Money Online" at Startup School in '08. I could just sense the atmosphere of the room being that this is really resonating. You have a pretty good take then that that's going to be something that works.

I also think in many ways I'm always my own hardest critic for these things. I think it could have been delivered better. The few times where you get that sensation from the crowd that this is really hitting home is much more reassuring than whoever will come up to you afterward and say, "That was a great talk." People are people. They're trying to be nice. They will always tell you it was a great talk if they come up to speak with you afterward. You really have to take that temperature of the room to get a sense of was this good or not.

Jason: Sometimes magic moments happen where the right stars align. For example, the TEDx talk I gave last year. I knew this was going to be a big deal because it was a TEDx thing and TED stuff gets spread a lot. You get to reach a whole new audience. When I was asked to tell the TEDx crew what I was going to speak about, I didn't really say. I kept it close to my chest and didn't give them slides up front. I decided not to use slides at all. I wanted it to be kind of a spontaneous thing. I didn't want any meddling. I didn't want anyone telling me what I should and shouldn't say, because the TEDx deal is actually a fairly controlled environment. They usually give you very good advice. But I just wanted to do this myself because I thought this could be a big opportunity.

Since I knew it was going to go out to a wide audience, I wanted to talk about something that would be well and widely received, which is why work doesn't happen at work. Instead of talking about something specific to web design, design, programming, or software development, which would have a narrow audience, I knew this would be a broad audience, so I picked a broad topic. Sometimes you run into situations like that where you know something could be big. That's the only one in my speaking life that I knew could have a good shot to really make it big. Otherwise, it's just been trying to deliver something great every time.

Matt: Do you guys usually use slides now when you talk?

Jason: I don't use slides at all anymore. I actually much prefer Q&A. Although I find that a bit pretentious, so I struggle with that, that I should walk up and go, "Ask me questions." That doesn't sit right with me. I much prefer them, and I think the audience does, because at the end of the day if you're spending an hour with somebody, I might as well make it worth their while and not just worth my while. I think a lot of speeches are worth the speaker's while, but the audience doesn't get a lot from it. When you can encourage people to ask you questions and take the discussion in the direction that the audience wants it to go, I find it to be most valuable.

David: I enjoy slides. To me, they anchor the general points that I want to make. It's not slides in the sense of here's a headline and then there are five bullet points and they have two sub-bullets. That's obviously bullshit. Slides are either three words or they're a picture. Or if I'm delivering something that's about programming, they're code. I do find that if you're talking about something specific to your craft, you should be as specific as possible. I definitely struggle with this all the time. It's very easy to go all conceptual on people and be very high flying. When you're at a programming conference, there's nothing that gets people to look up from their laptop like showing a piece of code. That should tell you something. People want to see code. It makes the concepts very immediate and practical and just clear for somebody to internalize. I think the same thing is true for design. Whenever I see Ryan or Jason talk about design and they throw up a concrete screenshot or a sketch or something, that's when people really look up and pay attention. So I strive in my own slides to be as specific and as concrete as possible. Then you can weave in all the conceptual philosophy around that just winging it and telling the story around it. At least the slides should be very concrete.

Matt: Okay. Chris asks, "I'm curious about what personal finance looks like when making the amount of money you guys do. Do you two play the stock market or invest otherwise? Are there any books or blogs on the subject that you recommend?"

Jason: That's a personal question. I've always played the stock market. I've always loved the stock market ever since I knew what it was. My dad was a trader. I've always been into it and I've always enjoyed dabbling in it. I don't put my life at risk in it. I think it's probably not a good place to put your money in general. I don't trust it very much anymore. It's fun to mess with that here and there. I leave that job to professionals to take care of stuff. For me, it's mostly about maintaining whatever money I've been able to accumulate. It's not so much about trying to grow it. I want to grow it a little bit, but I'm not taking risks with it. I don't really think there's any reason to do that. For me, it's maintenance and preservation. That's my attitude toward it. I have not invested in any private companies or anything like that. I haven't done any angel investing or anything like that. There are some companies that I would invest in if I was into that and had an opportunity to do so. But I'm not really into it and I don't have an opportunity, so I haven't done anything.

David: I think that's a very similar style. It's funny, there's often this conception that entrepreneurs are very risk happy. I know for a fact that I'm not very risk happy at all. I'm the embodiment of that experiment where people are much more hesitant to lose $50 than they are to gain $50. I really hate losing stuff. I have an incredibly conservative setup. As Jason was saying, it's mostly just about preservation. Then you can also pick the battles of where you're going to take your risk. Obviously, for a long time, Jason and I both took the bulk of the risk just having pretty much everything tied up in a company. If you're taking a significant amount of risk in one aspect of your life, maybe you don't also need to take it in all the other aspects of your life. I also think it is an interesting thing of how you do this. Very few people are good enough to beat the market. If you're going to invest something of any kind, usually you'll do better just having as low a fee as possible, an ETF or index fund that just tracks the general market. The world is full of people who tell you that they can beat the market. The world is also full of statistics telling you that they don't.

Matt: Okay. Let's see. Adam asks, "What is your philosophy when it comes to giving feedback to your employees? How do you deliver criticism and how do you deliver praise?"

Jason: I think this is still an area where we need to improve. One of the things we started doing last year were these things called one-on-ones, which may be familiar to a lot of other people who run businesses. They're basically an opportunity where you sit down with somebody one-on-one for 20, 30 minutes and just talk about whatever's going on. We want to do them every few weeks. It's probably more like every six to eight weeks now. It's not as often as maybe we should. Just getting a good feel for what's going on, what concerns somebody has, what are some things we can do to improve. I have one scheduled today in the afternoon, which I'm looking forward to. It's an informal, just, "Hey, what's up? Anything going on?" The thing we realized was that even though we're talking to each other all day long in Campfire or other ways, you don't really have those moments one-on-one where you can sit down with someone and just let them unload. It's usually not like that. Just say, "Hey, let's just chat about how things are going." What happens is that these things get pent up, and they come out all at once if you only do it every six months. Then it's just not very good. Or someone's unhappy for six months before they get a chance to talk to you again. We're trying to be a bit more open about speaking to people more often. These events, if there are any negative situations, are smaller and they can be dealt with in the near term instead of in the far term.

Matt: Was it a Dale Carnegie thing or something like that about criticizing in private and praising in public? I remember that was an idea in the early days of 37signals, which I think you guys have stuck with. If someone's doing a good job, make sure to lavish praise on them at least internally so everyone in the company sees it as a feel good thing for everyone. Then, if you are going to criticize someone, pull them aside and have it be a private thing.

Jason: I don't think we're great at critique yet though, like there's actually a really good formal process for critique. I'm not sure we're anywhere close to being really great at that. We have our own ways of doing it. It might be good for us to get better at that so people can have really specific points of feedback that are helpful. We try to get better. We have gotten better at it. One of the things we had a problem with at one point was giving design feedback. It came off as a bit harsh and quick up front without saying, "Are you even ready for feedback?" We encourage all the designers to share stuff as often as they can. Whatever they're working on, just share it, share it, share it. The problem, though, is if they know they're going to share it and they're going to get a bunch of feedback on it immediately, they hesitate to share it because they're not ready for that feedback. We've been asking people here and there, "Thanks for sharing this. Do you want my feedback now or later or not at all? Do you just want to put this in for posterity?" That's, I think, been a good improvement with the way we give design critique.

Matt: Matt is a recent graduate with a degree in software engineering. He wants to work at a small company but is having a hard time because most of the job requests are for people with years more experience. He thinks he can do the work, but it's hard to get past the "you're too young" thing. Do you have any advice for him?

David: I'd say that most people say that they want people with this or that much experience. All they're doing is using it as a proxy because that's the only way that they feel they can evaluate the work. You can route around that by giving them something much more concrete to evaluate the work on. For programmers, it's never been easier. The world of open source software is such an easy way to get into showing off your work, and it makes you feel good in the process. You get to improve the comments. You'll probably find a lot of context to work with. It's like it's its own Ivy League system. One of the big advantages if you go to Harvard or Stanford or whatever and you want to get into investment banking is that you'll meet a lot of people that will make it easier for you to get into investment banking. If you want to be a great software developer, you can do all of that without paying $60,000 a year in tuition, just by putting in some sweat equity in improving the comments in the open source world.

For example, when we look to pick people up, I much prefer if I don't even have to post a job wanted ad anywhere, if I can just identify a contributor to the open source world and say, "I'd really like to talk to that person." You'll just meet so many people. Today, open source development is not just the cartoon image of the '80s, just hippies sitting somewhere and writing free love code for the good of humanity. Most people are actually employed somewhere. If you get to collaborate with somebody on a piece of open source software, chances are that they're working at some company. Right now, at least, chances are that that company is hiring.

The software development market is red hot right now in a bunch of niches. I'm constantly being asked, "Do you know any Rails programmers?" We're even having sort of, I don't know if I'd call it a hard time, but it takes a long for us to find the right people where perhaps like five years ago we had much more pick of the litter where we could choose anybody because there weren't that many employers offering these opportunities. If you're a programmer today and you're not employed, you're not looking or doing the right things. Doing the right things is: (a) get involved in open source development; (b) learn a development environment that's hot right now. Rails is one of them. There are certainly others, in this whole space, that have those same attributes. It's not that hard to get into it. I guess that's the summary of it.

Matt: GG Wicks asks, "When was the first time you guys realized you wanted to do your own thing as far as building your own business?"

Jason: I realized this when I was growing up. I had my own little side businesses when I was 14, 15, doing some stuff here and there. After I graduated college, I went to work for someone for a few months and realized pretty quickly that I wasn't really built that way. I moved back to Chicago and started my own thing then. I've known this my whole life. I've worked for lots of people. I've done all sorts of different jobs. As far as career goes, I realized pretty early on that doing my own thing was for me.

David: Same thing here. Since I was the same, like 14, 15, I've always been running side businesses, starting projects, running groups of various kinds. It's always felt very natural to call your own shots and run your own thing. I've met a bunch of people who have had that similar experience, and then they've gone straight into just doing that. They're usually horrible managers and leaders of people. If you have not been in somebody's shoes, you just do not know what it's like. If you've never been an employee at a crappy company, you do not know what the things to avoid are. It's very easy to delude yourself into thinking that you can empathize with somebody just by imagining it. I don't believe that. You have to have walked in somebody else's shoes to really understand where they're coming from. If you want to run a software company, for example, as this is the case here, you should have worked at a fair number of software companies before and known from an employee's perspective what's good and what's shit.

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