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How to build a company, not a start-up (or 'Rework' mini-summary)

Business Oct 31, 2021

Rework might be one of the densest books I've read. There's no jabbering and not an unnecessary word. This makes it a difficult book to make a summary for :) If you are looking to start (or already have) a business I highly recommend this book full of practical principles that can be used to "make a dent in the universe".

What follows is what I kept: a line or two for (almost) every chapter of the book. Hopefully, this will inspire you to read the book if you have not, or jiggle your memory to get inspired if you already have read it.


Ignore the real world

Just because people say it can't be done doesn't mean it's true. That's their reality. Choose your own and just do it.

Learning from mistakes is overrated

Despite what the common wisdom says, you learn better from your success. So do your best to succeed; don't fail to learn.

Planning is guessing

Don't get obsessed with plans; most of them don't work due to ... reality. So adapt appropriately, improvise, and don't (always) stick with the plan. ‌‌(But keep in mind: "Plans are worthless, but planning is everything")

Why grow?

Another obsession is the obsession with getting bigger just for the sake of it. Take a step back and think: being small has advantages (less complex, leaner, less stressing). So stay small if it makes sense.


Workaholism is cool in our era but not productive. Productive means working smart not working much. When people need to leave on time, that's when they are productive (not the other way around).

Enough with "entrepreneurs"

"Entrepreneur" doesn't mean anything today, it's just another cool word.


Make a dent in the universe

Purpose leads to greatness. Create something that improves someone's life today, with what you have.

Scratch your itch

Create something fixing one of your annoyances. This way you know the pain points and you would enjoy working on fixing one of your issues.

Start making something

Talking much is of no use. Creating something is all that matters.

No time is no excuse

If you want to do something, you will find time to do it. It doesn't have to be a lot of time. Time will compound if there's consistency.

Draw a line in the sand

Always remember your values. Share them widely to attract like-minded people and publicly commit to them.

Mission statement impossible

Your acts and goals should align with your mission statement. Empty words are worth nothing.

Outside money is Plan Z

Raising external money (e.g. venture capitalists) leads to giving up control and focus (e.g. investor meetings). Focus on quality work and profitability from day 0.

You need less than you think

Use less and stay frugal. Learn to use limited resources and this will give you more time to figure things out on how to be profitable.

Start a business, not a startup

Aim to become profitable from day 0. Startups don't worry about profit and live in a parallel universe.

Building to flip is building to flop

Focus on building something great. Don't focus on exits (i.e. selling your company).

Less mass

Being small means you can move faster. Use this advantage.


Illusions of agreement

Don't try to get to a complete agreement before you start. Create a mock, MVP, something you can show.

Reasons to quit

When something is getting too long to complete, ask yourself whether you should keep going. Is it worth it?

Interruption is the enemy of productivity

Work with no distractions (no emails, no people, no pings). Use dedicated times to communicate.

Meetings are toxic

Keep meetings short and solution-driven.

Good enough is fine

Keep it simple. Solve the problem as simply as possible. Iterate later.

Quick wins

Get something done and move to the next thing.

Go to sleep

Rest is important. Sleep deprivation is never ok.

Your estimates suck

Break your projects into small chunks. You can only estimate short-term things. So break everything into short-term tasks.

Long lists don't get done

Same things as tasks. Long lists don't get completed. They overwhelm. Keep lists short and always prioritize.


Don't copy

Find your voice and get inspired by others. Copying without understanding is useless.

Decommoditize your product

Become an integral part of your product. No one can copy you.

Pick a fight

Become controversial when you believe in something. This can get you publicity, acquire true allies (and enemies.)

Underdo your competition

Do less, but better. Do things differently.

Who cares what they're doing?

Focus on your product, not on competition.


Say no by default

You know where your product is headed. Say no when customers ask something that is not compatible with the direction.

Let your customers outgrow you

Adding features for a few large customers eventually will hurt your product. The product will become less friendly for new (smaller) clients. Remember you can't please everyone by building everything.

Don't confuse enthusiasm with priority

Don't rush to implement new ideas. Give them time to mature and think whether it fits with the overall vision (not the current emotion).

Be at-home good

Do not oversell your product. It should not disappoint after being unpacked.

Don't write it down

Feature requests that matter will be repeated again and again. No need to write them down.


Welcome obscurity

Being controversial is a great promotion. Try it.

Build an audience

Build an audience that comes back to check what you've built (or have to say). Better than ads.

Out-teach your competition

Break rapport by teaching. There's always knowledge to share. There's no better customer promotion than building trust using education.

Emulate chefs

Share everything as chefs do. Even if you share a recipe, only you can implement it best.

Go behind the scenes

Show how your products are built. More understanding leads to more trust.

Nobody likes plastic flowers

Being vulnerable is real. Don't be afraid to show you make mistakes.

Press releases are spam

Be personal beats typical press releases every time.

Drug dealers get it right

Give something free and make it that good that is addictive. Works every time.

Marketing is not a department

Everything is marketing. Your logo, your website, your blog.

The myth of the overnight sensation

Success is a process, not an event. Be consistent over time.


  1. Do it yourself first‌‌
    Hire only when you know what the job position entails.
  2. Hire when it hurts‌‌
    Hire when you can't do it yourself anymore (e.g. due to limited time, or decreased quality).
  3. Pass on great people‌‌
    Great people you don't need is a recipe for disaster.
  4. Strangers at a cocktail party
    Hiring too quickly tends to destroy working environments and productivity (like strangers at a cocktail party)
  5. Resumes are ridiculous‌‌
    Resumes are full of lies usually. Cover letters are usually better due to their more personal nature.
  6. Years of irrelevance
    How many years someone does something does not show how well it's done (necessarily)
  7. Forget about formal education‌‌
    Schooling and education are different things. Don't limit yourself in schooling.
  8. Hire managers of one‌‌
    Self-driven people can manage themselves.
  9. Hire great writers‌‌
    Writing means putting your thoughts in order. Those people usually have clearer thinking.
  10. The best are everywhere‌‌
    Don't limit hires geographically. Talent does not concentrate in one place.
  11. Test-drive employees‌‌
    Hire people to work on mini-projects instead of hours-long interviews.

Damage control

  1. Own your bad news‌‌
    Transparency leads to trust. Don't be afraid to share the news.
  2. Speed changes everything‌‌
    Customer support is a speed game. Reply fast. Even if you don't know the answer (to say that you will look into it).
  3. How to say you're sorry‌‌
    Explain the problem. Say what is your short-term fix. Explain the long-term fix.
  4. Put everyone on the front lines
    ‌‌Interacting with customers is how everyone improves.
  5. Take a deep breath‌‌
    Own the changes you make. You can never please everyone. People will complain when you make changes.


  1. You don't create a culture‌‌
    Culture is the things you make consistently over time.
  2. Decisions are temporary‌‌
    Things change. Don't be afraid to make changes to things you decided in the past.
  3. Skip the rock stars‌‌
    Focus on building a rock start environment to cultivate rock stats.
  4. They're not thirteen‌‌
    As long as your employees perform and deliver, give them all the freedom and trust in the world.
  5. Send people home at 5‌‌
    People that need to leave at a specific time stay productive. Working overtime should not be an option (or encouraged!).
  6. Don't scar on the first cut‌‌
    Don't create rules that oppress everybody because someone did something wrong. Create rules after repeated violations.
  7. Sound like you‌‌
    Write just like you talk. Don't act, don't try to sound serious.
  8. Four-letter words
    Avoid toxic words: need, must, can't, easy, just, only, fast
  9. ASAP is poison
    Don't use it (only in emergencies)


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