Skip to main content

I recently picked up the book Getting Real: The smarter, faster, easier way to build a successful web application by 37 Signals. 37 Signals builds web-based collaboration apps for businesses. The book is a great, quick read that puts things in perspective for business owners, entrepreneurs, graphic designers, marketers, and web developers.

Getting Real covers application development from concept, design and implementation through promotion, post-launch, and optimization. Below are some of the key points the book highlights that fall in line with our overall values and strategies at The Spark Group – key points that offer great starting points for people everywhere that are looking to get stuff done. It’s important to note that this book, and its core prophecies aren’t only for those launching web applications. It provides useful tools for anyone looking to get things done easier, better, and more effectively.

1. On creating gripping, no-nonsense copy:

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short or avoid all detail and treat subjects in outline, but that every word tell.”

2. On creating simpler, easy-to-use products by underdoing the competition:

“Conventional wisdom says that to beat your competitors you need to one-up them. If they have four features, you need five (or 15, 0r 25). If they’re spending x, you need to spend xx. If they have 20, you need 30. This sort of one-upping Cold War mentality is a dead-end. It’s an expensive, defensive, and paranoid way of building products. Defensive, paranoid companies can’t think ahead, they can only think behind. They don’t lead, they follow.”

“Ask people what they don’t want. Most software surveys and research questions are centered around what people want in a product. “What feature do you think is missing?” “If you could add just one thing, what would it be?” “What would make this product more useful for you?” What about the other side of the coin? Why not ask people what they don’t want? “If you could remove one feature, what would it be?” “What don’t you use?” “What gets in the way the most?” More isn’t the answer. Sometimes the biggest favor you can do for your customers is to leave something out.”

3. On optimizing software and granting customer requests:

“Your first response should be a no. So what do you do with all these requests that pour in? Where do you store them? How do you manage them? You don’t. You just read them and then throw them away. Yup, read them, throw them away, and forget them. It sounds blasphemous but the ones that are important will keep bubbling up anyway. Those are the only ones you need to remember. Those are the truly essential ones. Don’t worry about tackling and saving each request that comes in. Let your customers be your memory. If it’s really worth remembering, they’ll remind you until you can’t forget.”

“There’s no substitute for real people using your app in real ways. Get real data. Get real feedback. Then improve based on that info.”

4. On breaking down big decisions, big timelines, and big issues:

“Are you facing an issue that’s too big to wrap your mind around? Break it down. Keep dividing problems into smaller and smaller pieces until you’re able to digest them…. Smaller tasks and smaller timelines are more manageable, hide fewer possible requirement misunderstandings, and cost less to change your mind about or re-do.”

5. On team collaboration and communication :

“Too many companies separate design, development, copywriting, support, and marketing into different silos. While specialization has its advantages, it also creates a situation where staffers see just their own little world instead of the entire context of the web app. As much as possible, integrate your team so there’s a healthy back-and-forth dialogue throughout the process. Set up a system of checks and balances. Don’t let things get lost in translation. Have copywriters work with designers. Make sure support queries are seen by developers… The end result will be a more harmonious product.”

6. On personifying your product, on giving your product a consistent personality:

“Think of your product as a person. What type of person do you want it to be? Polite? Stern? Forgiving? Strict? Funny? Deadpan? Serious? Loose? Do you want to come off as paranoid or trusting? As a know-it-all? Or modest and likable? Once you decide, always keep those personality traits in mind as the product is built. Use them to guide the copywriting, the interface, and the feature set. Whenever you make a change, ask yourself if the change fits your app’s personality.”

7. On creating buzz, hype, and getting the word OUT:

“To build up buzz and anticipation, go with a Hollywood-style launch: 1) Teaser, 2) Preview, 3) Launch.”

“As a promotional technique, education is a soft way to get your name – and your product’s name – in front of more people. And instead of a hard sell “buy this product” approach, you’re getting attention by providing a valuable service. That creates positive buzz that traditional marketing tactics can’t match. People who educate will become your evangelists. Education can come in many forms. Post tips and tricks at your site that people will want to share with others. Speak at conferences and stay afterwards to meet and greet with attendees. Conduct workshops so curious fans can learn more and talk to you in the flesh. Give interviews to publications. Write articles that share helpful information.”

8. On screw-ups and transparency:

“Be as open, honest, and transparent as possible. Don’t keep secrets or hide behind spin. An informed customer is your best customer. Plus, you’ll realize that most of your screw-ups aren’t even that bad in the minds of your customers. Customers are usually happy to give you a little bit of breathing room as long as they know you’re being honest with them.”

To read the full book (gratis!) follow this link. I welcome all thoughts, comments, disagreements, additions, and other points of view. Use the comments below or email me directly at – I read and respond to all emails.

By: Daniela Cuevas