Jason Fried on Optimizing Efficiency at Work and Work-life Balance – The Peter Attia Drive

Check out the Peter Attia Drive Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • Much of success is due to luck, time, talent, and skill – NOT hard work
    • “I don’t even know what ‘working hard’ means. If you get to sit behind a desk all day in an air-conditioned room, there’s no such thing as hard work.” – Jason Fried
  • “If lightning strikes, keep that lightning in the bottle” – Jason Fried
    • “If you’re lucky enough to have a hit business, ride it out until it’s over as opposed to stopping and trying to do it again. Chances are very slim that you’ll be able to do it again.”
  • Venture capital is a slippery slope. Think twice about raising money for your business.
    • “A lot of businesses are destroyed by unreasonable expectations of growth and having too much money in the bank” – Jason Fried
  • Reconsider setting goals for yourself or your company
    • Instead, just try to do the best job you can
  • Much of the busyness that people experience is due to a constant interruption of meetings, phone calls, and email
  • With whatever you’re working on, find the epicenter (the essence of its value)
    • This quote from Jason is an excellent way of explaining it: “If you try to build Google Calendar in 6 weeks, you can’t do it. But there’s a version of Google Calendar you can build in 6 weeks that solves 80-90% of the issues.”
    • Most projects can get done in half the time if they’re 95% as good
  • To become better at saying “no”:
    • Ask yourself: “If X was tomorrow, would I still say ‘yes’ to it?”
    • Realize: When you say “yes” to something, you’re basically saying “no” to 1,000 other things

Intro

How Jason Fried Developed His Entrepreneurial Spirit

  • Jason grew up in Deerfield, Illinois (about 25 miles north of Chicago)
    • At age 14, he got his first job (at a grocery store) and started developing an interest in computers
  • This led Jason to develop ‘Audio File,’ software that enabled him to keep track of his music collection as well as who he loaned cassette tapes out to (this was pre-CDs),
    • He ended up putting the software on AOL for others to use along with a text file asking for donations
      • “That summer, I got 20 bucks in the mail from some guy in Germany… I realized for the first time that I could make something I wanted that others wanted to, and they’d be willing to pay for it.” – Jason Fried
  • Nowadays, Jason takes this idea to the extreme with Basecamp
    • “I feel like it’s the same exact business, which is making something that I need or want, recognizing there are people out there like me who want it to, packaging it up, putting a price on it, and selling it. That’s what I’ve been doing for 30 years now.” – Jason Fried
  • Another one of Jason’s early entrepreneurial ventures – selling knives from a catalog to his friends for a markup

College Life

  • Jason went to the University of Arizona to study finance
    • “I picked finance because I didn’t know what else to pick. I just loved business.” – Jason Fried
      • “But, truthfully, I went to Arizona to chase the weather, and a girl who I went to high school with. I didn’t really care nor think too much about college.” 
  • Around this time, Jason picked an interest in web design and started to build up a decent client base
    • How would he get clients? – By cold emailing with the hook that he could improve the target client’s website
    • “I felt like school was interfering with my education. I was learning so much more from doing business, finding clients, delivering work, getting paid, and understanding what it was like to work with people in the world. School began to feel faker and faker to me.” – Jason Fried

The Myth of Hard Work

  • People like to look at the exceptions – many well-known entrepreneurs indeed work their asses off, but there are also plenty of other people you’ve never heard of that do the same and get nowhere
    • “This idea of hard work getting you somewhere, I don’t buy it” – Jason Fried
    • Much of someone’s success is often due to luck, timing, talent, and skill – not hard work
  • “There are only 24 hours in a day to begin with; I don’t even know what ‘working hard’ means. If you get to sit behind a desk all day in an air-conditioned room, there’s no such thing as hard work.”Jason Fried
    • “Hard work is picking strawberries in a field. Hard work is roofing in 120-degree heat. Intellectual work can be challenging and difficult work, but as far as hard goes, to me that’s physically challenging.”

Common Business Myths

  • You DON’T need to take venture capital to create a successful company
  • “Most of success is actually luck and timing. There’s clearly talent and skill involved too, but sometimes things just happen at the right time.” Jason Fried
    • Just ask yourself: Could someone like Dropbox repeat their success if they were to start over now? Probably not – timing plays too much of a role
      • “Timing” is quite broad too: There’s your time, the timing of competitors, the timing of the market, the timing of the public appetite for the product, etc.
  • Businesses only get harder to run, never easier
    • Many people who set out to start a business don’t realize this
    • With every added employee or customer, things get more challenging
      • “People underestimate how difficult it is to have employees” – Jason Fried
  • Whatever you practice, you get better at
    • If you’re continuously working 80-hour weeks, you’re going to get really good at it
      • It’s human nature to then internalize that your success is because of those 80-hour weeks
  • “If lightning strikes, keep that lightning in the bottle” – Jason Fried
    • “If you’re lucky enough to have a hit business, ride it out until it’s over as opposed to stopping and trying to do it again. Chances are very slim that you’ll be able to do it again.”
    • On Jason’s success with Basecamp: “I’m not ashamed to say I don’t think I could do this again”
    • “A lot of people think starting a business and selling it 5 years in is the way to make a career; I think the way to make a career is to stay in business, not to get out of the business”

The Problem with Venture Capital

  • Basecamp is a private company, and Jason has no intention of taking it public
    • “I get an email or two every week from a VC firm wanting to invest, and the answer’s always no. I just don’t want that pressure on me.” – Jason Fried
  • “I don’t think business is that difficult if you don’t make it hard on yourself” – Jason Fried
    • But people/businesses do. Here’s how:
      • They raise money
      • They put unnecessary expectations on themselves
      • They’re forced into a growth track 
      • They’re forced to hire people 
      • The growth needs to be kept, so the business raises even more money
  • “A lot of businesses are destroyed by unreasonable expectations of growth and having too much money in the bank”
  • “Making money is a skill, just like playing the guitar. If you want to get good at it, you have to practice it.” – Jason Fried
    • We have all these massive tech companies that have been losing money for YEARS (like Uber), and they think they can just flip the switch and become profitable whenever they choose – NOPE
      • “That’d be like saying you can walk on stage and just play the guitar really well whenever you want. You can’t, you have to practice.”
    • If a business keeps raising venture capital to avoid having to become profitable, when will they get good at making money?
      • “To me, an entrepreneur needs to be able to make money. They need to be able to make their own fuel. That’s what profit is. Profit is what keeps you in business. If you have to rely on other people to provide that fuel, I think you’re at a real disadvantage.”

Thoughts on Uber (and WeWork)

  • On Uber: “Terrible business”
    • Last year, Uber lost $1.8 billion on $11 billion in revenue
  • “Uber is a dumpster fire in terms of ethics” – Jason Fried
    • They’ve done some horrible things in regards to tracking journalists and going after competitors – this is all pushed by growth
  • “All these businesses like Uber, Lyft, and WeWork that are ‘successful,’ they’re not at all. They’re actually terrible businesses. The dry cleaner on the corner is a better business. They’ll be around longer than WeWork.” – Jason Fried
  • “There’s this sense that these businesses deserve to exist no matter what. No. Uber could go out of business, and why shouldn’t they? It’s a crappy business.”
  • There have been several studies coming out showing that both pollution and traffic are worse because of ride-sharing
    • Autonomous vehicles may change this, but: “I think that’s much further off than we all think. I think it’s very, very far, actually.” – Jason Fried
      • “As it is today, we’re nowhere near autonomous vehicles”

The Realization That Changed Jason’s Life

  • After college, Jason moved to San Diego to take a job in website design
    • This was pre-WordPress – it was all HTML coding
  • But Jason soon realized – “I’m just not built to work for other people”
    • If Jason had to do something he didn’t agree with, whether with writing, an aesthetic-related decision, or anything related to structural code, his motivation dropped to 0
    • “I realized didn’t want to spend my day on something I felt like I begrudgingly had to do if I didn’t have the intrinsic motivation to get it done” – Jason Fried
      • “Why am I spending my day doing things I don’t want to do or don’t agree with? … I could do the work, but I didn’t want to do the work. I have to motivated by the work itself. That’s what drives me.”
      • And if you’re not motivated… you’re screwed…

The Origins of Basecamp

  • So… Jason quit his job, moved back home to Chicago, and started doing freelance website design (specifically redesign) on his own, going back to cold emailing to pick up clients
    • Jason would frequently send free mock-ups as part of these cold emails, showing what kind of work he could do if given the chance
    • Eventually, Jason hired his first employee after winning a big gig with Getty Images
    • At the time, Jason called his company “37Signals”
  • Getting busier and picking up more projects, Jason sought out a way to better manage the workflow – so, he built Basecamp
    • Eventually, Jason realized the software was something he could sell and on February 5th, 2004, it was launched to the public

Take Risks, But Don’t Put Yourself at Risk

  • “I’m a believer in risk, but never putting yourself at risk” – Jason Fried
    • Risk is taking a shot that might not work
    • Putting yourself at risk = betting the company on something
      • “I found my dream job, which is running my own business. Why would I want to put that at risk?”
  • Always:
    • Try to cap the downside
    • Ask yourself: “What’s the worst-case scenario if we do X?”

No Goals, No Plans

  • “I don’t plan and I don’t have goals… I’m not a goal-driven person.”Jason Fried
  • Peter is the complete opposite
    • He’s always been the type to write out his strength goals, cardio goals, fitness/nutritional goals, career goals, etc.
  • “People should do what motivates them. What I’ve realized is that goals don’t motivate me.” – Jason Fried
  • A goal tends to turn into one of three things:
    • Disappointment if you don’t hit it (Why set yourself up for ending up disappointed?)
    • You end up hitting it and setting a new one
    • You end up chasing a goal without really thinking it through
  • Just try to do the best you can, as opposed to measuring up against a number you’ve made up
    • Any target you set out to hit is ultimately just a guess
    • Aim for personal enjoyment and success takes care of itself

Innovating the Hiring Practice

  • We [Basecamp] spend weeks writing job ads… We try to write them in a way that truly conveys what it’s like to work in the respective position. We try to give the candidate a good sense of what their day-to-day will actually feel like.” – Jason Fried
  • Basecamp also includes the salaries in every job description (this removes salary negotiation from the picture)
    • This typically isn’t done because companies feel like it’s their job to negotiate the best rate possible – companies see it as a victory if they hire someone for a few thousand dollars less than the budget
    • “To me, if there’s any place to spend money, it’s on people” – Jason Fried  
      • Basecamp pays every employee in the top 10% tier of San Francisco industry rates
  • To get hired at Basecamp, no matter what the job is, you have to be a great writer
    • “If you submit a cover letter and it’s bad, you’re out” – Jason Fried
    • Why? – Most communication is written, more so than ever before
      • It’s very costly and inefficient to have to repeat yourself and to answer questions that should have been clear in the first place
      • “I love a well-crafted sentence that just nails it. Few things are as satisfying to me as reading a great line.”

How can someone become a better writer?

  • A proposed assignment: Pick a topic and write a 5-page article about it
    • Then, write a 1-page version of that article, a 5-paragraph version, a 5-sentence version, and finally a 1-sentence version
      • Distilling and editing down your thoughts to the absolute minimum is a highly-valued skill 

Find the Epicenter

  • “Most of the time you spend on things is probably wasted time… There’s a lot of time you put into things that you don’t need to put in. I’ve gotten good at editing things down to the extreme.” – Jason Fried
    • “I can put a little bit of time into something because I know what the essence of that thing is, and just leave the rest alone. We try to develop that habit at Basecamp with all of our employees. We get to the essence of something; we call it the epicenter of whatever it is we’re doing.”
  • An easy example: The epicenter of a hot dog stand is the hot dog itself
    • All the condiments and everything else are nice-to-haves – you don’t need them to say you sell hot dogs
  • Basecamp thinks this way about features and functionality. They’ll frequently ask:
    • “What is the core essence of this thing we’re trying to do?”
    • “What do we really need to have?” (whatever it is, double down on it)
    • “What can we live without?” (let competitors deal with this)

Work-Life Balance

  • “I think this is something most of us don’t do well. If I were to scorecard Peter Attia on health, by far my closest to an ‘F’ would on work-life balance.” – Peter Attia
    • This is something nearly EVERYONE struggles with
  • “People brag about how little sleep they get and how much they work. I don’t understand that.” – Jason Fried
    • And it’s not because there’s a ton of work to do, it’s because there’s less time to do good work because people’s days are broken into small blocks of time
      • You NEED large chunks of time to do great creative work – you can’t make it happen in between conference calls, meetings, and phone calls

Digging Into Basecamp

  • Basecamp has no company goals (although they have a direction they’re working towards)
    • “You can hire the best in the world, but if the environment is crap, you’re not going to get the best work out of those people… I’m more interested in creating a great work environment than motivating people around specific business goals.” – Jason Fried
  • Employees have full control of where & when they work
  • There are ~55 people in the company
  • They give everyone an entire block of 8 hours/day to themselves
    • “8 hours is a LONG time if you have 8 hours. Most people don’t have 8 hours; they have like 45 minutes to themselves. And therefore they’re working nights and weekends because there’s no other time to get the work done.” – Jason Fried
  • Basecamp works on 6 weeks cycles – every 6 weeks, each team tries to deliver something great for whatever they’re building
    • Building off of “finding the epicenter,” Jason has a great way of putting it: “If you try to build Google Calendar in 6 weeks, you can’t do it. But there’s a version of Google Calendar you can build in 6 weeks that solves 80-90% of the issues.”
      • With software, you DON’T always have to build the best possible version of whatever you’re making – after a certain point, there’s diminishing returns
      • Most projects can get done in half the time if they’re 95% as good
    • Every team has 3 people max – usually 2 programmers and 1 designer
      • These smaller teams are fully autonomous – there are no check-ins/project update meetings
      • “Almost no one should ever have to depend on another team to get anything done. Every team is autonomous and under their own control… For the most part, every feature can be deployed independently of one another.” – Jason Fried
    • “There’s nothing more demoralizing than working on something you don’t enjoy, and you don’t know when it will end” – Jason Fried
      • At Basecamp, the worst that happens is you work on a project you don’t like for 6 weeks

Just Say No

  • “I have this nasty, nasty habit which creates so much tension in my life of agreeing to do things in the future. When that day comes, I take it out on everyone around me, even though I’m really just pissed at myself.” – Peter Attia
  • How can you become better at saying “no”?
    • Ask yourself: “If X was tomorrow, would I still say ‘yes’ to it?”
    • Realize: When you say “yes” to something, you’re basically saying “no” to 1,000 other things
      • When you say “no,” you say no to just one thing
      • “The power of ‘no’ is that it gives you a lot more options”
    • When saying “no,” be honest – the majority of the time, no one will be angry with you
  • In summary: “We block out the future with present obligations and then we never have time to do the things we want to do” – Jason Fried

Phone Addiction

  • “I think phones are highly addictive; I think they’re basically modern-day cigarettes” – Jason Fried
    • Peter adds – “And they might be just as bad for you… If you took the area under the curve (AUC) of suffering, I actually think phones have a bigger AUC of suffering than cigarettes.”
  • Jason has eliminated most phone notifications
    • “If I want to know something, I’ll go find it. I don’t want to be pulled to anything.”
  • “I think we’ve become slaves to phones telling us what to do” – Jason Fried

Jason’s Relationship with Email and Work Chat

  • “I think email is an awful, awful thing. Not to say there aren’t valuable things that come from email, but the net effect is toxic.” – Peter Attia
  • The problem with email: anyone with your email address can get your attention (and add to your to-do list)
    • Within organizations, real-time chat is even worse (mostly because people expect an immediate response)
      • “Chat rooms are basically all-day meetings with an unknown set of participants and many different topics, all at once. They’re basically virtual open offices running 24/7.” – Jason Fried
  • And why the rush/need for an immediate response? Why are we all so busy?
    • “What is so important that we’re rushing about? Most of the stuff we’re rushing to do doesn’t really matter anyway?” – Jason Fried

Wrapping Up

  • “Cliches are cliches for a reason. I really don’t recall anyone at the end of life wishing they had worked a little longer or a little harder.” – Peter Attia

Additional Notes

  • “I’ll offend all the New Yorkers when I say this: I love it; I just couldn’t live here” – Peter Attia
    • Jason, who lives in Chicago, adds – “I wanted to live in New York in my 20s. Now I want to live here but only for 4 days at a time.” 
  • Jason is an only child
  • Jason has a 5-year-old son and an 11-month-old daughter
  • Check out Jason’s 2009 talk at Y Combinator’s startup school
  • 98% of Jason’s book sales come from Amazon
  • Both Jason and Peter don’t read fiction
    • “I’ve read one work of fiction since 1999” – Peter Attia
  • Neither Peter or Jason read the news
  • Peter’s new book is starting to get VERY long
    • His contract was for an 80k words, but he’s pushing 200k (with the appendix) at the moment
  • Both Jason and Peter are watch fanatics 
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