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The Big Moo

September 28, 2005 in 4 out of 5 stars, A book

What is it?

The Big Moo: A book of business parables and riffs written by an all-star cast of business authors and thinkers.

Who makes it?

Seth Godin and 32 other super star authors like my favorites Malcom Gladwell (of Tipping Point and Blink), Tom Peters (of Re-Imagine) and Jackie Huba (of Creating Customer Evangelists).

Why is it the killerest?

I really did love this book. Like anything Seth touches, this book provides lots of inspiration for how you can make decisions with your company/life that will help take you to the next level and not only survive, but define the future.

Seth's original idea is to become remarkable (as outlined in Purple Cow, read my mini-review at right). Remarkable = people talk about you. For an entrepreneur, this is a very good thing if they're talking about how cool/new/fast/fun/creative/clever etc. you are. This book is billed as the next level above Purple Cow. The Big Moo is about becoming super-remarkable. I'm not sure we can keep upping the ante like this without diminishing the original Purple Cow idea (which is so good) so I think it's probably more like a companion book to Purple Cow and not so much a big improvement on it.


But that's not a bad thing. I love how the book is literally a collection of disconnected, but thematically similar stories or riffs. 1-3 pages each, quick and easy to read. Like most books of this ilk I dog-eared some favorites, scribbled notes in the back, underlined, circled and starred the stuff I thought was particularly relevant and interesting to me and my businesses. (My book now looks kinda like I let my 2yr old play with it.)

I think I'd describe this book as a collection of the very best blog posts from the very best authors on business. Pithy, inspiring and fun.

Some of my favorites:

1.  Explaining how the Berlin Wall fell because of the actions of a few that started something. Ends with this:

This was the biggest change any of us will probably ever see in our lifetime. It took a month, it cost nothing, and it started with a handful of people in a town no one would ever have pegged as the birthplace of a revolution.

Remember that the next time someone says, "It can't be done."

2. The story of Brian Comelio who, in the face of freely downloaded music started www.ArtistShare.com where fans can get much more than just the music from an artist. They can also get a snapshot of the rest of the creative process. For example, music scores, videos of rehearsal sessions, interviews, and tutorials.  This story was awesome because instead of crying in his beer about the inevitable, he did something quite remarkable indeed. Rare in the music industry.

3. A riff on the bell curve applied to business that I didn't think would be interesting but turned out awesome. It starts with the thesis that companies occupy a spot on the bell curve regardless of where the industry goes, then it ends with this:

The trick, is not to wait for your industry to change before changing where you are on the curve. The trick is to change your organization's instinctual location on the curve. If you get used to being exceptional, you'll probably stay there.

4. "Ten Things Smart Start-Ups Know" which riffs briefly on the following points, all of them great stuff (had to be written by the brilliant Guy Kawasaki):

  1. Failure is an Option
  2. Bravery is Contagious
  3. Invent the Market
  4. Customers are Last (and First)
  5. Rule Books are Dispensable
  6. Lose the Slackers
  7. Grind Coffee Not People
  8. Test for Kool-Aid
  9. Always On
  10. Fire the CEO

And then there's one by Tom Peters, that is unmistakably him, and it rocks!

And finally, another thing that's killer, all proceeds from this book sale go to charity.

What could be improved?

The riffs are not credited to their authors. Seth thought this would be remarkable and less distracting, and I guess I'm remarking about it, but for me it was actually more distracting and annoying. I kept trying to divine the author! (And I actually think I did pretty well). I think more info is almost always better but that might just be me.

Also, I think pithy is good, but if you're looking for a well developed, hard hitting, in depth business tome, this isn't it.

How much does it cost?

You can pre-order now on Amazon for $13.57


Reviewed by Carson McComas

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Google AdWords

September 22, 2005 in 5 out of 5 stars, A service

What is it?

Google AdWords: Google's advertising service. It's the ads on the right hand side (and top sometimes) of nearly every search results page.

Google advertising works on a simple principle. You pay Google each time someone clicks from the search results page over to your site. You pay a certain amount per "click" or visit. In return, the search engine places your ads in the results of relevant searches (you get to say what is relevant by selecting keywords).


Who makes it?

Those zany Google people

Why is it the killerest?

Google AdWords is Google's way of allowing the little guy to advertise to scads of highly targeted prospects. It's killer because you can use it to grow your business. Yes you Mr. or Mrs. barely-has-a-budget entrepreneur. Google has put effective advertising within reach of the everyman (or woman) for what is arguably the first time in history.

It's super simple to signup, super cheap to at least test it out, and once you get the hang of it, it can be deadly effective at helping you grow your business.

I would probably put this resource in the top 5 killerest resources available to entrepreneurs, particularly those who use their website for something more than a digital brochure.

What could be improved?

Their traffic and click estimator blows chunks. The only way to really know is to run ads yourself and see what happens. Some of the quirks in the AdWords algorithm that determine where and when you show up in listings can be frustrating because placement is somewhat unpredictable.

How much does it cost?

Only $5 to activate an account, then you pay a cost per click which varies based on the keywords you wish to purchase clicks for.


Reviewed by Carson McComas

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The PocketMod

September 16, 2005 in 5 out of 5 stars, Free, Productivity

What is it?

Pocket Mod: A customizable personal organizer, on a single sheet of paper that you fold up and put in your pocket.


Who makes it?

Not sure... PocketMod maker, who are you?

Why is it the killerest?

I'm a gadget freak like any good nerd should be, but I've never been able to consistently use a PDA. Plus they're too expensive and cumbersome, and organizers are bulky and hard to carry around. Nothing beats a folded up piece of paper. PocketMod taps into the folder up piece of paper idea helping you create a little booklet with killer little templates or guides for each "page." You can then carry around the days notes and keep them organized in any way you wish. I like the todo lists, the calendar and the graph paper. And it's not quite solitaire, but for those long meetings the games are quite handy to have as well.

What could be improved?

The monthly calendar might be more useful if it were a specific month instead of a generic month template. The first time I used it, the folding lines don't quite line up perfectly with the natural "folding in half" lines of a 8.5x11 page. (Practice helps this.) And the contacts are a bit US format centric (some more generic international ones might be nice too.)

How much does it cost?

Free like your neighbor's Zucchini


Reviewed by Carson McComas

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Happy Links

September 16, 2005 in Happy Links
  • Casual Fortunes kinda blew my mind. It's an article about how shareware software (games mostly) makers are making a fortune with an enviable lifestyle to boot. "Which American designer personally made the most money last year from computer games he or she designed? ...It was probably some guy you never heard of who wrote some little shareware game you never heard of. ...Over the lengthy life of a successful casual game, the independent ("indie") designer can make serious, serious money - high six-figures and low sevens."
  • Bob Parson's is kind of a blowhard. But he's built an incredibly successful company (GoDaddy), and offers some great tips on his blog. "The secret John D. Rockefeller used to build Standard Oil. It’s simple. We use it at Go Daddy. Putting it to work in your business."
  • Garret Dimon offers Steps to Becoming a Freelance Web Developer with tips on deciding to do it, money issues, logistics, business development, and what to do once you take the plunge.
  • 43 Folders offers some sound advice on overcoming procrastination. I've been putting this to practice for a couple days and can say without reservation that it totally works. Stupid simple, but all the best methods are.
  • Particle Tree makes the case for small business blogging. You don't need this (do you?), but your clients might. Great resource.

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September 15, 2005 in 3 out of 5 stars, Hosted "Office", Hosted software, Productivity

What is it?

Writely: A web based document editor. (Kind of like a web based Microsoft Word).


Who makes it?

Upstartle, LLC

Why is it the killerest?

It has all the stuff from Word that you actually use, plus some very cool collaboration features that make it great for sharing (you can invite others to share by email, they are then able to edit the document with you, or you can share/"publish" it read-only).

It retains the complete document history, so you can roll back to previous versions at any time. 

You can upload a document to it, or create it there from scratch. It has rich document editing capabilities.

You can also download documents as .doc (Word) files, HTML or zip. It will also allow you post to your Blogger blog (other blog support coming).

What could be improved?

As a hosted application, it has the inherent downsides associated. Namely: how do I work on a document when I'm on a plane? It's also unclear what they will charge for the service when it leaves Beta (although they claim they will at least have some form of a free version).

How much does it cost?

Free during beta. "There will be a range of free and paid options, depending on usage."


Reviewed by Carson McComas

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Zimbra Open-Source Collaboration Suite

September 14, 2005 in 3 out of 5 stars, A piece of software, Free, Hosted "Office", Hosted software, Productivity

What is it?

Zimbra Open-Source Collaboration Suite: Previously known as Liquid Systems, Zimbra is the new name of the company, as well as its flagship product: an extensible open-source client/server system for managing email, contacts, and calendaring that can be accessed with either a slick, cross-browser, AJAX-powered user interface, or via desktop applications like Microsoft Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird/Sunbird, Apple Mail/iCal, and others. The server that powers all this, Zimbra Collaboration Server, is written in Java, and sits upon familiar open source components like a MySQL database, a Postfix Mail Transfer Agent (MTA) (with SpamAssassin and ClamAV for anti-spam and anti-virus by default) and a Tomcat Web Application Server. Has some other very cool features like message tagging, dynamic search folders, 3rd party tools integration. Be sure to check out the Flash demo and then try the live demo yourself to see the power of this tool.


Who makes it?


Why is it the killerest?

It's like someone put Gmail, Outlook, Mail.app, iCalendar in a blender, and whipped up an application that runs in the browser. If you need a calendaring, mail, and contact management system and don't want to drop the cash on Outlook, give Zimbra a try for free.

What could be improved?

Well, it's not a hosted application, so it requires a Linux technician to install it, configure it and get it working on your end. This may be out of reach for many potential clients (and it's a shame). But the cost of having a technician set up and maintain this, for a small business may be a huge cost savings over other office productivity applications with which it competes.

How much does it cost?

Free, but it wouldn't be free to setup (technician's time, and the hardward to host it).


Reviewed by Brian Sweeting

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Interview with Paul "Scrivs" Scrivens of 9rules

September 12, 2005 in A person, An interview

9r_rounded_whiteIt always bugs me when people younger than me are way smarter than me. Especially when they're nice guys. Paul "Scrivs" Scrivens is barely 25 years old and already has a productive entrepreneurial effort underway building a loose network of high quality blogs under his "9rules" banner. When I asked him if he'd be up for an interview he replied simply: "Sure, I'm down. I'll try my best not to look retarded."

For those unfamiliar, blogs are becoming big business. Heavyweights on the scene like Nick Denton (Gawker, Gizmodo, etc) and Jason Calacanis (Engadget, Cinematical, etc) have proven that there can be big money made from highly trafficked blogs. Lone power blogger Darren Rowse announced to much attention recently that he's personally making well over $10,000/mo ($15K in July) in Google AdSense revenue from his blogging ventures.

WorkHappy.net recently become a member of the 9rules family so it seemed appropriate to ask Paul a few questions about what he knows best.

Hey Paul, thanks for taking a few minutes to share some of your ideas.

Not a problem at all Carson. We love your site and we are here to help our members in any way possible.

1) You've managed to gain a fair amount of visibility online and I now see bloggers all over who are clamoring to become a part of 9rules. How were you able to drum up this kind of interest?

In all honesty it was a lot easier than we thought it would be. We were very nervous before the first round of submissions opened up because we figured we would only get a limited number of sites that wanted to join. To our surprise after that first 24 hour round was over we received over 120 submissions. Once we began adding sites to the network, many people understood that we really were going for quality and some of the sites were already well-respected in their communities. This led to a lot more interest from other bloggers that wanted to join the network.

Not everyone that blogs is willing or able to generate a lot of traffic or earn 4-5 digits per month from their blog and being part of the network helps you a tiny bit if you wish to achieve those goals. The main aspect of the network though is the community that the members have built around it. I would not be surprised if you see some new projects coming out in the next couple of months from our members that have been collaborating within the forums.

Quality is rewarded everywhere we look. Quality products get buzz, but how many times does a quality blog get the buzz that it deserves? I think this is a big reason why many people are wanting to get into the Network. Our values match theirs and the same goes for our readers.

2) For a while you were building a group of your own blogs, much like Darren Rowse, and you had some respectable success. You were making north of $5,000/mo just with that, you sold CSSVault for some nice change (5 digits I think you said). What caused you to change your model with 9rules?

Making money from blogs is not easy and making that much is really not easy. The effort I put in really didn't match the rewards in my mind. I have always wanted to be part of something big and simply working on my own sites was too limiting. There are only so many hours in a day and so much time and effort I am willing to spend on sites that I run. I enjoy tackling new challenges and running the CSSVault was no longer a challenge and I was quickly losing interest and I could see the decline in quality so I figured it would be best to sell it to someone who had more passion to run it.

The 9rules Network is a small part of the vision I have for something much larger and much more challenging to achieve. With this concept I was able to bring together a talented group of individuals and receive feedback and ideas from a much larger group of people than I would have if I tried to continue doing everything myself. I never thought to myself I want to be financially okay. I always thought that I want to be a millionaire and blogging for myself wasn't a path I saw that happening with.

3) You recently changed your agreement terms for 9rules members shifting from an ad revenue split, to not sharing any ad revenue that a site generates. Are you nuts?

It only made sense to make this transition because the sites were putting in the work to generate the money so they should be the ones earning it. It also sets us up for implementing a project we have had in our heads for a long time now. The real driving force behind this decision though was the fact that we knew we could get even higher quality sites into the network without the worries of a 10-page agreement or complicated revenue structure and it has already paid dividends.

It was a choice between adding a couple more dollars to the bottom line or investing in a greater number of high quality sites which increases the value of the network in the long run. We chose the latter.

4) What advice would you give other bloggers out there trying to build traffic so they can cash in on advertising revenue?

Hmmm, I get asked this a lot and there is never one definite answer.

  1. Be true to yourself. As cliche as that sounds it is the first thing you must always do as a writer. On too many sites you will see people write what they think the public wants to hear instead of writing about what they really think. If you have nothing interesting to say then maybe you shouldn't start a blog, but I have yet to find someone without anything interesting to talk about.
  2. Never think there isn't competition. You will find almost everyone says that you should find your niche, but unfortunately every niche is usually filled already. That's not the problem. The problem is not standing out. Too many people create copycat sites that do nothing different from the competition. How many Engadget/Gizmodo sites can you name? I can only name those two, but there are plenty of them out there being ignored because they offer nothing different.
  3. Be controversial. Not all the time, but some of the time. Don't say something you don't believe yourself, but say something that is bothering you that many people fail to discuss. My Ignoring the Hype series did this and it was a huge success.

5) Can you share some of your favorite sources of business inspiration and ideas? (e.g. certain blogs/books/magazines)

Wow, there would definitely be too much to list if I decided to list everything. Books I recommend anything by Seth Godin (and his blog) and Tom Peters. Both offer common sense advice, but it's stuff that we overlook so often in our lives.

Magazines I enjoy Wired and Business 2.0. Wired simply because it helps you see trends in the mainstream that you might want to try and jump on. In the blogosphere we are usually the early adopters so we tend to think every new trend will be hot, but it isn't really mainstream till it hits Wired and other publications. That usually gives you an idea of if it will really be successful or not.

As for blogs there are really too many to list because I think a lot of business minded individuals are seeing the value in maintaining a blog. Of course I would have to put WorkHappy on that list. 

Honestly though, the best thing any person can do is read everything they can get their hands on. I run through multiple books and magazines a month and am constantly reading blog entries. I don't pretend to know everything and it's amazing how evident that is when you read a VC's blog for example.

Finally, experience is always the best teacher. There is only so much you can read without actually trying it yourself.

Thanks Paul!

Anytime Carson. Thanks for keeping a kickass site for everyone to read.

Paul has agreed to respond to a few reader questions in the comments of this post if you'd like to ask him something I missed.

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September 7, 2005 in 4 out of 5 stars, A piece of software, Analytics

What is it?

Mint: Mint is the big brother of ShortStat, which was another Inman creation. Basically, the only question that Mint doesn't answer is why people come to your site. But other than that, it keeps the numbers in check while you're off having lunch.


Who makes it?

Shaun Inman

Why is it the killerest?

Bad breath? Have a Mint. Not only does it freshen your server's breath, it also gives stats too. Not just stats, but a whole slew of stats. And on top of that, it's sexy. Green never looked this sexy. Since it uses Javascript to record hits, referral spam is greatly reduced, so you only get the most worthy of referrals. And if you're into that whole "Web 2.0" stuff, don't worry Ay-yax (AJAX) takes good care of this script. For those beloved Mac users, Junior Mint can jump into your Dashboard and show your stats to you whenever you wish. The most interesting part of Mint is Pepper...mint. So with these little Peppers, Shaun and other 3rd party developers can extend Mint to not only show more stats than you can take in a single serving, but also extend Mint for use as an API. Who knows what will happen after that. Live stat tracking? Site vs. Site stat battles? Endless I tell you!

What could be improved?

Importers. If users could import their data from other services, this would certainly remove a large barrier to switching. The core product should have came with all of Shaun's peppers included, but it was just an extra hassle to install them afterwards rather than just turning the features off. Documentation is a bit lacking at the moment, as many people have complained of difficulties during the installation process. In opinions of a few, the price is a little steep, but if you really want it, you'll have some room saved in your bank.

How much does it cost?



Reviewed by Bryan Veloso

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Happy Links

September 6, 2005 in Happy Links

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Interview with Jason Fried of 37Signals

September 6, 2005 in An interview

37slogotransJason Fried heads 37Signals, a web services firm turned product firm (mostly). They offer the insanely successful Basecamp, followed recently by the sharply concieved and executed Ta-Da lists and Backpack services. 37Signals is now working on 3 new products (details below) and a new self-published book.

Jason himself has gained a fair amount of visibility due to the success of his company. His last interview was with super guru Tom Peters. Today he sits down with me to offer some insights about what makes him and 37Signals work.

FriedchickenBefore we get started, can you settle some bets and tell us how to pronounce your last name?

Ha! FrEEd. Spelled like "fried chicken" pronounced like "freed" as in we've freed people from bloated software.

1. Now you, and 37Signals, over the past couple years have become a new standard of sorts for Internet-centric entrepreneurs. Particularly for those that aspire to move from a service model to a product model. How did you make the leap successfully? There have been thousands who have tried, but you guys pulled it off. You've got a profitable company. That's no small feat. What do you think it is about what/how you guys are doing it that made it fly where so many others haven't?

TilebasecampWell, like most good things, this happened by accident. When we set out, we didn't plan on shifting from a service model to a product model. In fact, we originally built Basecamp to help us manage our client projects. We wanted to make our service model business easier to manage. It wasn't until a few months in that we realized this could be something other than just a tool we could use for our own projects. Then we decided to make it an actual product. We generally don't deal with projections or estimates (why waste time guessing?), but we did take a stab at the projected monthly revenues after 12 months. Turned out that we beat that estimate after the first 6 weeks. It was at that point that we had a feeling we were on to something.

I think our focus on simple tools really helped us succeed. There's too much bloatware out there. It's everywhere you look. I mean, we all use Microsoft Word, but have you ever heard someone say a single good thing about it? Software shouldn't be something you feel like you are forced to use, it should be something you want to use. You should be passionate about the tools you use to get your job done.  Our anti-bloat stance can be summed up in our "Less Software" approach.

In the end, we wanted to build a product that we were passionate about. If we weren't passionate about it, we wouldn't use it and if we wouldn't use it then we wouldn't care about it. And if we don't care about it how can we expect our customers to care about it?

So, I think the only way to build a great product is to build something for yourself. If you're happy with it chances are there are thousands of other folks who think like you and want exactly what you want. So, deciding up front not to try to please everyone is the best way to build a great product.

Of course you need to build something good -- building a crappy product for yourself won't work for anyone.

2. To date you've got 3 awesome products, and a book. All seemed to be marketed to, and aimed at a fairly targeted and limited niche audience (your professional peers essentially). But now you're starting to make inroads into all sorts of industries, especially with Basecamp. Reading about you in Business 2.0 where they profiled the maker of KidRobot and he sang your praises I thought "man, these guys are going to conquer the world." What do you feel has been the key in helping you move into the broader market?

The key is less software, or I should say more general software. 

Sure, we've targeted niches, but only through marketing -- there is nothing in any of our products specifically targeted at our peers. There's no exclusive web-designer features in Basecamp. Basecamp is just messages, to-dos, and milestones (and now time tracking for those who want it). Anyone with a client or anyone with a project can find value in messages, to-dos, and milestones. So, by keeping our products simple and general we're able to reach a much larger market.

TilebackpackSo my advice to people trying to build products is this: Give people just enough to solve their own problems their own way and then get out of their way. Basecamp and Backpack are all about simple useful little "tool nuggets" -- messages, to-dos, reminders, milestones, notes -- that give people the basic tools to do what they want their own way.

3. You're obviously a brilliant marketer. You're very generous in sharing your ideas, you have a popular blog, and you've got great products, including a sort of "shareware" now with Ta-Da lists and the free versions and trials of Backpack and Basecamp. What have been your most successful marketing efforts?

TiletadaI don't think we're brilliant, we're just getting back to basics. The best marketing in the world is to give people products they love.  Give them things they want to tell others about. Make your customers your salespeople. And be honest with them -- if there's a problem, let them know about it. If someone asks you a question, give them a straight answer. People can see right through the bullshit. Be direct, honest, and clear and you'll build trust which builds great customers.

Now, of course the toughest part is getting the initial word out. You can't have word of mouth until you've captured a few ears. So we think the best way to do that is to give away your knowledge and experience so others can benefit. Use education to educate and promote. For example, when we developed the Yellow Fade Technique we wrote a post about it on Signal vs. Noise. That post made the rounds -- thousands and thousands of page views (even today it's doing huge traffic). That was an educational post as well as a promotional post.

So share. Share your ideas, share your designs, share your insight, share your experiences, and above all, share your mistakes -- it shows you're human. People like people.

4. What marketing efforts have been stinkers?

I don't know, really. We don't track these things. I sorta see marketing as a side effect of loving what you do. If you love what you do, provide value for your customers, share your experiences and ideas, marketing just happens. Honesty is great marketing too because honesty is free.

We have spend some money on Google ads which have done all right. Is it worth it? I'm not entirely sure. We don't spend a lot on them so the cost of analyzing their success would cost more than just tossing a few bucks in a month to see what happens.

We haven't done any print advertising, but we will be running our first print ad shortly so we'll keep an eye on that.

5. All of your applications cover a similar area. You've previously argued for the opportunity facing companies who can cater to the "Fortune 5,000,000." Are there other specific areas you see opportunities? Anything in particular that you've got your sights on?

We are eyeing a few categories and working on three new products right now. One deals with writing, one deals with conversations, and one aims to redefine the stale "CRM" market, although we'd never call what we're building a CRM tool.  We're aiming to have all three out by January of 2006, but who knows if we'll hit that mark. They'll be released when they're ready.

6. As a successful entrepreneur and businessman, you've got many important demands on your time, yet you still manage to get stuff done. What's your secret to time management? What methods/tools do you employ to manage your time well?

I'm really not that great at time management. I forget to do a lot of things (especially writing thank you notes which is a horrible thing to forget to do). Backpack reminders have definitely helped, but I'm still not great at remembering the little things. It's something I need to get better at (and that's not a software thing, it' a personal thing). Software doesn't solve problems unless you make the software solve problems. Software is dead unless you breathe life into it.

The other thing is to make things easy on you. It's a lot like our Less Software approach -- the less features and the less code, the less can go wrong and the less you have to manage. It's the same with time. Make things easier on you -- make quick, simple decisions and then go back and change that decision if it doesn't work. If you make a mistake it's no big deal if you can correct that mistake quickly.  Don't burden yourself with stuff that really doesn't matter. It's a bit of an art to figure out what really doesn't matter, but it's more than you probably think. Most things we all spend our time on don't really matter.

We have no red tape at 37signals and I try to keep red tape out of every aspect of my life. Red tape makes people afraid to make decisions because they know they'll have to go through the red tape process again if they need to make a new decision. Keeping that cruft out of your life make it easier to manage your time.

7. Are there any books/magazines/etc that you enjoy that you would recommend?

Hmm... Best book I've ever read on interface design is Designing Visual Interfaces by Mullet and Sano. HIGHLY recommended. I also recommend Against the Odds: An Autobiography by James Dyson the Dyson vacuum guy. 

For inspiration I like to thumb through magazines that have nothing to do with my industry. I look in car mags a lot, home renovation and furniture mags, and science magazines. I'm completely inspired by simple creative solutions wherever I see them and the best place to look for these is nature. Go get out your camera, flip on the macro setting, and take pictures of flowers, leaves, tree bark, stones, etc. You'll see genius.

8. Besides WorkHappy.net *cough* and SvN what blogs should every entrepreneur be reading?

Why thank you! The only entrepreneurial blog I read frequently is: Creating Passionate Users Everyone should read this every day. She's so right on the money.

9. Any parting advice for other entrepreneurs trying to get a foothold and become the (next) "37Signals" of their industry?

#1: Don't try to be 37signals, try to be yourself. We didn't try to be anyone else. Nike didn't try to be anyone else. Apple didn't try to be anyone else. You have to have your own vision -- that's the only thing that will ever keep you happy, passionate, and delivering the best you can possibly deliver.

So, find something you are passionate about and go for it. There's never been a better, cheaper, easier time to get started. There really is no excuse not to give it a shot today. Fixed costs are near zero. The only thing you need is an idea, passion, time, and skill. 
We hope you succeed (and use Basecamp and Backpack, of course ;)

Thanks Jason, I really appreciate your time.
Thank you, sir. I really enjoyed it.

Jason has agreed to respond to a few reader questions in the comments of this post if you'd like to ask him something I missed.

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