David Heinemeier Hansson

January 23, 2024

There are no secrets left

First-time entrepreneurs are often insecure about all the things they believe they don’t know. Maybe if they just get this one investor involved, they’ll know everything they need to do to crack product-market fit. Maybe if they just compose a board full of smart people, they’ll avoid all the common mistakes. If only it was so, but it ain’t. Everything worth knowing is already public.

That is to say that great general business ideas and concepts don’t stay private. Anyone who believes they’ve found a novel angle of analysis is out there sharing it in books, podcasts, blogs, and twitter. You couldn’t make most business advisors shut up about their best ideas if you paid them!

This is wonderful news for entrepreneurs. A million lifetimes of entrepreneurial learnings have already been compressed for you by people eager to share. Every metric you could possibly measure has been defined and benchmarked. Every marketing trend has been dissected. Every personnel perspective illuminated.

I should know, because I’ve been doing this kind of sharing for over twenty years. So whenever I’m invited to join a board, “do a quick call”, or otherwise offer my advice, I know that I have nothing new to tell people. All the insights I can offer have already been offered, usually in a better-edited form than any on-the-fly account I could produce on the spot.

But the truth of this axiom – that there are no secrets left – actually come from our own experience with the only equity partner Jason and I ever took: Jeff Bezos.

We’ve had some wonderful sessions with Jeff over the years. In the early days, we’d meet once every twelve months or so. I have some great memories of talking about “investing in things that doesn’t change”, and many of the other key insights that Jeff has extracted from running Amazon. But as nice as it was, none of it was exclusive. Jeff would tell everyone these same ideas, because they were great ideas, and they deserved to be spread!

I was reminded about this as I was listening to Jeff’s latest podcast with Lex Fridman. It’s a really good show. Packed with peak thinking that’ll improve the business instincts of anyone listening. And it’s all free! You didn’t need to take any of Jeff’s money as investment or sell him secondaries to get access to it.

Which brings me to the real scarce insight Jeff gave Jason and I early on: What entrepreneurs need most is confidence, not advice. He’d always preface any advice with “you know your business better than I do” and “just keep doing what you know is right”.

So realize Jeff’s wisdom: Nobody will know your business better than you do, if you’re attempting anything novel. Accept that general business advice can bring another perspective, but you’ll ultimately have to develop your own.

The magic is in your own fingers.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.