The Magic of Late Starts: The Unconventional Path of David Heinemeier Hansson, Co-Founder of 37signals and Creator of Ruby on Rails

In a riveting episode of the HawkeTalk podcast, Erik Huberman interviews David Heinemeier Hansson, the co-founder of 37signals and the creator of Ruby on Rails. The conversation dives into the theme of embracing late starts and unexpected journeys, revealing how his unconventional path to success is a testament to the power of curiosity and passion

From the very beginning, David Heinemeier Hansson challenges the conventional wisdom that early starts are essential for greatness. “I think there’s something really nice about ignorance,” he muses. “I would not spoil the surprise. I would not spoil the enthusiasm for the unknown.” This philosophy has been a driving force in his life, allowing him to explore new ventures with a sense of wonder rather than fear.


David’s story begins in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he grew up with a father who was a bit of a hustler, fixing electronics and making trades, and a mother who worked part-time in care. This working-class upbringing instilled in him a sense of independence and resourcefulness. By age six, he was already diving into the world of video games with his Amstrad CPC 464. Though programming didn’t come easily to him at first, his passion for technology never waned. “I tried several times, both when I was that young and a little older, to learn how to program, but I found it just very difficult. It really didn’t click for me until much, much later,” he admitted.

DHH made his pivotal move to the United States in 2005


It wasn’t until his mid-twenties that David’s journey truly took off. Despite the common narrative that one must start young to excel, he began programming at 24 and got his driver’s license at 25. “I got started quite late in life with both programming and racecar driving and a lot of other things I did,” he shares. This late start didn’t hinder him; instead, it fueled his determination to master these new skills.

David’s move to the United States in 2005 marked a pivotal moment in his career. Teaming up with Jason Fried, he co-founded 37signals and developed Basecamp, a project management tool that revolutionized the industry. The key to their success was their ability to transform a side project into a profitable business without succumbing to the pressures of venture capital. “We were not just bootstrapped, but we were profitable,” he proudly states. This independence allowed them to stay true to their vision and values.


But David’s interests didn’t stop at programming. His love for racecar driving blossomed after moving to Chicago, where he bought his first car, an Audi S4. His first experience on the racetrack was nothing short of transformative. “Driving a real race car and slick tires was just such a system overload for me in the most positive sense of that word,” he recalls. This passion led him to compete in the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans ten times. “It was just such an exhilarating experience, and I thought, ‘I’m going to dedicate a substantial part of my free time to this.'”

Jason Fried (left) and David Heinemeier Hansson of 37signals


Balancing his work and hobbies, David champions the importance of limiting work hours to make time for personal interests. This approach has allowed him to thrive both professionally and personally. “We had room for different things in our life beyond just grinding it out at our business,” he explains. “We were kind of proud of it too, and it gave us that independence to just be brash, to be ourselves, to be saying what we wanted to say.”


One of the most fascinating parts of the interview is David’s embrace of Stoicism. Discovering this ancient philosophy in 2008, he found it to be a powerful guide for navigating life’s challenges. “It was one of those moments where you read like Marcus Aurelius or Seneca speaking to you from literally 2000 years ago with a pin-point, sharp diagnosis of the human condition,” he says. This wisdom has helped him maintain a balanced and thoughtful approach to both his career and personal life.

Heinemeier Hansson joined OAK Racing full-time in 2013, taking five 2nd-place finishes to finish 2nd in the Trophy for LMP2 Drivers


David’s journey is a powerful reminder that it’s never too late to pursue new passions and achieve greatness. His story encourages us to embrace our own paths, no matter how unconventional they may be. As Erik Huberman’s conversation with David Heinemeier Hansson on HawkeTalk reveals, the real magic lies in the willingness to explore the unknown and the courage to start late and still succeed. “I think there’s something really magical about being a little bit oblivious, a little bit sort of out of touch with what things take. I think it really helps you get rolling,” David concludes.

This episode of HawkeTalk is a testament to the idea that success is not defined by a traditional timeline but by the passion and dedication we bring to our pursuits. Whether you’re starting late or just looking to embrace a new path, David’s story is an inspiring example of how to find joy and fulfillment in the journey itself.

Download the full episode on Apple Podcasts or listen on Spotify.

CEO & Founder Erik Huberman launched Hawke Media in 2014. Now valued at over $150 million, Hawke Media is the fastest growing marketing consultancy agency in the United States.