You might already know the ‘new’ science of creating radically successful businesses. The Lean Startup, from a book by Eric Ries, is essentially a toolkit where he proposes that “unicorns” are built simply by iteration. Now, ask an entrepreneur with a big idea to break it down to the simplest form… What do you think will happen? You will be surprised how easy it is to default to the traditional way of building for customers as opposed to building a customer-centric product or service.
Let us explore some key Lean Startup principles (and assumptions), and why I think executing these principles is NOT so simple:
Principle ONE: Get out the building and talk to customers
Firstly, when you go out to the streets, you will speak to strangers and not customers. So one must be prepared for the fact that initiating a conversation will not be easy. Secondly, the assumption is that once you have grabbed the stranger’s attention, you will be able to communicate clearly and know how to ask the right questions – the reality though is that this takes time and practice. Another big assumption is that your potential customer is ruminating over the problem and simply cannot wait to talk to you about it because they know you are the right person to solve that problem!
Do not be discouraged though, if you want to build a product that fits the market, you must continuously get feedback. Keep talking. The more people you talk to the better your probing and data- gathering will be.
Principle TWO: Fail fast and fail cheap
Big ideas will only ever lead to big solutions – often leading to a waste of time and money. One cannot simply approach a potential early-customer with a big idea. What do I mean? When you are building your MVP (minimum viable product), you need to think of your BIG IDEA (that is going to solve a particular pain for millions of people) in its simplest, “leanest” form to use as a tool to begin testing with early customer engagement.
Resist the temptation to build early product features based on the assumptions generated around a desk, surrounded by four walls – unless you are building for a customer-base you already know. So avoid spending too much creating the perfect copy, brand or product and so forth without talking to people first – always remember, every action costs money.
Principle THREE: Build – Measure – Learn
The key for this loop is METRICS. More specifically, it is about managing what your metrics are telling you about the market while you build your new venture. When you set, test and measure your metrics, it is assumed you will find the right answer.
Be careful that the metrics you set are not arbitrary or a total thumb suck – they will be the GPS to reaching your goals. Building lean means that testing your theories is time sensitive, so you might find yourself chopping and changing on feedback that has not been collected from a big enough sample. Do you ever have clear, uncontestable feedback? Probably not. So do not get disheartened in the process and make decisions too soon.
Remember that the numbers only tell you something if they show a pattern. Pattern is “a regular and intelligible form or sequence discernible in the way in which something happens or is done” according to the dictionary. Hence it requires events over time. Make sure you study good practice of setting measurement and managing it because you might head in the wrong direction.
To Lean or Not to Lean?
Do I disagree with the Lean Startup? Not at all! Starting lean will help you hit the target faster and more accurately if your customer drives the process but beware, it is not a simple quick fix to a radically successful business.
It is definitely more useful that spending weeks writing a business plan for an idea though.