The Lean Startup

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“There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

Peter Drucker

You’ve written a 92 page business plan. For three years, you hunched over your laptop coding, sustained by Red Bull and Cheetos

At last, launch day is here! You press the button and…

Nothing happens.

You keep refreshing the page, but no one is signing up. You try one marketing channel after another, convinced that massive growth is right around the corner.

But the hard truth is, no one wants what you’ve built.

That is a hard moment for anyone. And it’s why Eric Ries wrote the seminal book The Lean Startup, which I just finished this morning.

The Lean Startup framework involves creating a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and getting it to customers ASAP. Then, by seeing how customers use it, you make changes to the product (“iterate”) to see if you can serve customers better.

Build-Measure-Learn is the loop you want to go through as frequently as you can. Build something you think customers need, measure how it does with customers, and learn how to do a better job meeting those needs in your next version.

“The question is not ‘Can this product be built?’ In the modern economy, almost any product that can be imagined can be built. The more pertinent questions are ‘Should this product be built?’ and ‘Can we build a sustainable business around this set of products and services?’”

Eric Ries

Ries gives some incredible examples of just how minimal that MVP can be.

Nick Swinmurn started Zappos by taking pictures of shoes in nearby stores. He put those pictures on his website and if anyone ordered a pair, he went to the store, bought and shipped them.

“But that doesn’t scale!”

Sure it doesn’t! But in 1999 when Swinmurn founded the company, no one knew if people would buy shoes on the internet.

Starting with a mostly manual process was a lot better than Swinmurn spending months if not years and untold sums building infrastructure to accomplish what no one wanted in the first place.

Early stage startups have limited capital and only so much time to prove their business can work. By getting through as many cycles of Build-Measure-Learn as possible, founders give themselves the best chance at finding a viable business before the clock runs out.

In just 11 years, Ries’ ideas have gone from unusual to being the accepted way to run a startup. His book, while at times a slog, is essential reading for both founders and investors.

I’ll leave you with the quote that struck me most. It’s one I aim to live by:

““…if you cannot fail, you cannot learn.”

Eric Ries

More on tech:

The High Growth Handbook: Scaling Startups from 10 to 10,000 People

How Startups Can Dominate the Elevator Pitch

What I Look For in Startups

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Photo: “Eric Ries – The Lean Startup, London Edition” by betsyweber is marked with CC BY 2.0.

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11 thoughts on “The Lean Startup”

  1. Plan-Execute-Measure-Iterate. These steps will help you move with speed while working on a startup idea. Just as you have put in the article, we should not just build products for the sake of building.


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