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The Lean Startup: 10 Lessons for Us All

Entrepreneurship.  Disruption.  The Next Big Thing.  Invention is alive and well.  Over the last decade, we’ve seen an explosion of startups – some like Twitter and Pinterest have left an indelible mark on our culture while others barely eeked out a puff of smoke as they faded into the distance.  Disruption is also raging inside corporate walls at places like Apple, IBM, Intuit and P&G.  Recent innovation programs have catapulted a few brands to the top of their industry, while others are struggling to get out of the experimentation starting gate.  Large or small, what’s the secret behind those who make it…a certain culture, cool technology or just plain luck?

I recently got a hold of a very insightful book, The Lean StartUp, by Eric Ries, a bootstrapping entrepreneur who discovered that truly successful entrepreneurship requires it’s own unique management discipline he calls ‘validated learning’.  Ries declares that most of us are ‘wasting time building products, services and features that nobody wants’, instead of focusing our time and effort on rapidly discovering valuable unmet needs and iterating quickly to create solutions that capitalize on them.  Yes, Virginia, there is a method to navigating the uncertain madness that exploration and breakthrough ideas create.  Ries does a fantastic job outlining the key fundamentals behind the Lean StartUp method – here are 10 lessons that stuck out for me:

1 – Leadership requires creating conditions that enable employees to do the kinds of experimentation that entrepreneurship requires

2 – The marketplace doesn’t always require the whole vision at once; don’t be afraid to do a ‘thought experimentation’ and they systematically figure out the right features to build with your customers

3 – Success is not delivering a feature; success is learning how to solve the customer’s problem

4 – Early adopters use their imagination to fill in what a product is missing – additional features or polish beyond what they demand is wasted.  Avoid the temptation to overbuild and underpromise

5 – Entrepreneurship requires rigorous measurement and confrontation of the hard truths about your idea as they are revealed. Steer clear of vanity metrics and devise experiments to learn how to move the important numbers closer to the ideal in your business plan.  Intuit now tests over 500 changes to their TurboTax product in a 90-day tax season

6 – Humbly test theories and listen to feedback regularly.  Realize when it’s time to pivot versus persevere with your concept.  If you’re experiments are decreasing in effectiveness, you’re due for a pivot

7 – Its not always necessary to throw everything that came before and start over.  Successful pivots are about re-purposing what has been built with what has been learned to find a more positive direction

8 – Small-batch or ‘single piece flow’ production is always superior than large scale efforts because you can find the ‘defects’ in your concept faster.  Toyota was a master in this area

9 – Ask 5 ‘whys’ when confronted with any issue/problem to get to its real root and course correct a poor process

10 – Early experiments may fail to produce much learning at first, don’t worry, it takes time to scale

The Lean Startup is a must read for anyone charged with bringing new ideas and models to the marketplace, or new programs and services to customers or internal stakeholders.  It’s challenged me to swallow my own pride and listen more intensely to voices outside my own head.  Passion for an idea is a tremendous thing.  But passion needs humble curiosity in order to truly become something great.

If you’ve got only 15 minutes – check out this video featuring Eric Ries at the Web 2.0 Expo, where he gives a great overview of the Lean Startup concept.

Eric will be taking the stage with 500 startups for a day of LeanStartup this coming Saturday, 9 March at SXSWi in Austin, TX.  Follow the dialog at #leanstartup

About Michelle Batten

Michelle Batten is a seasoned digital marketing & advertising leader. She has spent two decades in the interactive arena, working with Fortune 1000 brands + start-ups to define and execute their digital initiatives. An emerging media visionary, Michelle is currently serving as Head of Global Marketing for Mobile & Innovation Intrapreneur for Amadeus, a global travel technology company. She is also the President for the Chicago American Marketing Association. Her passions include culture + tech evolution, mentoring, experiential travel and foodspotting.

One comment

  1. Michelle, Thanks for the article and for introducing me to Ries. All of the lessons are valid, however points 5 and 6 (to me) imply that start-up founders are more capable of executing formal testing and analysis than is often the case. Nevertheless, those are critical and failure to “humbly” test, measure and confront is the #2 reason for failure. The #1 reason is simply being wrong about the product’s value.