For years, startups and their founders have built their products, then searched for their markets and prayed for the best. I won’t dignify this as a methodology – it’s rolling the dice, hopefully with somebody else’s money.
If you want to roll the dice, go to Vegas. If you want to build a successful business producing software, then now is the time to learn about the Lean Startup approach.
In one short year, Lean Startup has gone from a keynote at one Web 2.0 Expo to its own full-blown conference streamed to no less than 50 meetups around the world. That’s what’s called traction in Silicon Valley, and the creators of the Lean Startup approach – Eric Ries, Steve Blank, Sean Ellis, Dave McClure, and others are on to something Big.
The Lean Startup approach puts front and center finding the intersection between the founder’s interests, deep domain knowledge and passion and the market. Though building rapid prototypes and learning from prospective customers what’s working and what’s not, a Lean Startup does its homework to find Product/Market fit before investing in a complete product.
Instead of buying into the traditional industrial model of having separate departments (or at least separate roles) for product development and marketing/sales/pr, a Lean Startup has a product team (development, QA, operations) and a problem team “that is asking the bigger questions, such as: Who will our customers be? What problem does our product solve for them? How many of them are there? And how will we reach them?” (see this post by Eric Ries)
“And the problem team is not merely engaged in a series of whiteboard exercises. Rather, they are working to validate or refute their hypotheses, and to then share their findings with the rest of the company so they can be used to reduce uncertainty and further chart the firm’s destiny. Each iteration leads to a “pivot” in which the company systematically changes some part of the vision to adapt to reality.”
What we are talking about is post-industrial model of product development and marketing here: putting learning what the market has to say before all the blood, toil, sweat, tears and money is spent, not after.
So how does a Lean Startup learn? By taking a fact-based approach and leaving faith-based to others. Lean Startups are numbers driven, and built atop of a development environment (continuous integration, continuous deployment, massive automated tests and more) that supports feature testing in depth by your customers, and using real analytics to understand what they experience.
If some of this sounds familiar, it’s because Lean Startup has a lot to do with applying the best practices of lean manufacturing with true continuous improvement. It’s taking the Toyota Way instead of the GM crash and burn approach.
Here’s a few places you can go to learn more quick and easy:
- Short, short version: Listen to Eric Ries explain the Lean Startup Methodology in Show #65 Startup Visa update, Startup Lessons Learned Conference preview (starts at :58) [direct MP3 link]
- If you want a longer, more nuanced, more challenged podcast, how about: Show #49 Eric Ries, Lean Startup and product/market fit [direct MP3 link]
- Customer Development Case Study: Dropbox
- StartupToDo.com. A better way to build your startup: the Lean Startup approach
Now you can ignore Lean Startup. It’s your startup. And maybe you’ll do alright. But the most practical thing in the world is a good theory, and Lean Startup is well on its to being the Next Big Thing and as important a theory to what we do in this industry as Agile Development. Don’t take my word for it – read what Kent Beck, the creator of Extreme Programming, Test Driven Development, and one of the 17 original signatories of the Agile Manifesto in 2001, has to say.