Lean Isn’t What You Think

As a person that’s involved in running a start-up accelerator, I’m frequently asked to speak on panels, be a judge in start-up competitions, or to speak about start-up topics. I also hear and listen to a lot of different pitches from start-ups. At these events the topic of the Lean Startup usually comes up and many times is cast in a negative light.

While it may not be everyone's belief that Lean is bad I’d like to share why I personally believe so strongly in the value of the Lean Process pioneered by Eric Ries with “The Lean Start-Up” book and the lean start-up movement. For me, the fundamental principles of Lean and what they're actually based on are very solid and have been around for a long time. I think it helps to go back to the origin of the idea:

There are a lot of people who have spent a lot of time, money, and resources building something that nobody wanted.

I personally have lost a lot of money (and credibility) on projects that I built because I was overly confident that I knew what the market wanted. I knew this one was going to be amazing and the public was going to be all over it. This was going to be the best product anyone has ever seen and I was going to be an incredibly wealthy person. Anyone who told me otherwise was just another non-believer… I’d soon show them the light.

One particular venture in real estate, which cost me over $350,000 ended up with a product that people didn't want or need. If I would have just followed the principles of Lean I would have discovered what it was that people really did want. That would have saved a lot of pain and frustration for me, my family, my friends, and my partners.  Unfortunately back then, I’m not so sure I would have listened even if I was offered the advice.

The simple summary of Lean is this:

Before you build something…

before you put a lot of money into it…

before you put a lot of time into development…

just make sure that the market wants it.  

The alternative is to build a company with a more arrogant approach of knowing the future because you think you have got it all figured out. If that’s the case, then let’s go buy some lottery tickets instead.

When you guess, or go with your gut…you risk building something the market doesn't want. If your idea is rejected by the market, then you lose the money and time you invested as well as the resources your investors. There is an ever growing number of believers who have paid the price of ignoring the principles of Lean with real dollars.

Validate first before you build.

Eric’s point is that the true value of a startup isn’t revenue, it’s knowledge. That’s why Lean is so powerful. It will help you gain knowledge about what you should spend money on before you pay to build it.

I think if anyone is objects to that principle, then maybe you believe in your own ideas more than the truth. I know that statement was true of me in my early days as an entrepreneur.  

If you don’t think Lean is awesome…I challenge you to re-evaluate the fundamental principles of a movement that’s been very successful for a lot of people, has actually saved millions of dollars and created much better companies along the way.

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