The Lean Startup

Following in the same vein as The Hard Thing About Hard Things, I am going to discuss The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. Devised in 2008 by Ries, the Lean methodology aims to put science around becoming an entrepreneur along with fostering an innovation environment. Ries demonstrates his model predominantly through examples of the company he helped to build, IMVU. One of the core tenants of Lean is maximising the value delivered to customers. By achieving maximum value, Lean states you will cut out wastage and ultimately thrive against competition. In order to achieve this, the concept of Validated Learning is introduced. Validated Learning is a process whereby you make assumptions, test and then measure their impact. This process allows you to obtain empirical evidence that your assumptions were indeed correct.

The goal of a startup is to figure out the right thing to build – the thing the customers want and will pay for – as quickly as possible

Show me the Lean tools

Throughout the book, Ries brings his thinkings to life with examples of Lean application in other organisations. I found this especially useful when he introduces new tools and concepts. For me, there were a few standout areas which may or may not be familiar to readers. The Build/Measure/Learn feedback loop is a defined process which ties closely to Validated Learning. Designed to guide product direction by continually building and testing hypothesis, the loop is defined as follows:

  • Start by defining an experiment to test a hypothesis, stating what you will need to measure and how;
  • Next build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to satisfy this experiment;
  • Once built, test the MVP on customers and measure the results as defined at the beginning;
  • Analyse the results and attempt to learn whether we should persevere with the idea, or pivot;
  • In either instance, repeat ad nauseam;

A key aspect in the Build/Measure/Learn process is the MVP. There are plenty of readings around what an MVP is, but the key takeaway is it should be as minimum as possible. People coming from a technology background can find this difficult to grasp, as we often want to build a gold plated product. However, Lean states this can mean releasing something which is essentially a facade. An MVP which merely conveys the idea in order to test the market.

MVP is designed not just to answer product design or technical questions. It’s goal is to test fundamental business hypotheses

The final tool worth discussing is split testing, more commonly referred to as A/B testing. Split testing is a technique whereby experiments are run concurrently with the normal product/service. Subsets of users are filtered into each version and monitored, in order to measure the response. Based on the split test, features are either included in the product or removed/revisited.

But is it worth it?

After finishing the book, you may ask yourself is this the right methodology for me? Of course this depends on your situation, but I believe some if not all of the concepts can be useful. Lean appeals to me as it has a scientific and data driven approach, rather than relying on gut feeling. It sets out to minimise wastage on ideas which serve little to no real value for customers. This is something especially useful in fledgling startups with limited resource. However, it is also of benefit to larger organisations as Ries stresses throughout, empowering smaller teams to be more innovative and drive culture change

The book itself is well written and zips along at a good pace. The text is easily accessible and not littered with jargon, so anybody should be able to pick this up. I felt that it ran out of steam towards the end, and some points were often made over and over in multiple guises. However, overall I would highly recommend this to anybody looking to add a little innovation to their life or make better customer-focused products.