Reading for Entrepreneurs: The Lean Startup
The Lean Startup is a book that’s foundational for understanding much of the conversation around entrepreneurship today. But here’s the thing: if you haven’t read the book, it’s not what you think it is. I talk with business leaders and academics all the time. When I mention The Lean Startup, almost everyone makes an assumption about the title. They think that it means starting a business with resource constraints. But everyone who starts a business does so with constraints. Everyone feels pressure to do more with less.
But Lean Startup isn’t about doing more with less. Rather, it’s a fundamentally different approach to developing products and services that involves customers from an early stage of development. Eric Ries developed these concepts with Steve Blank and has tested them in his own businesses and with thousands of other startups around the world. This approach has wantrapreneurs start with a customer pain and develop the simplest possible solution to that pain. This is called an MVP, or Minimum Viable Product. The next step is testing the product with customers to see if it does, indeed, meet the customer’s need in the way that was intended. The entrepreneur then takes the product through a build -> measure -> learn process of iterative development. The whole idea is to develop in a way that proves the value being created for the customer at every step. This keeps entrepreneurs from developing a really cool product or service that no one wants.
This methodology works really well for software, where iterative development and easy customer testing are very accessible. But it can work across a whole range of products or services, and much has been written about how to do this. As a matter of fact, follow-on books to The Lean Startup have become something of a cottage industry. This is a mark of the book’s stature in the conversation.
I realized the centrality of The Lean Startup to our current dialogue when I took a bunch of students to the Startup Grind Global Conference back in February. Speakers kept referring to concepts like MVP and customer development. I kept leaning over to whichever student was closest and trying to summarize these concepts in a way that made sense. Most of those explanations ended with, “…You should just read the book.”
The ‘Lean’ in ‘Lean Startup’ comes from the lean manufacturing movement. Lean manufacturing is a continuous improvement methodology developed in Japan at Toyota by Taiichi Ohno. It was first called the Toyota Production System, of TPS. An understanding of the paradigm-busting thinking that goes into Lean manufacturing will help to set up the foundations for The Lean Startup. If you want a good explanation of Lean, I recommend Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation.
There’s plenty more to say about Lean Startup, but this should be enough to get you started. Will you read the book? What were your thoughts? What important concepts did I miss?
Enjoy the reading!