Deconstructing Lean Startup: Four Perspectives

When new entrepreneurs are introduced to Lean Startup I can often sense their confusion: What is Lean Startup? Structured approach? Set of principles? Cargo cult?

It sure is a good marketing buzzword. And from reading the book its quite difficult to actually take action inside your startup.

The actionable tools start appearing once you go into the different communities.

In recent months I’ve spent considerable time deconstructing understandings and taking a long list of learnings and tools with me. Here’s a short glimpse, which hopefully gives you incentive to explore on your own.

Lean Startup Machine: Get Out of The Building

Most important principle of all: Get out of the building and learn from a customer. Don’t sit inside and come up with the perfect approach.

Lean Startup Machine has perfected this – over a weekend they push over 50 people out of the building and interact with customers on the street, in clubs and over the phone. The process is messy and imperfect, but people always come back having made their first validated learning from customers.

What I’ve learned from them: Getting out of your comfort zone (= your learning bias) is more important than strictly following methodology.

Discussing Customer Learnings at LSM London

UX & Designers: Visual Thinking & User Research Methods

When you talk with customers don’t forget the insights of the UX and design community. They’ve spent decades perfecting user research, before it was glorified. Learn from them how to run customer interviews, how to see patterns in your customers, and how to integrate learnings into your team.

Especially when integrating customer learnings, I can highly recommend grabbing a copy of Dave Gray’s Gamestorming. It contains an wealth of information on visual tools that enable you to make better decisions as a team – instead of endless discussions and talking.

What I’ve learned from them: How (and when) to run customer interviews and other user research. Team work. Always asking “What are we trying to learn?”.

Spark59: Timeboxed Experiments

When we go out of the building we can practice a lot of learning – but if we treat it as a checkbox “☑ Customer Development” we will end up without actionable results.

The Build-Measure-Learn loop tries to codify that, but I’ve found it challenging to actually implement this concept in practice. Especially the sometimes forgotten step 0: Defining your experiment.

I recently joined Ash Maurya at Spark59, exploring different Kan-ban boards and A3 reports for defining experiments.

What I’ve learned: The importance of timeboxing experiments – and coming up with hypothesis before you run the experiment.

Ash in front of the Validated Learning Board

Y Combinator: Focus on Your Customers (and ignore investors)

Paul Graham, the mastermind behind Y Combinator (YC), would not publicly endorse Lean Startup – but I still took one key message away for all entrepreneurs who try to be rigorous and structured.

Teams going through YC get one really important push: One team member focuses on product (= build), one team member focuses on users (= get ouf of the building).

Until demo day there is no time wasted on investors – all is spent on trying to come up with something people want.

What I’ve learned from them: It’s important to keep fundraising out of the entrepreneur’s mind when starting out. Fundraising pushes us towards our comfort zones and vanity metrics – we start believing in our own reality distortion field.

Fred & Russell participating in YC S12

The Movement

Some people feel that Lean Startup is a cargo cult that pushes Eric Ries’ personality. If you’ve ever seen Eric talk, or talked with him personally, you’ll see though that thats really not the point – and that he does all he can to push other leaders in the community around the shared goal of improving the odds of entrepreneurship.

“Our success should be judged by the leaders we develop in the communities – not the leaders we already have.”
- Eric Ries

Lean Startup is a space that enables us to collaborate and think up new approaches – no one ever said its the road to success, but it should make us think and reflect on what we’re actually trying to do, and what methods we use to get there.

Salim Virani summarized this best in my opinion, describing the Leancamp open space as a “15-dimensional Venn diagram”. Leancamp brings together entrepreneurs, researchers and coaches alike, with a focus on a high-bandwidth exchange of knowledge, ideas and experiences.

Leancamp Dublin

Lets inspire many more entrepreneurs to take a closer look and participate in the community – and not lead them to think Lean Startup is a cookie cutter approach to success.

Join a Leancamp, attend a Meetup and above anything else: Share your own thoughts with others, we’re all here to learn and continuously improve.