The Lean Startup

I’ve been wrestling with a topic this week. The idea comes from Eric Ries in his excellent book The Lean Startup.  Ries’ idea goes as follows (my paraphrase):  Any new company is wise to launch with an MVP (Minimum Viable Product.)  The MVP is an incomplete product with errors.  It is just good enough to see if an idea gets a warm welcome in the market.  After the market accepts it, the entrepreneur should begin tests to improve it, based on empirical data.

If you have an entrepreneurial spirit, I imagine the idea of an incomplete, buggy prototype hitting customers will bother you also.  Every entrepreneur dreams of walking on the stage with “the perfect product.”  The crowd goes wild, and sales skyrocket, because the entrepreneur and the team did such a great job researching the market.  That’s the way the story is supposed to go.

But Ries says those stories are fairytales.  When they happen, they are all over the news.  But they are one in a million, and they mislead the rest of us.  He suggests that there is no such thing as good market research (or else fewer companies would go wrong after spending a fortune on it), and the only real way to see if an idea floats is to put it in the water.  He also suggests that customers, especially early adopters, will forgive the product that wasn’t finished when they first saw it.  And they will be happy (even proud) to help improve it.  

I appreciate his logic in my mind, but haven’t yet embraced it in my heart.  His argument is compelling.  His list of companies that grow this way is impressive.  But it seems so clumsy, and why not just get it right before you go to market?  

I think Ries would suggest that “right” is a big question mark.  In an example, he shares how his team once cut a huge corner in programing an avatar (apparently a small figure that travels across a computer screen) to jump to a mouse-click instead of walking dramatically across the screen like those from the competitors.  His team knew it was hokey, and their peers likely laughed behind their backs.  But customers didn’t know it was a programming shortcut, and they loved it.  The overwhelming response was that the new “click” innovation made the avatar better than the competition.

I do find some peace in the MVP concept.  The idea, embraced, would say that launching beef with uninspired packaging, a mowing company without a logo, or a tasting room with not-yet-done landscaping, is a fine approach.  Even better, it is the recommended strategy by one of the finest minds from Silicon Valley.  If only I had known that all along =)  



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