The first thing you see as you walk into the co-working space where I spend my afternoons is a copy of The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. It sits on the mantel above the fireplace in the sitting room, a kind of holy grail of startup advice, its blue cover beckoning to all of the inspired entrepreneurs that work in the building.
I’ve heard the hype and I’ve learned the basics, but I wanted to find out what actual entrepreneurs think of Reis’s “movement”, as it is now commonly being called. So I asked my boss, an entrepreneur and the founder of one of the largest websites in Colorado, how he felt about The Lean Start-Up.
His immediate response was that “there is a lot of good information there, but it needs to be taken with a grain of salt.” When asked to elaborate, he explained how Reis’ proposed iterative design and agile development methods are not sustainable by a entrepreneur who needs to support him or herself, or moreover, a family. The process just does not move fast enough. This statement can be countered by the fact that Lean Startups operate on “good enough data” versus the traditional business model that operates on complete data where the speed is measured. However, if an initial or early stage of a business plan is not met with positive consumer feedback, the work and alterations that follow could be endless.
The other major complaint that my boss had was that Reis’ work has glorified the idea of a startup. Some of his software company examples are now major companies that are in a completely different league than the small business owners that he meets with everyday. The model he proposes may not work for these yoga instructors, videographers and online business owners who, even so, are running their own successful startup businesses. While it is interesting that GE has started to implement some Lean ideas, a wedding photographer does not have the resources or the ability and patience to experiment like this large company does, so the results may not be as impressive.
Another argument is that there is a lack of creativity in the Lean Startup model. Reis counters this challenge in an interview with Sarah Lacy on Pandoview.com (http://pandodaily.com/2013/01/25/how-the-lean-startup-idea-went-from-idiotic-to-overhyped/). His argument is that by making the method of building a startup a science, he is not making it any easier or less creative because not everyone can do science; a hypothesis needs to come from somewhere. With the Lean Startup model you still need to trust your gut, just verify it first.
Personally, while I agree with my boss that the model of constant experimentation would not be successful for all business ventures, I disagree with idea that Reis has proposed a model that lacks room for creativity and the negative connotation that was paired with the idea of a “glorified startup.” If you think about it, agile development adds more room for creativity. With the help of customer feedback, the entrepreneur is able to change their product or service until it is just right, amplifying the opportunities for creative ideas and insights. And if the creative factor remains intact and business ventures prove to be successful, then what is so bad about glorifying startups? As Steve Blank writes in “Why the Lean Startup Changes Everything” (http://hbr.org/2013/05/why-the-lean-start-up-changes-everything) and as explained by Chris Anderson in Wired magazine’s “The New New Economy: More startups, Fewer Giants, Infinite Opportunity” (http://www.wired.com/culture/culturereviews/magazine/17-06/nep_essay) startup companies are the future of the American economy. Recent years have shown how bigger firms are difficult to run as they need more cash, and often more debt, and the lack of these resources can prove disastrous to say the least. Small firms have proven to get more done, and technological advancements like the cloud make it easier for them to do just that. The current economy favors, and moreover, may come to rely on startups. If the company has the right resources and the right minds, The Lean Startup may make them successful, and could therefore help grow a new economy. And there definitely isn’t anything wrong with that.