The Lean Startup is a legendary book in technology startup circles and not without good reason. The methods discussed by its author, Eric Ries have created a blueprint that many budding entrepreneurs make avid use of in their quest for success. Indeed, many refer to it as THE Startup Bible. But is it more myth than method?
It has been a few years since I first read this book and it was a revelation. As a consequence of working with numerous fledgling startups and my own personal efforts, many of the concepts presented in this book were already familiar to me, but to my mind, no-one had quite managed to capture a collection of practical startup experiences and describe it as a complete methodology. Eric Ries was presenting a plan by which any competent team should be able to take any half decent idea and turn it into a successful business. This then begs the question:
Why do the vast majority of Lean Startups fail?
Good question! One could assume a number of conclusions, and these cannot be completely discounted:
Poor, or fundamentally flawed idea
Poor execution, or founder skill deficit
Highly competitive market
Good idea, but of low monetary value
Poor market timing
I see one or more of these flaws in many startups, but for an adaptable team, and with lean methods, these obstacles can often be overcome. The reason many startups fail is due to a lack of traction.
Sure, the Lean Startup’s validated learning approach can work wonders in growing a customer base and increasing the value being offered to each one, but where The Lean Startup fails to work is when you suffer from a lack of meaningful customer numbers to begin with. Without a certain minimal number of users from which you can ascertain meaningful data, it can be impossible to interpret the results of any experiment undertaken.
Where many founders fail, is that they begin to spend time, money and effort on building a minimum viable product without a clear understanding of how they plan to attract customers. They hold a belief, that by building a product they think people want, then tweaking it based upon client feedback and statistical analysis, they will build a successful business. This is almost certainly doomed to fail, and is, unfortunately, an attitude often ingrained from hours immersed in the good book.
I make no attempt to denigrate The Lean Startup – it is most excellent. However, I believe it only represents half the story and the knowledge required to take a seed of an idea and turn it into a successful business.
Traction and how to get it
Very few people are able to start and grow a business without some sort of marketing plan. Unfortunately, those of us from a technical background frequently lack experience in this area, and furthermore, do not see it as a discipline we want to start engaging with. And this is where I have to recommend a fantastic book by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares, Traction: How any startup can achieve explosive customer growth. A rather sensationalist title, but please don’t let that put you off. The learnings in this book are so fundamental to the success of a startup, that it should be considered essential reading alongside The Lean Startup.
Traction explains how 50% of your time should be spent on developing your product and 50% on acquiring customers – from day 1. This may come as a shock to many startups as I often find customer acquisition is given little thought until after they have built the product and find no-one is using it! A most disheartening scenario.
Few techies enjoy reading books on marketing, and what Weinberg and Mares have managed to do is to take a subject that is usually reserved for marketeers, and present it in such a way as to be attractive to techies like me and you. Marketing should never be a random, scatter gun approach, spending time and money in a haphazard fashion until you happen upon something that works. Traction has adopted a similar approach to The Lean Startup and presented marketing as a methodological solution. A book whose teachings you can work through in a practical fashion and develop a bespoke marketing plan that works for your unique business.
By adopting the practices presented in this book, your chances of startup success will increase significantly. I’d recommend it being the first book you read, but if you’ve already started building a product it’s not too late. Give it a read and let me know your thoughts.
Disclaimer: I think the two books mentioned in this article are fantastic companions and you should buy them. I have no affiliation with these products and make no financial gain through my recommendations.
A lifetime Brummie & Startup Mentor with several ventures under his belt. Phil has a infectious enthusiasm for fledgling businesses that easily hides an ability to cut to the chase in identifying what works, what doesn’t, and translating ideas into viable businesses.