The Lean Startup Method - Is it Right for Your Business?

Lean Startup

The lean startup, introduced by Eric Ries in his 2011 book, is at its core a method of bringing products and/or businesses to market quickly by gathering and responding to customer feedback early and often. The lean startup methodology aims to prevent companies from wasting time and money on products customers don't actually want.

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Lean Startup Principles:

1. Entrepreneurs are everywhere.

The lean startup method states that entrepreneurs don't have to be iconoclasts working in their garages with no money, but can exist anywhere outside or within a business. The entrepreneurial spirit should be encouraged across your organization.

2. Entrepreneurship is management.

Lean startups require a different sort of management than that previously used to run companies; using the lean startup methodology, management is agile and management techniques are based on learning what works for your particular startup while supporting entrepreneurship.

3. Validated learning.

Consumer data supports product creation and, ultimately, your startup's development, and consistent testing of products and processes ensures you'll eventually move forward with a proven concept. This helps your startup avoid heavily investing in ultimately unwieldy concepts and being caught short when they don't align with the real world.

4. Innovation accounting.

For your startup to be successful, you have to focus on testing and measuring your process, setting and meeting milestones, and properly mapping priorities. Each step of innovation is held under scrutiny and if it doesn't work in practice, it's either changed or abandoned for a better way of doing things.

5. Build - Measure - Learn.

This part of the lean startup process encourages the development of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP): you build your idea, use data to measure the customer response, and you learn whether you should continue with that same product or pivot to a new, more-popular conception. This reduces the amount of time spent on a product that's not been proven to be viable.

Best Lean Startup Books
Best Lean Startup Books:
  • "The Lean Startup" by Eric Reis.
  • "Lean Analytics" by Alistair Croll & Benjamin Yoskovitz.
  • "Running Lean" by Ash Maurya.
  • "Lean UX" by Jeff Gothelf.
  • "UX for Lean Startups" by Laura Klein.
  • "Lean Enterprise" by Barry O'Reilly, Joanne Molesky, & Jez Humble.
Best Lean Startup Blogs
Best Lean Startup Blogs:
  • Eric Ries' Startup Lessons Learned.
  • Steve Blank's blog.
  • Made By Many.
  • Jeff Gothelf's blog.
  • The Lean Startup Co. blog.

Final Thoughts:

There is a lot of value in the lean startup method, especially for SaaS providers. Solving an identified problem while delivering a product that meets the market's minimum demands and maintaining the ability to quickly pivot to an iteration of that idea leads to agile development and viable products with a minimum of wasted time and effort.

That said, one should be wary of applying methods with blinders on and eclipsing the really big ideas that don't align with an easily identifiable problem. The lean startup method has been around for years, and has shown proven results, but as with any method it should be used to the extent that it works for you and your company.


What does it mean to be a lean startup?

It means that you follow the lean startup methodology, which is a system of bringing a minimum viable product to market while testing both the product and your processes. The lean startup relies on constant feedback via consistent testing so you won't waste time on either methods that don't bring results or products that aren't commercially viable.

The lean startup has agility built into its structure, so if you bring a product to market and it's not completely successful you can build on the aspects that are successful and quickly pivot to new product development and delivery.

Learn more about the lean startup principles.

What is the MVP in the lean startup method?

The MVP is the Minimum Viable Product, the product that's brought to market with the minimal amount of features to satisfy early users. The purpose of the MVP is to understand whether it's the product you'll decide to further invest in and produce or, if it's unsuccessful, what features were met with enough approval to pivot to a new Minimum Viable Product.

The MVP is a core concept of the lean startup, as it prevents the startup from investing heavily in a product with an insufficiently tested concept and being hobbled if it doesn't succeed.

Get more information about the lean startup method.

What is the lean startup canvas?

The lean startup canvas is a template to use while testing product ideas. It is comprised of 9 blocks on one page, split down the middle by "Product" and "Market" (blocks specific to the product itself, and blocks that pertain directly to the proposed market).

The nine blocks represent the following aspects of the lean startup's product:

  • The Problem: the top 3 problems your idea solves.
  • The Solution: the top 3 features of your product.
  • Key Metrics: the top activities you'll measure to ascertain success.
  • Unique Value Proposition: how your product is different from other available solutions.
  • Unfair Advantage: how your product's uniqueness applies to the perceived need in ways not easily copied.
  • Channels: how you'll get your product to customers.
  • Customer Segments: your target customers/customer groups.
  • Cost Structure: all the costs that go into bringing your product to market.
  • Revenue Streams: how your product covers costs and generates profit.

Explore more about the lean startup method.

What is the downside to the lean startup method?

The main issue some people have with the lean startup methodology is that it relies solely on problems that have been identified, that people are aware of, that are waiting for a solution. Some of the hugest successes fly in the face of this presumption: for example, prior to Google there was little thought that we'd need a service like Google's, yet in hindsight the need is obvious.

So, while supporting customer-based product development the lean startup could conceivably be limiting invention. In ensuring that customers exist for your product prior to delivery, you could be focusing on small ideas rather than the big ideas that change the landscape.

Learn more about the lean startup method.