In reading The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, I sought to validate my understanding of what it means to start small, build in increments, and learn more about the process of iterating with purpose. What is great about this book is that there are practical examples of how startups and enterprises alike have innovated in their respective verticals, while remaining lean. Lean in this context is the flexibility to position a company towards the greatest growth potential, even if that means having to make a directional change or go back to the whiteboard regarding a new feature.
Something interesting that I picked up was that startups have the uncanny ability to pivot or persevere without high levels of perceived risk, whereas when an enterprise moves to create a product that flops, that image is inextricably attached to their brand. See the failure of Google+ as an example of how larger enterprises fail harder due to external pressures from users and stakeholders. Lean startups are much better equipped to fail fast and fail ‘soft’.
It is important for companies to detach the hypothesis phase from product development to find the growth and value prior to spending time and money on wasted features and methods. More and more, there are large enterprises pursuing innovative methods via in-house ‘startup’ teams, with the capital and resources to back up their exploration of new products. In a recent talk I attended at Ascender in East Liberty, the speakers explored a case study in this vein regarding numo, a fintech startup launched within PNC bank. The perspectives gleaned from being inside a banking system, and not working from the outside-in like a traditional startup, helps numo build solutions powered by big data in a lean capacity, with softer repercussions in the agile cycle.
In reading, remaining lean means to only build what is necessary for learning and understanding customers better. Why go after mass adoption prior to exploration of the true value of a new product when better results are attainable through what Eric refers to as ‘validated learning’? Many founders and entrepreneurs want to jump straight into what they know best, whether that is content, business planning, design, development, etc. What is suggested here is to rely more on user research in the early stages; ensure that there is a foundational understanding of the end-user, behaviors, and trajectory through testing, planning, and research. It’s a scientific discovery. Validated learning helps bring together assumptions with test-driven data.
Growth and value are the most important drivers of success, and by validating these hypotheses in the beginning stages of a project or product can help set the stage for design, engineering, and iteration. As entrepreneurs, we are tasked with the burden of innovation. The many facets of product and startup creation are rooted in the ability for a startup to innovate beyond the imaginative efforts of its predecessors. I believe this starts with an understanding of developing a lean startup and remaining small until a product is more fully realized.