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Book Review: The Lean Startup

The Lean Startup: How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful Businesses
  • Woody Rank

I have read a number of books over the years particularly in the innovation and entrepreneurship space many of them, turning out to be a disappointment, or nothing more than some apparently successful entrepreneur providing a break down of how they struggled in the beginning then by some stroke of luck mixed in with some considered thinking they were able to unravel what they believe to be a recipe of success.

However, every now and then there comes a book that really opens up your thoughts, provides real value and actually starts to play a vital role in how you start to think about business and innovation. The Lean Startup is one of those books!

Why I read this book

I find myself yet again involved in a start up business, like so many developers often do. In majority of cases of my involvement of startups has been pretty much as a just a hired coding unit brought in to churn out somebody else bright idea and create some kind of product out of it.

In previous engagements I've never really engaged in the "business side" of it, almost naively thinking that this would be taking care of by folks much wiser and intelligent than myself. Unfortunately, in retrospect this has never turned out to be true.

The businesses or products never really took off, not because the code was bad or any other technical reasons, but primarily because they were solutions to problems that businesses or people didn't really have, or at least weren't convinced they had them. Either way the issues they experienced weren't maddening enough for them to pull out their money and throw it at us to solve them.

his book was originally recommended to me by a colleague back in 2012, who really spoke highly of its virtues and couldn't stop praising it. I have to admit, that after the initial purchase I had only halfheartedly read it, dipping in and out of it over a period months. At the time I wasn't really working on any new business ventures and really had no new ideas to start any.

As mentioned previously, I am currently hard at work in developing my very own startup! So decided to re-read this book and this time making copious notes and constantly referring back to it

I have a degree in Economics and Business and the conventional wisdom and the intuitive notion derived from this education background is that in order to start a new business you should first define and set your objectives by developing a business plan, the problem with this logic when it comes to potentially disruptive businesses or even just a normal run of the mill new business is that this is tantamount to purely guesswork and assumptions.

The logic behind a business or strategic plan is that you conduct all manner of research to actually validate your idea. i.e Size of the perceived market, number of competitors in the space, predicted or estimated costs, derive some kind of forecast based on your estimates of how successful your sales and marketing plans are going to be.

In theory, this based on the assumption that with enough data analysis you'll somehow be able to make better guesses.

In the second part of the book, Eric Ries focuses on the importance of the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop, which is perceived as the heart of the lean startup approach, and can be of great value to startups in means of saving time and resources while developing a product and adapting their strategy around it.

The Lean Startup method, is designed to teach you how to drive a startup, So instead of drawing up complex plans based on assumptions and guesses, entrepreneurs are encouraged to employ the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop.

My favourite quote from this book related to the wasted effort of developing flawed business plans :

Achieved Failure - Successfully, Faithfully and rigorously executing a plan that turned out to have been utterly flawed

What I learned from this book

Eric Ries provides an unusual mix of business practitioner and theorist who writes more convincingly than most academics and less simplistically than most business people. It helps that the book evolved out of his experiences as a technology entrepreneur, which led to numerous invitations to advise all kinds of companies, from start-ups to Fortune 100 enterprises, all struggling with the same problems of starting and building something new.

Ries argues for round after round of small experiments. Entrepreneurs should create a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) as soon as they can and start testing it with consumers. It will be worth a thousand hours of strategising and internal analysis.

Startups should keep testing every aspect of their business models. He is a great fan of repeated split testing , whereby you test slightly different versions of the same product with different groups of customers to see which works best.

This has proved exactly what we need to do to keep our product moving forward. We have chosen to release our product as early as possible. Primarily, due to the fact that the new platform we're building isgoing to rely on the interaction and engagement of a community. We're convinced that our concept will succeed but

What I like about this book

Ries is a software developer by trade and his greatest business success has been a company called IMVU, an instant messaging service that allows people to communicate using avatars. He uses his experiences as the basis for the main lessons in The Lean Startup, as well as a rich array of fresh entrepreneurial stories, mostly drawn from the technology industry.

This background very closely resembles mine, and I am able to relate to it. Most of the other books I have read over the years have always seemed to be ghost-writing tales of entrepreneurs in wildly different business sectors and it's not always been easy to relate.

Ries defines a start-up as a “human institution designed to create a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty”. A successful start-up does not just rely on a brilliant idea, but also requires managing people through all the challenges of innovation and growth, and through times when the idea will fail

Why I recommend this book

Ries writes clinically and intelligently, without being patronising and blowing his own trumpet. He wishes businesses could innovate with less waste. It is a noble wish and one his book should help fulfil.

Gary Woodfine
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