The Lean Startup: More than just a buzzword
Getting a foothold in the startup world has always been characterized as a risky proposition at best, and with good reason. You spend countless hours developing a product with the hope that it will appeal to investors and consumers, but there’s no way to guarantee their interest. Venture capitalists often expect some sort of hard proof that success is more likely than failure, often in the form of past ventures that did well. But then how does a new business get any support? The catch-22 is vicious, but there is a solution in the form of the lean startup, which offers a more cost-effective and less investor-dependent model that has helped many new businesses. But what is the lean startup really? Why is it a better model and how can it help you, the innovator? Let’s take a look.
Eric Reis, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, proposed the idea of the lean startup in 2011. The lean startup method is based on the core principle that consumers should be involved in your process of development. Rather than making a strict plan that runs to the end of development, the process is more about a constant effort to iterate based on consumer feedback, even if it means introducing a product to your audience at the experimental stage. In essence, it’s a methodology of adaptation, which is good given how frequently the interests of consumers change. If you want to learn more, Reis’ bestselling book on the subject is the best resource out there.
In an interview with Inc.com, Reis outlined his basic strategy. Begin by creating what he calls “the minimum viable product.” It works, it’s doing something that consumers want, but there’s still room for experimentation and growth. He also makes the point that minimum should not be exclusive to the product, but also to its exposure. Start with a small audience, get feedback, learn, and grow. These are cycles of adaptive iteration, rather than a set plan to be followed from start to finish.
One of the common criticisms of the lean startup model is that it encourages developers to release shoddy or incomplete products that don’t offer a sound value proposition to consumers. It’s a fair point to make, but what’s important here is the right sort of intent and clear messaging of that intent. The goal should never be to release an inferior product because it’s cheaper and easier or for the sake of a quick cash grab. Sustainability is the lifeblood of any fledgling company, and this is no less true for the lean startup. As the model catches fire, consumers are recognizing the inherent risks of buying into “work-in-progress” products. However, with the right kind of messaging and a clear display of constant iteration and effort to improve, the danger is mitigated dramatically. I invite you to be a part of the process. This isn’t about exploitation, this is about creating the best product for you and I need your help to make it happen. Since consumers are at the heart of the lean startup, the presentation should always be consumer-first.
Successful companies like Dropbox, Wealthfront, and Grockit made use of the lean startup model over the course of their development. Not only was the model cheaper and more efficient, building a solid case of success for investors while still developing, but consumer feedback ultimately led to a better product that filled a critical hole in the market.. These companies and the feedback they received prove that now, more than ever, consumers are actively interested in being part of the development process. The reasons are obvious. When presented with a possible solution to a problem, they want to help fine-tune it to serve their interests in the best possible way. There’s also something inherently appealing about being involved in the process of development.
There is no perfect business plan to follow statically to the proverbial finish line. Consumers are only getting more and more unpredictable, necessitating a dynamic approach. Open, honest development is more appealing to the consumer and more useful to the developer than keeping all the work behind the curtain with the hope that the eventual result will draw attention. If it’s not working, you can go back to the drawing board without wasting months or even years. No, it’s not fool-proof. No, it’s not a guarantee. But the lean start-up model is safe, solid, and the absolute best fit for today’s market.