Startup Lessons Learned- The Lean Approach
My workplace (not my startup) has been pushing a “lean” environment for five years, so I am not new the “lean” principle. I was just beginning to think about LivestockCity when Eric Ries wrote his book about Lean Startups. Truthfully, I am not sure I was a fan of the lean concept back then for a variety of reasons, so I had no interest in reading Ries’ book. But applying lean principles makes a lot of sense several years after beginning my startup journey. In fact, it was a mistake to not consider a lean approach to my startup.
I have not read the book, but I think I understand the general theme of lean startups. What it means to me is it’s a method by which a startup is launched as a minimum viable product, perhaps not even perfected yet and without all the features that could be included. The product is introduced and changes or pivots are made based on public reaction. If it is not embraced, then maybe it is a solution for something that is not a problem or at least not a large one. In that case, it might be wise to pivot or stop the project altogether. It’s better to know at this stage rather continuing down a path in the wrong direction because it saves both time and money. If it is a well received product or service, then it can be built upon and strengthened. Feedback will direct the next steps to take. This is my basic interpretation of a lean startup methodology.
The Slow Way to Build a Startup
Lean is not the way I have built my startup. In the beginning I knew we would have online auctions and for sale listings because this was our specialty. And as we thought about LivestockCity, we thought about a community of users and directories. I always wanted to create a way to manage herd records, and we would offer advertising. All of these features are attractive or at least we expect them to be. But that is exactly the problem with this method we used. We do not know if all do these features will be popular with our audience. We have taken a long time to launch because we have developed just about every feature we wanted to include before launching and changed our minds about some things along the way. We are still waiting to launch now, although we are very close now. We are just fixing errors and making the site more user friendly.
What Could Have Been
We have spent at least two years working on our site and still have not launched it. We did do a “soft launch”, which we later canceled because we realized we were not even ready for that. Looking back, what would we have done differently?
Using the lean approach, our site would have launched within 2–3 weeks of beginning the website. We would have started with the online directories and would have recruited as many farms as possible to be included in the comprehensive livestock directory we were building. As farms created accounts to be in the directories, we would actually have some traction. At this point, we would be nothing more than a static online livestock directory, but at least we would be live, no doubt. And what farms would not sign up for something so simple?
After farms would have signed up, we would next have introduced the ability to list events on the site. After that, the ability to add animals from a farm’s herd to keep records online. And while this stage of the startup would be underway, we would be working on the next section, like the “For Sale” page, and on and on until all the features we wanted we in place. If some areas did not catch on, we could try to pivot to something else or modify those areas. When I think about this approach of introducing one feature at a time, I think about how less intimidating this is for the users of the site. They can grow with the site and embrace each feature as they come in some logical order. But now, we will launch with everything in place and there may be some confusion as users navigate around all the features that we offer.
To date we have people waiting for us launch — the future customers, and some have actually created accounts. But the number we have prelaunch pales in comparison to what it might have been if we had used a lean approach — maybe a 1000X’s more users by now. Oh well, we all make mistakes. I guess I am writing this to help others avoid making the same mistakes I did. So if you are beginning a startup, especially one that will be online, such as a website or app, I would recommend considering a lean approach. Good luck!
(About Me — I am the Co-founder of LivestockCity, Inc., Co-Founder of Eshtar (still in the works), and owner of Burnt Mountain Llamas. Please follow me on Twitter, E. James White. And you can follow LivestockCity on Twitter too, @livestockcity).