Most startups fail. But many of those failures are preventable. The Lean Startup is a new approach being adopted across the globe, changing the way companies are built and new products are launched. Eric Ries defines a startup as an organization dedicated to creating something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty. This is just as true for one person in a garage or a group of seasoned professionals in a Fortune 500 boardroom. What they have in common is a mission to penetrate that fog of uncertainty to discover a successful path to a sustainable business. The Lean Startup approach fosters companies that are both more capital efficient and that leverage human creativity more effectively. Inspired by lessons from lean manufacturing, it relies on “validated learning,” rapid scientific experimentation, as well as a number of counter-intuitive practices that shorten product development cycles, measure actual progress without resorting to vanity metrics, and learn what customers really want. It enables a company to shift directions with agility, altering plans inch by inch, minute by minute. Rather than wasting time creating elaborate business plans, The Lean Startup offers entrepreneurs—in companies of all sizes—a way to test their vision continuously, to adapt and adjust before it’s too late. Ries provides a scientific approach to creating and managing successful startups in a age when companies need to innovate more than ever. Read more
Review “The Lean Startup has a kind of inexorable logic, and Ries’ recommendations come as a bracing slap in the face to would-be tech moguls: Test your ideas before you bet the bank on them. Don’t listen to what focus groups say; watch what your customers do. Start with a modest offering and build on the aspects of it that prove valuable. Expect to get it wrong, and stay flexible (and solvent) enough to try again and again until you get it right. It’s a message that rings true to grizzled startup vets who got burned in the Great Bubble and to young filmgoers who left The Social Network with visions of young Zuckerberg dancing in their heads. It resonates with Web entrepreneurs blessed with worldwide reach and open source code. It’s the perfect philosophy for an era of limited resources, when the noun optimism is necessarily preceded by the adjective cautious.” —Wired“I make all our managers read The Lean Startup.” —Jeffery Immelt, CEO, General Electric”Eric has created a science where previously there was only art. A must read for every serious entrepreneur—and every manager interested in innovation.” —Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz, Opsware Inc. and Netscape“This book should be mandatory reading for entrepreneurs, and the same goes for managers who want better entrepreneurial instincts. Ries’s book is loaded with fascinating stories—not to mention countless practical principles you’ll dearly wish you’d known five years ago.” —Dan Heath, co-author of Switch and Made to Stick“Ries shows us how to cut through the fog of uncertainty that surrounds startups. His approach is rigorous; his prescriptions are practical and proven in the field. The Lean Startup will change the way we think about entrepreneurship. As startup success rates improve, it could do more to boost global economic growth than any management book written in years.” —Tom Eisenmann, Professor of Entrepreneurship, Harvard Business School “The Lean Startup is the book whose lessons I want every entrepreneur to absorb and apply. I know of no better guide to improve the odds of a startup’s success.”—Mitchell Kapor, Founder, Lotus Development Corp. “At Asana, we’ve been lucky to benefit from Eric’s advice firsthand; this book will enable him to help many more entrepreneurs answer the tough questions about their business.”—Dustin Moskovitz, co-founder of Facebook and Asana “Ries’ splendid book is the essential template to understand the crucial leadership challenge of our time: initiating and managing growth!” —Warren Bennis, Distinguished Professor of Business, University of Southern California and author of the recently published, Still Surprised: A Memoir of a Life in Leadership. “The Lean Startup isn’t just about how to create a more successful entrepreneurial business, it’s about what we can learn from those businesses to improve virtually everything we do. I imagine Lean Startup principles applied to government programs, to healthcare, and to solving the world’s great problems. It’s ultimately an answer to the question ‘How can we learn more quickly what works, and discard what doesn’t?'”— Tim O’Reilly, CEO O’Reilly Media “Eric Ries unravels the mysteries of entrepreneurship and reveals that magic and genius are not the necessary ingredients for success but instead proposes a scientific process that can be learnt and replicated. Whether you are a startup entrepreneur or corporate entrepreneur there are important lessons here for you on your quest toward the new and unknown.” —Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO “The roadmap for innovation for the 21st century. The ideas in The Lean Startup will help create the next industrial revolution.” —Steve Blank, lecturer, Stanford University, U.C. Berkeley Haas Business School “The key lesson of this book is that start-ups happen in the present—that messy place between the past and the future where nothing happens according to PowerPoint. Ries’s ‘read and react’ approach to this sport, his relentless focus on validated learning, the never-ending anxiety of hovering between ‘persevere’ and ‘pivot’, all bear witness to his appreciation for the dynamics of entrepreneurship.” —Geoffrey Moore, Author, Crossing the Chasm “If you are an entrepreneur, read this book. If you are thinking about becoming an entrepreneur, read this book. If you are just curious about entrepreneurship, read this book. Starting Lean is today’s best practice for innovators. Do yourself a favor and read this book.” —Randy Komisar, founding director of TiVo and author of the bestselling The Monk and the Riddle “How do you apply the 50 year old ideas of Lean to the fast-paced, high uncertainty world of Startups? This book provides a brilliant, well-documented, and practical answer. It is sure to become a management classic.” —Don Reinertsen, author of The Principles of Product Development Flow “The Lean Startup is a foundational must-read for founders, enabling them to reduce product failures by bringing structure and science to what is usually informal and an art. It provides actionable ways to avoid product-learning mistakes, rigorously evaluate early signals from the market through validated learning, and decide whether to persevere or to pivot, all challenges that heighten the chance of entrepreneurial failure.” —Professor Noam Wasserman, Harvard Business School “One of the best and most insightful new books on entrepreneurship and management I’ve ever read. Should be required reading not only for the entrepreneurs that I work with, but for my friends and colleagues in various industries who have inevitably grappled with many of the challenges that The Lean Startup addresses.” —Eugene J. Huang, Partner, True North Venture Partners “What would happen if businesses were built from the ground up to learn what their customers really wanted? The Lean Startup is the foundation for reimagining almost everything about how work works. Don’t let the word startup in the title confuse you. This is a cookbook for entrepreneurs in organizations of all sizes.” —Roy Bahat, President, IGN Entertainment “Every founding team should stop for 48 hours and read Lean Startup. Seriously stop and read this book now.” —Scott Case, CEO Startup America Partnership “In business, a ‘lean’ enterprise is sustainable efficiency in action. Eric Ries’ revolutionary Lean Startup method will help bring your new business idea to an end result that is successful and sustainable. You’ll find innovative steps and strategies for creating and managing your own startup while learning from the real-life successes and collapses of others. This book is a must read for entrepreneurs who are truly ready to start something great!” —Ken Blanchard, coauthor of The One Minute Manager® and The One Minute Entrepreneur“Every entrepreneur responsible for innovation within their organization should read this book. It entertainingly and meticulously develops a rigorous science for the innovation process through the methodology of “lean thinking”. This methodology provides novel and powerful tools for companies to improve the speed and efficiency of their innovation processes through minimum viable products, validated learning, innovation accounting, and actionable metrics. These tools will help organizations large and small to sustain innovation by effectively leveraging the time, passion, and skill of their talent pools.”—Andrea Goldsmith, professor of Electrical Engineering at Stanford University, and cofounder of several startups “Business is too important to be left to luck. Eric reveals the rigorous process that trumps luck in the invention of new products and new businesses. We’ve made this a centerpiece of how teams work in my company . . . it works! This book is the guided tour of the key innovative practices used inside Google, Toyota, and Facebook, that work in any business.” —Scott Cook, Founder and Chairman of the Executive Committee, Intuit About the Author Eric Ries is an entrepreneur and author of the popular blog Startup Lessons Learned. He co-founded and served as CTO of IMVU, his third startup, and has had plenty of startup failures along the way. He is a frequent speaker at business events, has advised a number of startups, large companies, and venture capital firms on business and product strategy, and is an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Harvard Business School. His Lean Startup methodology has been written about in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Harvard Business Review, the Huffington Post, and many blogs. He lives in San Francisco. Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. Part One VISION 1 START ENTREPRENEURIAL MANAGEMENT Building a startup is an exercise in institution building; thus, it necessarily involves management. This often comes as a surprise to aspiring entrepreneurs, because their associations with these two words are so diametrically opposed. Entrepreneurs are rightly wary of implementing traditional management practices early on in a startup, afraid that they will invite bureaucracy or stifle creativity. Entrepreneurs have been trying to fit the square peg of their unique problems into the round hole of general management for decades. Asa result, many entrepreneurs take a “just do it” attitude, avoiding all forms of management, process, and discipline. Unfortunately, this approach leads to chaos more often than it does to success. I should know: my first startup failures were all of this kind (as we saw in the Introduction). The tremendous success of general management over the last century has provided unprecedented material abundance, but those management principles are ill suited to handle the chaos and uncertainty that startups must face. + + + I believe that entrepreneurship requires a managerial discipline to harness the tremendous entrepreneurial opportunity we have been given. There are more entrepreneurs operating today than at any previous time in history. This has been made possible by dramatic changes inthe global economy. To site but one example, one often hears commentators lament the loss of manufacturing jobs in the United States over the previous two decades, but one rarely hears about a corresponding loss of manufacturing capability. That’s because total manufacturing output in the United States is increasing (by 15 percent in the last decade) even as jobs continue to be lost (see the charts below). In effect, the huge productivity increases made possible by modern management and technology have created more productive capacity than firms know what to do with.1 We are living through an unprecedented worldwide entrepreneurial renaissance, but this opportunity is laced with peril. Because we lack a coherent management paradigm for new innovative ventures, we’re throwing our excess capacity around with wild abandon. Despite this lack of rigor, we are finding some ways to make money, but for every success there are far too many failures: products pulled from shelves mere weeks after being launched, high-profile startups lauded in the press and forgotten a few months later, and new products that wind up being used by nobody. What makes these failures particularly painful is not just the economic damage done to individual employees, companies, and investors; they are also a colossal waste of our civilization’s most precious resource: the time, passion, and skill of its people. The Lean Startup movement is dedicated to preventing these failures. THE ROOTS OF THE LEAN STARTUP The Lean Startup takes its name from the lean manufacturing revolution that Taiichi Ohno and Shigeo Shingo are credited with developing at Toyota. Lean thinking is radically altering the way supply chains and production systems are run. Among its tenets are drawing on the knowledge and creations of individual workers, the shrinking of batch sizes, just-in-time production and inventory control, and an acceleration of cycle times. It taught the world the difference between value-creating activities and waste and showed how to build quality into products from the inside out. The Lean Startup adapts these ideas to the context of entrepreneurship, proposing that entrepreneurs judge their progress differently from the way other kinds of ventures do. Progress in manufacturing is measured by the production of high-quality physical goods. As we’ll see in Chapter 3, the Lean Startup uses a different unit of progress, called validated learning. With scientific learning as our yardstick, we can discover and eliminate the tremendous waste that is plaguing entrepreneurship. A comprehensive theory of entrepreneurship should address all the functions of an early-stage venture: vision and concept, product development, marketing and sales, scaling up, partnerships and distribution, and structure and organizational design. It has to provide startup ventures with a method for measuring progress in the context of extreme uncertainty. It can give entrepreneurs clear guidance on how to make the many trade-off decisions they face: whether and when to invest in process; formulating, planning, and creating infrastructure; when to go it alone and when to partner; when to respond to feedback and when to stick with vision; and how and when to invest in scaling the business. Most of all, it must allow entrepreneurs to make testable predictions. For example, consider the recommendation that you build cross-functional teams and hold them accountable to what we call learning milestones instead of organizing your company into strict functional departments (marketing, sales, information technology, human resources, etc.) that hold people accountable for performing well in their specialized areas (see Chapter 7). Perhaps you agree with this recommendation, or perhaps you are skeptical. Either way, if you decide to implement it, I predict that you pretty quickly will get feedback from your teams that the new process is reducing their productivity. They will ask to go back to the old way of working, in which they had the opportunity to “stay efficient” by working in larger batches and passing work between departments. It’s safe to predict this result, and not just because I have seen it many times in the companies I work with. It is a straightforward prediction of the Lean Startup theory itself. When people are used to evaluating their productivity locally, they feel that a good day is one in which they did their job well all day. When I worked as a programmer, that meant eight straight hours of programming without interruption. That was a goodday. In contrast, if I was interrupted with questions, process, or—heaven forbid—meetings, I felt bad. What did I really accomplish that day? Code and product features were tangible to me; I could see them, understand them, and show them off. Learning, by contrast, is frustratingly intangible. The Lean Startup asks people to start measuring their productivity differently. Because startups often accidentally build something nobody wants, it doesn’t matter much if they do it on time and on budget. The goal of a startup is to figure out the right thing to build—the thing customers want and will pay for—as quickly as possible. In other words, the Lean Startup is a new way of looking at the development of innovative new products that emphasizes fast iteration and customer insight, a huge vision, and great ambition, all at the same time. + + + Henry Ford is one of the most successful and celebrated entrepreneurs of all time. Since the idea of management has been bound up with the history of the automobile since its first days, I believe it is fitting to use the automobile as a metaphor for a startup. An internal combustion automobile is powered by twoimportant and very different feedback loops. The first feedback loop is deep inside the engine. Before Henry Ford was a famous CEO, he was an engineer. He spent his days and nights tinkering in his garage with the precise mechanics of getting the engine cylinders to move. Each tiny explosion within the cylinder provides the motive force to turn the wheels but also drives the ignition of the next explosion. Unless the timing of this feedback loop is managed precisely, the engine will sputter and break down. Startups have a similar engine that I call the engine of growth. The markets and customers for startups are diverse: a toy company, a consulting firm, and a manufacturing plant may not seem like they have much in common, but, as we’ll see, they operate with the same engine of growth. Every new version of a product, every new feature, and every new marketing program is an attempt to improve this engine of growth. Like Henry Ford’s tinkering in his garage, not all of these changes turn out to be improvements. New product development happens in fits and starts. Much of the time in a startup’s life is spent tuning the engine by making improvements in product, marketing, or operations. The second important feedback loop in an automobile is between the driver and the steering wheel. This feedback is so immediate and automatic that we often don’t think about it, but it is steering that differentiates driving from most other forms of transportation. If you have a daily commute,you probably know the route so well that your hands seem to steer you there on their own accord. We can practically drive the route in our sleep. Yet if Iasked you to close your eyes and write down exactly how to get to your office—not the street directions but every action you need to take, every push of hand on wheel and foot on pedals—you’d find it impossible. The choreography of driving is incredibly complex when one slows down to think about it. By contrast, a rocket ship requires just this kind of in-advance calibration. It must be launched with the most precise instructions on what to do: every thrust, every firing of a booster, and every change in direction. The tiniest error at the point of launch could yield catastrophic results thousands of miles later. Unfortunately, too many startup business plans look more like they are planning to launch a rocket ship than drive a car. They prescribe the steps to take and the results to expect in excruciating detail, and as in planning to launch a rocket, they are set up in such a way that even tiny errors in assumptions can lead to catastrophic outcomes. One company I worked with had the misfortune of forecasting significant customer adoption—in the millions—for one of its new products. Powered by a splashy launch, the company successfully executed its plan. Unfortunately, customers did not flock to the product in great numbers. Even worse, the company had invested in massive infrastructure, hiring, and support to handle the influx of customers it expected. When the customers failed to materialize, the company had committed itself so completely that they could not adapt in time. They had “achieved failure”—successfully, faithfully, and rigorously executing a plan that turned out to have been utterly flawed. The Lean Startup method, in contrast, is designed to teach you how to drive a startup. Instead of making complex plans that are based on a lot of assumptions, you can make constant adjustments with a steering wheel called the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop. Through this process of steering, we can learn when and if it’s time to make a sharp turn called a pivot or whether we should persevere along our current path. Once we have an engine that’s revved up, the Lean Startup offers methods to scale and grow the business with maximum acceleration. Throughout the process of driving, you always have a clear idea of where you’re going. If you’re commuting to work, you don’t give up because there’s a detour in the road or you made a wrong turn. You remain thoroughly focused on getting to your destination. Startups also have a true north, a destination in mind: creating a thriving and world-changing business. I call that a startup’s vision. To achieve that vision, startups employ a strategy, which includes a business model, a product road map, a point of view about partners and competitors, and ideas about who the customer will be. The product is the end result of this strategy (see the chart on page 23). Products change constantly through the process of optimization, what I call tuning the engine. Less frequently, the strategy may have to change (called a pivot). However, the overarching vision rarely changes. Entrepreneurs are committed to seeing the startup through to that destination. Every setback is an opportunity for learning how to get where they want to go (see the chart below). In real life, a startup is a portfolio of activities. A lot is happening simultaneously: the engine is running, acquiring new customers and serving existing ones; we are tuning, trying to improve our product, marketing, and operations; and we are steering, deciding if and when to pivot. The challenge of entrepreneurship is to balance all these activities. Even the smallest startup faces the challenge of supporting existing customers while trying to innovate. Even the most established company faces the imperative to invest in innovation lest it become obsolete. As companies grow, what changes is the mix of these activities in the company’s portfolio of work. + + + Entrepreneurship is management. And yet, imagine a modern manager who is tasked with building a new product in the context of an established company? Imagine that she goes back to her company’s chief financial officer (CFO) a year later and says, “We have failed to meet the growth targets we predicted. In fact, we have almost no new customers and no new revenue. However, we have learned an incredible amount and are on the cusp of a breakthrough new line of business. All we need is another year.” Most ofthe time, this would be the last report this intrapreneur would give her employer. The reason is that in general management, a failure to deliver results is due to either a failure to plan adequately or a failure to execute properly. Both are significant lapses, yet new product development in our modern economy routinely requires exactly this kind of failure on the way to greatness. In the Lean Startup movement, we have come to realize that these internal innovators are actually entrepreneurs, too, and that entrepreneurial management can help them succeed; this is the subject of the next chapter. Read more
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