Lean Startup: Start small, learn from failure, pivot, and build incrementally for entrepreneurial success
So, you've got this fantastic idea that you're convinced could change the world – or at least make it a tad more interesting. But having an idea and doing something with that idea are vastly different from one another.
Where do you start? What resources do you need? How much money? Can you quit your full-time job to jump right into it?
Well, this is where the magic of a "Lean Startup" comes in – it's like having a trusty map and a flashlight as you navigate through the dark and winding tunnels of entrepreneurship. You'll still be faced with challenges, but with a lean approach, you're armed with both valuable insights and an ability to pivot quickly.
Because of this, you'll give you and your business the best chance of surviving.
In simple terms, the Lean Startup philosophy is all about building a business while staying nimble, adaptive, and – you guessed it – lean.
You've probably experienced moments of lean thinking in your life. How much money you spend to what food you put in your body if you're working out, to the layout of your living room. Lean isn't just about less, but doing more with the little you have. It also means instead of spending years perfecting your product in secrecy, you put together a minimum viable product (MVP) – a basic version of your idea – and get it out into the world to gather feedback with as little time and cost as possible.
Eric Ries, the brains behind the Lean Startup movement, puts it beautifully:
"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."
This makes sense, right? You wouldn't jump into the ring with Mike Tyson before you've trained, just as you shouldn't really invest lots of time and money into something that might never take off. Test your idea, test it inexpensively, and test often. Repeat, repeat and repeat again.
Let's get one thing straight: the less emotionally invested you are in your MVP, the better - because if you stick with lean, it's going to change and change a lot. Your MVP isn't about creating the most dazzling, feature-packed app on the planet. It's about creating the simplest version of your idea that can still deliver value to your potential users.
Pro-tip #1: If you find your MVP is delivering value to users from the outset, congratulations, you're on the right track! If not, keep going, some MVPs take longer than others to really get traction.
Let's think of MVP in the context of cake, because everyone loves cake. You start with the basic ingredients, like flour, eggs, and sugar. You don't need to add the rainbow sprinkles and the chocolate ganache just yet.
Similarly, your MVP is your "bare-bones" version, enough to get a taste of your idea and gather insights. If folks find your cake delicious (value), then by all means, please go ahead and add those sprinkles and the chocolate ganache (iterating on your MVP).
Pro-tip #2: listen to everything that your customer says about your MVP, because this could be the basis for iteration. Iterating on feedback that competitors don't could make all the difference.
No one likes failure. But you know what, as much as we try to avoid the big F, it is a part of life. It's a word that sends shivers down many an entrepreneur's spine. It certainly did whenever I got my GCSE results at the tender age of 16. But guess what? Just like in the Lean Startup world, failure didn't hold me back then. It was a kick up the arse, like an indiscriminate guide pointing me in the right direction.
Failure can be your greatest teacher, a stepping stone to greatness - but only if you're open to it.
Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, once said,
"I think failure is nothing more than life's way of nudging you that you are off course." And she's absolutely right! When you launch your MVP and it doesn't quite set the world on fire, you're not a failure. You're a discoverer – you've just learned something crucial about what works and what doesn't."
Let's be realistic, however, some failures are different than others. When we allude to failures being something we can learn from, what we really mean is that they're not failures on such a scale that our business tanks, or we become bankrupt, or if someone was to sell a very rare Pikachu Illustrator card for say, £22.69 and a tin of Pepsi when it's worth a cool $5 million.
Learning from your mistakes in the context of a lean startup is building an MVP, testing it with an audience to see what works, and ruthlessly dropping what doesn't work in the next iteration.
If the Lean Startup philosophy had a dance, it would be called the Build-Measure-Learn loop. I like to do this dance right as I'm dropping the kids off to school. This dance is all about creating a rhythm of continuous improvement. It's like composing a melody where each note represents a step forward, even if it's just a tiny step.
Let's go back to our earlier cake analogy. Imagine trying a new ingredient, like adding lavender. This is our new iteration, so let's take a taste, share it with folks, and then adjust the flavours accordingly. The Build-Measure-Learn loop is a lot like that. You build something, whether it's a feature, a design tweak, or a whole new direction.
Then you measure the results – did it resonate with your users? Did it move the needle? Did they ask you why you thought lavender of all things would be good in a cake? Learn from it.
Pro-tip: Good feedback is good, but bad feedback can be even better.
Lean startups are the unsung heroes on the path to becoming unicorns. They embrace the Build-Measure-Learn loop, a mixture of innovation and adaptation. This iterative process allows them to fine-tune their products and strategies to perfection.
Why do angel investors often favour these lean machines? Because they show clear, data-driven progress. Lean startups operate with agility, quickly responding to user feedback and market shifts. Their detailed business plans, strategic thinking, and lean resource allocation make them appealing to investors.
As these startups continuously improve, they build something that resonates with users, moving the needle closer to unicorn status. It's like adding the perfect ingredient to the recipe for success. Angel investors recognise that in the world of startups, a lean and iterative approach significantly increases the chances of reaching billion-dollar valuations, making them more inclined to invest in these promising unicorns in the making.
It's one thing to talk about the Lean Startup philosophy, but it's another to see it in action. Let's take a look at a couple of real-life examples to inspire your inner entrepreneur.
Before becoming the household name it is today, Dropbox started as a simple video demonstrating the concept of cloud storage. The video went viral, and the company was flooded with sign-ups, validating the need for such a service. This viral experiment served as their MVP, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Ever thought selling shoes online was a risky business? Well, Tony Hsieh, the founder of Zappos, turned it into a billion-dollar venture. In the early days, instead of building a huge inventory, he visited local shoe stores, took photos of their shoes, and posted them online. When a customer placed an order, he would buy the shoes from the store and ship them. This creative approach allowed him to test the market and prove demand without investing heavily upfront.
The lean methodology isn't scary. Actually, in a lot of ways, it makes the greatest sense because you're always measuring and mitigating risk. It's about taking small steps, learning from your mistakes, and being open to change. Above all else, remember, your idea doesn't need to be flawless from the get-go; it just needs to be born and then nurtured with care.
In fact, I would suggest that your idea/concept/product from the get-go might suck. But as Jake the Dog once said,
"Dude, sucking at sumthin’ is the first step towards being sorta good at something."
Build stuff, measure your success, and be sort of good at something until you become the best!