Eric Ries and the Origins of the Lean Startup Theory—The Full Xconomy Interview

7/6/11Follow @wroush

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I have actually learned something from this process. I say in the book a lot of times-what we know now is the tip of the iceberg. So the idea that we have finished this process is insane.

X: But at the same time, you are giving advice to startups that presumably you are hoping they will implement now, in the present.

ER: Yes. If you look at the meetup groups around the world and all the people that have gone to them, it’s tens of thousands of people. Like 20,000 or something now. It’s not Facebook, but it’s a very significant number of entrepreneurs who have put these ideas to the test. That is the best data set we have to say, something about this is right. It is more right than it is wrong. And it is certainly better than the crappy models we had before. So I feel very good. I think if people follow this advice, they will be more successful. But I think that we will have even better advice to give them in the future. Because the more people try it, and the more they share their experience.

The meetup groups are so important to me personally, because it’s an avenue for sharing what really works and what really doesn’t—the better we get at this. When I first talked about this stuff, design, how do you integrate this with design and design thinking, I didn’t have a clue. I’m not a designer. That’s turned out to be a very important area of active work that has come out of the meetups and the collisions that result. This thing has become a steamroller and it has encountered resistance in all kinds of places, first from the hardcore programmers. Resistance has been the name of the game. Venture backed CEOs. VCs themselves. A lot of resistance from the traditional agile community. Incredible resistance from the design community. You go through the functions of modern work and everyone is going to have their moment of reckoning. And I think what’s exciting about it is we have come out of all of those encounters stronger. I know more about design today than I did when I started. And now I understand. When people ask me how to integrate design I can give them answers.

X: Do you ever worry that now, you are the new orthodoxy, and that if a startup comes along and they don’t have all these checkboxes—”We are agile, we are lean, we iterate, we do customer development”—that an angel or venture firm might say, “Why should I fund you?”

ER: Well, if any VC or angel did that they’d be really stupid. Actually, the reverse is the problem. Most VCs I know are begging me to make it stop. There was a phase where entrepreneurs would show up with these same old crappy pitches, but now it says “lean,” “pivot,” “MVP,” and all the jargon and they think they should get credit for that. I’ve been saying for the last six months, nine months, “Please stop doing this.” That’s stupid. The results are what matter, not the jargon. Any entrepreneur that’s pitching anything but results is totally confused. And any VC that is looking for anything other than results is totally confused.

Now, when VCs are asked for advice, do I hope that they’ll give this advice instead of the old advice? I sure do. If I was raising money for an idea today, would I be willing to raise money from a strictly traditional VC who didn’t understand this? Hell no. But the framework is not the thing. The map is not the territory. You are not an explorer because you can draw lines on a map. You are an explorer because you go somewhere new.

There is no shame in using a map. If somebody has a natural talent and gets there without the map, amen. I have no complaints. But when they have to scale up and teach their organization how to get there, are they going to want a map? They sure are. So I feel both good about what we are offering and very cognizant of the fact that there is way more work to be done.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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  • http://www.chasminnovations.com Robert DiLoreto

    Wait…now that we built it leveraging Lean Start-up principles…”THEY WILL COME?” I understand the “Customer Development” component of Lean Start-up…but am still missing ideal strategies to generate new customers and users, especially for B2B startups providing a “disruptive technology/solution”

    It sounds like all you now need to do next is implement a sales/marketing 2.0 tool, add a “PRICING AND PLANS” section on your website and hire some internal telemarketers?

    Sounds like a single point of potential failure to me…Should these start-up’s also target big company “C-Suites” and communicate their value prop towards “C-Suite” sponsored initiatives? Should a “top down” sales approach be ignored? “Bottoms up” / viral approach only?

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