When an aspiring entrepreneur first sets their mind to starting a business, the amount of work that needs to be done can seem overwhelming. And by that we don’t just mean finding an idea, building a product, and seeing your vision come to life. That’s all the fun stuff. But, in the world of business and entrepreneurship, the standard practice has traditionally been to spend a long time — often between six months to a year — on developing an idea and channeling it into a business plan to present to investors. This tradition was not only extremely time consuming, but was also highly risky. More often than not, an entrepreneur would toil over their business plan without ever testing it out with customers to see whether it would hold up or collapse.
That timeline can make or break an entrepreneur. Because the time they spend on a detailed business plan for a product that has no market or value to customers is time wasted. Particularly now, when technology is constantly accelerating the rate of change in any given market, young entrepreneurs can’t afford to wait anymore. For their companies to be successful, they have to constantly change and adapt. Entrepreneurs must continuously learn about their customer base, how well their solution addresses problem, and how others are currently solving the problem. These variables are not stagnant, they are ever-changing. And if young entrepreneurs in early-stage startups aren’t changing with them, they are falling behind. Fortunately for them, there exists an alternative far more in-line with the needs and operations of an early-stage startup : the Lean Startup.
The business philosophy of “Lean Thinking” had been around for many years prior to the Lean Startup itself. At it’s core, Lean Thinking was all about decreasing waste in companies and organizations. Steve Blank, a prominent entrepreneur in Silicon Valley and Stanford professor, brought this methodology to startups by advocating Customer Development as a crucial step in the early-stages of a startup. These were the initial advancements that led to the development of the Lean Startup methodology.
In 2011 Eric Ries expanded on Lean Thinking and Blank’s Customer Development, effectively changing the landscape of entrepreneurship with his book The Lean Startup. Ries’ concept of the Lean Startup centers around the idea that startup entrepreneurs should launch with an MVP (minimum viable product) that isn’t perfect, finalized, or decked out with complicated features and then engage with potential customers and investors in a continuous feedback loop.
This loop encompasses the core of the Lean Startup: “Build, Measure, Learn.” And with it, Ries demonstrates the need for entrepreneurs to build their MVP as soon as possible, deliver it to customers and measure its effectiveness and the customer response, and learn from these metrics to reconfigure and improve the MVP.
The Lean Startup itself has iterated and grown beyond Ries. At 3 Day Startup, we have every participant at every program complete Ash Maurya’s Lean Canvas. The Lean Canvas is an adaptation of the Alexander Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas; and Ash Maurya created it in the Lean Startup spirit — which champions the fast, concise, and effective startup. Lean Canvas promises an actionable and entrepreneur-focused business plan, focusing on problems, solutions, key metrics, and competitive advantages.
And the Lean Canvas is “lean” in every sense of the word. It allows entrepreneurs to capture business model assumptions in one page so they can document their process as they build, measure, and learn about their solution.
The most important aspect of the Lean Canvas is the impetus it puts on measuring the effectiveness of the product and the customer reaction; learning the strengths and weaknesses of an idea from those metrics allows you to easily rebuild and adapt until you get it right.
Startup entrepreneurs need to engage in constant learning and constant growth. Adhering to the Lean Startup model can seem like a lot of work, but it has allowed some of this generation’s greatest innovators and change-makers to break free from the constricting, traditional business model. All with the idea that interactions with real customers can and will do more for your startup than 200 assumption-filled pages of a business plan.
So if you have a problem that you want to solve, get out there and find the people it’s addressing. They are your true experts.