Search Google for the phrase “The Lean Startup” and you’ll likely get nearly 4 million results.
There’s been much written and discussed about Eric Ries’ method for developing businesses and products. Based on Eric’s experience working in several startups, Ries defines models where start-ups and large enterprises can shorten their product development cycles by adopting a combination of business-hypothesis-driven experimentation and iterative product releases. The premise behind this is simple and has been best articulated by serial entrepreneur Steve Case: “No business plans survives first contact with a customer”.
Most business schools today still teach that creating business plans and business cases is the way to influence, align and compel individuals to buy into an idea or a concept. Preparing the business plan calls for countless days of researching, sizing the market opportunity, pulling together financial projections and of course, polishing powerpoints into “works of art”. The stark reality however, is that most business plans will fail or will change significantly before success can be realized. This calls for a change of tactic. Having a business plan is important, but much of the initial work of defining, testing and tweaking your business model cannot be done while sitting behind a desk. You need to get out there and (as one of the most powerful slogans of all-time say), just do it!
When I read Eric’s book a couple of years ago, one of the concepts that really resonated with me was building a minimum viable product (MVP). Essentially an MVP is a designed experiment. A prototype that’s meant to test fundamental business hypotheses or ideas that can help entrepreneurs begin the learning process as quickly as possible. While an MVP is one way to test your idea, nothing beats getting out there and reaching out to people who can provide you insight. Talk to your target customers, talk to your suppliers, even talk to your would-be competitors if you have the chance.
I’ve seen this approach work wonders in a start-up I advised recently.
They had a tremendous idea of revolutionizing how consumers interact with advertising. They have developed a cutting-edge platform that powers large LCD displays that make ads come alive when people interact with them. While the product was cutting-edge, they were stuck in a market that is at an inflection point. For retailers, despite the benefits, the proposition came at a tough time where they were not keen to invest in expensive hardware to put in stores. For advertising agencies, it represented a potential threat to the massive print advertising market that still represents a significant portion of their revenues. While the initial idea may have eventually found traction, through “just doing it”, the team spent a lot of time with their target customers and end-consumers when they stumbled upon a new idea. This one eliminated the expensive hardware component while using the same platform to interact with a consumer’s smartphone. A partial pivot took place and now their new product is flying off the shelf and has the potential for massive scale.
Whether you’re sitting in an enterprise and need to come up with the next big thing, or perhaps you’re an entrepreneur in a startup, get out there and just do it! Small experiments, iterations, conversations are the best ways to learn, test and refine ideas, get validation and provide the input into the business case.