If you work for a startup in any sense, or have entrepreneurial visions of grandeur, The Lean Startup by Eric Ries will make an excellent addition to your bookshelf. Eric Ries, a seasoned entrepreneur and co-founder of IMVU (an 3D avatar based chat room), has crafted an excellent introduction to startup best practices. From inception to maturity, any startup, whether a seedling or an offshoot from a well established business sequoia, can gain valuable information on how to use lean startup methodologies to help eliminate wasteful activities and instead focus on the projects and techniques to help break through the bonds of linear growth and achieve the exponential.
What I found most interesting about these best practices was the initial focus on a minimal viable product to test customer interaction and appreciation of a particular business idea. By building a rough draft of a product or feature, and unleashing it into the wild (even in perhaps an imperfect state), a company can gain valuable insights into whether or not the feature will gain traction with customers. Through the use of real life startup stories, Ries demonstrates how spending many months of careful planning, only to release a product that is ‘not quite’ what the customer is looking for, can cost a great deal of unnecessary time and energy. If instead, products and features are built to be ‘just good enough’, valuable customer data can be gathered, and utilized to either enhance the minimal viable product to make it more production worthy, or pivot onto something else that may be more valuable to the customer.
This customer-centric approach permeated the entirety of the book, which, coming from a developer’s standpoint, is not something I feel we generally think about enough. Developers are often extremely code-centric in their thinking. This is certainly important (don’t want to build complete junk, even if it is only the minimal viable product), but we also should not be oblivious to the business needs of our customers. Ries emphasizes that in a startup, all employees and stake-holders, regardless of roles, should be in constant communication with each other to ensure the system being built is indeed for the customer. And while participating in business thought and discussion, developers can gain deeper insight into customer needs, helping them avoid rabbit trails and design the most appropriate system for any particular feature. At Within3, the startup I currently work for, company and product managers, business development, and customer support weekly share goals and practices which I definitely appreciate. It helps me feel more integrated into the company as a whole, and offers the engineering team the opportunity to better understand both the in-house and customer needs for our business.
While reading The Lean Startup, I did feel some of the points were hammered home a little to hard, and I found myself zoning out in a few places where the information seemed overly redundant or was presented like a college lecture. But thankfully, Ries would toss a real life startup story my way and re-engage me. I found the stories by far the most interesting and helpful aspect of the book and the most effective tool in validating Ries’ suggestions.
All in all, a good read and a valuable looking glass into the moving parts of the startup engine and how to make them churn along as efficiently, and powerfully, as possible.