3 Lean Startup Tips for Building Your Business


Eric Ries's lean startup book

Image courtesy of Betsy Weber via Flickr

“If you build it, he will come,” is the famous line from the film Field of Dreams, in which those mysteriously whispered words convince a farmer to replace his cornfield with a baseball diamond to draw people to use it. But while that may have worked in the film, it’s not necessarily the case when it comes to new apps, products, and services. How can you make sure you don’t invest your life savings in a business idea that users don’t want? That’s where the lean startup philosophy comes in.

If Eric Ries, blogger, entrepreneur, and author of The Lean Startup, were in charge of the cornfield, he would have tried something less drastic — like taking out an ad or building a web page — to find out if there was a need for a new stadium.

Reis’ philosophy is that instead of creating elaborate business plans and bringing fully fleshed-out products to market, it’s best to follow (and repeat) a three-step process — build, measure, and learn — to test and validate ideas prior to a major investment of time and resources.

The following three strategies will get your business on board with the lean philosophy in no time.

1. Live by the build-measure-learn cycle.

When it comes to startups, you don’t necessarily know what people want. Unlike someone providing a more established good or service, there may not be an existing framework letting you know what people like and dislike. And, even if you do have a history and wealth of information on your users, ideas can be wrong.

Rather than making assumptions, and developing a product and marketing plan based off of guesswork, Ries suggests that a better use of time and resources is to create a minimum viable product, or MVP, which acts a lot like a hypothesis. Build a product — quickly, and without a ton of frills — to fit what you think users want. Then measure and learn from this MVP, so you know if you should move forward, and how. Should you pivot with your product, changing directions for what you’re providing? Or should you persevere and move forward with the product as is? Your users can be the best affirmation for which approach to take.

2. Utilize a users-first methodology.

Question all new features and functionality. Think users want a calendar feature as part of your product? Release a stripped-down version and see what response is like. Rather than predicting your customers’ reactions, give them something they can respond to.

3. Remember that success can be taught.

The lean startup philosophy is a way to work smart, learn from failures, and always test assumptions with users. Successful lean startups value speed over perfection, and respond quickly to user feedback. It’s easy to romanticize the startup story and imagine it as once-in-a-lifetime kismet, but Ries pushes back on this hindsight version of startup narratives, writing, “Startup success is not a consequence of good genes or being in the right place at the right time. Success can be engineered by following the right process, which means it can be learned, which means it can be taught.”

Launch the next big thing. Learn the skills you need to bring a product to market.

Take our 10-week Product Management course