Note: This article originally appeared on our MediaLeaf company blog. I’ve adapted and updated it.
An entrepreneurial trend that has been gaining popularity and notoriety lately is lean startup. Lean startup (#leanstartup on Twitter) is the method of building a new business by focusing on customer development, reducing waste, and pivoting often. You can think about lean startup as the new business cousin of lean manufacturing.
I’m kind of late to the lean startup party, but I plan on using the ideology for the next MediaLeaf company. The basic tenants are simple, straightforward, and apply to any new business, not just online ventures. Here’s a very quick and high-level intro to lean startup as well as some links for further exploration.
Customer development is a method of using constant customer interaction to continuously refine your product and business model. Having a few potential customers early in the process that you can frequently check in with regarding your product is a way to gain invaluable insight into how much utility your product has and its ultimate potential. See my other articles on custdev.
In the software world waste can take several forms, including unnecessary features. Features that aren’t critical to your product or heavily used by customers are most likely wasteful; they have a cost in terms of development, support manpower, and time. These features can also draw interest and focus away from your core product. This ties in closely with focusing on a MVP (minimum viable product).
Pivoting vs Optimization
Pivoting is the process of refining your product’s feature set and function to increasingly improve user experiences or to better suit the customer’s needs. Pivoting is a completely different mentality than optimization. Optimization is taking what you have in place and improving it. A good example of optimization would be changing the color of a button on your signup form and A/B testing to see the improvement.
Pivoting is more about making functional changes, such as changing the focus of an entire business or feature. An example of pivoting might be a general contractor deciding that it would be more profitable to focus solely on building gazebos. Optimization would have that contractor trying to figure our ways to be a more profitable general contractor. This is an example of the “local maximum problem” or the “hill climbing problem”. Optimizing your current situation is all well and good, but you should also consider whether or not bigger opportunities exist.
The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steve Blank (Affiliate Link)
The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development: A cheat sheet to The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Patrick Vlaskovits (Affiliate Link)
Steve Blank’s Stanford Talks on Customer Development
Brant Cooper’s The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development