Is Lean Startup over-hyped?

It was a great party at the Cass Entrepreneurs Network in the heart of Tech City last week prompting a serious debate about Lean Startup.  "It is all obvious and we have been doing this for years" was one argument from a long standing biotech entrepreneur.  I could not but agree - the funny thing about all the best innovations is that they are obvious - once you see them in action - and yes Lean Startup does mirror the habits of successful entrepreneurs so again no surprises there.  So what is the excitement?  Actually having a set of processes to follow is an amazing help for young tech entrpreneurs who do not have the heritage of science with its hypotheses and trials.   Getting people out to talk to prospects before settling on their plan has been the making of a number of young start-ups that I have coached.  Obvious? maybe once you have experienced its power.  But counter-intuitive for many though because it is not how we learn product marketing and for some techies it is downright uncomfortable to talk to people as illogical, emotional and uneducated in the esoterica of technology as the majority of users and customers tend to be. 

Simple and obvious the process may be, but doing it well is not easy.  Some relish the idea of selling their idea at an early stage, but developing a real empathy with unmet customer needs is not as easy to do as it is to say.  The mistake that many make is to seek affirmation for their concept rather than probing for ways to make it better.  It is not what people like, but what they do not like that provides the greatest insight - comments like "it is kind of good, but if you could …. it would be brilliant"  Another common mistake is not getting deep enough into the need itself - why is the need there and why is it still unmet?  I take my clients down at least 5 levels of why and discard far more opportunities than we end up developing.  Only then do we get specific enough to really understand who the customer is and what they actually want.

But there is also an interesting side effect of Lean Startup.  There is no doubt that the process has empowered a lot of entrepreneurs to significantly raise their game. However competition for talent, finance and ears in the growing noise levels of a connected world means that just as fast as entrepreneurs get better, the bar goes up on "what good looks like".

Doing Lean Startup is no longer enough.  Precisely executing it is the bare minimum standard and real success depends upon a whole lot more.

Banner image © Mark Neild 2013  Dolphin in Bay of islands New Zealand taken shortly before we went swimming with them.