Ditch the Lean Startup methodology, instead be innovative and take risks!

Often I heard many startup founders talk about lean startup, product market fit, minimum viable product, and on and on… I have always preferred the let’s do it and see what happens approach. This is not to suggest that the lean startup methodology and others are not good, instead what I am suggesting is that the best ideas and businesses usually come up when you don’t follow any one procedure or methodology but instead a mix of all of them. I am all for testing, iterating, getting faster to market, etc… However, if you want to start a business and achieve success, you do need to roll-up your sleeves and start getting things done. Startups need to be seen and treated as experiments, it is about doing things differently to find out what works and what doesn’t. It is also important to know that there is not a silver bullet for success in business, and believing that you can achieve success just by following one business methodology is just silly.

There are two main type of entrepreneurs, those who talk about doing things and those who actually do them.

Unfortunately, entrepreneurs experience many distractions today that usually do not lead to anything good for their companies. For example, instead of spending time on building and selling their products many startup founders get stuck reading entrepreneurship books, blogs, forums, attending events, meetups, and the like which for the most part do not help them make their business better. Also, there are these other distractions such as getting funded, spending too much time meeting with investors, tweeting, reading TechCrunch and the like instead of building products or more importantly, selling a product or service… let’s keep in mind that the main goal of a business is to sell a product for a profit big enough that allows the business to exists and expand if necessary.

When following patterns, rules, templates, methodologies, etc to build your business, you are limiting creativity and innovation, and the power to be different. While processes and following patterns are good for things that aren’t necessarily in need of innovation, it is not what you want to do when designing a new application or creating a new business. For example, as part of starting a business you will need to incorporate, create a bank account, etc… these are the things that it is OK to do according to an existing process, because it involves many other people who are already prepared to follow a defined process following specific rules, etc. However, if you are designing a new application to solve an existing problem, you should aim for creativity and innovation instead. There is always room for improvement when developing a product and a business, if you just follow instructions on how to do it, creativity will not be part of the process and this is not what you want. Instructions, guides, manuals and the like are good when building furniture but not when you are trying to build something new and innovative.

A business should not be a machine that you can steer and control as a car, a business should reflect the personality and creativity of founders and the people who work in it

Let’s go back to the Lean Startup topic to explain why I think it should be just another option for entrepreneurs that aren’t really ready to try something new and accept the risk involved with it. The idea that startup success can be engineered by following a process that can be learned and taught sounds just silly. A business should not be a machine that you can steer and control as a car, a business should reflect the personality and creativity of founders and the people who work in it. A creative and innovative company cannot be made into a machine since it requires the creativity and naiveness of the people running the company, it needs to be different, it needs to be personal.

If you are the type of entrepreneur that spends more time reading books, going to events and tweeting, you should know that you are spending valuable time doing things that will more likely do nothing for your business. The advice given in books and blogs should always be seen as only one point of view, not a guide on how to run a business. Every business is different, every entrepreneur has a different background, a different goal, every customer buys a product for different reasons, etc. There is not a single method that will help you achieve success on your business, and if somebody tells you otherwise it is because they are trying to sell you a book or something like that.

In software development there are many methodologies and patterns, as a developer I have never followed all the rules as described in books and white papers, instead I just grab what I think is useful for the application I am building and ditch the rest. This works for me. Many developers are very religious about what methodologies and patterns to follow while writing code and this is something that I find interesting. Many of these developers aren’t looking at the big picture, at the long-term goal, which is in most cases to create an application that will work well for many years without too much maintenance and doing what it was created for. Many believe that to achieve this goal, you do need to follow some methodology that somehow will work well for any development project or team… wrong. As in software development, many entrepreneurs fall into the idea that they need to either be a lean startup or not… I also find that very interesting. There is no reason to follow any methodologies or processes and hope that it is the right thing for your business or software application… why limit yourself to a specific set of rules. Do what you think is better for your business, use common sense and spend time in your business to find ways to make it better and achieve the goals that you want to achieve, no one knows better about your business or goals than yourself.

Entrepreneurship should be about trying new ways to create and offer new and existing products to customers.

It should also be a blank canvas for entrepreneurs willing to take risks and to show how existing procedures and products can be done differently in new and exciting ways. People that decide to become entrepreneurs often do it to liberate themselves from the corporate world, full of procedures, rules and red tape. And at the same time, a large group of these entrepreneurs start building businesses following a defined set of rules and methods which stops them from using their gut to build their businesses any way they want. In a way, these entrepreneurs are just employees of their own business, where is the fun on that!
There are exceptions of course, there are certain steps when building a business that if followed carefully, can make your life easier and move faster. Entrepreneurs can take what they think is useful for them and their unique situation and move on, do not waste time trying to make your company a perfect startup according to some book or methodology,  instead try to follow your gut, get out of your safety bubble and start selling your product, go back to basics.

It is all about doing what you think is right for you and your business at the time. For some products or services, it might pay off if you actually build something first, and then present it to your potential customers, convincing them that what you just build is what they are looking for, it is called selling!

Many of you are thinking right this moment that if you create a product first without knowing what your customers really want you might end up spending several hours or months creating something that in the end no one wants, and my answer for that is yes, you are right, and that is a risk that some people will always be willing to take and others will not. No one really knows if a product will become successful or not, not one. I know that the idea of Lean Startup is not to waste time building something before knowing that someone will actually pay for it… I agree, however talking to potential customers and getting people to tell you that they will buy your product once you build it is also not a guarantee. Again, it is about trying different things, in some cases you can go with what customers are telling you and in other cases you just need to follow your gut, or scratch you own itch and just do it. Customers do not always know what they want.

Innovation is not born from building products based on customer feedback, innovation is the result of passionate people who have a vision.

There are companies that have almost always followed their own gut and build products based on the idea that people actually do not know what they want. Think of Apple computer. During the past few decades Apple has created products that have been both innovative and successful, they have also created products that haven’t been well received by its customers. Do you believe that Apple will be as successful as its been if they followed the Lean Startup methodology or any other for that matter? How about Twitter? innovation is not born from building products based on customer feedback, innovation is the result of passionate people who have a vision.

9 thoughts on “Ditch the Lean Startup methodology, instead be innovative and take risks!

  1. The reason the “Lean Startup” has gotten so much recognition and praise is due to the amount of research and success stories that have come out of it. It’s a proven way to successfully create a business.

    No offense, but this post is all hypothetical, and has zero hard facts. At it’s best, it’s just a rant. Which is fine, but it’s not going to win anyone over from the Lean Startup, when that’s been proven.

    The last two examples are completely faulty. Apple has grown to be successful for a number of reasons (too many to list here, obviously), but probably the most significant is the sheer amount of iteration they do. They (Steve included) aren’t just born geniuses that all of a sudden create product millions of people love. They iterate, and iterate, and iterate. That’s lean.

    Twitter was the same way. They realized twttr had potential on the web moreso than SMS, so they pivoted and brought it to the web. That’s lean.

    In the words of Yehuda Katz, “Lean” takes the “oh shit, we’ve got to change our plan”, and builds that into the process via pivoting. Successful companies absolutely need vision like you said. But there is a fine line between vision and ignorance.

    My two cents. Thanks for the article!

    • @Connor, I agree with your comment for the most part. I completely agree with the idea of iterating a product, but that is not something that only Lean Startups do. Iterating and making a product better with time is something almost any company has been doing forever, and the ones that don’t, usually end up going out of business.

      However, I disagree with what you see as one of the benefits of the Lean Startup methodology which is pivoting. This word has gotten so popular that many startups are going out of their way to “pivot” their business, their ideas. I believe this is bad because many young entrepreneurs end up quitting too soon.

      You called the early Twitter lean… really? it took them a long time before they got any tracking, I don’t remember Twitter making that many iterations to their product in the early days, anyone following the Lean Startup methodology would have pivoted the Twitter idea to do something completely different based on “data”, on customer feedback, etc…

      Innovation cannot be created by looking at existing data, innovation is created by taking risks and pursuing “crazy” ideas that end up being a hit… only after a lot of patience and hard work…

      Can you imagine all the things that wouldn’t have been created if people like Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, Ray Kroc, etc… would have given up on their original ideas and “pivot” to start something else?

      In other words, a great company takes time and patience, it is silly to think that if a company does not seem to have measurable success after a year or even less that is time to pivot… really?

      Also, many so called startups these days are really just applications and not businesses, I guess it is OK to pivot all the time based on data, metrics, etc… if a product is all you have. However, when you have a business, pivoting should be something to consider only after you have tried everything you can to move your company forward and make it successful.

  2. Taking risk does not mean one jump off from every building. Risks should be calculated too. IMO Lean startup does give you chance to find early customers/or not a customer before you actually get into it. There’s a difference between making a project and a product.

  3. I agree on many levels with what you’re talking about. Of course, playing it as safe as you can (determining whether or not a product or service is viable and is bringing in money) is smart.

    But, strict methodologies do limit creativity. I’ve “pivoted” in my company very recently, but I did it very naturally. Very instinctively and it was based on me, going out there with my business, and doing my business. Not testing my business.

  4. Pingback: Making progress, slowly but surely « Ricardo D. Sanchez

  5. “There are two main type of entrepreneurs, those who talk about doing things and those who actually do them.”

    False. An entrepreneur has to balance both of those. We have to blog, attend networking events, while simultaneously building products/services. We can’t just spend all our time in the basement coding.

    “Minimum Viable Product” is a good strategy for some, but not all , startups. Not everything can be built in 72 hours. Some have to go for the “Maximum desirable experience”

  6. this post is money and dead on. creating a vision, and executing on that vision is not a manufacturing factory production process. it does take a series of different approaches to create that vision, and it needs external validation, but to execute on a good vision, it takes guts to build the product the way it needs to be. next time someone prescribes “let’s build ‘x’, because it’s faster and will someday lead to building ‘y'” i’ll fucking vomit.. if ‘y’ is the vision, and it’s validated, and the team/tools are there, build ‘y’. stop fucking around with mba’s trying to insert them into a process they’re not fit for.

  7. Perhaps, just perhaps, it’s all about finding ‘the box’. Sometimes you’re outside the box, sometimes you’re in the box. But the box itself is just a reference point, not a home.

    Ideas like ‘engineering and methodology’ live inside the box, form the reference. And they are truly indispensable. They are also, as is their purpose, specifically limiting. On the other hand, art soars, but, like a kite without a tail, fails to produce value on its own (well, in most cases, anyway — and certainly not typically in a reasonable time frame).

    So grow the box and get the minimal possible tail on that kite. Then fly.

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