Failure is hard. Self delusion is worse.
Shortly after I started SpeakerText in the late 2000’s, The Lean Startup came into vogue as a meme. My understanding of the concept was pretty superficial:
Save money and be “lean” by launching shitty, ugly, barely-working products. If and when the business side of things takes off, actually invest in making the product “good.”
Frankly, a lot of people share this perception. It is wrong.
At its heart, running lean isn’t about launching shitty products, it’s about mental discipline and really, really understanding what it means for a product to be “good.”
Look, you can get tons of press and land on Techcrunch without actually creating a product of real value. In fact, you can raise millions of dollars from top flight venture capitalists without creating something people actually want.
That’s really fucking dangerous. And not just because some investors might lose their money.
The problem with apparent success is that you start to believe it. Your team starts to believe. You mentally endow the product you created with properties it does not have.
Those users who don’t engage? Those customers who don’t show up? They’re stupid. Or they’re just around the corner. I mean, we’re on to something huge, right guys? All the money, all our friends are saying so.
Running lean brings you back to earth. It forces you to focus on the things that actually matter, like usage metrics and whether your customers are who you think they are. At its core, the lean startup is about having clear and explicit product hypotheses––about the market, the use case, the features and the value––and testing them as quickly (and cheaply) as possible.
Running lean is about taking company building out of the realm of magic and turning it into a science.
Sometimes this means launching a cheap, shitty product that doesn’t work. Sometimes it means launching a fully functional app. But the purpose is to eliminate waste, to not spend time building features that fail to prove that you’re solving the right problem in the first place.
If you don’t have a clear hypothesis, you can never be wrong. If your ideas are never wrong, you can toil endlessly building something of indeterminate value, for an amorphous, ever shifting audience, until one day you can’t––like so many before you.
This is how most people, even in today’s lean-hype saturated environment, build companies. It is the wrong way.
Believe me. I speak from experience.