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I Am Eric Ries, Author of the Lean Startup. AMA
214 points by eries on April 13, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 112 comments
I'm writing a new book & trying to use lean startup ideas myself in writing it. The new book is only available via Kickstarter, and the campaign ends in 56 hours, so I thought I'd stop by and answer questions about the new book, lean startup, or anything else.

Kickstarter URL: bit.ly/theleadersguide

EDIT: 1:05pm. I need to sign off for a bit. Thanks for asking such great questions. I'll try and stop by later in the day to pick up any stragglers that come in.

Perfect timing. I'm bootstrapping my own startup (http://moonlighter.io) at the moment and had a couple questions about the MVP.

1) How can you quickly validate a business with very little immediately visible value to the user? Direct user interviews won't work here because the service is very data-driven (collecting filesystem events), so it'll require a decent amount of data collection from the user (I'll offer something like a 14-30 day trial to allow this). Since it has to be done over a longer period of time, and it includes collecting information that might be sensitive to some people, it's not very easy to fully validate the business. I've had a few friends using it, and I'll be sharing with a small beta user list soon, but otherwise I was wondering if you had any other ideas.

2) I've put off writing the payment processing code, focusing on the product itself. Especially considering the "trial" period necessary to see value, are there any downsides to releasing the MVP without allowing payments and then adding them in after release? (Other than no cashflow of course...)

Thanks! I'm actually reading through the lean startup now (after reading way too much of it's principles on the internet first). So it's neat to be able to communicate with the author directly like this.

That technique is actually very common. If you have a 30 day free trial, for example, you really don't need a payment processor for at least 30 days (and that's the optimistic scenario! I've seen startups that don't need payment processing for a lot longer, because nobody completes the trial)

Remember that not only does your product have to create value for customers but they have to realize that it will create value for them, and both assumptions are important to test.

I hear people talk about Lean Startup methods at many established companies (where I work included). But I feel like we're deluding ourselves a bit, playing pretend startup. How applicable do you think the Lean Startup ideas are to a corporate environment? (One that purportedly wants to adopt these ideas) What features don't work at all? Who is doing good work to adapt these ideas for larger corporations?

There's plenty of "leanwashing" going on, that's for sure.

The key is to move from "pretend startup" to "real startup" - which is 100% possible inside an established company if the leadership wants it to happen. But it is not easy; it requires significant changes to many of the company's systems, including HR and Finance.

To know if it's likely to work ask yourself: 1. does the startup have the authority to operate autonomously or does it need endless approvals and permissions? 2. does the startup have a clear board that it is accountable to for both funding and pivot decisions? 3. is the statup cross-functional across all the functions required to build the product? 4. are the members of the startup full-time on just that one thing? 5. is the budgeting process metered (ie fixed rounds of funding) or entitlement based (ie annual appropriates with quarterly adjustments)?

If you don't have good answers to all five of these questions, you're probably playing startup more than real startup.

Are there examples of lean startup ideas going wrong or being misunderstood and leading startups straight to failure?

tons! I think about this all the time, since I feel a responsibility to try and talk about lean startup in such a way that prevents misunderstanding.

I would say the two most fatal misapplications are:

1. "up and to the right" disease. here you split-test everything and just do whatever moves the numbers. pretty soon you are selling porn or psychic hotlines.

2. "no vision, no problems" error. It's like trying to do science without a hypothesis. In lean startup we emphasize that people trying to predict the future are often wrong, so it's best to experiment and pivot as you learn. But some people interpret this to mean that the future is unknowable, there's no point in having any kind of vision, and you should just ship something and see what happens. the problem with this plan is you are guaranteed to succeed - at seeing what happens. after-the-fact rationalization will prevent any learning, because if you can't fail you can't learn. having a big expansive vision is really helpful because it provides lots of falsifiable hypotheses for testing.

3. "minimum viable crap" sloppy execution. Some people think MVP means just throw garbage at the wall and see what sticks, especially since the M makes people think lean startup is for doing something small. but the truth is if you're doing something small, you don't need MVP or lean startup. you only need an MVP if you're trying something large. further, part of the MVP process is to learn what customers actually value in terms of quality, so we can build something that they perceive as excellent. shipping crap isn't the goal, and people that go on TechCrunch with garbage and then claim "but it's an MVP!" are doing it wrong. the hard truth is that spending more time "perfecting" a product in the absence of feedback often makes the product worse, not better.

The struggle for me seems to be knowing how much is too little and how much is too much. Do you try to err on the side of doing too little at first?

Well, that's a bit like saying "how much science should I use?" There's not really such a thing as "too much science" more like "bad science" or "too expensive science." The key, to me, is to pick an experiment that is well tuned to your circumstance: the right cost, timeline, hypothesis, and clear action for next steps.

Eric--for the above-average engineer (lets call him a 3X-5X), but not a 10X or 100X engineer--what advice would you give if they were interested in beginning a tech venture? How much does personal will play a factor compared to personal ability? Do they stand a chance to compete? Can you think of founders that have achieved great success despite lacking supreme talent? And, finally, to expand a little-- can you think of a character trait that is MOST important for a founder to possess other than great intelligence / clever execution?

There are so many assumptions baked into these questions that it's a little hard to answer. First of all, I'm not a fan of the "10X engineer" framing. I'm much more interested in the systems that companies can build to create 10X teams.

I am thinking of two conventional "10X engineers" right now that I've worked with in my career. One is extremely loud, brash, judgmental and basically scary. If you are brave enough to come to him with a question, and he thinks it's stupid, you will basically never live it down. The second is extremely humble, quiet, and gentle. If you come to him with a question, he probably won't answer it but will show up two days later with a fully-implemented solution that he created at 2am just to see if it was possible.

In most companies, the first 10X engineer tends to get promoted to a position of seniority, while the second is generally allowed to quietly leave the company when they get bored. And don't even get me started on all the incredibly talented people out there who our biased hiring processes can't ever identify as "10X."

If you ever get the chance to mingle with some of the truly famous founders, ask yourself if they strike you as the smartest people you've ever met. Now, many of us get star-struck when we meet people who are rich and powerful, and we rationalize whatever garbage comes out of their mouths as genius utterances, because deep down we're all still primates. But if you can get past that, you'll notice that a lot of really successful founders (and investors for that matter) aren't especially bright or thoughtful. But they do have other critical character traits that helped them succeed. Here's a PG classic on the subject: http://www.paulgraham.com/bronze.html

He also has a great essay about the importance of grit and determination but I can't quite remember the title.


And how would any of these 10x engineers feel about doing javascript a/b tests all day

very insightful answer-- thank you so much for your reply, i look forward to your new book!

Hello Eric,

I saw you speak some years ago right around the time your first book came out. I have a media background, and I noticed some parallels with what you described at IMVU and what I have seen in my industry.

Typically, the projects have involved large media companies building high-quality products/brands, such as television shows or websites. They are designed and built in near-stealth mode with limited opportunities for user testing or audience feedback, and sometimes (but not always) fail miserably when they are released to the world. Conversely, there are examples of media programs/products/brands being developed in a highly iterative/audience-focused approach and sometimes (but not always) leading to a hit or at least becoming self-sustaining.

My question is this: Generally speaking, can “lean startup” concepts be applied to media or other industries, or do the unique characteristics of those industries — for instance, high cost structures or dependence on industry-specific business models - make it difficult to really leverage the software-focused product development concepts you outlined?

I hope to develop a framework with which to approach product development in my own industry (“lean media”) and would greatly value any feedback/ideas/suggestions for further reading you may have.


Yes, I think the fundamental issues are the same as product development elsewhere: the key is to find product/market fit. Sometimes you swing for the fences and it works out great. Sometimes you do everything right and you still fail. It's about probabilities and whether taking a scientific approach can increase the odds that you build something customers want.

I noticed how even though your book doesn't exist yet, the graphic that you put up on Kickstarter looks very polished and enticing. But I've also seen startups dig holes for themselves by over-obsessing about graphic design.

On a startup's first MVP iteration, how little graphic design effort can you get away with? Does it depend on the product, perhaps? Should all iterations be visually polished?

Think about a very delicious cupcake, rather than half the ingredients in a mixing bowl. That's what most MVPs are like - you want to give the customer a taste of the end experience you hope to build.

Visual polish is extremely important -- sometimes. Other times, it's lethal. It all goes back to what are you trying to learn and how well do you really know the customer.

In the Lean Startup you described Aardvark tested several different business concepts, before choosing one in the end. Do you know how they dealt with the possible need to pivot versus focusing the team's resources on one single product? Or have any other advice in terms of focus versus testing different products?

It was totally obvious that Aardvark was a better product than the previous ones they had tested. They could feel it in their bones once customers started using it. I do think it's possible to quantify that result, but it's almost always unnecessary if you are able to step out of your own reality distortion field.

Great that you're doing an AMA!

I'm a big fan if the concept of the MVP, however, having build 30+ apps and spoken with hundreds of founders how to buils their product, I have seen a lot of people struggling with the terminology of the MvP.

From the top of my head, 40% of founders are confused by the viable in the MVP. Furthermore, every time I explain the MVP, I catch myself having to explain that the MVP doesn't mean a crappy product, viable means having very few features, but having those few few features work really well.

Now that the term MVP has been out for 8 years, and so many people still build crappy products, despite all the knowledge around it, is it maybe not the right terminology?

I've thought a lot about this, and from what I've seen, building an MVP means building a product that is very, very basic, but that users would love, because this product can test a hypothesis. What do you think of the term Minimum Lovable Product, because from my point of view, this terminology encompasses everything that the MVP tries to define, without the bad stuff or the confusion.

Hope that all made sense, thanks a lot.

People have the ability to willfully misunderstand any concept, no matter what it's called. That said, if MLP is a better term, I'd gladly adopt it. Go prove it.

More like Minimum Sellable Product. Well done Eric. Your work has improved our odds for success. Grateful for TLS. - Proud evangelist.

I like that term. I'm going to copy it. Thanks for that!

What is your experience with the NSF I-Corps program? Do you know of anyone who has gone through the program and then built a successful company afterwords?

Link for those who are unfamiliar. https://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/i-corps/

That's really Steve Blank's domain, but we just had lunch and he filled me in. It sounds absolutely incredible.

Thanks for the reply! I start the program next week and based on the paperwork and conversations I've had it seems like it will be a massive amount of work with potentially massive returns on my time investment.

How does Lean model work in case of marketplace? Should you first get good amount of sellers on board before opening the beta version as marketplace ?

Nope, that's almost certain to fail. Why should sellers join if there are no buyers? And if you do convince them, how can you ensure that they will have a good experience on launch day?

The only way to test a marketplace is to get a small number of highly-interconnected buyers and sellers to transact in low volume by hand. Think eBay and beanie babies or Facebook just on the Harvard campus. Read PG's http://paulgraham.com/ds.html for more.

In the case of the startup I'm working for, they will join because of the reputation of the founder. His father was such a successful entrepreneur that people will jump over anything with his name. Of course it will not prevent the business to fail miserably, but nobody will listen to me anyway - when I started working here I gave him a copy of your book, but I'm sure it is was stashed somewhere unread. :-)

I work for a large aerospace company. How can we adopt lean startup ideas for hardware projects where the design iterations are much more expensive and lead times more severe?

Ask Corey Nelson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rkdsYTlEGfQ

It all depends on what you are trying to learn. What has to be true in order for your new product or project to succeed? How can you find that out cheaply and quickly? And what if you chose tools for speed of testing rather than efficiency of production?

I've been amazed how many hardware and industrial companies have been able to adopt lean startup, even in situations I would have previously thought impossible.

I'd be curious what the equivalent idea of what you are doing (by posting here as AMA) would be if you weren't Eric Ries posting on HN. So for Eric Ries this is "lean" (or what used to be known as "gorilla marketing") but for someone who doesn't have name recognition what is the equivalent? [1]

[1] Simply recognizing that someone without name recognition doing something similar on HN is not assured of getting any attention.

Let's be honest: I almost didn't make the front page. My post got to about #25 on /newest with only like 9 upvotes. If it had rolled over to page two, I doubt I would still be answering questions right now. So no, I don't think this kind of technique is useful for marketing if you don't have name recognition.

However, there are many other ways to build rep in a community like HN without being famous. I bet if any of the highest-karma posters did an AMA they would get a lot of attention. Personally, I'd be fascinated to learn more about who they are.

My personal feeling is that the high karma that you are speaking of is not a good use of time (for that reason). I know it has helped tptacek and some others but it takes considerable time (and is a distraction) to comment on HN and essentially if you do it, you do it for fun and to learn. And if something comes from it then that's icing on the cake.

I actually picked up a considerable amount of side consulting by being a regular commenter on a well known blog. While I make money from that side consulting (near 6 figures), it's actually a drain on how I make money in other ways. It almost doesn't pay (but it's fun). [1] However the time it took me to earn enough of a reputation which led (in an indirect way) to the consulting (and contacts) was really a poor use of my time.

A better idea time wise, to jump start reputation, and build a rep (in a community like HN if that is what you are trying to do) would be to attempt to do things that are remarkable and get attention. Then people might talk about you and you will have the reputation that you seek that will bring other things that you need.

[1] I also get to meet many interesting people and contacts as well.

Being an active participant on HN has been very helpful to me professionally. HN karma, on the other hand, has not. The only thing that ever came from karma for me was a TechCrunch interview about HN.

There are great commenters who are very well-known who don't rank anywhere on the leaderboard. 'pbsd is a well-known cryptographer. 'tzs is the best commenter on HN. 'carbocation is a doctor/medical researcher.

Being engaged and available is important. The leaderboard is a really warped assessment of that. HN should get rid of it, along with the whole karma system.

An easy start: continue scoring comments, but stop revealing per-user karma totals.

I don't think anyone needs an AMA from me or Patrick McKenzie. The Ries AMA is interesting because he isn't a regular, and has interesting things to say.

True that, HN wasn't designed to be a forum, and there is virtually no point in having a karma system since this is as far as I know not a for profit site, and the quality of this site itself draws people so there is little point for providing karmas to keep people interested

Agree and would also get rid of grayed out comments that are down voted.

"I don't think anyone needs an AMA from me"

Actually I would find that fascinating.

I'm pretty sure HN has already asked me anything worth knowing about me. Except maybe "how much does NSA pay you to shill for them on HN". ($39.54/wk)

Matasano Security, the company you founded, was acquired by NCC Group for $13 million in cash. You probably saw a good chunk of that money, and one would assume you'd be well off enough to not work for $39.54/wk. Why do it anyway?

I guess I just love my country.

I can't tell if you're continuing the joke or genuinely missed it...

(although given your prior comment history, I'm guessing the latter)

http://bit.ly/theleadersguide+ - nice, seems like you have got few hundred of visits thanks to this in last 2 hours. This is actually handy when estimating what impact front page have on products featured here.

Hey that's cool. I completely forgot about that feature of bitly.

If you want to track click stats but don't want to make it public, try my "lean startup" - http://taveo.net/

I usually describe it as bit.ly + Google analytics.

What do you think has changed the most for startups today since when you wrote "The Lean Startup"?

It's a whole new world. It reminds me a bit of 2007, but even more intense. And although I wasn't in Silicon Valley in 1999, it has some of those overtones, too.

But the biggest change is not in all that noise, it's in the fact that entrepreneurial know-how is widely available. When I first started blogging in 2008, there weren't that many startup blogs. Almost no VCs blogged. YC was just beginning and PG's essays were about many different topics, with startups appearing only rarely.

Now new founders are swimming in a sea of knowledge that was previously considered esoteric. I think we're only seeing the tip of the iceberg of what will happen to the global economy now that the genie is out of the bottle. (mixing metaphors a wee bit)

Thanks Eric, I really enjoyed the Lean Startup. I'm an engineer, and I like to work on valuable and interesting problems.

1. What do you do when your market is so small that you can't grab some teenager off the street to try your product? I'm thinking of the people who buy X-ray machines for the airport, for example.

2. I know people who pretend to like ideas from your book. One guy applauds the idea of failing while also failing to do validated learning. Can you or I or anyone fix that? For example, we'll never test weather a user would prefer an interface other than a website.

3. How do I convince my boss that we need a research department?

4. Have you read Dealers of Lightning (about Xerox Parc) what is your take on it?

1. Just wrote a little about this: http://www.startuplessonslearned.com/2015/04/getting-feedbac...

2. I know so many people like that. I'll tell you a funny story. Back in 2005 a certain VC wanted to invest in our company and said, "I'm a huge Steve Blank fan! Also, where's your Market Requirements Document?" I fear it may be an incurable condition.

3. Convince yourself, then show her the evidence. Most times "boss persuasion" is really code for "I don't have proof this is a good idea, just a vague intuition."

4. I have it on my shelf but haven't yet had a chance to read it. I did a talk there a few years ago and got to spend some time learning their history. It's pretty wild.

Hi Eric! I enjoyed "The Lean Startup" and I think the approach for the new book is very interesting.

Besides establishing the backer-only discussion community, what other lean methodologies are you using to write this book?

Along those lines, have there been any significant pivots yet? Obviously, the kickstarter seems to be doing well at over 3.5x pledged over the goal. Do you think that this is validation of the new content that the book promises to deliver or is it simply riding the coat-tails of the previous success you had with "The Lean Startup"? How are you measuring success?

I only now noticed that there's also a Reddit AMA, apologies if you've answered in that thread already.

Good question and hard to do justice to it. The Kickstarter is an MVP in several ways:

1. It's a good test of the value prop for the new book 2. The Leader's Guide gives me a chance to test out ideas from the new book and make sure they work (amazing to me how many business books skip this step!) 3. I've learned a ton about book marketing in 2015 that's going to help inform the launch of the new book 4. There's a big difference between "customers want this" as a general statement and "these 7000 customers paid for this" which is a much richer dataset 5. The community part of the campaign will be a testbed for a lot more experimentation.

What books do you recommend, for people who are very new to entrepreneurship and stratups?

TBH, don't read books, go start something. Then, when you're totally baffled by what's happening, use books to try and understand why.

Now, since you're probably not going to take my advice, I think a new book that you'll find helpful would be Startup Opportunities https://www.amazon.com/Startup-Opportunities-Know-When-Quit/...

I also recently curated a list of classic startup books on Product Hunt: http://www.producthunt.com/ericries/collections/classic-star...

Thanks a lot Eric, I will surely take your first advise (with a small deviation), in fact I read a lot and sometimes feel overloaded with information and not knowing what to do with it. I guess I'll restrict my reading time to 15-20 minutes a day apart from the reading I have to do while researching on a particular problem. I guess this would be right for me.

I just looked at the collection and realized Founders at Work isn't in there, which is an oversight.

Hi Eric, I just started reading your "Lean Startup" book and as I understand the main thing is to validate the idea and build out MVP before building out features that people might not even need.

I am a software engineer and have an idea of building a marketplace to connect brands to instagram users that have a large amount of followers. Sort of like AirBNB for for instagram which can expand into other social media as well. How would you validate this idea "Lean start up" style before coding it. How would you get users and brands on board?

I'm a huge fan, Eric! Thank you for doing this. My question is of a more personal nature. When you were in your mid-20s, what were your career goals? Have they changed (if so, how drastically)?

Drastically is an understatement! I was 25 when I co-founded IMVU. My goals at that time were to become an excellent technical founder, CTO, and maybe even a startup CEO someday.

Looking back, I think if YC had existed, I almost certainly would have applied. But nothing like that existed back then and so I wound up making my own mistakes and then writing about them.

"so I wound up making my own mistakes "

I've always thought that it's not entirely good idea to not make your own mistakes. While painful it provides a better gut than simply being told or reading about things and getting quick answers.

You know in traditional businesses there is a reason that even in many cases family members (in family businesses) spend time at the bottom before they are put into higher level positions. It gives you a chance to see exactly why and how things are done and to experience them and fully understand nuance. Things that can't be learned in school or passed by anecdote.

I understand and appreciate your approach that the best way to work on growth-engine-topics using lean startup way is by utilising fully dedicated teams in sandboxes. But if you were working for a corporate-client (as a methodology-champion), who is not in the position to assign even one dedicated team yet (instead: 14 volunteers (working in their normal full-day job) distributed across 5 sandboxes), how would you facilitate the work of the sandbox-teams?

Well the first thing to think about is: are you in a position to tell your client the truth, which is that this is not going to work. A giant part-time committee isn't going to accomplish this kind of work.

If you can tell the truth, try to win the argument now, before it's too late.

But not everyone is so lucky. If for whatever reason, you can't tell the client the truth, you're not totally doomed. What I would look for is an opportunity to make a trade with the various middle managers involved in this situation. Try to ask for fewer, but more dedicated, resources. In most corporate situations, nobody ever asks for less money, smaller teams, less authority. But you'd rather have a dedicated team of 5 than 14 volunteers.

Thank you very much for this advice. Until I can play this card how I act currently as methodology-champion is that I pre-think/pre-work/"pre-cook" every working step for every sandbox-team. So the volunteers do not need to start from zero - they get everything prepared, comment it and thus can get good quality results out of their work - even on a slow pace do to long intervals between meetings. What do you think about this? Can this work for the first BML-feedback loop per sandbox?

I hate to be a downer, but I'm not very optimistic that this will work. The limiting factor is that you can't learn for another human being, they have to do it themselves.

Maybe you can ask a few of the volunteers to join you for an extra-curricular set of meetings, like over a weekend, to try and give them a tiny taste of acting like a real startup.

Thank you so much for your honest advice. I will try to include this into my work and talk to my client. Great that you do AMAs these days. I very much appreciate it!

Eric is most probably no longer reading this, but I'm really curious what he thinks about landing pages. A lot of startups use them as their MVP nowadays, but I think they are doomed to fail because you have nothing to present to your potential customers.

I'm also wondering what his thoughts are on what the best ways to drive good traffic to a MVP are, without getting biased stats (by inviting all your friends and family for example).

Hi Eric, our startup is hosting live video AMAs with entrepreneurs. Would you be interested in hosting a session at http://talkingnext.io/? We actually have an event scheduled for tonight with Raj Singh from Dronecast at 5PM EST if you want to check it out live.

Sounds cool. Email me (it's right on my blog).

Will do!

Hi Eric,

Your first mass produced book was published by a traditional, 'big' publisher (Crown/Random House). Is this new book an independent effort or are you still working with a trade publisher? Do you feel they've added value to the process for what you got the first time (versus self publishing and retaining more revenue per sale)?

The new book (codenamed The Startup Way) will be traditionally published just like TLS. I already have a book contract and everything.

The Leader's Guide is the MVP, that will only be available via Kickstarter. In fact, my book contract specifies that TLG cannot be sold at retail in stores or online.

I'm a very happy author, and the traditional process did well by me. But it doesn't work for everyone. In fact, it's a lot like VC: good if you know what you're doing but dangerous if you approach it naively.

Are you planning to setup a program for consultants, advisors or trainers to get certified on the-lean-startup-approach?


Hi Erik! good to see you here... What do you think about Design-Driven Innovation? [0] Do you think that it represents an alternative valid method for launching startups?

[0] http://www.designdriveninnovation.com/

Hi Eric, thanks for an AMA.

I build a startup for entrepreneurs who want to create a web or mobile app with no programming experience. For example you can create a wordpress clone or more complex apps like CRM without coding knowledge. Or you can buy an app and you can modify it for your needs.

Can you give me some advice?

With today's trends of massive series A rounds, how should entrepreneurs think about staying lean with so much pressure to go big and a prevailing winner-take-all mentality within the VC world? Moreover, what's your take on the series A mega-round?

Hilariously the HBO show Silicon Valley had a pretty decent take on this last night: just take less money. There's no law that says you have to slurp up as much dumb money as the market will throw at you.

But regardless of how much money you take, lean is about a disciplined process of decision making. Can you build a culture of high-tempo testing and make it stick not just for the founders but for all employees? That really has nothing to do with how much money you take.

I admire your untraditional, lean approach to publishing your followup book, but know it doesn't work for everyone and certainly not for straight-up copycats. What promotional advice do you have for an author who isn't as well-known as you?

Treat publishing like you would any industry you're thinking of entering as a startup. Talk to authors, editors, publicists, anyone who will talk to you. Don't take their word for "how things work" just gather info and plot your own path. And don't feel bad about copying liberally - I studies Tim Ferriss and straight-up borrowed many of his techniques.

I was wondering if you had any advice for hardware startups?

I'm currently exploring the idea of integrated-circuit spectroscopy, and have the physics/simulations down but the capital required to fabricate the chips and iterate on the designs is quite high.

Are there any particular skills or traits that you looked for in your startup co-founders?

Well, because I hadn't read the excellent book Founder's Dilemmas, I didn't have a clue about what to look for. Honestly, the biggest criteria was that they were willing to work with me!

Ok, I'll check it out.

In THE LEADER'S GUIDE, will you also make available business tools you suggest for lean-startup project? A bit comparable to what Alex Osterwalder & strategyzer is offering it (Canvas, Test&Learning Cards, Progress Board, etc.)?

No, I will not. I am not yet sold on the tools approach to lean startup adoption. It's not to say I am opposed to it, but I haven't really seen it work in companies. I prefer prose: convincing people to try it and letting them build their own tools.

How important do you feel it is for a startup to move to, or at least fundraise in SV?

I'm conflicted. Personally, I think SV is a magical place and that's why I live here. OTOH, it's also a very fad-driven place and some people get distracted by the noise. Plus, there are clearly many other startup hubs where founders can thrive these days.

So, as a citizen of the USA: come here, help make us great As a citizen of the world: transform your city into a startup hub

I guess what I'm saying is there is some truth to the saying that "Silicon Valley is a state of mind" and also some truth to the saying "that sounds great but a lot of the money is on Sand Hill Road."

Is it investors that attracts startups to a city, or startups that attract investors to a city, or something else?

Everyone I've heard talking about transforming cities into startup hubs, always frames it as "make some good startups and everything else will come."

It's a classic two-sided market problem. If you just make great startups, won't they migrate to a better startup hub when they have enough traction to do so? I think it's about creating a true startup community where people want to stay and reinvest in the next generation. Brad Feld wrote a whole book about it, btw.

Why do you think that 'the establishment' is so hard to innovate within?

It's actually very simple: most established organizations adopt processes designed to eradicate innovation. If you study management history it's pretty easy to see why they did this, since there were huge gains in the 20th century to be had by eliminating variability in both manufacturing and human resources. Consistency, standardization, and commodification all paid huge dividends.

Unfortunately, not all sources of variability are bad. Think about the antibiotic craze as an analogy. It was a major discovery that bacteria cause disease. But it was also a major discovery that certain bacteria are beneficial. Loading up your system with antibiotics 24/7 is actually detrimental to long-term health, even though it's awfully helpful during an appendectomy.

Is it the same as the 'Agile' approach that is so prevalent in software industry these days that aims to deliver software reliably on time?

How do you differentiate good variability from bad ones in software development?

Now _that_ is a good question. Most agile systems are designed to insulate management from the volatility inherent in software development (and to tamp it down a little bit). They aren't really designed to exploit the positive variability.

Here's a classic example: let's say I have a story card that says "build a feature that lets 10000 customers buy a widget from our store." In most classic agile systems, the engineering team will do their best to understand the customer requirement and see that it's built appropriately.

Now let's say that 0 customers show and buy the widget. Who's fault is this? In traditional agile, it's the Product Owner's fault, not the engineering team.

But exploiting positive variability would say: the effort required to build this feature requires knowing in advance how many customers want to buy the widget. The engineering effort is totally different if the answer is 0, 10, 100, 10000, or 1000000 customers. So rather than build the feature as specified, let's do an experiment to try and assess customer demand first, then build in response to that demand.

That means that sometimes a story will take 10X longer than you originally planned and sometimes it will take 1/10th as long. But in the end, you'll get a better business result. That's positive variability.

I hear some complaints from academia, at least in my country - don't know if it's valid globally, that they are being more and more regulated and spend too much time applying for grants.

Do you have any opinion on that?

What does your book writing process look like now? What did you learn writing The Lean Startup and how much of the teachings of the lean concept itself are applicable to book writing?

Cheers! /Martin

I think they are very applicable. During the writing process for TLS I spent an absolute metric ton of time testing, iterating, workshopping and trying to make sure that:

1) the value proposition for the book was right and 2) that the book actually lived up to that value proposition

I am convinced the book would not have been a blockbuster without that work.

Now the tools are so much better. Kickstarter allows me to do this testing and iteration in a much bigger and more public way - and that's just the start. Now that I have a 7000+ community of people who are going on the journey with me, I have a built-in place to test concepts and make sure that what I'm recommending is actually effective.

Hi Eric, Your last book inspired our own startup http://www.discuss.io. Discuss.io provides marketers on-demand webcam interviews with millions of potential consumers. We help marketers from startups to the fortune 500 "get out of the building" and get user stories BEFORE they code. I would love to get your feedback on what you have built. I'll set you up with a free account if you ping help@discuss.io

This is the book that really gives me lots of motivation and ideas. A great book to train yourself to be an entrepreneur.

Good AMA! Enjoyed your non-canned responses.


Why don't you hear more classical music? What's in the new bands that Bach doesn't have?


Hi Eric Glad you are writing new books So they will not be available thru Amazon or local bookstores?

The Leader's Guide is only available on Kickstarter and only for a few more hours. It can't be sold in stores or at retail, so this is the only way to get it.

The next book - the sequel to The Lean Startup - will come out in 2016 or 2017 and will be traditionally published.

How important do you think is formal college education in the life of an entrepreneur?

I think a liberal arts education is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give their child (thanks, Mom & Dad!). That said, there's clearly plenty of people who are able to succeed without formal schooling. And, for that matter, there's plenty of people who got the fancy degree and didn't expand their minds at all while they were there.

I think the more important thing is to become deeply curious and well educated about how the world works. I don't see how to do that without a grounding in history, philosophy, psychology, literature, etc. but there are many ways to get that grounding besides formal schooling.

Did you anticipate the kickstarter campaign would be so successful?

Not even remotely. Even a week ago I didn't think we'd pass 500k.

What's the fastest you've launched a startup?

When I was working on IMVU, we almost killed ourselves launching in only six months. At the time, we thought that was pretty impressive because our previous startup had taken almost 5 years. But by today's standards, we were incredibly slow.

This may sound pedantic, but it kind of depends on what you mean by "launch" and what you mean by "startup." If you take something like CapTable.io, it only took a few weeks to get the initial version up and running although most people probably don't consider it "launched" at all.

I was talking about time to paying customers. Your distinction isn't pedantic at all - there's a big difference between something that requires physical R&D & a services platform. I'm doing biotech & I think 6 mo is incredibly fast.

Of course. The key is to learn as quickly as possible within the constraints of the medium you're working in. I've worked with startups that launched an MVP in days for $10 and ones that have spent more than a year and $10M+ to make the MVP.

But here's a spooky though I'll leave you with. Often times, when startups are looking at their tools they will say: given the tools I have, the fastest I can build an MVP is X. But if you really take the criticality of learning seriously, you might say: given my desire to learn quickly, what tools can I use to go faster?

And that's where a lot of breakthroughs happen, when you choose tools and platforms not based solely on their technical capabilities, but by their speed of iteration. (It's probably why Facebook was built on PHP.)


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