If I could summarize the main lesson of Eric Ries’s The Lean Startup in one sentence, it would be something like this:
When launching a product, start small, get it to market as quickly as possible, and then use this market feedback to adjust and move forward.
Ries shows how successful startups have used this method to develop their products. Many products we use today started off totally different. Instagram started as a check-in app for social events. The founders noticed that customers were ignoring most of its functions and overusing the photo-sharing parts. So they scrapped the other functionality, and the Instagram we know today was born. Instagram didn’t start as a grand vision built by experts with a master plan; it was the result of its creators releasing the product, noticing consumer behavior, and making the shift.
What consumers really want is very difficult to know in advance, especially for products that don’t yet exist. This is why the lean method is so powerful. It doesn’t try to predict what consumers want. It prioritizes gathering information instead of perfecting a product. It’s a method that reflects and flows with reality instead of trying to control it.
The Lean Startup has had a big impact on my own work. I try to make every business or project I start as lean as possible. I begin with a minimum viable product. I focus all my energy on getting the first sale or finishing the first deliverable. Then I see what feedback I can gather. I used to run a website where I sold cryptocurrency-themed clothing. The brand was largely automated—I could create designs and get them printed and shipped on demand. My margins were low, and I had plenty of chances to learn without any upfront costs. After years of profitability, I sold the brand and moved on. However, before that success, I had failed with an earlier attempt at a clothing brand. With this brand, I made the mistake of printing t-shirts before I had any sales. Several hundred dollars and a few years later, I still have boxes of unsold products.
Entrepreneurs often waste time and money by starting with a big idea and spending thousands of dollars getting the “perfect product,” only to find out that consumers want something completely different. It doesn’t have to be that way. Next time you are working on a project, try starting small. Approach it with the mindset of the lean startup.