Book Review: The Lean Startup

For my recent trip to Singapore I grabbed a copy of The Lean Startup to read on the plane. I had heard about the book from The Amp Hour who had the author Eric Ries on as a guest.

The Lean Startup

I’ll have to admit that going into the book I wasn’t expecting much. From the Amp Hour interview I didn’t think there would be much depth to the book’s arguments. This assumption was based in part on my experience reading Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail and Free: The future at a radical price last Christmas. I found the first two chapters of these books to be very interesting but the wasn’t much substance in the rest. The books would have made a great extended blog post or Op Ed but seemed needlessly drawn out to justify a book deal.

In the end I found the book somewhat lacking in depth as expected but there were enough anecdotal stories to make the 284 pages readable. There were no ground breaking revelations in the book, just two key points that were presented in various forms:

– Iterate early and iterate often

-Stop thinking/talking about your idea and get it into the real world as soon as possible

There was further detail going into A/B testing to determine the effect of different changes but those were the two main points that sound pretty obvious when stated in simple terms and not the jargon used in the book.

What I found most interesting about the book was the indirect insight into the Silicon Valley culture. The book was written to include all types of startups but from the majority of the examples given it was clear that a successful startup had to follow 3 steps:

1) Secure venture funding

2) Have exponential growth

3) $$$

This was interesting as I was reading this book from the point of view of NCMW which is a for fun venture that isn’t tied to my financial security. Because of this financial independence I take on projects for the technical challenge and not to maximize profit.

In one of the examples from the book, the company Votizen is presented as a successful example of the pivot/persevere strategy. The company starts out by creating a social network for voters to come together and share ideas about civic causes. As this concept was trialled it was seen that it wasn’t successful enough. The company them moved its strategy to @2gov which allowed users to use the site as a tool to convert social media interactions into paper contact with their member of congress. After this proved to not be sustainable they pivoted again to have businesses and non-profits as the customers contacting their representatives. Again, after this didn’t get the desired results they pivoted, now skipping the social network and allowing anyone to find people interesting in a common cause.

While I wouldn’t want to see anyone run a unsuccessful idea into the ground, this progression give the impression that the overall product is inconsequential and modest sales are not good enough if they don’t generate Silicon Valley style viral growth potential. Being the purist engineer I would see going from a peer to peer civil cause website to a business lobbying platform as a complete sell-out. This drastic change in cause makes me thinks of anecdotal stories about a group of business students who want to create a startup and decide what product to make in an afternoon. For some people the project is a second thought to the entire enterprise and just a tick in the box on the way to fame and fortune.

If anyone is interested in the book I would suggest listening to the Amp Hour episode instead. The interview outlines the ideas of the lean startup and provides a number of examples while saving a couple hours of your time.

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