The Lean Startup (book review)

TheLeanStartup I worked in a startup company into 2001. It occupied offices in what was the old Lee Tire building in Conshohocken, PA.

It was a really good experience for me, even as following the events that unfolded after 9.11, the company is no longer. My first full out exposure to both technology, outside an IT person or group, and startup culture.

You could say I was fearless in Philly (note: I prefer to use the full name, Philadelphia, when I think about the city. It feels more grown up).

Thanks to the explosion of technology and tools over the last ten years, and I would like to think after many lessons learned from the solutions in search of a problem, the entrepreneurial ranks are fuller today.

There is no question that many an app or software tool popping up from nowhere today may be gone tomorrow.

As I wrote in my proposal for SxSWi:

Neither innovation nor best practices are good enough anymore. It is the value of your promise and the wisdom of the trade that earns your place in the market.


Disruptive technology is both meaningful — relevant, private, and personal — and commercially viable (even in the early stages). A technology is disruptive when it helps a business make and keep the best of all promises and get in exchange the things that go to making that business stronger, more resilient, and enduring.

Which is why I was intrigued by the concept of The Lean Startup by Eric Ries (Amazon affiliate link). An entrepreneur himself, Ries is now working in consulting capacity with many new product development units in large organizations.

What he offers them, and his book readers, is the result of his experience founding three companies, which he boiled down into an iterative process organizations can use under extreme uncertainty – when they're trying to build something new.

Book structure

Following the the application of lean thinking to the process of innovation, the book is organized in three parts:

  1. vision – start, define, learn, experiment
  2. steer – leap, test, measure, pivot (or persevere)
  3. accelerate – batch, grow, adapt, innovate

With an epilogue about the importance of not wasting experiences and experiments. Throughout, Ries inserts many stories and anecdotes from his own work and learning.

Some of the more useful questions he asks: Should I be building this product? Is there a sustainable business here? I'm still feeling like that's not asked enough. For example, why do many startups still:

  • talk about the problem they are solving without defining it clearly
  • provide no insights as to how they're going about solving it
  • define what makes them different

Conversations are markets, not the other way around. People are not going to tell you what they want or need. They'll know it when they see it. How do they know if your model is to grab some market share… of what?

Another good point to pay attention to are vanity metrics vs. real metrics when it comes to customer acquisition.

To make reliable growth projections through customer behavior using their product or service, entrepreneurs need to use customer churn rate compared to customer retention and new customer attraction metrics.

Ries also talks about the value of the three As: Actionable, accessible, and auditable.

Best nuggets

Teasing out the system is akin to identifying the model – seeing what's missing, and realizing what's there. Ries calls his approach the Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

It is the smallest possible system that is usable by the customer and can provide accurate and actionable feedback regarding what direction to take next. With the emphasis on the whole system – where what I call modules work in an integrated fashion.

Two other helpful insights described in the book are the fact that entrepreneurs are now everywhere and that entrepreneurship is what lacks in many organizations (good) management.

And there are plenty of good stories – both of success, and failure.

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries (Amazon affiliate link) will be most helpful to you if:

  • you already started a business and have some first person experience with the issues that come up
  • you're looking to start or are running a product innovation unit inside an established organization

Overall, a very enjoyable and fast reading.


Bonus for startups: Loveline for startups, a podcast with Smart Bear Jason Cohen and co-hosts Bob Walsh and Patrick Foley.

UPDATE: Lessons learned raising VC funds by Rand Fishkin. This is an incredibly well-written, thoughtful, and candid report that should be required reading for any startup thinking about raising funds. Rand Fishkin is the CEO & co-founder of SEOmoz, a software startup based in Seattle, WA. He is also someone I hope to meet soon and admire from a distance in the meantime.


[Disclosure: I received a copy of The Lean Startup from Random House on behalf of Crown Business as part of their media outreach program. The reason why I decided to review it is because I am focusing on technology and business strategy in my work. This review and recommendation is based upon the quality of the material — and not on how I obtained it.]

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0 responses to “The Lean Startup (book review)”

  1. Just finished this book. Wow. I have tons and tons of notes on how to improve my upcoming ‘pet project’. I would encourage anyone who has either a business plan in mind or is currently working on something, to grab this book and take tons and tons of notes. This book will make your next project better, and show you exactly how to iterate for at least the next 5 years. Ries has figured out how to take almost all the risk out of entrepreneurship, by taking away all assumptions. Get it!!

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