Debunking the 4 major Lean Startup myths


Most people, including CH, a bright smart guy I was talking to at one of my workshops, have fallen for a bunch of common misconceptions about Lean Startup, and so did I.

This is pretty normal considering the large amount of information out there and the complexity and different views that people have of Lean Startup.

1. Lean Startup means cheap

The fact that you're eliminating waste, which generally translates to running experiments with the least amount of costs, doesn't imply that everything you do has to have nearly zero costs.

Your goal, if you are applying Lean Startup methodologies, is to formulate hypothesis, define metrics and run tests to validate or invalidate those hypothesis.

What those tests look like will be different depending on your business and your hypothesis and expecting that all of them will be cheap is not just misleading, it means that you will cripple your learning by running poor tests.

If you are just starting out and testing your problem hypothesis, the tests are likely conversations with prospective customers which are relatively cheap money wise.

If you are, however, at a point where people have pre-ordered your solution and you need to deliver something, you can't expect that to cost you nothing. Of course you shouldn't build more than you need, which is where waste reduction comes in, but even making a mockup might cost you $50 for the software.

2. Lean Startup means software

The Lean Startup movement came to life in the Silicon Valley and therefore was, in its infancy at least, very tightly coupled with software startups.

However, if you look at the history of Lean Startup and the driving forces behind it, you realize that pretty much all of it has nothing to do with software.

In fact, the core of it, Lean Manufacturing, where the waste reduction concept comes from, originated as part of the Toyota Production System and therefore in a factory environment.

How can it be just about software then?

3. Lean Startup means startups and new products only

Obviously the name is going to make you think this is only for startups, but the methodologies are completely product and organization agnostic.

What is true is that it requires an organization that can adopt a certain mentality and that's more likely to happen in a startup than an enterprise, but that says nothing about the methodologies themselves.

Likewise, there is a temptation to think that Lean applies exclusively to new products, but if you look at the definition of Startup, the goal is learning and if you're doing it right you're learning all the time.

So for example, in an established product, you may decide to add a feature. This happens all the time, and also what happens all the time is that new features aren't used and die the same way that startups fail.

A new feature should start as a hypothesis, i.e. I think that if I add this button here to do this extra thing customers will get this value. And probably not all your customers will, there's likely a segment of people that is more interested so those are your customer segment and within it you'll have your early adopters as usual.

4. Lean Startup kills creativity

This is one of things that puts a lot of new founders off, especially on the creative side, and prevents them from benefiting from Lean Startup methodologies.

There is a strong emphasis on testing and driving your choices based on the outcome of tests. This can be very off-putting if you are someone with a strong, creative, vision that you just want to execute on with the assumption that your customers won't appreciate it until they can see it.

The classic cited example is Apple, who most people believe just made something wonderful in secrecy without ever showing it to anybody and then just wow'ed the world.

The truth is more along the lines of, Steve Jobs had a vision and they tested and augmented that vision with user testing and feedback on small, individual things, without giving away the larger picture to the greater public.

What did put you off about Lean Startup?

Is there something that makes Lean Startup unapproachable to you? I'd love to hear that in the comments. Thanks.

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