Lean Is Not Cheap

by Coach Davender on December 10, 2014

It is really unfortunate that Eric Ries used the title “Lean Startup” for his influential book. I get what he meant: looking for the most efficient fit between market need and business offer.

Except when the concept gets distorted to mean “building your startup on the cheap”. Which is not at all what Lean is about.

The Lean approach is all about understanding your target market before you start building your product, to ensure it is something your customers not only need, but what they want right now. The way I coach Lean with my startups focuses on answering three questions about your target customer:

  • What urgent problem or deep desire keeps your target customer awake at night?
  • How do they imagine their life changing if this urgent problem were solved or this deep desire were satisfied?
  • What is their readiness to take action to solve this problem or to satisfy this desire?

These three questions should be answered before you write your first line of code or draw your first concept. This is where Lean is not cheap, because it can take a long time and a lot of effort to fully explore the “buy trigger” which provokes your target customer to take action and buy what you offer.

Notice that there is nothing here which refers to whether or not your target customer wants your product. That’s because people do not want your products or services, they want the benefits, the results and the impact of using your product or service.

It is very tempting to go the “fat” approach, building your product and then convincing people to buy it. Tempting because you feel you are doing something productive. The trap of the “fat startup” is overbuilding your offer by designing features or functionalities you think people will want, based only on your assumptions. More is not better. You need to understand what your customer is looking for and what feature will trigger the buying response. If that trigger functionality is buried among too much noise from your other features, your customer will not respond.

Lean is all about eliminating waste. For a startup, “waste” is anything which does not get used by an end client. You want your product to have just the right amount of functionality, going to the heart of solving their urgent problem or satisfying their deepest desire. This is what will trigger the buy response.

Think “lean” is out of style? Go ahead and build and launch your product without doing this vital homework. But if no one buys your offer, all you have done is wasted your time and your investor’s money. The cost today to build a tech product from idea to prototype is but a fraction of what it was five years ago. Today, the biggest hurdle is validating and quantifying the market to find that buying trigger. When you invest up front the time, money, energy and effort to find the buy trigger, you will have a better product that will be used by people who recognize the value of your offer and who are ready to commit.

Exploring the needs and validating the wants of your market is not cheap, but it is cheaper than building something that you think everybody needs but in reality nobody wants.

For more information

Lean Startup by Eric Ries:

Image: Ted Abbott via Flickr
Direct link: https://flic.kr/p/LGic7
Used under Creative Commons licence


When does an entrepreneur become an entrepreneur?

by Coach Davender on November 4, 2014

I recently tweeted this “thot”, which generated some debate on Facebook and Twitter. Some people agreed, others chastised me: “I thought you were above this snobbery, Davender”

Why the pushback? I believe this issue goes to the core of self-identity.

Let’s face it, entrepreneurship is the new black. It’s hot, it’s trendy, it’s what people want to be and who politicians want to be seen with. We want to be the winner, the brilliant innovator who strikes it rich while changing the world. We worship Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, the Sharks of Shark Tank and the Dragons of Dragons’ Den.

Why has entrepreneurship become the new religion? Maybe because it speaks to the libertarian/capitalist mindset promoted by the stunning financial successes of Silicon Valley. It’s about freedom and wealth with a touch of rebel.

Which is why a lot of people want to be seen by their peers as being entrepreneurs.

But when do you deserve to be called an entrepreneur?

  • Is it when you sign up for a MLM and buy your distributor pack?
  • Is it when you open a file on your computer and call it “Business Plan” (even though all you have written is the title?)
  • Is it when you buy the domain name, or print the business cards?
  • Is it when you attend your first Chamber of Commerce meeting or networking mixer?

Are you an entrepreneur if you’re self-employed? An artist? A consultant? An independent sub-contractor? Are you an entrepreneur if you’re still developing your product or still training to deliver your service? Are you an entrepreneur if you’re serving “practice client” pro-bono?

Pinpointing the moment when entrepreneurship starts is like trying to determine the moment a fetus becomes a human. You can point to any stage of the process and argue you’re right.

I posit that the pivot moment is when you make your first sale. And specifically, when you get paid for your first sale. Because the act of billing and being paid is what separates the entrepreneur from the salaried, who are just paid. The experience of receiving payment for an invoice which represents your hard work, and especially your ability to create a bridge of trust strong enough to make the sale, is a context shift which changes oneself profoundly.

I remember when I issued my first invoice. I spent at least a day on tweaking the Excel spreadsheet to make sure it was just right. Do I put my logo in the top left, or the top right? How many digits should the invoice number have? I can’t really start at 0001, it will make me seem like a newbie.

Then when I got paid, by check (because it was 1994), seeing my company name written in the “Pay to the order of” field gave me an additional boost of pride. I was real, I had arrived. (I think I made a photocopy of that first check, but I don’t know where I put it.)

All the work I had done before that day was important. But not the same. Because I was doing it for myself. When the contract was signed and I was building something for someone else who valued what I made, I felt different, more confident, more empowered. Instead of getting ready to do something for a generic “client”, I was now delivering to a person with a name and a face and a need they wanted fulfilled.

I struggled a lot in my first business because I sucked at sales. It wasn’t until I broke through that barrier by plunging head-first into Multi-Level-Marketing (with a certain level of success, may I add), that I understood the power of sales. Selling is indeed the highest level of leadership.

I stand by my declaration: the first sale is when you become an entrepreneur. Anything before that, you’re a “wantrepreneur”. Which is an important step, because the pivot from employee to entrepreneur rarely happens in one smooth transition.


Hacking Productivity (Startup Canada Webinar)

by Coach Davender on October 26, 2014

I recently enjoyed participating in a webinar hosted by Intuit Canada and Startup Canada, on the topic of Hacking Productivity.

The main points I wanted to get across were:

1. Don’t keep it all in your head.

My life planning is built around two main apps:

Evernote, where I dump all my thoughts, ideas and notes, and

- Omnifocus, where I keep track of all my to-dos and the things I want to get done.

I also use IFTTT rules to connect my e-mail to Evernote and Omnifocus. The act of “starring” a message in GMail triggers notes in both tools, to ensure that I respond appropriately.

All smartphone and laptop platforms have effective apps (Microsoft One Note, iCloud Reminders, etc) that can help you capture your thoughts as they come to you.

2. It doesn’t have to perfect, it just has to get done.

Don’t get caught up in a perfectionist loop. People will appreciate you more when you produce.

That doesn’t mean don’t do your best. It means do your best within the time and resource budget you give yourself, then move onto the next.

Here is the recording of the webinar (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDY0wP7sn-8)


For more information:

Article on the Intuit Canada blog:

Original event description (September 29, 2014)



How “startup” is to “entrepreneurship” like #IceBucketChallenge is to charity… and that’s not good.

August 23, 2014

Launching a web site makes you just as much an entrepreneur as dumping a bucket of ice water on your head makes you a philanthropist.

Read the full article →

Leadership – The Romance vs The Reality

August 1, 2014

The big problem of today’s society is that when we look for leadership, we tend to choose charisma and mistake it for leadership.

Read the full article →

Equity is not Monopoly Money

July 20, 2014

At the beginning stages of a startup, cash is precious, yet there is so much to be done. Bartering services for stock can seem like a effective way out of this situation, however if the founders are not careful, it will cause many more problems down the road.

Read the full article →

Ten reasons why you have not yet received my response to your message

June 30, 2014

Please don’t take it personally.

Read the full article →

The measure of a successful validation: Surprise

February 12, 2014

Because life’s too short to build something that’s just meh.

Read the full article →

Webinar: How Your Idea Can Change The Future

February 3, 2014

The problem with most startup entrepreneurs is that they run with the first idea they get. And the idea, more often than not, is too small or not defined in a way as to effectively change the future in the way they want.

Read the full article →

Thot: People are not interested in what you do

February 3, 2014

People are not interested in what you do – they are more interested in what you can do for them.

Read the full article →