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Lean Is Not Cheap

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
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