Intellectually, I am a big fan of all the "new" and cool lean startup and customer development methodologies. To be honest, I am more into the underlying principles and patterns and ignore most detailed "step-by-step" blog posts in favor of my own common sense.
For example, at first I was pretty annoyed by the Erik Ries's release of this "The Lean Startup" because I thought it was a write-down of all the basic common business sense and after-the-fact reasoning when looking back at the Dropbox and Intuit cases. I thought I had learned nothing new from it apart from some tips & tricks on metrics and stuff.
Now, however, I think it is a great book because it shows you examples and best practices to point you where the underlying principles and patterns might be implemented for your business. It also does not try to shove a certain way of working into your face like most of the customer development and lean startup resources I am seeing nowadays. A fireside chat with Steve Blank a few weeks ago made me realize this even more.
What I think seems to be the case is that all "lean startup implementers" are so busy trying to implement the guides, best practices, video tours, books, blog posts and step-by-step guides that they are actually forgetting how to develop a wider range of "common business sense".
When failing, most people that I read about seem to think: "Oh, bummer, I am not implementing these best practices good enough. I should do more interviews! I should set up better experiments! My landing page isn't designed correctly and I should A/B/C/D/E/F/G-test more!"
Because, of course, Erik Ries said that entrepreneurship (or entrepreneurial management) is something that can be taught and is not something your mum and dad put in you on that cold wintery night with that bottle of wine in the lake-side cottage.
Obviously, those detailed best practices and guides to launch A/B-tests, designing landing pages or how you can do better experiments instead of just doing "something" are very helpful on an operational level. I think however, that they are definitely not the critical things of why you are failing or succeeding.
The cause for failing or succeeding on a personal or entrepreneurial level is something that's much deeper and probably takes years of practice, working hard and studying to get to the sweet spot.
If you truly deeply figured out how to run a business (may it be your current one or many after failing 20 times) you are never ever doing "just something", even if you think you are. Your brain is made for making both conscious and unconscious decisions based on a lot of factors you might not even realize and you can train and develop these skills by practice and study.
Seeing numbers that over 80% of businesses fail (startups or no startups) and that a lot who actually succeed have never done an A/B-test or followed a lean startup book makes me wonder and intuitively support the (developing) opinions in this post. I do believe however, that most succeeding companies and teams intuitively follow the underlying principles.
I think that what we can all agree on is that most of these methodologies (correctly) focus on one big aspect: who actually is my customer and how can I try to understand my customer better. Eventually resulting in creating a great product/service/organization that they love, use and hopefully want to pay big time for.
What I think the big problem actually is that most lean startup practitioners think that you can understand and empathize with anyone as long as you use those a/b-tests, interviews and canvasses.
Truly, deeply coming onto a level with someone to understand the motives is very hard and isn't just fixed by using some tools or spending a few moments with them. To truly understand people you need to be either one of them, or you need to be in close contact with them on a more than formal level. (Friends, family, colleagues, exercising mates)
You need to observe and participate to suck in all the intricate details that make up someones mental model. There may be a lot of very important unknowns that you probably don't even realize at the start and you cannot frame in just a few interview questions.
Following the trends and hearing the stories for the past few years I think I am coming to the understanding that there are only two groups you can build a successful product for by focusing on the problem they are having:
- Friends, families, close relatives and members of associations or organizations you are a part of or stand close to you on a daily basis.
For any other external group that "seems nice" to build a business on because you think it's big $$$ or that you are the coolest guy if you pull it of are a waste of energy, even if you succeed. Not only for yourself - since making something for someone you don't know or don't really care about is emotionally unrewarding.
But also because there is actually someone else out there who is already in that group and already meets those people on a day-to-day basis and is probably a 1000 more capable of empathizing with that customer group than you are.
Please focus your energy on building a business for people that you absolutely love already. Don't go looking for some group in the next village that has a different language, culture or problem than you think they are having.
There's a guy in that village just like you who can probably help those people with way less energy and more passion than you have to spend.