Friday, December 31, 2010


Thank you, 2010.

I'm excited for 2011, and I want to share some of my plans for the coming year. But before I do, I also feel obligated to take a look back on my plans for last year.

I can't believe a whole year has passed since I wrote a blog post called "Towards a new entrepreneurship" laying out my priorities for 2010. Back then, I wrote:
"[Here is] an idea that I don't think is too widespread yet: that entrepreneurship is an industry. Sure, when entrepreneurs create startups that grow up into mature companies, they become part of an established industry, with its own ecosystem, norms, partners and best practices. But until that happens, we entrepreneurs have our own ecosystem, of investors and service providers, norms and even some "best" practices. The two ecosystems have diverged significantly in the past fifty years - and especially in the past ten. The reason is that the underlying theory that powers established business, the theory of general management, is increasingly inadequate for managing startups. And yet, so far, we lack a coherent theory to replace it. My belief is that the lean startup is that theory. Together, we are part of a movement that is redefining entrepreneurship."
This idea has become a reality in many ways this year. Our ideas have entered the mainstream of startup thinking and even the popular culture. I mean, who ever thought we'd see this cartoon in the New Yorker magazine?

Lean Startup Meetups are now in more than 75 cities, with more than 12,000 combined members. More and more, I am meeting entrepreneurs and managers from companies large and small who agree on this one point: entrepreneurship is management. By applying the same scientific principles that gave rise to general management in the first place to entrepreneurship and innovation, we are unleashing incredible creativity. But we still have a long way to go.

In that spirit, I want to review the four priorities I laid out at the start of this year. For 2010, I announced four main projects. Here's how I laid them out (in their original embarrassing order), and here's how each one turned out.

  1. The Lean Startup Cohort program. Verdict: FAILURE. This seemed like such a promising idea at the time. Take a small number of high-growth companies and have them pay a premium price to learn from me and from each other how to apply Lean Startup ideas in depth. My main hypothesis was that making the program expensive would act as a quality filter, and that if we could find smart, committed companies to participate, they would all benefit tremendously. Thus, I assumed the biggest risk was finding participants who could afford the price.

    Unfortunately, I was completely wrong. Finding participants was no problem; the program quickly filled up. And the quality of participants was way higher than I imagined. And yet, when we actually started to run the program, it still failed. Teaching Lean Startup concepts in a fixed order really didn't work, since all active companies face different challenges at different times. And even in a strict, high-quality filtered room, most companies didn't want to share their problems and internal data, nor did they particularly want to engage with other companies' problems. In retrospect, that should have been obvious to me - as an entrepreneur, I would never have had the patience for a program like that.

    What's that you say? Even "gurus" have to get out of the building, build a minimum viable product, and pivot? Why, yes, they do. Embarrassing, but at least we failed fast. (Peter Drucker thought people used the term guru because it was easier to spell than charlatan.)

  2. Teaching in academia. Verdict: MIXED. I started the year co-teaching a Lean Startup class for MBA's at Berkeley with Steve Blank. In some ways, it was a big success: the class was oversubscribed, had a record number of auditors, and received positive reviews. But the experience left me with doubts about whether that is the right way to engage with academia, for me.

    I strongly believe academia has an important role to play in transforming the practice of entrepreneurship. Luckily, Steve has been leading the charge to bring a new way of teaching entrepreneurship into academic programs, and 2010 saw the debut of his Durant School of Entrepreneurship at sllconf, as well as new programs like the Lean Launch Pad at Stanford and the Business Model Competition at BYU.

    I believe significant new research also needs to be done. What we know today is just the tip of the iceberg about this new entrepreneurial management. How many of our beliefs are just tactics that sound good, or that only work in certain situations? Much more is needed, and 2011 will see the first few buds of that research project flower. My colleagues at Harvard Business School will debut a new Lean Startup-themed course for MBAs this spring, as well as a new $50,000 Minimum Viable Product Fund. As part of that project, HBS has commissioned a series of new case studies on Lean Startup practices, both in and (importantly) outside the software industry. (You can see a little taste at Jeffrey Busgang's blog here.) I've also begun a collaboration with Nathan Furr at BYU to research actual practitioners, following them over time with an eye towards discovering ways to test some of our beliefs about Lean Startup ideas empirically. You can follow our work (and volunteer to be studied) here.

    Also along these lines, I've worked with a variety of collaborators to produce case studies right here on Startup Lessons Learned. Hopefully, more will come in the new year. You can see our efforts so far.

  3. Startup Lessons Learned Conference (sllconf). Verdict: SUCCESS. This was a project I almost didn't do this year, because the prospect made me so nervous. Boy am I glad I did. I still receive regular feedback from people who were there live or in one of our 60+ simulcast locations around the world. It was always a dream of mine to produce a conference where knowledge - not hype - was king, where information was presented in a useful order, and where success theatre and vanity metrics were banned. I believe we succeeded on all three counts.

    In case you missed it, here's a little taste of the event itself, courtesy of my friends at Micro-Documentaries:

    And don't forget, you can watch full video of the entire conference courtesy of our sllconf channel.

    In 2011, we will do sllconf again, probably in mid-May. As always, I will look to you readers for guidance and suggestions of what we should do different. Stay tuned for details. If you are interested in speaking or mentoring at sllconf 2011, we will accept suggestions and nominations. If you would like to nominate someone, please post a video of them giving a talk (with slides if possible).  Grainy low-def youtube videos are perfectly adequate. We had far too many submissions last year on behalf people I didn't know. I had to be confident they would meet the standards I laid out above, but I couldn't take the time to meet them all. Therefore, if you'd like to speak this year at sllconf, a great way to get a leg up would be to speak at a Lean Startup Meetup, and ask someone to record the session. And if you are a meetup organizer, and have had a great speaker who you'd like to see at sllconf 2011, please let me know.

    In other conference news, we'll also have an event at SXSW. We'll make details available soon, I promise. If you're going to be in town for SXSW, and might like to join as a speaker, sponsor, or attendee, please let me know.

  4. Writing a book. Verdict: TBD. I am in the final weeks of preparing a manuscript for The Lean Startup Book which will be published by Crown (one of the largest business book publishers in the world) in 2011. I sincerely hope you'll like the final result; it has been a labor of love for me all year.

    Deciding to publish this book through traditional channels took a lot of thought. I believe it is time for our movement to Cross the Chasm into mainstream awareness. Our early successes have been impressive, but we are still just at the beginning. In my talks all this year I have been exhorting audiences to Stop Wasting People's Time. Our modern economy is full to the brim of waste: building products that have few customers, that produce negative returns for investors, or companies stuck in the land of the living dead. And yet, the people who are responsible for this waste are not generally early adopters of new ideas about entrepreneurship. They are not scouring blogs for the latest gems in innovation thinking. They are overwhelmed, doing the best they can, and get information from only a few sources. They don't want avant garde advice, they want to be reading the same things everyone else is reading.

    My belief is that, in order to reach this mainstream audience, we need to produce a book that is accessible to them, and then make that book a bestseller. That's one of my main goals for 2011, and I will be asking you to help many, many times in the coming year. I hope you'll continue to support me as you have this past year.

    As a reader, the rational thing to do with a new book is to wait until the book comes out, see if your friends and colleagues read it, and if they do, see if they think it's any good. That's classic mainstream customer thinking. Hopefully, the early adopters and visionaries among you will disregard this advice, and agree to pre-order the book instead. The more of you who do that, the more people we'll be able to reach when it debuts next year. Remember, mainstream customers will be looking to you to see if it's worth buying.

    You can pre-order it from me directly, or get an even better price at Amazon.

    (If you'd like to help, I'm still looking for test readers, case studies, and - most importantly - help bringing traffic to the book website. We're running constant A/B tests there; anyone who is able to donate traffic, ads, or a link from your own blog/website will have my gratitude.)

So that was 2010. I believe 2011 will be even better.

It's an auspicious time. Entrepreneurship is in a new renaissance. There are more startups operating today than at any time in history. New ideas about entrepreneurship are in the air. And the dominant management paradigm of the past century has run its course. Literally.

2011 will mark the one hundredth anniversary of the idea of management. I date its origin to the publication, in 1911, of Frederick Winslow Taylor's The Principles of Scientific Management, one of the most important management books ever written. Management's second century will be very different than its first. Our problems are more complex, faster moving, and we face greater uncertainty. In other words, we need entrepreneurs to solve them. I'm excited to see what comes next.

I hope you've all had a happy holidays, and I wish you the best for a new and exhilarating New Year. Here's to 2011!