Friday, March 20, 2009

How to build companies that matter (the lean startup on O'Reilly Radar)

I have a post up today on O'Reilly Radar about using lean startup principles to build companies that matter. I have been wanting to respond to Tim O'Reilly's "build stuff that matters" concept for some time, and I'm delighted to have the chance to do it on Radar. Here's an excerpt:

Read the stories of successful startups and, if the founders are willing to be honest, you will see this pattern over and over again. They started out as digital cash for PDAs, but evolved into online payments for eBay. They started building BASIC interpreters, but evolved into the world's largest operating systems monopoly. They were shocked to discover their online games company was actually a photo-sharing site.

Each of these companies were fortunate to have enough time, resources, and patience to endure the multiple iterations it took to find a successful product and market. The premise of the lean startup is simple: if we can reduce the time between these major iterations, we can increase the odds of success.

And here's where working on something that matters to you more than money is critical. When you're committed to something larger than yourself, every minute counts. Hype and transient success won't keep you going. But the simple process of finding out whether or not your vision is right will. Because people who are dedicated to the truth are more likely to fail fast, learn, and try again.

Read the rest...

I'm working hard trying to figure out how to bring the lean startup message to different audiences. I think the O'Reilly audience is particularly important, as so many entrepreneurs got their start in technology (as I did) from their worn-down copy of Programming Perl. So if you're a reader of this blog and also of Radar, what kinds of information from this blog would you want to see explained over there? What concepts, techniques, or stories do you think will resonate? Please drop a note in the comments if you have a few minutes to spare. Thanks!


  1. I have started series of posts that echo similar thinking for a Canadian audience at, but more from a business perspective than a technical one -

    You should guest blog there. We Canadian startups can use all the help we can get!

  2. Hi Eric,
    Thanks a lot for the excellent post! I think the biggest concept that needs to be clearly articulated is the premise of customer development and why "you better follow it or you are toast".

    However, from a practical point of view, i.e. techniques, it will serve everyone well (myself included) if you can talk more about your own experiences in IMVU and how you applied customer development to a CONSUMER startup vs. a B2B startup (which what Steve often refers to in The Four steps to Epiphany, but not always).

    In other words, if you can talk about the steps you took (even in general terms) and how you applied Lean methodologies, i think that would be of great value to audiences.
    Thank you & have great weekend

  3. Ohh i also wanted to Echo's Divesh's comments about Canadian startups, I am currently in Canada too!! All startups (Canadian or not) do need all the help they can get but it often seems we in Canada need it even least that makes it more exciting for us Canadians!!

  4. Eric,
    I think we all see a book in your future that cohesively merges your great writing into a 'building great companies for dummies' kind of book.
    Now I know on which publication :P

    Great work, man. Just fyi you're blog is the only one I'm subscribed to by email

  5. In a presentation you gave to one of Steve's classes you mentioned how common sense all this customer development stuff seems in theory, but is relatively difficult to pull off on in practice.

    It would be nice if you could deconstruct why the customer development model is challenging to pull off in practice?

  6. I have been applying many of these similar concepts to my startup. One of the key notions that we've been applying is the "swarm" notion...we have very few on-going projects that we throw all hands on deck against. The result is that projects are completed more rapidly which allows us to be more nimble and adjust our direction more often.

    Twitter: @scottporad
    Blog: I Need More Ears

  7. Eric,

    My main takeaway from the lean startup concept is that by following your ideas, anyone can start a startup. This is very true in places where funding and other infrastructure are not so easily available, so this means that your approach 'democratizes' the startup process. That is a message that would resonate with a lot of audiences in non-startup hubs, and surely in mainstream audiences.

  8. Another great post. It amazes me how wound up young entrepreneurs can get about their initial concept. You can't be rudderless or spineless, but you do need to recognize that in the battle between your ideas and reality, reality is going to win 9 times out of 10.

    You can see the same dynamic at work at PBwiki, where the direction of the company has evolved several times, but the core philosophies remain the same.