Seit kurzem gibt es die Lean-Startup-Philosophie auch in Buchform. Wir haben mit dem Autor Eric Ries über das Lean-Prinzip gesprochen, das inzwischen auch ein Startup Weekend in Zürich inspiriert hat.

Lean-Startup-Pionier Eric Ries {technotheory;;}

Der Yale-Absolvent Eric Ries ist Mitgründer mehrerer Startups. Seit 2008 rührt er die Werbetrommel für eine Gründungsmethode, die er selbst entwickelt hat: Das Lean Startup. Der 32-jährige hat ein Buch zu seiner Methode verfasst, das seit kurzem auch auf deutsch verfügbar ist, Lean Startup (Affiliate-Link). Ich habe Eric gefragt, worum es beim schlanken Gründen geht und ihm eure Leserfragen gestellt.

Eric, to get everybody started: What is the lean startup method?

Most of the startups that I built in my career were failures, which was very frustrating. I thought it would be just like in the movies, that if you try really hard and build a great product, you’ll be successful. What I found out the hard way is that building a great product, coming up with a great team and working really hard is only half the story. What really matters is having a product that not only you think is great, but customers think is great too. The problem for us entrepreneurs is that we don’t yet know who our customer is. We might have a beautiful business plan, but that’s not more than an assumption, a believe what the future might hold. The lean startup methodology is a scientific approach to find out which of the assumptions are true and which are false in order to build a sustainable business.

Metrics are an important part of your method and you talk about the difference between real and vanity metrics. What are both?

Vanity metrics are the metrics we put in our press releases in order to make our competitors feel bad, it’s bragging. With knowing these numbers you don’t actually learn anything about the business. That’s why we’re willing to put them in a press release: we don’t care if our competitors know that one million messages were sent on our platform. They don’t know if a million people tried our product one time or one person tried our product far too much.

The problem is, there’s no causal connection between vanity metrics and the business. And you don’t know if the numbers will go up or go down the next month. Choose metrics that have a causal connection to our customers. Now, in the book I talk a lot about what exactly is needed for this. The problem with mentioning this in an interview is that it is kind of boring because it’s a new kind of accounting. What we need is basically a new way of thinking about accounting in startups.

In Zürich findet dieses Wochenende (27.-29. April 2012) das erste Schweizer Startup Weekend nach der Lean-Startup-Philosophie statt: Die Lean Startup Factory (Facebook). Den Event haben Marcus Kuhn ( und Remy Blättler (Supertext) auf die Beine gestellt. Die Idee der 48-Stunden-Veranstaltung: Ein Startup Weekend auf Speed. Resultat des Wochenendes sollen hier nicht wie gewohnt ein Businessplan und eine Präsentation sein, sondern ein funktionierender Prototyp. Entsprechend richtet sich der Anlass besonders an Entwickler und Designer, andere Gründungsinteressierte sind aber ebenso willkommen.

One big question with entrepreneurs reading about the lean startup is «When am I ready to launch?» Is there a rule?

For any entrepreneurs who are reading this interview I can answer the question: You can launch right now. What do I mean by launch? You can do a small launch right now, don’t do a big launch. We want to learn how to build a sustainable business and you don’t get a lot of learning with a big launch. If a hundred customers in a row don’t want to use our product, what’s the learning for us with the 101st customer? Instead start small and get 10 customers right now. Even if you’re product isn’t good. What’s the worst thing that can happen? A customer might be angry with you for receiving an unfinished, bad product. But you don’t have a lot of customers yet. If you’re a B2B business you can pick up the receiver and phone each one up individually and ask them what you can do to make it up to them.

So, getting out of the building is more important than not being embarrassed by your product.

Try everything not to isolate yourself from the pesky details of reality. Simply working longer on a product doesn’t necessarily make it better. There are cases where people have developed a product for two years, and after one year the product had actually been better. They managed to make it worse by putting in more time. That’s actually the worst that can happen. Don’t let that happen to you.

There this notion that feedback and vision are in conflict, that only if you execute a vision unflinchlingly and sometimes ignore feedback, you can succeed.

Startups need a vision. And feedback is only useful in support of a big vision that you follow unflinchingly. But you need to measure your vision up to reality. Be true to your vision, but don’t operate without feedback, that’s crazy. You have to find a way to channel feedback into the vision. People think that if you make entrepreneurship into a science, there’s nothing spontaneous or visionary about it anymore. But even the greatest geniuses, even Einstein, needed experimentation and feedback. Use feedback to implement the vision and don’t give up on it.

Okay, now for the reader questions. The business model canvas is really big here in Switzerland. There’s an adaption of it by Ash Maurya, the lean canvas. What do you think of it?

What I would say is, there’s been a real revolution in the way that entrepreurship has been taught. There’s a lot of tools that help as a first time entrepreneur, and these tools are really useful. As to the canvas itself, I prefer models that work in terms of stages, because entrepreneurship is a long term journey. So I find something that can show a process more helpful.

How do you go about testing when you have very little traffic that makes it hard to get significant results with feedback?

It’s fine, don’t worry. You have a small sample but you can still test for the bigger things. What you can’t test for are smaller details and minor variations like the colour of a button. But if you’re testing for major things like «Do my customers love or hate the product? Will they use it and pay for it?» Those kinds of things can be tested very accurately with a small sample.

On the same topic: Do you think it’s harder for Swiss entrepreneurs to use the lean startup method because our domestic market is small and fragmented?

I don’t know a lot about Switzerland. But what I find when I travel to smaller foreign countries is that things like this can be a liability, but also an advantage. Big multinationals pay a lot of money to do test marketing in smaller markets. Recently a big company paid a lot of money to test products in Australia and New Zealand, before they head for the main english speaking market. So if you’re already there, in one of these smaller countries, you have a natural test market available to you. The key is to approach everything you do as if it were a test and try to discover the similarities between the bigger market you eventually want to go to and the smaller market.

This one’s pretty specific: How can you build an e-commerce market place that requires significant investment in one side of the market in order to build supply?

You can’t build a two-sided market one side at a time. You have to find a subset of the whole market where you can bring buyers and sellers together in a small way. Think about eBay. They now sell every product under the sun but started selling pez dispersers and other cheap products. But it was a small market that had buyers and sellers. It’s like Facebook launching only on the harvard campus. It didn’t have very many features and it didn’t have everything you’d ultimately want but it had just enough to get started with the people that comprise harvard. Find a small subset of the market that you can address.