A couple of weeks ago I announced that I would be doing a review of the Lean Entrepreneur a new book by Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits. Here it is.
I read a pdf version of the book so cannot say much about its “feeling”. As you can see it has a vivid cover and inside you can find similar illustrations as displayed on the cover.
The horizontal format needs a bit of getting used too. I got “lost” from time to time and needed to look for the ‘continuing’ column. It is a great format to display the illustrations though.
Goal of the book
In the introduction of the book the authors state their mission for writing the Lean Entrepreneur:
- To describe why our economy is primed for a new wave of entrepreneurship using new methods of disruptive innovation.
- To provide you real-world examples of how entrepreneurs are creating new markets and disrupting others.
- To show you how you can get started creating value.
So far so good. This mission – though fairly accurate after reading the book – is still quite generic and could be the mission of many “Lean Startup” or “How to be a better Entrepreneur” books. What really makes this book stand out is its goal to be practical, hands-on and actionable. Also it focuses more on the (external) customer side of a business than on the (internal) development side.
“Most lean discussion and implementation focuses on product development processes (manufacturing, for example), if you look at the product from the customer’s point of view, they couldn’t care less about the product development process.”
Some general remarks about “The Lean Entrepreneur”
The Lean Entrepreneur builds upon models such as the Lean Startup method (described in “The Lean Startup“), Business Model Canvas (described in “Business Model Generation“), Customer Development, Design Thinking (as described in “Design Thinking“, and Discovery-Driven Planning. Also it helps to be acquainted with The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution by Clayton Christensen.
As The Lean Entrepreneur does not go into detail explaining those concepts (as there are those books mentioned above explaining them), it might be a good idea to be familiar with them. However, it isn’t essential to understand the book.
Target Audience of “The Lean Entrepreneur”
In general this book is useful for everybody that wants to start a business as well as all the stakeholders of the startup eco-system (including educators, government change agents, investors). However, it is less useful for
- Small-business founders that are executing a known business model (e.g. backery, retail, franchise) or are in a well-known market
- Solo practitioners (e.g. freelancers)
Also, it is not written to help an already successful small business owner become more efficient or for lifestyle business owners that are satisfied with current revenues.
Structure and table of contents
The book consists of 10 different chapters.
- Startup Revolution
- Vision, Values, and Culture
- All the Fish in the Sea
- Wading in the Value Stream
- Diving In
- Viability Experiments
- Data’s Double-Edged Sword
- The Valley of Death
- Real Visionaries Have Funnel Vision
- The Final Word
Each chapter has various case studies, illustrations and a “Work to Do” segment (specific questions to apply to your own startup). The foreword is written by Eric Ries, the author of the popular above mentioned book The Lean Startup.
The Writing Style
It took me a couple of pages to get used to the style of writing. That being said, in general the writing is sharp and at times witty. The vocabulary – given you know the basics of the Lean Startup terminology – is clear and understandable.
Yet the writing isn’t always concise. Some chapters are a bit lengthy. However, not in a way that I have the feeling the authors desperately try to fill the pages. On the contrary, it quickly becomes obvious that they have deep knowledge about the topic.
And it might just be that combination of the complexity of the topic, the abundance of information and the urge to be witty/entertaining, which makes some chapters harder to read then others.
The book provides new tactics for practical application of Lean Startup theory. It does this by describing over two dozen case studies of Lean Startups and gives focused advice on how to segment the market, create a Value Stream, interact with customers, and create experiments.
There is a lot of wisdom in the book. Yet, it is not a disruptive book in the sense described in the book itself (based on Christensens theory of sustainable and disruptive innovation). And it isn’t trying to be that. Instead the book is very practical and hands-on.
It guides you through the day to day pitfalls of being an entrepreneur and offers practical solutions for many business challenges entrepreneurs face.
Some quotes from the book
Note: Many paragraphs of the book are quotable. Here is a random selection.
One of the first arguments of the book is that there are no visionaries, instead the vision is not as important as the drive to achieve it. This is a theme that is repeated throughout the book.
It’s not the vision that makes the visionary; it’s the driving force to make change happen.
As described there are many things in the book that have been said before and will not be new to the avid follower of popular Lean Startup blogs. Such as the description of Lean Startup in general.
Since what the startup is all about is unknown, one can’t organize let alone optimize employee activities around executing the creation of customer value. Instead, one must organize around learning. One must learn what the core value is; what solution provides that value; to whom it provides value; and how to market, sell, and deliver it so that the value is realized.
Or about failure and learning.
We are wrong before we are right. It’s the nature of learning.
And about scaling in a lean startup.
A lean startup is not ready to scale until the product itself is the best marketing tool.
The Lean Entrepreneur definitely has its strengths in the customer development chapters. Here is a quote about early adopters, market segmentation and knowing when product/market fit is reached.
Ironically, the way to go big is to focus small. You are more likely to discover what will go big by focusing on individual use cases. One of the biggest entrepreneur traps is to be all things to all people. Big companies get big by being a few things to a large number of groups of people. Although a plethora of feature requests might indicate a positive market signal, they are potentially fatal without knowing who they come from or why they are being requested.
And addionally about customer interviews and finding out whether you are really solving a customer need.
To truly understand a problem, you should not initially propose a solution. Otherwise, the reaction you get will be to the solution and not whether the problem exists.
Also throughout the book it becomes obvious that the authors don’t only have experience in helping startups “go lean” but they also give insights about the challenges corporates face who attempt to incorporate “lean practices”. Some of the insights are quite specific and valuable. And many things are quite familiar to what I have found in my work as a consultant. Here is one a bit more generic paragraph about big businesses and innovation.
Despite their best intentions of encouraging disruptive innovation, the very nature of asking, “What’s the ROI and when will I see it?” lures disruptive ideas toward sustained, modest innovation. To predict the market, you have to be in a known market. To disrupt, you must create new markets.
I really like that the Lean Entrepreneur is a very pragmatic common sense book. It doesn’t try to build up any complex theoretical models. Most importantly, insights are actionable and the templates and tactics given are useful. Overall it offers pragmatic and effient advice for entrepreneurs that act in an environment of extreme uncertainty.
It is noteworthy that it is not only useful for the typical startup entrepreneurs but can give good insights also for corporates who want to try lean innovation practices.
If you want to learn a scientific method for building a startup go read The Lean Startup. If you want to actually build your startup you should read The Lean Entrepreneur (afterwards). Whereas the former sets the mindset, the latter provides tools to execute on that mindset. So if you are looking for a guide to get you started with your startup, this is your book.
On a more general note: It is essential to bring the lean startup methodology into practice. There are many events (e.g. Startup Weekend, Startup Weekend NEXT) trying to do just yet. This is the first book I have seen go into such practical detail. And it does that well. That’s why I like the book and that’s why I recommend you read it too.
To get a glimpse into the book you can checkout parts of the first chapter of the Lean Entrepreneur on Google Books.
Below is a video of Brant Cooper talking about some ideas from the book. Obviously a one hour talk only scratches the surface.
And here are the slides from the talk:
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