Back when I had cable and insomnia, I uses to marvel about the late night commercials shilling get rich schemes. If you had a foolproof way to make money, why waste any of it producing and airing a commercial? That money would be much better spent buying a boat, or a Caribbean island.
Of course, the real “get rich scheme” is selling “the get rich scheme.” This is precisely what the The Lean Startup is meant to accomplish.
It appears that the author read the “The Toyota Way” and “Essential Scrum,” added a catchy name, and targeted the concepts towards large company middle managers who’ve been told that their job is “innovation.” If the goal is to sell speaking engagements and consulting, the author is clearly successful.
However, my goal is to build a product and to that end the ideas presented are not novel. Most of them are derived from the lessons learned in the immediate aftermath of the dot com burst which took place a dozen years before this book’s publication. Companies like 37signals and advocates of Agile have been presenting the core concepts of get to market fast, get customers to pay, and build in cycles for years.
The book is not entirely worthless solely due to its creation of a common vocabulary that can be used to describe the business process. “Pivot,” “Minimal Viable Product,” and “Vanity Metrics” are useful terms. Each of these have the ability to have the same impact to the business world as “synergy,” “monetize,” and “decision maker.”
Snarking aside, the additions to the business lexicon do not make up for the biggest flaw in the book: the lack of any quantifiable results that prove that this method is superior. For a book that spent a chapter on the importance of measurement and stresses fact based decision-making, there is surprisingly little in the way of real evidence. The majority of anecdote comes from Ries’ experience in one company. The stories from other companies only cover one small slice of the overall process.
The reality of having a truly lean startup is that there is no control group on which to evaluate your process. Choosing a process is a “leap of faith,” to borrow one of Ries’ terms. Ries does not run a business where this process is used daily to build a product. He runs a consulting and conference business to sell the process. That is a giant red flag, covered in snake oil.
The only innovation in this book is to spread the applicability of a process du jour from the strict purview of engineering to the entire organization.