I’m sure you are very busy and with so many things going on, there are tasks in which you invest minimum time and resources to get them done (hopefully reading this is not one of these tasks). That is what lean startup is about: Investing the minimum amount of resources to get things done successfully.
The traditional method for new product development is to sit down for 6,9 or even 12 months in a closed office and develop the most sophisticated and scalable system and then take it to market. The risk – you assume what customers like. Many times the result is tons of hours and money spent on something customers are not keen of: a feature, a product or a concept. There were other companies doing search engines before Google. There were other social network sites other than Facebook. Where are they and how much time and money did they spend before failing?
Every startup has an assumption or a theory. The lean startup concept is about developing the minimum, most basic product that tests that theory. The goal is to develop a minimum feature set that pares the features of the first product release to the minimum necessary for early customers. Instead of 12 months in a closed office, one spends 1 month to bring a very basic product to market and test his assumptions. If the product flies – you feel much more confident to move forward and enhance it. If the product fails – you failed cheaply.
The concept of lean startup is complemented by another concept: Customer Development. Customer development, led by Steve Blank, is about developing things that customers like. The concept is similar: instead of spending 3 months or 6 months developing your next version, making assumptions about what customers would like, develop something basic, get out of the building and test that out with customers. SaaS, for example, enables companies to upload new versions within seconds and so they can do that multiple times a day. Zynga, the leading online gaming company, for example, uploads new versions every 20 min. on average. That way they can even test the color of a new button and change it every couple of minutes to test how users react to different colors. Less time is spent on planning and making assumption and more time is spent on getting customer feedback.
Customer development, however, does not apply only to internet or software startups. It can apply to food, toys, consumer electrics and many other sectors.
At the end – It’s all about developing products your customers like (vs. products you like). To develop product customer like, and minimize risk, one needs to get a something out there as soon as possible and test it out. Learning and iterating is the process that leads to a better product (vs. endless meetings in the office).
And again: “Very few startups fail for lack of technology. They almost always fail for lack of customers.” (Steve Blank)