Hi, I'm Jan König 👋. I'm one of the founders of Jovo, 28 years old, and live in Berlin. < Go back to learn more.

What Happened to Lean Startup?

I used to be a big believer in and advocate for the Lean Startup movement. I read all the books, gave presentations, and organized meetups. And this over the course of several years, so there's really no excuse for not remembering the methodology.

Yet, I still struggle with adhering to its principles.

What is Lean Startup?

In 2011, Eric Ries released his book The Lean Startup after blogging about the topic for years. It might sound weird today, but back then, it was a real eye-opener: You don't have to lock yourself into an office for 6 months and build a full-blown product to find out if it's going to be a success.

By applying scientific methods, Ries promised, founders could systematically validate their business models and remove the risk of building something nobody wants.

He introduced several concepts that could be used to test and improve your business idea, quickly:

  • Minimum Viable Product (MVP): The smallest possible artifact that is needed to test a hypothesis. This could be just a landing page, but also more advanced, depending on the stage.
  • Build-Measure-Learn: Each iteration through the lean startup process is an experiment to test a hypothesis. The faster you can go through the cycle, the faster you're running towards product market fit (if you're learning the right things).
  • Innovation Accounting: A way to track progress of the various experiments.

All seems promising, but what happened?


How much of Lean Startup is used today?

Today, it's way more common to test a product idea with just a landing page. Talking to users and building MVPs seems like common sense today. And there are more and more technologies introduced every day that make that process easier and easier (e.g. no-code tools for fast prototyping).

However, there are also quite a few things that people forgot over the years, myself included:

  • The term MVP is widely misunderstood. Every "first version" is labeled as MVP, without a clear definition of what should be tested with it.
  • Although being able to build initial product versions quickly is great, building them without a hypothesis to validate in mind means we're just informing our gut feeling (which is great, but not systematic).
  • Prioritization: For us, it's still difficult to find out which experiment/feature gives us the most "bang for the buck" (or, "learning for the time investment").

Alex and I still do most our product/business decisions based on gut feelings informed by qualitative feedback (and some interpretations of quantitative data).


Is this really a bad thing?

The longer I think about it, the less I think this is a bad thing. Being too data-driven and systematic could take some of the fun out of building a startup, especially for personality types like myself.

I even found an old blog post of mine from 2013 called Self-Experiment: The Anti-Lean Startup, where I wrote about the exact same issue: not being able to stick to the principles because I just wanted to have fun for a side project. The post also explores some potential psychological reasons for this.

Nonetheless, I want to improve how we're validating our business ideas. Especially the prioritization is extremely important for a bootstrapped startup.


Trying to solve the challenge with accountability

A first step is to sit together with likeminded people and talk about everyone's challenges. If you're in Berlin next week, together with Kevin Goedecke, I'm organizing a "Stammtisch" titled "Lean Startup Reloaded." You can find more information here. Looking forward to seeing you there!

By the way: Noticed how I've been writing a bit more regularly? I'm also trying to solve my "writing problem" with accountability, by meeting up for weekly writing sessions:

Do you still follow the Lean Startup principles? Hit reply!

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