I started reading Eric Ries's blog, "Startup Lessons Learned," back in October 2008. I was quickly impressed by his technical acumen and the simplicity of his writing. I also enjoyed the breadth of topics covered and how engaging they were.
Needless to say, I was glad to hear that he was going to distill all his knowledge into a book, and now that I read the book, I'm glad to say that he didn't disappoint.
The book defines a startup as a 1) a human institution designed to 2) create a new product/service under conditions of 3) extreme uncertainty.
Notice how the definition doesn't address the size of the venture or its backers or its origins. As long as it is a team building a product with high uncertainty, it is a startup.
The book also covers the entire life cycle of a lean startup, Figure 1.
Build-Measure-Learn Feedback Loop that's at the core of the lean startup (image source)
Eric puts a huge emphasis on "validated learning" as opposed to "failure as a way of learning." He says, "a failure to deliver results is due to either a failure to plan adequately or a failure to execute properly." He's all about accountability, which is sorely lacking in so many institutions these day, with the most egregious being Wall Street.
Eric goes on to explain the principles of the lean startup with andecodotes of successes and failures in business. One of the most fascinating and very telling for me was the SnapTax story. The fact that a giant company like Intuit could spawn an innovative startup (i.e. a team + a product + high uncertainty) was a nice validation for my unsuccessful push for an R&D department within the companies at which I worked in the past. SnapTax was a team of five individuals that was given freedom to experiement while held accountable throughout the process. The results were impresssive.
If nothing else, the reader, especially those running mature companies, should pay close attention to Eric's conclusion. He stresses the points of validating assumptions, rapid testing of ideas, and most importantly, "stop wasting people's time."
I think that's the most valuable lesson in the entire book. Mature companies that continue to waste their talents' time with banal and insipid tasks are bound to lose those talents and will only be left with lazy, oftentime overpaid individuals that are too comfortable, too politically secure that they can't produce anything new or original even if they tried.
Startups are a "human institution" first and foremost. If the right team isn't in place, you do not have a startup. Nurture those talents and don't waste their time. Only then will the trappings of success adorn your business and you.