Lately, I’m getting more and more feedback from entrepreneurs that Lean Startup is holding them back.
I’m seeing this in action as well; startups that are “stuck” in a permanent mode of analysis with little to no action.
Entrepreneurs blame the Lean Startup process. They point out that the need to validate everything before moving forward slows them down and confuses them too much. They’d rather just go ahead with something and define that as progress.
There are a few things at work here.
For starters, I’ve written about the pace of Lean Startup before, because at certain stages it does feel slow.
The goal of Lean Startup isn’t to slow you down, but it is designed to make you think critically about what you’re doing and amass (some form of) proof that you’re heading in the right direction before barreling ahead. Those that go through the early customer development and Lean Startup process may feel paralyzed or derailed for a bit, but they come out the other end with a much clearer picture of where to run. And then, you run. As fast as you can.
Secondly, it seems that entrepreneurs are genuinely struggling with how to run good experiments.
It’s a combination of not knowing how to do it and also not wanting to. Being good at running experiments and following the Lean Startup methodology takes practice. It’s really as simple as that. You either put in the effort or you don’t. You either believe it adds value or you don’t. If you want to remain completely delusional throughout the startup process, you’re welcome to do so, but your odds of success are terrible.
Entrepreneurs also struggle a great deal with the idea that they’ll be forced to “throw out their work.” The idea that a hypothesis and experiment may fail feels like a total waste of time. And I get that; no one wants to feel like they’re wasting their time. You have to realize that a failed experiment – if it was well designed and intended – is incredibly valuable. Rovio tried 51 games before hitting on Angry Birds. It took them 8 years. No one is suggesting you try 51 things over 8 years before finding something successful, but as long as you’re genuinely learning through failed experiments, then you’re moving closer to success.
A good experiment needs a clear outcome. The same holds true with customer development interviews. There needs to be a very specific point to the effort. Good experiments and customer development interviews are supposed to make decision-making easier, and lead to specific next steps. If that’s not happening, you need to figure out why and change how you’re running experiments and interviews. Otherwise you’ll absolutely be paralyzed.
Finally, I get the feeling that entrepreneurs think that Lean Startup is sucking the guts out of startups.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. No startup succeeds by simply following a methodology. There’s no formula for success. There are simply too many variables, most of which you cannot control. Your guts (or instincts) are crucial throughout the startup experience. You’ll make decisions on imperfect data (even following Lean Startup). You’ll have sudden sparks of inspiration and insight, connecting dots that no one else has in quite the same way, and have to execute on those sparks quickly. You’ll play your hunches.
At the end of the day, you – as the founder of your startup – make the decisions. You’re in charge. No one’s trying to take that way from you, or turn your guts and instinct into a mechanical, fully calculable process. Startups are too crazy for that. Just as you can align big vision and Lean Startup you can do the same with instinct and Lean Startup. So don’t use this as an excuse. Lean Startup is a framework for helping, for de-risking things and guiding decision-making. But Lean Startup is not a guarantee.
You can escape analysis paralysis in a number of ways. You can listen to your instincts and just do something, pick a path and plant a flag in the ground. You can also run more experiments. You can do both together. Startups are crazy but they don’t have to be insanely messy. You can apply some method to the madness and improve your focus. Run small experiments in a few days to get out of a funk and learn something. Make some quick decisions, test your assumptions and go from there. Don’t sit in the office staring at your screen waiting for something to happen. Mentors can help too. They bring an honest, outside opinion that may shake you loose. They might also confuse the situation further though, if they’re providing disparate feedback. So be careful.
Almost every startup goes through analysis paralysis at some point during its existence. But if it’s happening consistently and for long periods of time, you have to look at your decision-making processes and your willingness to experiment outside of your comfort zone (and fail). You can’t sit there and blame Lean Startup or anything else; it’s up to you to break out of it and push forward.