Should Have a Question Mark: Inc’s “The Leanest Startup?”

Inc. Magazine didn’t have the question mark in the headline, but I think it should be there. Much as the WSJ often just gets it way wrong about Lean, Inc. follows up it’s earlier butchering of “The Lean Startup” methodology (see my post What’s Wrong with “What’s Wrong With the Lean Start-up“) with a new story that really seems to miss some key concepts: “The Leanest Start-up in Silicon Valley.”

First off, the article is in the “bootstrapping” section of the magazine – a good fit. As the author of  The Lean Startup  Eric Ries  often says, though, Lean is not about bootstrapping or being strapped for cash.

A Lean Startup is about going through as many cycles of learning (and pivoting or improvement) before you run out of cash. Even an earlier Inc. article (giving credit when it’s due) emphasizes that Eric’s approach is “beyond bootstrapping.

So, maybe the focus of the story, Kurt Varner, living in his car (see pic at left or article) could be called “The Bootstrappiest Startup”… or somebody who found a ploy for attention and P.R. by choosing to sleep in his car — not sure what that proves, really.

Secondly, the story talks about all of the time Kurt spends talking (or trying to get appointments with) accomplished entrepreneurs. I thought “The Lean Startup” was all about talking to customers and understanding a day in their life, not just copying lessons from successful startups (such as growing beards?). Even Eric says that you shouldn’t listen to him because he was involved in a successful startup before.

The article talks about how Kurt uses Ukranian developers to work on his app… is that because they are better or because they are cheap? Again, citing Eric, Lean is NOT about being cheap or offshoring. I thought Lean Startup development was typically done locally so you could be fast and responsive… not cheap.

Finally, Kurt seems to have an idea in search of a problem to solve. He has created an iOS app that wakes people up in a creative way… was that idea really based on a customer need? The idea of having to go to a web browser to turn off your alarm clock might be clever, but it’s also described as “annoying” by potential customers.

So, I’m not sure if that’s the best or most accurate representation of “The Lean Startup” presented by Inc. I bet you’ll find better examples at Eric’s upcoming Lean Startup conference or even your local Lean Startup group.

I hope Kurt is successful… more importantly, I hope he stops sleeping in his car… it’s probably the healthy thing to do.

To summarize, and please correct me in comments if I’m wrong:

  • Lean Startup isn’t about bootstrapping or having no money
  • Lean Startup doesn’t mean sleeping in your car
  • Lean Startup doesn’t mean trying to meet every famous entrepreneur you can
  • Lean Startup doesn’t mean offshore development
  • Lean Startup does mean having a customer problem to solve… and iterating through as many cycles of learning as possible

Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please scroll down to post a comment. Click here to receive posts via email.


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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an eBook titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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6 Comments on "Should Have a Question Mark: Inc’s “The Leanest Startup?”"

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Funny that the guy says he read Eric’s book and talks non-stop about Lean Startup… maybe reading comprehension suffers when you’re fatigued from sleeping in a car?

    Which came first, him reading TLS or sleeping in the car, I wonder?

  2. Joel says:

    A great lesson to me, from the Lean Startup world, is that you should develop your market/customer hypothesis while you still have a day job…. answering the “should I build this?” question before quitting and going off on your own. I wish Kurt would have tried that, but to each his own. He seems to be flailing around with his product ideas as opposed to following a scientific build-measure-learn cycle or two.

    It seems like he could have done all of this from the comfort of home with his wife rather than making the pilgrimage to NorCal to hobnob with people.

    Not Lean.

  3. Joel says:

    Dude has a landing page… but I’m not sure that really makes this Lean.

    http://signup.dailytoaster.com/?r=http://kurtvarner.com/

  4. Chris says:

    In the paragraph about the programmers, I think you missed a “not”
    The article talks about how Kurt uses Ukranian developers to work on his app… is that because they are better or because they are cheap? Again, citing Eric, Lean is not about being cheap or offshoring. I thought Lean Startup development was typically done locally so you could be fast and responsive… not cheap.

    While reading the article, I had the same thought about hiring programmers a world away.

    I haven’t read TLS, but just from what I know of Lean and the business world, this isn’t how I picture doing a Lean tech startup. I’ve seen better ideas and startup methodolgy from a grade schooler here in Utah that has written his own games for Apple phones and tablets with pong style graphics, but great game play.

  5. Mark Graban
    Twitter:
    says:

    Tweet from Kurt Varner:

    @MarkGraban Definitely agree with your points, Mark. Cheap is not lean. But keep in mind that I can’t control what others write about me.

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