Parallels Between Lean Startups and Lean Publishing


Over the holidays, as I'm experimenting with an eBook of 2011 Lean Blog posts (on sale now), I've been giving a lot of feedback to Peter and Scott from LeanPub, the site I'm using to compile and publish the eBook.

I just finished an eBook by LeanPub's Peter Armstrong about “Lean Publishing.” He makes a number of great points very clearly in the book. For one, “Lean Publishing” is not necessarily the same as self publishing. Lean Publishing means that you publish something (and start selling it) even before it's finished. As the author, you're getting feedback from “early adopter” readers and building a community. You can iterate through the Lean Publishing process and then take the book to a traditional publisher OR you can self publish as an eBook or in print.

The second point is the parallel between traditional publishing and the traditional startup process.

From the eBook, one of the three parallels that Armstrong draws between Lean Startups and Lean Publishing.

3. Historically it has taken about a year, often spent in isolation or “stealth mode”, to develop and release the first version.

Startups have traditionally operated in secrecy from the moment of being founded until the “first customer ship” or “product launch.” In this time, the founders and the early employees rapidly and secretly build the product envisioned by the founders in order to get it to market before anyone else does. There has typically been very  little  outside feedback sought or received  until the product is ready for beta testing, which is usually very shortly before its launch.

A similar situation exists for authors. Many authors will work on their manuscript in isolation until it is complete, before submitting it to publishers. Sometimes they seek an agent to market the completed manuscript to publishers. Alternatively, authors can submit book proposals to publishers, seeking a contract for a project before beginning serious writing. In both cases, the manuscript has litlle contact with its true customers-readers-before it is largely completed. Traditionally in the technical book space, only a handful of readers are brought in as reviewers before a book goes to press.

That statement could apply to books or to a startup. As Eric Ries writes about in his book The Lean Startup, startups are risky ventures. Most of them fail. Most books that are published don't really sell that many copies. So, publishing is also risky. The Lean Startup methodology says to get your product to market early – because if you are going to fail because nobody wants to buy your product (or use your web-based software), you'd rather learn that earlier than later. Why waste a year or two or three of your life and why waste millions of venture capital funding to launch the fully developed product – and THEN finding that customers won't buy it.

The Lean approach to publishing says to publish the book as you go or you can do as Eric Ries did and use a blog  to get your ideas out there and interact with people. You're both refining ideas and marketing the book in advance of publication. While I don't always write about Lean Healthcare here on this blog, I believe my book Lean Hospitals benefitted from a similar approach. I never copied and pasted text from my blog into my book (I don't know if Eric did – not that it matters), but the blog writing was, in many ways, practice for the book. I was able to test ideas and test the way I communicated them, getting feedback from my blog community – many of whom became book readers.

You can follow my progress as I add notes to the blog post about my Lean Blog eBook. If you're interested in this, check out Peter's eBook (for just $4.99 – or you can pay as little as $0.99).

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.



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