Book Recap: The Lean Startup Chapter 6 – Test

How many of us were raised with the expectation that we would put our best work forward?

Eric Ries
The Lean Startup

Often times an entrepreneur's vision is to build a high-quality, world-changing product. But before new products could be successfully sold to the mass market, they have to be sold to a special breed of customer called early adopters.

First products aren't meant to be perfect, because early adopters care more about being the first to use a product: it is the new iPhone or basketball shoes in consumer products, and it is gaining competitive advantage before competitors do in enterprise products. Ries gave several examples of how each of them built their first product in the MVP way.

  • Groupon started with just a WordPress blog and manually generated coupon PDFs and email them to users.
  • Dropbox created a 3-minute video of the founder Drew Houston using the software to move files around seamlessly, and those files are full of Easter eggs of in-jokes of their targeted early adopters.
  • Food on the Table targeted just one customer in the beginning, and offered the customer a concierge treatment of their proposed features without any software built, in exchange for feedback and a check for $9.95 weekly.
  • Aardvark's founders pivoted six times, with each only a two- to four-week of effort cheap prototype, before they settle on Aardvark, and eventually acquired by Google.

It is counter intuitive that quality and design is not necessarily what customer consider as valuable. Most modern businesses focus on producing high quality products, because they already know what attributes of the product the customer will perceive as valuable. However, it is not the case for startups as startups often do not know who the customer is. MVPs are meant to be testing one's assumptions. The goal is to start the process of validated learning as soon as possible. Anything that does not contribute directly to the learning should be removed.

Another counter intuitive thing is releasing an MVP would not let competitors steal the ideas. As a startup, it is so difficult to let the world notice you, let alone stealing your idea. The bigger companies of your competitors are focusing on prioritization and execution. And the smaller companies should not be able to out-execute you, since the reason you pursue the idea is that you believe you can accelerate through the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop faster than anyone else.