How is The Lean Startup misunderstood

"Lean Start-up": Establishing a company without ballast

Developing faster, more flexible and cheaper products that are closer to the customer: based on Silicon Valley, the “lean” concept is finding more and more supporters in the start-up scene on this side of the Atlantic.

Young entrepreneurs like to surround themselves with the aura of the unconventional. Working in a new, different, special way is part of their self-image. But apart from the actual business model, most start-up projects are similar in their way of working: you work on business plans, look for financing options, develop a product further - ideally until it is ready for the market. Around the individual foundation phases, conventions and standards have developed that can be seen as part of a certain professionalization.

For some years now, however, a concept has been causing a sensation that has little in common with established formulas for success. Above all, it was Eric Ries who started a whole movement of the same name with his successful founder blog and the book “Lean Startup”. The US entrepreneur had years of experience with failed start-up projects - practically part of the good tone in Silicon Valley - and made his breakthrough with the games and entertainment network IMVU.

There, his team developed some of the methods that have become the core of the “Lean” movement today.
"It is an umbrella term for best practices and a series of approaches to make product development work faster, cost less and thus involve fewer risks," says Thomas Schranz, co-founder of the Viennese software start-up "" and "Lean." "-Pendant. "It's about going to market as quickly as possible with the simplest possible product variant and developing the product further in contact with customers." Instead of going through years of hidden development stages, as many feedback loops as possible should be unwound. In this way, the product is created and changed directly on the market that it is intended to serve or create.

Overrated planning

So far, so one of Ries' basic theses, start-ups have relied too heavily on planning and forecasting. This only works well where many years of experience and a safe environment meet, two things with which new companies are not exactly blessed. Up until now, the professionalization of start-up projects has meant becoming more efficient. If it's just about meeting basic consumer needs, that's the way to go. But today there are countless different ideas that can be implemented. "There is nothing that is more useless than doing a job with great efficiency that shouldn't be done at all," says Lean Startup.

So will first or potential customers dictate product development in the future? “The concept is often misunderstood. It does not mean handing over the innovation work completely to the customer. The challenge is to develop a sensitivity for what the customer feedback actually means for the current and future versions of the product, ”says founder Schranz. The good product developer does not simply bring the customer the feature he wants, but asks himself which customer wish is actually behind it.
With their own founding project "", Schranz and colleagues not only follow these principles. The product itself is a project management and collaboration tool especially for like-minded founders and product developers.

Less bureaucracy

What is astonishing about the “Lean” concept is that on the one hand it demystifies the myth of the founder, who tinkered lonely in the garage for years until he revolutionized the market with a finished product. On the other hand, it unbureaucratises the entire process, frees it from unnecessary ballast and ignites a new dynamic.

The makers behind Idea Camp, a German network of founders for founders, are also bound to this spirit. “We want to pass on how you can start quickly. We encourage the participants in our camps to go out quickly and use the new online media, ”says Philipp Wilhelm, co-founder of the Idea Camp.

There is also increasing talk of lean processes in the German start-up scene. “I would say there is more and more to come. But entrepreneurship training at universities and business start-up centers still seems to be mostly based on the classic model, ”says Wilhelm.

Olympic spirit

The next Idea Camp in Berlin in mid-September is not exactly classic or traditional: The “Startup Olympics” will follow a two-day event. For four weeks, the camp participants apply the recipes they learned at the event in their existing or newly founded project. At the end, the most successful participants in four disciplines (e.g. new customer acquisition) await cash prizes.

Such initiatives show the charisma of the “Lean” philosophy. At founding conferences, lectures and discussions have become a fixed point. This may also be due to the fact that Ries presents a whole range of different tools and concepts in his book, some of which can also be implemented excellently on their own without transforming the entire company into a "lean start-up". Not every diet is a comprehensive diet.

More about "Lean Start-ups"

Long before the book, Eric Ries got the ball rolling with his "Lessons Learned". And because the written word is not always the best way to convey information, numerous videos are rampant online - for example a detailed interview.
Also recommended is the online diary of Ash Maurya, author of "Running Lean", which is currently only available in English.
If you want to meet people interested in the subject in real life, it is best to add the next event of the "Lean Startup Circle" in Vienna to your calendar.

("Die Presse", print edition, 08.09.2012)