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Media Spotlight: The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

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Are you sitting at your desk crunching through your clients’ mortgage appro-vals but secretly thinking of starting a high-end burger shack in your village? Or maybe you’ve got a great idea for a wedding website to help people propose with street performers and aerial smoke displays or you’ve been toying with setting up a trade magazine for assassins.

OK, so maybe those last two are just me. But if you have spent most of your working life employed, then you have probably thought about setting up on your own. Perhaps with the mortgage market picking up again you are thinking of going it alone.

Fear of failure puts many people off starting up their own companies (although a fear of getting a bullet through the brain from any aggrieved readers would put me off the assassins’ trade mag) and reducing the chances of it going wrong is the basis of Eric Ries’ book the Lean Startup.

Ries is an entrepreneur and author of a blog called Startup Lessons Learned and also has been involved with a number of start-ups, including an online social website called IMVU. I had never heard of this before but apparently it is a big deal with three million or so users who create 3D avatars to chat with other people. So, Moshi Monsters for adults.

And he uses his experiences setting up IMVU and other companies to flesh out the basic ideas behind the lean start-up approach.

The idea is modelled on the lean manufacturing approach used by the Japanese car manufacturers like Toyota since the 1980s. The system considers as waste the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer, and thus a target for elimination.

Ries takes a similar hardline attitude with any new start-up and argues that this is essentially what separates those companies who succeed and those that fail. You can build something that is technically impressive but if no one uses it or wants your end product, then it ultimately has failed.

He uses IMVU as an example whereby the 3D avatar system was created but Ries and his co-founders initially intended that users could piggyback the contacts built up and using other internet messaging systems.

However, users did not like it. The bit that users of IMVU were interested in using it for was to meet new people and he admits that he especially was slow and reluctant to let their initial business model go.

But the firm ultimately discovered what customers were interested in by using the scientific method and constantly testing them to see what they were actually interested in rather than what the firm wanted them to be interested in.

And this he contends is a similar system that all start-ups should use to ultimately avoid waste and ensure their companies succeed.

The Lean Startup is written in an easy style, Ries has some fascinating stories of people who have used the lean start-up principles, be it consciously or unconsciously, to achieve success.

To implement his ideas would clearly take a lot of hard work, discipline and self awareness as clearly accepting when an idea is bad early on or at least the weaknesses of your business model are pivotal to success.

However I still finished the book fired up and wanting to start up my own company or product – Professional Killers Monthly here I come!

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