It was year 2012; my first experience with a very early stage startup in London. This was also my first ever encounter with the lean startup principles in action with regards to product release. And to be honest, it scared the hell out of me at first.
When I observed the process of product-rollout at my startup, I used to find myself silently cringing at the way they would roll out every week (almost religiously). I cringed not because they made it a point to roll out the product iteratively and regularly but because if I were the product owner, I would die of a heart attack if I were to roll out the product in a seemingly “less perfect” shape.
Most of us would have read ‘The Lean Startup’ by Eric Ries by now. But how many of us, actually put it into practice? And when I say this, I specifically point out towards the first time entrepreneurs.
After all, we (people who hail from IT services background) are taught to test the code thoroughly until no bug is found; until the product looks decently perfect. But God! That’s where most of us go wrong because the IT services projects environment is so fundamentally different from digital products which form the core of the startups.
Also, the more perfection obsessed people find a hard time relating with the concepts of “Being lean” because imperfection to them is synonymous with “disastrous”.
I have seen people especially from non-IT background get trapped into this paranoia of not releasing a basic product. They will be ready to pump in more and more money out of fear only to perhaps realize (when they take their product to market) that most features were uncalled for and they spent time & money unnecessarily on those features which no one cares for. This leads to unnecessary delays, a dip in your motivation and inhibits your own market and product learning as in the digital industry, one never learns about the product without the product. By which I mean, if you don’t have a working product, it’s impossible to make any assumptions or pin point the market adoption for the product.
So, although most of us have heard about the Lean Principle, it’s fear and lack of clarity that prevents first-time entrepreneurs from putting it into practice.
I will quote Paul Graham (Founder-YCombinator) here when he says that he’s never seen a startup die because the startup released too quickly but he sees it dying when they release too slow.
Now first of all, why is it emphasized that you release your product fast?
Most important reason – for the sake of your own learning about your product. In the digital industry, your learning will only come from your users, people who care to use your product. If you sit in isolation, assuming features, it’s for the most part invalidated until you have people using it. So, in order to kick start your product, you need to put it out there in front of your customers.
Secondly, the concept of “lean” needs to be understood the way it’s meant to be. And practicing it, is a savior of time & money wasted unnecessarily.
What is Lean supposed to mean? It’s essentially rolling out the basic product!
Let me give here a few similar examples of Lean to clarify the concept:
Example 1: You are driving in the night on a highway and you need to stop and rest for a few hours. All you need at that moment is a clean, decent inn with a bed. Now given your purpose of checking into the inn, you wouldn’t care much if the bed is a luxury bed or if the floor is carpeted or if the walls are painted with the most high-end paint. No, you wouldn’t care much and neither would the inn owner care to provide those features to you because someone who wants to rest while driving on a highway cares ONLY for a comfortable bed (that’s bug free). He doesn’t want all fancy things and probably he doesn’t wish to spend on all those fancy things.
What the inn owner provides to the driver is a LEAN room with basic, minimal features. If the inn owner wishes to improve his inn, he may add extra features but if he doesn’t have the basic features like a comfortable bed and neat & tidy surroundings, no one is going to bother visiting his inn.
The minimum viable feature here is – a comfortable bed and neat, clean surroundings.
Example 2: You are creating a platform for connecting patients with doctors. Now, you want patients to communicate with doctors. Your core basic feature becomes the communication between patient & doctor and that should be enough to roll the first version of your product. How to enhance communication between patients and doctors is improvement that you will need to take care of eventually and quickly. But if you don’t release your product, you will not understand how patients and doctors want the communication to be improved. However, if your basic communication between patients and doctors is broken, no one will use your basic product.
So, in order to release fast applying the lean principles, you should:
- Identify the core basic feature of your product without which there’s no product. Example, without a bed, there’s no inn or without a communication link between the patient and the doctor there’s no purpose of your product.
- Make the basic features as bug free as possible. Lean doesn't mean releasing the product with deliberate bugs. Lean means to release with BASIC features and then continuously add features as per the feedback you get from your users.
So, if you think your obsessive perfectionist attitude is slowing you down from releasing the first version of your product, think again what is stopping you. You can always cover up for less smart design, lack of features in the basic version but if you fail to release due to the fact that you need to achieve perfection before releasing, you will stand the chance of jeopardizing your money and time over possibly futile things.
Stay Lean. Release Fast
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
NIDHI KAPOOR - Nidhi is the co-founder of RankHigher.in. She holds an MBA in Innovation & Entrepreneurship from Imperial College, London. Prior to starting FounderMates.com, she worked with 2 reputable startups in London. One of the startups was as young as a year old where she was the first hire while another was almost 5 years old. This has been an enriching experience for her in understanding the dynamics and needs of a startup across a broad spectrum.
Nidhi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org