Jim, who is a serial entrepreneur, long-time client and friend, called me up excitedly. "Guess what they're teaching at Princeton? Not to write a business plan. Now, they're teaching kids to just start their businesses." Jim had just been at a session with the Princeton Entrepreneurship Club, where Jim was a mentor to a team of students. The topic that day was Eric Reis's book, The Lean Startup. Jim went on to tell me that Stanford, Berkeley and Harvard have all jumped on The Lean Startup bandwagon. My curiosity was piqued. I had to read it.
I was surprised by the book. The Lean Startup – How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Reis (2011, Crown), is clearly targeted to brilliant computer engineers and inventors who are in love with their code and their idea, without regard to the real needs of the marketplace. The book teaches them that they need to fill their customers’ needs – a very basic concept from Marketing 101 – and use sound management practices.
Reis’s principles come out of the lessons learned in the dot-com meltdown and also from management theory. Here's where I got confused. Reis starts out saying that entrepreneurial ventures need to follow sound management principles. But then, he proposes that businesses experiment their way to success, which seems to us to be antithetical to what I learned in my management and marketing classes at Wharton.
Although much of the advice in this book tends to the very academic – developing and studying cohorts, for example – Eric Reis has become the darling of Silicon Valley and has excited entrepreneurs with the idea that they do not need business plans, just the willingness to “continuously innovate” and “pivot” when things don’t go according to expectations. He tells readers to start lean and keep learning as you go.
Companies all over Silicon Valley and beyond are embracing Reis's theories for product development and management. For that reason alone, the book is worth reading. If you don't want to read it, then just watch Reis's video telling you about the book and the theory.