Seems like everyone has heard the buzz about the Lean Startup movement, which was started over three years ago by Eric Ries. Yet I’m always surprised at the number of founders, product managers, and startup folks I meet who are struggling. Many have built and shipped products, some have even raised capital, but the one commonality amongst them all is they don’t fundamentally understand why they aren’t getting any traction. They’re stuck scratching their heads trying to figure out how to monetize.

And often times they are undergoing an existential crisis of what it means to fail.

When I ask them: “Who is your customer?” The response I get is most often something vague like women or people who are into tech. When I dig a little bit further into the problem they are solving they just give me features, but no clear value proposition. In the excitement of wanting to start a company, many have forgotten the fundamental rules of building a product:

  1. Know your customer. And be very specific about who the early adopter is.
  2. Know what problem you are solving for your customer. Or unique experience you’re providing if you’re not solving a problem.

Some have read the Lean Startup and follow most of the methodologies, but too often their idea of being methodical is doing a bunch of stuff, or building a bunch of features, and when things aren’t working they pivot instead of understanding what has fundamentally caused them to fail.

When I dig in a little deeper to ask founders what they discovered when they did market research or in the customer discovery phase, I get blank stares. They were just so excited to build, who needs market research or customer discovery, they’ll know when they fail! Unfortunately too many failures or pivots cause founders to burnout.

Instead of chasing the path of building too soon, I’d encourage people to actually follow lean methodologies to the T. The point of being lean is that you’re dealing with uncertainty regarding your market, product, customer, pricing, distribution, and many other business variables.

Lean methodologies offers a structure where you can perform a series of tests, measure the results, review what contributed to success or failures before moving on to the next step. I know sometimes it’s hard to just read a book and follow the best practices, so fortunately now there are enough wonderful resources out there to give people some hands-on guidance:

Lean doesn’t mean lazy, it means you’re scrappy (you have limited resources: time, money, and talent) and you’re dealing with uncertainty by performing small experiments, and then reviewing the results. You make the best use of the resources you do have, and use the methodologies to learn what works and what doesn’t.