There are many reasons why entrepreneurs don’t, or more accurately won’t adopt lean startup principles. In the last few weeks, I’ve encountered each of the archetypes described below. In each case, the individuals have some awareness of #leanstartup, based on my discussions, as well as sharing Ries’ and Blank’s resources with them.
1) The Renaissance Salesperson — This individual can sell anything to anyone, e.g., ice to an Eskimo, water to a drowning man, aluminum siding to a brick house owner. The quintessential salesperson, as depicted in Tin Men, Glengarry Glen Ross, et. al., is driven by the confidence that despite all odds, he or she can close. Product is merely a milestone in order fulfillment.
After selling vaporware for 25 years for large vendors like Oracle & Peoplesoft, believe me, I can sell this…
These highly successful sales people turned CEOs sell their trackrecord to raise funds, an exercise deemed a necessary evil to afford hiring the sales team. This path is clearly fraught with danger. Ethics aside, it’s one thing for a billion dollar company to promise first and deliver later and quite another for a startup to depend on these tactics to get going.
2) Speak-softly and carry a big Product — This individual believes product development solves market shortcomings. There is at least some altruism here, in that these individuals believe in building high-quality products that customers want. Unfortunately, the believe system is often typified by the “if we build it they will come” mentality, whereby products are magically discovered by their customers through the luminance of their high-quality sheen. Quote:
We can provide the depth of content Google can’t.
In Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner had a magic spirit or baseball god to ensure the players indeed came. This tactic may work for you, too, assuming you have a marketing god filling the stadium for you.
3) Madison Avenue Marketer — These people recognize that a “Field of Dreams” is pipe-driven. Their answer: a really big megaphone. In the past, this has meant heavy advertising and lots of PR, topped off with, perhaps a Superbowl ad. While this method might be right for some (Go-Daddy comes to mind), for most startups, not so much.
These days most startups won’t get enough funding to take this tact, but there’s a smaller version that is equally pernicious. Quote:
What we need to do is create a blog, a Facebook fan page, keep the updated, tweet, max-out SEO, create backlinks, etc., and make as big a splash as possible. It’s not cheap.
This strategy reminds me of the movie, Wag the Dog, where a political spin-doctor teams with a Hollywood producer to create a false war to distract the population from other matters. While the analogy doesn’t exactly fit, the creation of a huge spectacle is really a marketing strategy and anytime you are attracting attention you are necessarily distracting, as well. The point to startups is : 1st) The attraction/distraction are typically transient in nature, even if you have the money to sustain the programs; 2nd) While “wagging the dog” is a purposeful diversion to hide something, “wagging the startup” results in internal diversion away from what you should be doing. What if your buyer doesn’t tweet or read blogs?
(See Steve Blank’s market type discussions to learn when a big megaphone might be the right approach.)
4) You Can’t Handle the Truth! — I’ve mentioned this before, but one of the most difficult predicaments for entrepreneurs is handling the truth that a market doesn’t exist. If you don’t want to hear the answer, don’t ask the question. In “A Few Good Men,” Lt. Kafee asks the question.
Denial is a powerful human defense mechanism. Rationalization protects the denial. Quotes:
The answer was close enough, I phrased the question wrong.
You don’t get it.
All my friends say I’ve nailed it.
They don’t realize they need it yet.
I only need 1% and that’s a no-brainer.
I’d pay for it. There’s gotta be lots like me.
It makes too much sense.
Their boss will make them buy it.
The passion that drives entrepreneurship often hides blind spots. The point is not to not “go for it,” but rather to make “going for it” refer to proving the market exists, rather than assuming a market exists and building a business based on untested assumptions.
I’m sure there are plenty more, but these are the most typical anti-lean startup archetypes I encounter. These people don’t necessarily overtly reject continuous deployment, minimum viable product, or customer development, but rather mentally morph the concepts to fit into their existing beliefs of how things “should be done.” Truth be told, I even recognize some of these traits in myself!
What about you? Have you encountered these? Do you recognize yourself in any of these archetypes? How have you overcome them?