Fireside Chat with Ash Maurya - Understanding Lean Startups - Part 4


August 25, 2014


This is the fourth part the multipart series: “Fireside Chat With Ash Maurya” (Read part 3 here).

Manoj: When somebody hears about the Lean Startup, they hear stories that always peak their interest. And the next day they want to apply it. But, its a change. Initially, the progress comes up and then eventually it goes down.

According to you, what are the behavioural changes that a customer or a software building team has to go through to get used to the Lean approach?

Ash: That’s a great question. I think, it all comes down to the detachment of ego from the product. For a lot of us we attach too much of our personal self to the product. This is again where I say, we need to have that attachment otherwise we wouldn’t care about what we are building. But, the focus shouldn’t be on the solution box.

I always draw the picture on the lean canvas and show the solution box (which is a very important one) as a very small part, that we define ourselves by. But, it’s NOT the most important thing in the Lean model. That’s going to change over time.

This is the hardest thing to see happening in real cultures. When it does then, it means that you are being more objective and being more empirical.

There’s nothing wrong in having strong opinions. But, you are the first one who wants to test it. As fast and in the smallest way possible. You don’t want to be living in this delusional world. You believe it’s true but you are testing it because, what if it’s not? That’s the most fundamental thing. You’d want to build that culture around. If you don’t have that then, you are going to be delaying the learning.

So, even in the practice of it, some people also latch on to what I call silver bullets or quick tactics. They read something and try to apply it, and there’s some good reward. But people go looking for such tactics everywhere - " Where can I find something that I can copy very quickly?"

But, its hard when none of these tactics work for you and you still have to succeed. That’s where you have to dig in deeper. That’s the harder part of it. You have to do the hard work of talking to customers or really analyzing the current situation and seeing what else works.

In Eric’sbook “The Lean Startup” , he talks about having frequent "pivot or persevere" meetings. These are meetings where you come in and take a look at the metrics. You decide if you want to stay the course which is persevere or change your strategy. There’s always the third option of the "reset" button. He doesn’t talk about that, but I bring that in. Because very early on, some ideas are just not going to work.

You can get that negative feedback very quickly, but it’s still a success in my point of view which saved you 6 months of figuring that out. Probably it took 6 days rather than 6 months. So those are hard. I have a tagline that I'd like to quote to resonate with that. I have this thing that I say- "* Life's too short to build something that nobody wants.* "

For me, having built a lot of things that I thought are going to be great products and spending sometimes years of my life and putting my soul into it and seeing only a few people use it, was very painful. And that's where that came from. I only build that final solution when I know it's going to work. Even that’s hard to say.

People sometimes ask me what was the MVP for my book and I say, if I start drawing a picture, it's so recursive. There are many products that came out of it. While I wrote the book, there was the blog which was the 1st product and which is still a product, then there were workshops that I did that were just tests for the book initially (but now I run them as on going basis). It's very hard to say which was the one because all of these things moved in one general direction.

If you apply the process, say you want to build software but eventually I'd like to say that you want to build a better customer. And that may require software, may require content or tutorial or many other things along the way. But you are committed to make that customer the happiest. So as they say, “ Don't build a better axe but build a better user of the axe”. So, whatever it is that you are building, that’s how you should be looking at it.

Vaidy: Yeah, I keep getting reminded of Kathy Sierra - Kathy Sierra is the  lady behind  the JAVARanch and she used to write this really popular blog (but now she has stopped it) - Creating Passionate Users. One of the things that she said was - “* If a user feels smart after they use your product, then your product is successful.* ” They should feel good about themselves and  forget about your product. They don't  know why they are feeling so. There's something inside their brain that tells them to use this product because it makes them feel smart.

Well, that’s what I understood reading it. It’s a very interesting thing that I remember.

Ash: That's the message of the Customer Factory -  You’re building this system that makes the Rockstar Customers successful. If you make them happy, you make them successful, then the business part takes care of itself. One of our “whys” is helping entrepreneurs succeed. But, that combined with the entrepreneurs being our customers becomes our product.

So, sometimes they ask , “* This canvas you are building is online but, sometimes with the online stuff there are privacy concerns”* . So I say, we have a printed version and we just give it to them. Then the question is that- doesn’t that reduce the usage of the online tool. To answer that, if I can go back to “* Helping entrepreneurs succeed* ”, the how thing is to give them whatever tools they need.

It’s not so much about whether your product is this online canvas tool. With everything that we do - we distribute things on the blog and on the content page and many other things - if we have made a better entrepreneur, then we have succeeded. Otherwise, we are just playing games.