10 Lessons I Learned While Practicing Lean Startup

Nothing comes close to matching the thrill of being part of an innovative startup.  I know this fir...

Nothing comes close to matching the thrill of being part of an innovative startup.  I know this first hand as I had the great fortunes of being involved in multiple startups over a decade.  Some were my own or my friends' while others were part of my job at IBM, Microsoft, and now Bloomberg.   While many were wildly successful, others failed to even launch.

10 Lessons I Learned While Practicing Lean Startup
So, what makes a great startup and how do you improve your chances of success?

Here are some of the lessons I learned:
1- Have a vision and plan ahead - do not make the mistake of thinking agile and lean imply you do not need planned releases.  Without its guiding north-star, a ship will be lost in the endless sea! What makes a startup unique is the vision of its founders.

2- Eat your own dog food - use what you are building often and uncover issues before your customers do.  If you don't use it, why should your customers?  You will quickly identify and fix usability and functionality issues, thus enabling you to show a more polished product to your target end users.

3- Seek out early adopters - you must get customer feedback as early and as often as possible.  Make sure you are targeting the right audience so as not to skew your observations.

4- Demo your product often - set up a variety of meetings with friends, advisors, would-be partners, and would-be customers.  Listen to their questions and feedback.  Watch their body language for signs to see if the demo resonates well with them.  Better to practice early than to go unprepared and fail miserably at a critical meeting. One positive side-effect of these meetings is the generation of new ideas based on discussions and feedback that follows a demo.

5- Help others - seek out opportunities to help friends and other startups. There is a big community out there that would welcome your help and will return the favor. You never know what blind spots you may have that can easily be spotted by others.

6- Attend relevant meetups - engage like-minded people, watch their demos and presentations, learn from them.  As humans, we are inspired by others and excel at combining and evolving ideas.  Throughout our history, the best inventors are those that built on the work of others. Like-minded people will also infuse you with the energy and motivation to overcome any bumps you many encounter.

7- Nothing is cast in stone - be willing to change. No emotional attachment to anything you build and no bruised egos when changing a previously stated direction. It is better to change direction early and be successful than to stay the course that leads to a dead-end. Most successful startups end up releasing a product that is vastly different than what they set out to build.

8- Avoid endless debates - try, test, measure, then pivot or persevere. It does not help to spend hours discussing if you should place a button here or there, so try it one way and measure your customer's engagement. No one decision is ever perfect!

9- Embrace failure - if we do not want to fall down on the slopes, then we will never learn to ski.  Failures gives us valuable lessons on our quest for perfection! As an inventor, Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. When a reporter asked, "How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?" Edison replied, "I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps."

10- Set realistic but challenging milestones - nothing rallies the team like the challenge of meeting a difficult but attainable deadline, be it an advisor demo date or a set of features in a mini release required to close a potential customer deal. Make it a habit to set challenging deadlines and always reward your team by celebrating these milestones no matter how small.
We all dream of one day launching a wildly successful startup that would greatly impact people's lives.  The road to success is never easy; however, it is attainable if we follow the right approach and have the right mindset. Adopting lean startup methodology is a proven technique to help you achieve and sustain this great success!

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