Thumbtack was struggling with a weight problem. The very things that made us successful with our clients (our focus on scalability, code quality controls, aggressive qa) made it unnecessarily expensive to experiment with internal product development. Engineering often got bogged down trying to provide the most efficient implementations of ideas that would later turn out to be ill suited for solving the core problems, but there was really no way to evaluate the efficacy of the idea until the time had been spent. We struggled with all kinds of processes to optimize it, but really it required a paradigm shift for these kinds of initiatives. That’s when we decided to go Lean.
With this post, I am going to begin a series of blogs on Lean Startup. Lean Startup is a framework for building a product under conditions of greater uncertainty than is typical within an established product line. It was codified by Eric Ries, based on the Customer Development methodology pioneered by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf. It is rapidly growing in popularity; in a recent post, Trevor Owens, CEO of the Lean Startup Machine, points out that RSVP’s to Lean Startup meetups have increased 18 times in the last two years. Claims like that remind me of Disco Stu, but in this case I think we can expect a bit more follow-up.
What is a Startup?
“Startup” is a term that is widely used, but which means different things to different people. In his seminal text on the subject, The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, Eric Ries defines it in the following way:
“A startup is a human institution designed to create a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.”
Note that this definition says nothing about the size of the company, the industry that company is in, or the sector of the economy. By default, many think of a Startup as a small company peopled by young people who work insane hours for equity on a flashy new product that they hope will revolutionize the way consumers do something, and while that may fit this definition, it is not the only archetype that meets this definition.
If you work within a large established company but are trying to build something that radically differs from the rest of your product line, you may be working on a Startup too (which will make you sound much cooler at parties, and you didn’t even have to give up your Dental Plan!).
What Do You Mean by Lean?
Lean, of course, has less to do with holiday waistlines, and more to do with process. Applying some of the lessons from Lean Manufacturing pioneered at Toyota, the Lean Startup methodology mitigates a great deal of the risk associated with all this uncertainty by focusing first on identifying the underlying assumptions inherent to your business model and then building a series of tests to validate them.
Rather than letting your unproven vision lead you to blindly expend a massive amount of engineering, sales, and marketing efforts (to say nothing of budgets) towards building a fully-featured, scalable, perfect product whose efficacy is uncertain, with a Lean Startup you test your business hypotheses by building a series of Minimum Viable Products, or MVP’s, and then test them with actual users. Early on, an MVP may be little more than a set of slides, or a quickly thrown-together WordPress site. As you begin to gather customer feedback, you evolve your hypotheses, meanwhile evolving your product until you’ve proven that it is aligned both with a problem that customers have and a profitable business model, at which point you’re ready to start scaling up the product and your staff to meet customer demand. The process looks something like this:
What Does Thumbtack Have to do with This?
Thumbtack Technology is an excellent partner for Lean Startups!
- Our diverse technology capability means we can build MVP’s in just about any technical stack you want; whatever’s right for the job.
- Our Agile process allows us to quickly adapt the MVP’s we build, based on your evolving knowledge.
- Using a highly skilled contracting firm allows you to keep your costs low without sacrificing quality, until you’re ready to staff up locally.
- We are proven to be able to massively scale technology as appropriate to meet demand. When your customer base is following that hockey stick curve you’re dreaming of, we’ll be right there ready to grow your technology to accommodate it.
To learn more about how Thumbtack can help you with your Lean Startup, contact our Sales Team.
The following resources are great for learning more about Lean Startup:
- The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries.
- The Startup Owner’s Manual: The Step-By-Step Guide for Building a Great Company by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf.
- Lean Startup Machine offers hands-on workshops throughout the world where you can apply the process hand’s on and get mentorship from experts in the field.
- And of course, check back in this blog for more on this series.