Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Lean Startup - Eric Ries Speaks at TEXCHANGE

The June meeting of TEXCHANGE hosted over 220 local entrepreneurs and other business professionals to hear Eric Ries.

Ries became a Venture Advisor at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, after co-founding and serving as Chief Technology Officer of IMVU. He is the co-author of several books including The Black Art of Java Game Programming (Waite Group Press, 1996). While an undergraduate at Yale Unviersity, he co-founded Catalyst Recruiting. Although Catalyst folded with the dot-com crash, Ries continued his entrepreneurial career as a Senior Software Engineer at, leading efforts in agile software development and user-generated content. In 2007, BusinessWeek named Ries one of the Best Young Entrepreneurs of Tech. He serves on the advisory board of a number of technology startups including pbWiki, Bunchball, FooMojo, Causes and KaChing.

His captivating speaking style, boyish charm and self-deprecating stories of his personal failures and successes working inside technology startups educated and inspired all in attendance.

Most startups fail. But Ries does not believe that this needs to always be the fact. We have come to accept a high death rate as part of the startup model, but companies can be built that live up to the creativity, time, details, and enthusiasm that the founders pour into their ventures.

A startup has nothing to do with the size of company, sector of the economy (reminder: NOT all startups are "tech"!), or industry. Instead, according to Ries, a startup is a human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.

The companies that make it past this early stage go beyond the original ideas of the founders, and instead have a larger and different scope due to the input and ideas from employees, customers, investors and others.

Successful organizations are not bogged down by the "shadow beliefs" of the founders, investors, executives and employees. While not part of the business plan, these beliefs are part of a "Reality Distortion Field" that can take hold in the mind of those in a startup:

1. "We KNOW what customers want".

2. "We CAN accurately predict the future".

3. "Advancing the plan IS progress".

Startups cannot continue to keep making the same mistakes that have been made at thousands of other failed companies. Smart startups need to try new ways and create new paradigms for starting, growing, and establishing the business. Realizing that it is customers who know what they want, that nobody can predict the future, and that advancing a failed plain IS failure is just the first steps.

Lean Startups go faster. They stack their progress on lessons learned by others. They use open source and cloud computing. They know that it is easier to spend your day at a white board, but realize that they need customer feedback to truly innovate (beware of features that clients do not want!). While all entrepreneurs feel they are the "exception" from needing to use revenue as a measurement, lean companies have the real goal of revenue. They learn from their mis-steps at a greater speed. It is okay to fail, as long as you do not make the same mistakes twice.

Ries is passionate about his "Lean Startup" concept, and you can hear more of his thoughts at The Lessons Learned Blog. I appreciated his presentation. I enjoyed my brief conversation with him after the evening concluded. He was the real deal in personality. Nice guy who was honestly interested in his topic. Two small gripes: He did not carry business cards (which seems to be the montra of many a young, tech "sage from the stage" these days) and he wore his nametag on his belt (which one person commented caused him to uncomfortably glance a the speaker's crotch throughout the entire presentation). TEXCHANGE once again delivered an outstanding event and Eric Ries is the BEST "engineer" I have ever seen give a speech.

Have A Great Day.


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