When starting a business, you invest large amounts of your personal savings in developing the product and the infrastructure, you mortgage your house to access the finance to launch it on an unsuspecting market…and, regardless of an indifferent response from the market, you battle on regardless…..it’s determination and blind faith that counts….RIGHT!...The message from this workshop is that NO, NO, NO that is totally…. WRONG! Welcome to the world of Lean Startup.

Lean Startup, presented Eric Ries in 2011 in his book The Lean Startup, provides a model for developing a business idea based on testing the potential market for the product/service as early and as cheaply as possible. This enables you to start a process of learning and iteration which will increase the likelihood of developing a product/service with features that customers actually want, or to identify the lack of demand for such a service before time and money is wasted. Two key quotes underpin the approach; one is to prevent you from surveying the tattered remnants of a failed business and wistfully saying ‘I wish I’d known that (fact) sooner’. The other is to ask yourself ‘If my business idea is to be a success, what things need to be true?’. The latter quote allows you to establish a set of hypotheses which you can then test through talking to potential customers and experimentation.

The ‘Introduction to Lean Startup Workshop’ was delivered by Jordan Schlipf of Founder-Centric at the British Library (BL) on 12 December and was organised jointly by the BL and Capital Enterprise. Jordan took the delegates on a lively journey introducing the 3 key Lean Startup tools:

 Customer Development
 Business Model Canvas
 Minimum Viable Products

His presentation was peppered with relevant and entertaining case studies such as the case of Zappos.com. When the founders looked at the potential for selling shoes online they took photographs of shoes from a local shoe shop and presented these on a simple website. When an order came through they manually bought them from the shop and sent them to the customer. This supplied them with plenty of information on customer behaviours around which to develop their business model. This is a classic example of the application of Lean. Jordan also offered useful advice on do’s and dont’s for engaging with customers; including the dangers of getting unbiased and reliable feedback on your idea from your mother.

The response to the workshop was incredibly positive and the speed with which places were snapped up indicates the interest in this topic and it’s relevance to business in today’s environment. This is re-assuring as Lean Startup will be a major focus for the Open Innovation Project in 2014. Activities are planned by partners in London, Edinburgh, Kassel, Laval and Somerset.

A final word on Lean StartUp is a quote from Nick Imrie: ‘We used to have lean startup in my day too..we called it common sense’.

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