Lean Startup Thinker Eric Ries: “Don’t Be In A Rush To Get Big, Be In A Rush To Have A Great Product”

Every tech founder thinks he or she runs a lean startup. But what exactly does that mean? In the video interview above Eric Ries, who came up with the term The Lean Startup and is the author of an upcoming book of the same name, explains his theory, which boils down to learning from a small number of early customers to improve and perfect your product before exposing it to a wider audience. “Don’t be in a rush to get big,” he sums up at the end of our interview, “be in a rush to have a great product.”

Ries argues that an entrepreneur’s greatest advantage is their obscurity. If your first product sucks, at least not too many people will know about it. But that is the best time to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them to make the product better. “It is inevitable that the first product is going to be bad in some ways,” he says. The Lean Startup methodology is a way to systematically test a company’s product ideas.

Fail early and fail often. “Our goal is to learn as quickly as possible,” he says. He also argues that startups should launch their products quietly until they figure out what customers really want. We discuss how Color could have used that advice. Ries also gives me a crash course in some of the increasingly popular Lean Startup terminology, such as “minimal viable product,” “product/market fit,” or “build-measure-learn feedback loops.”

But can you build a lean startup in a bubble (if we are still in one)? “It is even more important,” he says, to go lean when everyone is throwing money at “success theater” and showing off vanity metrics. “Vanity metrics are the numbers you want to publish on TechCrunch to make your competitors feel bad,” he says. Don’t believe your own propaganda, or run your company on those metrics. ACtionable metrics that actually allow you to understand what drives your growth are much more important.

Ries writes about lean startups at Startup Lessons Learned, and will be speaking at Disrupt SF.