What is the “lean startup”, and how can the strategy help your business?

There are so many business approaches out there, it’s often difficult to know which one is best for your company. Not only that, it can also be a daunting prospect if you’re already up and running to consider changing your existing approach. 

I was faced with this prospect some time ago, and the route we took revolutionised our business. At the time I knew we needed a new approach to product development and it wasn’t until I read “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries and discovered the “lean” approach that I felt I’d found the perfect fit. 

But what exactly does the lean approach mean and how could it possibly help your business? 

Ries’ central argument inclines that businesses need to adopt a “build-measure-learn” approach to product development. This means taking it to market, measuring the customer experience and then refining it based on the wants and needs of those using it. It is a constant learning process that informs your product development – validating the choices you make and the eventual end product.

Why is this way so revolutionary, you may ask? Because so many businesses fail to understand that no matter how developed your initial plan is, it’s still really only speculation. You don’t know how it will work out before you trial it. Too many start-ups spend their initial capital developing a brilliant product – that no one wants. That’s not to say this approach will only work for start-ups either; it’s about continued testing and evaluation. The true test of a business is not the initial product launch but the long, tough process of developing that follows. 

With this method businesses can create products that customers in that market actually want (also known as the product-market fit) in a time- and cost-effective way. Using lean methodology, a successful product can get out to consumers quickly and be refined according to its customers’ wants and needs, while an unsuccessful product could take years to reach consumers only to fail, wasting both company time and resources. 

This is where the importance of evidence comes in. All of your decisions need to be validated. There are so many analytical tools around now that within just a few clicks you can access realistic, actionable information about your customers’ actual experiences with your product. Couple this with qualitative feedback and you have a clear picture of what (if anything) you need to adjust. In this sense, look at the lean approach as a scientific method, with change grounded in data from customer behaviour, not whims.

At Geonomics, we adopted the lean start-up approach so that our focus is solidly aimed at creating delightful products that players love to use. Our flagship game, GeoLotto, was produced following the fundamentals of lean methodology. It went through a process of iterative, continuous development based on data from actual player behaviour. And even now, after its full consumer launch in the UK market, we’re still testing and refining the game. 

The result? A robust, stable and engaging game that our players love, and which gets bigger and better every day. But it’s still based on the same concept – which is looking to revolutionise a very traditional industry with an innovative product that the market has never seen. There’s still room for “big ideas” in a lean world. 

There will always be sceptics and those who are cautious of making such a huge change in approach. However it’s important to note that while we are fans of the lean way of doing things, we don’t follow it slavishly. As with any good business approach, it’s vital to pick and mix the elements that complement your business and discard the bits that don’t. It’s an approach that can be tailored to your needs – in fact, this is encouraged by Ries.

The lean start-up model has transformed our business and product, and has made us stronger than ever before. Its focus on the consumer, validated learning and a willingness to fail (if it’s done cheaply and quickly) has meant we’ve created a fantastic product without losing money, time and our will to succeed. 

Henry Oakes is the co-founder of location-based gaming company Geonomics.

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