RESPONSE to the 6 things wrong with Lean Startup

This article states 6 specific things wrong with Lean Startup. I disagree with each of them, either because they are not wrong in the first place or because they have nothing to do with Lean Startup (and certainly are not happening as a result of informed entrepreneurs applying the Lean Startup methodology.)

I’m sick and tired of hearing about “lean startups.” [the author begins]

Interesting, I am sure you are not alone... [my replies in line in bold, tell us what YOU think at the end, it's and important dialog about an important subject at an important time. ]

No offense to Eric Ries,

I doubt he is offended that you are simply tired of hearing about Lean Startups:) He's probably even flattered that you eponymize him with LS. Maybe he's even tired of hearing about them himself:) (especially in posts like this:) Maybe there is even a way to test that assumption! That being said, I understand what you mean. I find myself apologizing to the room every time I say the words PIVOT, MVP, etc. I am with you so far.

who’s coined some very corporate Bingo-worthy

ok less doubtful he's not offended...:)

phrases now enmeshed in Silicon Valley culture (such as pivot, minimally viable product, and continuous innovation), but there are a whole lot of things I think are wrong — dead wrong — with the entire concept. Here are a few of the problems:

Ah, so it's much more than being tired of hearing about LS. You believe it is bad for, well, something... right?

After sitting on this post for a few weeks, I think the above paragraph identifies the (my?) problem with the whole article. The problems with Lean are listed without defining the concept of Lean (which if Lean was applied to the writing of this post, would not have happened. (wink). For that reason alone, the post and its aspersions are vague and objective and also causing debates everywhere:) Ones that are hard to prove right or wrong...

 A better thesis might be “Lean Startup, the notion of applying science to startups for the purposes of decreasing waste, is wrong for startups, consumers, investors, because it actually increases waste, or decreases value, or alienates programmers who would otherwise be...” Without that definition… I can only respond by saying...

The Lean Startup model encourages features vs. whole products

It does? How? Is there any evidence or statistic that correlates "Lean Startup + Features only? Is that a bad thing? What is the definition of a "whole product". If a feature solves a problem and creates value for the end user and captures value for the company, what is wrong with that? Also...
  • LIT MOTORS  is a LS, hardly a feature.
  • Facebook is Lean
  • Meetup is Lean
  • SNAPTAX is Lean, you use it as an example of why Lean burns resources and devs but not that it is unsuccessful. And you argument below cites how robust it is.
I am struggling to understand how Lean encourages "features" and even if it did, how that is the number one thing that makes Lean "wrong".

Silicon Valley is obsessed with companies that are built around a single feature, which appeals to a small number of acquiring companies.

Even if this were true, it is an indictment of Silicon Valley, not Lean Startup.

Think Mertado’s social shopping app acquired by Groupon or Summify’s social network summaries acquired by Twitter. It’s an epidemic. But customers, as opposed to acquiring companies, need whole products to solve their problems.

So, the thesis is “Lean Startup is bad for customers because it create companies that do not adequately solve problems"?

And at the same time, it seems that many entrepreneurs have interpreted the Lean Startup model as an excuse to rush incomplete or fractional products to market.

Again, blaming Steve Blank for people who use Lean Startup as an excuse to build shitty products is like the Far Side kid blaming the door company. It is not their fault if you are doing it wrong!

The result? Lots and lots of companies built around a handful of features that matter to almost no one, least of all customers.

As opposed to the old way where whole products like Webvan got it right all the time, right out of the gate? Not to mention that the ENTIRE POINT of LS is to NOT BUILD A COMPANY until the "features" are enough to matter to a very significant customer segment. The statement above contradicts itself at the very core.

It prematurely burns out our team.

I cannot tell you how strenously I object to this one. So Demi can do it for me.

The pace of continuous innovation required by an MVP model is daunting to say the least. Look at Intuit’s SnapTax, which is testing 500 innovations during the two-and-a-half-month tax period. If you didn’t do the math already, that works out to 11 tests per day! This pace is frenetic and sure to burn out your team.

Running experiments to optimize a mature product is much different than running experiments to prove something new. But yes, entrepreneurship and startups can be daunting. It is hard work. Do not test too many things. Test the right things that will move the right levers. I still think that being burnt out from running too many experiments is better than losing a billion or even a million or even a hundred thousand dollars for not running enough. Oh and last thing, running 100s of experiments could get you elected president if it doesn't burn you out.


Plus, it strikes me as a waste of a rockstar developer’s time. After all, A/B testing, or its near cousin multi-variant testing, is a known animal these days. In practice here at Bislr, we find that about 70 percent of the things we want to test are ultimately not going to make a big difference to the business.

THEN DON'T TEST THOSE THINGS!!! Don't look now, but that is what Lean is all about as your products mature. Testing the RIGHT THINGS that are most likely yield the biggest learnings. It is just as easy (and wrong) to test everything as it is to test nothing. DON'T DO EITHER. This is why it is still so hard to be an entrepreneur. Don't worry, we won't tell anyone that you are #kindalean. Lean entrepreneurship is about figuring out what the big levers are and developing a smaller number of meaningful tests around those levers.

These are hard products to love

Customers should be up in arms when their favorite app gets discontinued, yet there is a lot less grumbling than you might think.

That's kind of the point... and also kind of missing the point. If tons of customers have validated that x is their favorite app by USING IT in a way that is sustainable for the company, it does not get discontinued. Do you have evidence of someone you know, or even a personal example of your favorite app being discontinued?

Lean products are by their very definition not deep.


These are products that are not easy to love, which is why we find companies acquiring them only to almost immediately discontinue the product or service.

Examples? (Maybe they are acquiring them because the founders are known to be Lean and have an above average change of yielding an ROI:)

Perhaps tech guru Guy Kawasaki summed it best, when asked recently about his golden touch with products:
“A great product is deep. It doesn’t run out of features and functionality after a few weeks of use. As your demands get more sophisticated, you discover that you don’t need a different product.”

I agree with Guy, still disagree with you:) That companies who adopt experimentation and start with what Eric calls MVP's yield products akin Super Mario Brothers 1.

It devalues architecture

Companies that focus on MVP tend to skimp on architecture, which just makes sense. If you don’t have time to build a whole product you also won’t make the time to invest in architecture. Sadly, no decision about architecture is a decision, one that will determine your success or failure as a company.

People overinvest in architecture more than they underinvest in it. Lean and scale-able architecture are not at odds with each other. Rather, Lean suggests proving that it is worth investing before building. And to use the same source, Guy Kawaskaski - he has never seen a company in his life that could not scale fast enough. If you use LS to prove that people want something, go ahead and architect the shit out of it, at the right time.

Lots and lots of companies competed with Evernote in its early days. Some like Catch even came complete with a colorful user interface. But Catch is gone now. Why?

Maybe it was due to the fact that the colorful user interface was unnecessary. Maybe Evernote learned that by experimenting and focused on things that did matter to them.

In a word: architecture. Evernote built a whole product around enabling people to capture, store, and retrieve their Internet memories. Architecturally, the product was built to scale into multiple products and into a vibrant ecosystem that targets independent software vendors to build on top of its platform through a program Evernote calls “Trunk.”

It leads to the wrong discussion with your investors

I’m all for building companies that have multiple exit strategies. The IPO route is not right for every company. But building a company around a handful of features specifically so it can get acquired strikes me as just plain wrong.

This is a perfectly acceptable opinion of course. But it is factually inaccurate so say that Lean Startup = building a company around a handful of features specifically so it can get acquired. It is actually irresponsible to make that connection.

If you are a founder, then selling out early can be a path to extraordinary returns, sure. But it’s incredibly unfair to the executives, managers, and individual contributors you brought in for the specific purpose of building the company to greatness.


It distorts the Valley’s hiring model in weird ways

I’m thinking here of course of Nick D’Aloisio, the 17-year-old founder of Summly that was recently acquired by Yahoo. Personally I don’t know anything about Nick, but I do know that $30 million is a sh*tload of money to pay for a 17-year-old as an acqui-hire.

Nick may well be the most talented developer on the planet (even if his frontal lobe isn’t fully developed yet), but how are we going to get the next Dropbox or Evernote if we take talent like Nick’s out of circulation prematurely? I think both Nick and his company would have benefited from more time as an independent company to grow into greatness.


Markets are markets. That's like blaming Lean Startup when college basketball players leave college for the NBA too soon.

Lean Startup is not perfect. Lean Startup is not a silver bullet. I am not perfect:) I feel like a loser spending all afternoon posting a blog (that I started two weeks ago no less) defending Lean like some defend their religious or political points of view. I have even admitted out loud that when I first started applying Lean, I thought it may compete with vision.. But that was just me and my cognitive dissonance acting up, trying to reconcile why Lean was no good for neighborrow. In fact, Lean was perfect for neighborrow, it was neighborrow that was not a fit for Lean. I watched Marc Andreessen say pretty much the same thing last year. I think he was wrong:) And I think I was wrong for thinking it... Lean Startup does not compete with vision. Lean Startup does not mean small outcomes. I understand, at least, where those critiques come from. Lean has its issues. But those issues are NOT tired programmers, too many experiments, and shallow solutions. It is not one of the six things cited in the original article.  

Lean Startup is by far the most comprehensive "curriculum" for entrepreneurs. It is the best current alternative to build it and they will come. It is the best way to teach entrepreneurs how to test things. It is the best way to make people aware of what they are even talking about in the first place when it comes to the notion of startups, entrepreneurs, innovation, etc... But if you still have a problem with that we can step outside and figure out out... 

Just kidding of course! Let’s finish this debate in person? At a Meetup? Over a beer or two? 

PS Michael Babich, with whom I have worked at the amazing TechPeaks Accelerator in Trento, Italy - (and whose opinions I always respect and hardly ever agree with:) pointed out that the response seemed personal. Well of course he is right about that. In addition to believing in the value of Lean Startup (when applied correctly) to the entrepreneurial universe, and recently to my personal livelihood - I also believe that "experienced" entrepreneurs like the author and publications like venture beat have a duty to the ecosystem. I am not talking specifically about being more familiar with the topic they are criticizing, or correctly linking the problems with the cause. I am talking about the bigger picture. I blame most of my own mistakes as a young entrepreneur on myself, or strike them as unavoidable, and invaluable lessons. HOWEVER... there were many publications, websites, mentors and other sources (who's opinion I not only trusted but sought, much in the same way I see young entrepreneurs now do the same thing) who would say "What is your elevator pitch?" "Where is your business plan?" "How many sign ups do you have?"

IMAGINE FOR JUST A MOMENT... if the collective universe of experienced entrepreneurs replaced those questions with


I think that is a better dialog!


In response to this GEM

Corporal Barnes, this is the Marine

Recruit Outline. (I mean Lean Startup Manual) Do you know it?

Have you read it? Good.

Look up "Code Reds", please. I mean, look up where it says that Lean says to just "build features rather than products". I interpreted it to mean "run experiments to validate that your vision results in building something that people actually need" 

I completely agree with you that you need to be both UNIQUE and VALUABLE and that just doing file sharing would not differentiate you from dropbox. But that doesn't necessarily mean adding more features makes you more valuable, and in the cases when it DOES, LEAN CERTAINLY DOES NOT RECOMMEND AGAINST IT. Recommending it does is misguided and a bit irresponsible. 
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