2013: Year of “How To” Lean Startup

Summary: Lean Startup advocates have won the theoretical argument and the meme is spreading worldwide.  Entrepreneurs are now telling me, “Ok, I get Lean Startup theory.  But what should I actually DO?”  For us to continue being relevant we need to shift our discussion from “What” and “Why” to “How”.

2008-2012: Era of Lean Startup “What” and “Why”

In 2008 I read a book called 4 Steps to the Epiphany and a blog where some guy named Eric Ries was talking about professionalizing the management science of Entrepreneurship using a term called “Lean Startup“.

Since then I’ve tried to spread the meme by engaging with the startup ecosystem through mentoring, organizing meetups, hosting workshops, and supporting educational programs. From Omaha to Beijing, these ideas were new to the startup ecosystem and people have asked me to talk about “what” and “why”.

As of the end of 2012, the movement has spread worldwide and it is hard to find a major city that doesn’t have a University program, meetup group, or accelerator/incubator advocating Steve’s and Eric’s ideas.

Lean Startup Advocates Won the Theoretical Argument

We’ve successfully won the first battle in professionalizing the management science of entrepreneurship. 4 years ago I was constantly asked, “Who is actually doing this?”, and “Why do we need this stuff?”  These discussions are becoming less frequent because Lean Startup detractors have failed to present a theoretical alternative1.

What I am increasingly hearing from entrepreneurs is, “Ok, I get it. But what should I DO?  HOW can I start applying these practices today?”

As a movement, we will only continue to be relevant if we move past the conceptual discussions and start helping entrepreneurs execute on Lean Startup.

2013: Era of Lean Startup “How To” Begins

While the principles behind Lean Startup are simple, applying them is really tough.

“Get out of the office” sounds obvious until you’re sitting with 50 meetings of notes from potential customers trying to make sense of it all. Case studies are helpful but a 2-page “how we got lean” summary doesn’t adequately convey the challenge of having to make decisions based on such little information.

Entrepreneurs don’t want to read the definition of Pivot – they want to know when they should Pivot.

They don’t want hear why they should use Customer Development, they want to know what they should do if they can’t find customers to develop.

They don’t want to know the definition of an MVP, they want to know how to build an MVP.

These are the questions I’ve personally been tackling for the last 4 years in my products, and I will dedicated most of my writing and speeches in 2013 to talking about “How” and pointing you to good resources that I personally use.

2012 in Review – Best “How To” Lean Startup Resources

We need more Lean Startup “How To” resources, but here is a list of some of the best that are available today.

Lean Startup Events

Mentoring at Lean Startup Machine Beijing, China

Experiencing Lean Startup is 1,000 times more valuable than reading about it.

Lean Startup Machine

I didn’t really understand Lean Startup until I attended a LSM competition
-A quote I’ve heard from dozens of entrepreneurs around the world.

LSM is the best way to learn Lean Startup because:

  • You’ll learn the theory and put it into practice.
  • You’ll get a chance to apply the principles on an idea to which you’re not emotionally attached.
  • It is compressed, weekend-event where you’re immersed with other people who are learning.

Best of all, you don’t have to quit the day job to do it. My advice is to find a LSM coming to a city near you, give the family notice that you’ll be working that weekend, and go.

Startup Weekend NEXT

Steve is rolling out Startup Weekend NEXT in 2013, a multi-week “pre-accelerator” that has the potential to become the best startup education program in the world. I’m quite excited about it and working to bring it to Beijing in 2013.

Lean Startup Books

Ash Maurya’s Running Lean still remains the best “How To” guide. I haven’t yet read Steve Blank’s The Startup Owners Manual but others claim it is also good.  Lean UX by Jeff Gothelf also holds good promise.

These books are written by people who talk about their own experiences as entrepreneurs.

Lean Startup Blogs

Lots of folks are talking about Lean Startup, few are doing it, and fewer of us still are doing it and writing about it.

Reading Lean Startup success stories is entertaining and inspirational, but watching an incredibly hard working, talented person struggle to put theory into practice provides real value.

In addition to following my journey I suggest Spark 59, Rob Fitzptrick, Giff Constable and Joel Gascoigne2.

Photo credit: cayusa

  1. Occasionally I still hear, “I’m skeptical of Lean Startup”. Please know that this line of reasoning isn’t helpful unless you can layout an alternative vision
  2. Please suggest others in the comments below and I’ll take a look at their blogs.  I’m looking for people who are blogging about how they apply Lean Startup to their actual practices


  1. Franco Varriano December 26, 2012 at 7:10 pm #


    Thanks for taking the time to write out this post. I completely agree with where you’re coming from and the evolution of the concepts within the startup ecosystem.

    I’ve spent the past year championing the “how-to” portion of all that startup advice and theory into practical, replicable formulas we’ve dubbed “plays”. Startupplays.com works with worldclass entrepreneurs to document their business tactics into step-by- step guides. Would love to speak more about how we can better startups together in 2013.

    Merry Christmas

  2. thomasknoll January 3, 2013 at 9:26 pm #

    Hey Kevin! I really appreciate your perspective, and all the resources you linked out to. I do however hope more startups take it beyond ‘how to’ and instead just ‘do’.

    “You can’t have someone else’s epiphany.”

  3. Lyle McKeany January 5, 2013 at 12:44 pm #

    Great post, Kevin.

    My startup company is based at an incubator called the North Bay iHub in Rohnert Park, CA. We’re not far removed from SF and Silicon Valley geographically, but I’m amazed by how few people around here have even heard of the Lean Startup movement. We’re still firmly in the “What” and “Why” stage and I imagine we’re not alone when looking around other parts of the country/world. We’ve had the pleasure of saving some fellow entrepreneurs significant capital expenditures when we coached them on the merits of getting out of the building and talking to potential customers, rather than building a full-fledged product right out of the gate. All that being said, I’m happy to hear that you’re goal in 2013 is to talk about the “How,” because those resources need to be more prevalent when an entrepreneur or company is ready to take the plunge.

    Lean Startup is hard and it’s easy to quickly get off track and make assumptions without validating them. It’s human nature in some respects. Looking forward to what’s to come this year!

    • kevindewalt January 5, 2013 at 6:19 pm #

      Actually, you’re quite right about that, Lyle. Outside of the major startup hubs many people still don’t know much about Lean Startup. For instance, when I arrived in Beijing 9 months ago I didn’t hear much about Lean Startup and several people told me that noone was really talking much about startup strategy. By the end of 2012 that definitely changed, and now most of the accelerators in Asia are using LS as a foundation of their programs. It took about 6 months to go from “what” to “how” here.

      I suspect that you’ll follow a similar trajectory in Rohnert Park.

      Another (very unscientific) observation I have is that much Silicon Valley is really slow to adopt LS. Because there is already so much infrastructure and institutional knowledge, change happens slower. There is also more money and more opportunity, so startups sometimes seem less compelled to look for the most efficient process. Obviously this is a huge generalization and one for which I don’t have a lot of data.

      • Lyle McKeany January 8, 2013 at 1:47 am #

        I think your observation about Silicon Valley is probably largely correct. However, if/when the Lean Startup movement really starts to hit critical mass, I could see angels and VC’s looking at startup economics in a different light. The amount of money that’s currently spent on truly speculative products is remarkable and I imagine investors would be interested in more solid data backing up the assumptions made in the business models they invest in.

  4. Rod King January 7, 2013 at 4:17 pm #

    Hi Kevin,
    Great post!

    I have just written a blog post that presents a “Pivot Chart” that can be used to facilitate the “How” of the Lean Startup methodology. I describe the “How” as Lean Startup Problem Management (LSPM).

    You could find my blog post, which quotes from your article above, here:


    You could directly view the Pivot Chart on Slideshare:


    I look forward to directly connecting with you on LinkedIn as we have many areas of common interest.

    In the meantime, best regards.


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