Don’t Let the Lean Startup Process Ruin the Fun of Entrepreneurship

Summary: Yes, yes, startups are hard. Brutally hard. But one of the reasons we chose this career is because we want meaningful, enjoyable work. While the emerging entrepreneurship management science of being a Lean Startup is our best remedy against failure, process isn’t worth it if it ruins the fun. So take breaks from the process and don’t let it.

“Customer Development most reminds me of my experience working in a call center”
Jason Wieringa

Two Customer Development Advocates have a Confession

Sometimes we forget the process and just build something

Customer Development can be a brutal, frustrating grind. Don’t get me wrong – I would never go back to my days of just building stuff and hoping. But lots of folks are singing the praises of a process they’ve never tried – it can wear me down.

Justin Wilcox and I were chatting this past week at Singapore’s startup accelerator JFDI about this topic and mutually confessed - sometimes we just say “The heck with it – I’m going to build something”. When we find ourselves in what Justin calls Lean Startup Paralysis we do just that.

(you can listen to our discussion below)

I don’t let Lean Startup process ruin the fun of being an entrepreneur.

Why I Became an Entrepreneur

To work with creative people on stuff that matters to me

When people ask me why I work on startups my first answer is… “the people”. No other profession in the world gives us the opportunity to work with such passionate, talented – albeit sometimes a bit nuts – people.

But the second reason is to work on stuff that matters because I want to enjoy my work. By “Enjoy” I don’t just mean getting meaning from what I create – I also want to enjoy the journey of entrepreneurship.

I’ve had plenty of jobs that were an unfulfilling grind for months and years. I don’t want to re-create that in my own company for me or anyone else.

Only One Certain Path to Failure – Quitting

If I give up on my startup because I’m miserable it is guaranteed to fail

Following a rigorous process of Customer Development minimizes the risks – provided that we don’t get so frustrated that we quit working on it.

When I’m frustrated I remind myself – adhering to the optimal startup process isn’t the goal – success is the goal.  If I don’t wake up every day fired up to build something great I’ll never get there.

When I get Frustrated I Do Something Fun

F’ it. I can’t do another call this week.

When I find myself confused, frustrated and generally unhappy with Customer Development I take a break – and do something fun, usually creating something or spending time with people.

Two weeks ago I downloaded Omnigraffle and spent a day learning how to use it. It was a blast and now I’ve got a new tool. Other times I build something. Or write a blog post. Or email a friend and ask him about his startup. Invest in my local startup community by working on NEXT Beijing or going to a Meetup.

These breaks really give me a boost; for some reason the answers and next steps seem a bit clearer after.

Stuck? Frustrated? Just Need to Vent?

I’m here if you need me

Just grab a 30-minute slot and I’ll be glad to help you out via Skype.

Why I Chose this Photo

1541256366_efb84ad408_oI chose this photo by pepe50 because it symbolized my feelings while writing this post.  I can imagine these men working 15-hour days doing repetitive, tough work – and then taking a lunch break and enjoy the best view in the city.

Isn’t this what our lives as entrepreneurs should be about? Working like hell and then taking a break with friends to enjoy the view.


10 Comments

  1. Cesc March 8, 2013 at 7:48 am #

    Interviewing people to validate and discover problems has been also quite painful for me in the last weeks :)

    A couple of discoveries I’ve done lately:

    1. Sometimes you can go to a certain website/forum/blog where people are already talking about the type of problem you’re trying to validate. Information can be much better if you just observe these people and pay attention to what they say instead of directly asking them.

    2. If you can build an MVP in less time than what you need to interview 10-15 people, it’s probably better to build it and iterate from there (interviewing your first customer for example). As Ash Maurya says: “Practice trumps theory”.

    I’m saying this even though I’ve could have launched my MVP one month ago and instead, I kept researching and interviewing.

    Partially, I think that this is because I unconsciously feel that it is worse to throw away work spent on a product than to throw away work spent on research.

    Time is what really matters unless your MVP costs reasonable money to be built, so it’s a mistake.

    • kevindewalt March 8, 2013 at 8:16 am #

      You make an excellent point as always, Cesc. With SoHelpful.me I continued to interview people for another month to really understand who has the problem and what they’re trying to solve. And I did make progress, but honestly I’m still going to build the same MVP I did a month ago – an MVP people already want to use.

      I suppose it isn’t really time lost since I would have had to do that open-ended discussion anyway…but it makes me think…

      One of the ideas I’ve recently been considering is that the MVP is a part of Customer Discovery and not the end point. I guess I did that to some degree on my blog, but my blog doesn’t put working code in the hands of potential customers.

      Thanks for stopping by, you always have such good insight.

      • Cesc March 8, 2013 at 8:38 am #

        “One of the ideas I’ve recently been considering is that the MVP is a part of Customer Discovery and not the end point.”

        That’s interesting.

        A similar way to think about this is to approximately determine how much money/time costs to build the MVP and decide how much research makes sense according to that.

        The more money/time needed to build a valid MVP, the more justified it is to spend extra time interviewing. For example: http://whitneyhess.com/blog/2013/02/25/the-user-experience-process-for-the-seamless-ipad-app/

        Seems totally logical to think that both the MVP and customer interviews are complementary tools to discover who your customer is and what he wants.

        In other words, don’t expect that interviewing people will ensure that the MVP will be perfect.

        I think it was Guy Kawasaki that said that planning doesn’t make sense if the think you’re planning for takes less time to build that the planning phase itself.

        • Jon (Quality Adverts) March 13, 2013 at 4:16 am #

          Good insight Kevin and Cesc,

          Normally the idea we have is achievable technically, so the problem, as you know, is to get enough customers… That’s true… but interviewing people to validate and discover problems is normally hard.

          I’ve found that, as Cesc says, if you product is “small enough” it’s better to build an MVP instead of planning it. It’s better to test and then think. (it’s like the tasks which take less than 2 minutes in the GTD… ;-) better act and no plan)

          I also think that, even if we have a medium-large product to build, we can alternate from time to time from interviewing customers to working on the product/service. (It doesn’t have to mean coding the product, you can also do mockups, think, etc… whatever is WORKING on it).

          I say “from time to time”, because, even the important thing is to have customers, I’ve found that this approach fuels my motivation and also give me some new insights that I use in the interviews.

          So, from time to time, I allow myself to “take air” working on the product for some hours. I’ve found that this way it chase my “inspiration” more usually and it doesn’t perish (which is a bad habit the inspiration has….)

          • kevindewalt March 13, 2013 at 7:46 am #

            Excellent points, Jon, totally agree.

            And true indeed with the larger products – really has to be cycles. It would be wonderful if we could get all of the insight before we start but this just isn’t realistic.

  2. Ben Linders March 10, 2013 at 5:16 am #

    Very interesting, thank Kevin for sharing this. And I agree, it’s the fun that gives me the energy to continue. Working together with people, strengthening each other and delivering.

    Sometimes I do things because it makes sense for me, and possibly also for the people that I am working with at that time. I ask for feedback to get a better understanding of the value of the things I do. I don’t have all the answers, but together things become clear. If there’s value, let’s continue. If not, stop it and try something else.

    This works for me when I’m training or coaching professionals, writing or editing, or helping organizations to find better ways to do things.

  3. Kahlil Corazo March 11, 2013 at 8:21 am #

    So true. Especially with things we’re not trained on or never even considered doing professionally (cold calling, selling, billing).

    I reward myself with 20% for non-core work, a la Google. I discovered I enjoy teaching and training, so this is what I do (also trying to bring NEXT here!). This allows me to demand from myself an unflinching game face (a friendly CustDev smile) 80% of the time.

    And, yes, nothing beats talking shop with your startup buddies over beer.

  4. michael michelini March 12, 2013 at 1:07 pm #

    hey Kevin,
    this blog post gave me a breath of fresh air today. I shared it to my tech co-founder Chris Li too…. and he told me to TAKE A DAY OFF. haha. I talked to 10 customers at least today….getting slammed with various feature requests.

    But I’m excited….focus group next week in Hong Kong – wish you could be there!

    Excited to see the progress of SoHelpful.me – I want to be a user!

    • kevindewalt March 12, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

      Thanks Mike, awesome to hear about the focus group! Sound like you are making great progress, ???

      Enjoy the day off.

  5. Barb April 27, 2013 at 4:45 am #

    This blog was… how do you say it? Relevant!

    ! Finally I’ve found something that helped me. Thank you!

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