Running Lean

I’ve just finished reading Running Lean by Ash Maurya.  It’s a fantastic book for startups, or for anyone creating a new product or service.  Ash combines some of the best material from Steve Blank’s Four Steps to the Epiphany with the business model diagraming of Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur, and he adds his own original material, improving on the concepts in both books.

In the appendix of his Four Steps book, Steve Blank provides a series of checklists and worksheets that an entrepreneur can use as he makes his way through the first two steps of customer discovery and customer validation.  Like Ash, I’ve tried using wikis, Google Docs and other methods to record data in these worksheets and share them with the other members of the team.  Inevitably, the worksheets are difficult to keep up to date, they take time to wade through, and they don’t provide a mechanism to measure progress through the phases. Ash provides not only a clearer, more concise guide to the same process as Blank’s  discovery and validation steps, but he also provides a tool, the Lean Canvas, to guide and communicate the learning.  In particular, I found his guide to interviewing customers very valuable , and his advice for validating the solution MVP before building the product equally helpful.

Ash has also made some modifications to Osterwalder and Pigneur’s Business Model Canvas that I think make it more focused and more actionable.  He keeps the customer segments, value proposition, channels, revenue streams and cost structure blocks from O & P, and then adds four new blocks:

  • Problem – a concise statement of the problem to be solved and why it’s critical to the customer to solve the problem
  • Solution – a concise description of the solution to the problem and the key features that must be there to have a viable product
  • Key metrics – a list of the key metrics, like Dave McClure’s Startup Metrics for Pirates, that indicate progress
  • Unfair advantage – Something that can’t be easily bought or duplicated; your sustainable competitive advantage.  Too many startups don’t think about this and make sure that they build this into their product, service or business model.

The only improvement that I’d like to see in the book are more varied examples.  All of the examples are from his own businesses.  But that’s a small quibble.  The book is great.  I recommend it highly.

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