Startups are often scary for the uninitiated. People often feel like running away when anyone suggests they get involved with creating a startup, and for good reason. The grand majority of startups in the past have failed, many of them spectacularly. Failure often means ruined credit, ruined reputation, and ruined careers, both for startup founders and the people they managed to dupe into working for them. So why are there so many failed entrepreneurs who came back and successfully conquered in future ventures? The answer is simple: people learn from their mistakes.
This is at the center of “The Lean Startup”, a book by Eric Ries that introduces the concept of planning for failure to those who would rather just succeed the first time. The book is a decent read on the subject, but I would also suggest “Nail It Then Scale It” by Nathan Furr and Paul Ahlstrom, which translates the idea into a series of steps for entrepreneurs to follow on their paths to success.
The overall movement has seen a lot of success in the form of various high-profile startups that were either sold to larger companies for sizable amounts or that stand, to this day, on their own two feet in the face of constantly shifting economic and social tides. These companies differ from traditional businesses in that they not only embrace failure, they plan for it. They build their entire approach around an idea that IDEO general manager Tom Kelly canonized with the statement “Fail often, to succeed sooner.”
This idea, that failure is not only good but, in some cases, desirable, turns conventional wisdom on its head. Making mistakes in traditional businesses can get you fired, whereas making mistakes in a Lean startup (and showing that you learned from them) may secure you a promotion.
In studying up on the Lean startup movement, I’ve found a lot of responses that are critical of one or many points that Eric Ries (and others) make in their books on the subject. Most of the argument center on cases where not every aspect of the processes described by Ries et. al. don’t fully apply. My response to these people is very simple: any process or methodology you choose to adopt as your own should be modified to match your needs. Failing to do so fails to take advantage of inside knowledge you have that others cannot possibly have and lands the responsibility for the scrapped business or engineering idea squarely on your shoulders.
In short, the Lean startup movement has ideas and principles that apply universally. The principles of success are the same no matter what area of your life you apply them to. So take it with a grain of salt, your grain of salt, and get in the trenches. As Mrs. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus says, “Take chances, make mistakes!”