In many circles, this “lean startup” phenomenon is becoming a religion. So, I’ve done my duty as a double business graduate, and poked around the latest hype. I even spent some time observing and advising a substantive portion of a lean incubator. Perhaps I’m a bit old-school, but I admittedly found certain aspects of this latest “movement” somewhat troubling. Please indulge a bit of explanation.
Merriam-Webster defines business, among other things, as “a usually commercial or mercantile activity engaged in as a means of livelihood”. I suppose that will do for current purposes. To me, this basically means selling stuff for more than it costs for purposes of supporting oneself. Are people in business when they don’t even know what they’re selling?
Imagine a cocktail party. “So what do you do for a living, Steve?”
“Well, I don’t really know, Bob; the MVP could morph into anything.” Notice that Steve ends up sounding marginally deficient because he doesn’t even know what kind of business he’s running.
People without a business model do not have a business, they have an idea. Ideas happen on the porcelain throne, in the shower, and while driving home from dead-end jobs. An “organization formed to search for a… business model” is a hobby. It becomes a business opportunity when one figures out what they are actually going to sell. Until then, between paying jobs = unemployed, any way you cut it.
So, wannabe entrepreneurs had best figure out real quick how to make money from customers. There is obvious validity to determining what customers wish to buy, and iteratively refining such offerings over time (i.e., Customer Development). However, I have to ask, is that “epiphany” really news worthy? Honestly, what were people doing during the height of the spice routes? They were giving customers what they wanted. If cinnamon wasn’t selling, they packed some ginger next time around. They just couldn’t “iterate” as fast, because they were developing their customer base using wooden ships (versus today’s quad-core laptops).
Regardless, I can tell you one thing with a relatively high level of confidence, based on actual experience getting deals funded: Investors generally don’t like floating open-ended science experiments. So, feel free to iterate and pivot until the cows come home. Just be careful, or you might inadvertently “pivot” yourself right into personal bankruptcy.