Posted by admin@theupgroup |
On Friday evening a swarm of entrepreneurs, bloggers and assorted members of the London tech start-up scene descended on the Tech Hub co-working space at “Silicon Roundabout” by Old Street.
The main attraction for the evening – which is now a weekly event organised by TechHub co-counders Elizabeth Varley and Mike Butcher (Editor of TechCrunch EU) – was to hear a talk by entrepreneur, author and tech start-up blogger Eric Ries.
Eric’s the creator of the Lean Startup methodology and the author of the popular entrepreneurship blog “Startup Lessons Learned”. Previously the co-founder and CTO of IMVU, he currently works as a speaker, adviser and consultant to various startups, companies and VC firms. Perhaps more impressively than all of this, is that he’s an extremely personable and engaging speaker who had his Tech Hub audience interested, and smiling, throughout the duration of his talk.
Speaking of the TechHub crowd, three points of note came to light at different parts of the evening. The first, which was immediately evident, was that out of the 100 or so attendees at least 95% were male. Not a hugely surprising revelation, but given the recent criticism of Penelope Trunk’s TechCrunch post “Women don’t want to run start-ups because they’d rather have children”* it does make one wonder exactly why it would be – even today – that so few women are interested in attending first rate talks like this one.
The second point to note about the TechHub audience came towards the beginning of Eric’s talk, when he asked how many of the attendees were currently involved in a start-up. It’s hard to be exact in judging the response, but it did appear as though not more than 10 hands stayed down. So we can expect lots of start-ups to start popping out of Old Street in the next few months.
The third point is that for all of the talks, presentations, events and conferences aimed at entrepreneurs, it seems rare to consider how hard it can be to provide entrepreneurs with information that will actually affect how they think and, more importantly, how they go about building their companies. Midway through his talk, Ries discussed a major – and often innate – talent of many entrepreneurs. The talent is having a “reality distortion field”, which allows them to convince both themselves and many people around them that something is true when, often in retrospect, it is clearly false. When this notion is combined with the inherent single-mindedness and focus that many entrepreneurs share, it seems possible that many entrepreneurs at last night’s event may have hugely enjoyed listening to the talk, without necessarily having bought into much of what was said (if it contradicted their own thoughts on the subject).
And so, to the talk. Ries began his talk by clearing up what he perceived to be different, confusing misconceptions about what actually constitutes a “start-up”, and then provided his own definition:
“A human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty”.
The important part of his definition is that a start-up isn’t, in itself, a product or a service: it is the business (or people, structure and processes) around that product or service.
The unrepentantly direct slide entitled, “Don’t Waste People’s Time” kicked off a fascinating exploration of the myriad of Web 2.0 companies that have launched – often with extensive funding and involving long stretches of product development (5 years for one of Ries’s own start-ups) – only for the founders, management team and financial backers to then realise that the product or service was simply never one that anyone did – or probably ever would – want. Which proved to be a compelling introduction to his main assertion: that the trick to start-up success doesn’t require just having a great idea, or executing it well, or learning from your mistakes. It requires getting through each stage of the following (and never-ending) loop as as efficiently as possible:
IDEAS ? BUILD ? CODE ? MEASURE ? DATA ? LEARN ? (IDEAS, ETC.)
Ries explained that for any start-up team struggling to answer a particular question of “should we do this” or “should we do that”, there will be a hundred examples of others who have answered such questions with a “yes” and been successful, others who have answered with a “no” and been successful, and hundreds more who have answered with a “yes” or a “no” and still failed. The point is that there will rarely be one decision that might make or break a start-up: teams simply need to become adept at asking themselves whether their answer to a question – whatever that may be – will get them through “the loop” any faster.
The question that Ries’ Lean Startup methodology essentially seeks to answer is a fascinating, but a multi-faceted and somewhat obscure one:
What makes a start-up become successful, and how can this be achieved without unnecessarily wasting valuable time, resources and talent?
Last night’s talk provided an interesting, thought-provoking and humorous introduction to how he answers that question. However one of the final questions of the evening, “What proof do you have that your methodology works?” was, somewhat disappointingly, answered with a further discussion of how difficult it is to measure the relative impact on a business of doing things one way rather than another.
Ries has an exciting challenge ahead to develop and prove the efficacy of his methodology, which could provide entrepreneurs with a blueprint for having the most chance of efficiently establishing and developing a product or a service that people actually want. Many of the entrepreneurs who were at TechHub last night will have learnt a huge amount from hearing Eric speak. Hopefully the “reality distortion field” of others didn’t restrict their exposure to the full impact of his vast experience and advice.
To read more about Eric Ries visit www.startuplessonslearned.com