This week I had the pleasure of interviewing a bit of a legend in the startup scene; Entrepreneur, Author of Running Lean and creator of the Lean Canvas Ash Maurya. GridAKL is lucky enough to be hosting Ash and his Running Lean Workshop here for two days in August - which is looking to be an extremely valuable session for anyone keen to hone their understanding of lean thinking.
CM: I started reading your blog the other day in preparation for this and I have to be honest…I initially thought that I was reading poetry about lean thinking…which was new for me. But then I got to your post Use Tiny Habits to Create Big Changes and my perspective on the format instantly changed. The short nature of each post makes sense knowing that it is the product of a daily writing effort, the posts have impact and are perfect little soundbites of to-the-point wisdom and also function as an awesome lesson on the power of habit creation. As a writer myself (one who is very prone to the seduction of procrastination) - this idea is something that I am now going to experiment with. What have you learnt from the process and what other tips do you have for getting oneself into positive daily routines?
AM: Great to hear. I have a longer post on creating and scaling flow in work (links below) which has some habit building stuff and techniques I’ve been using for years:
Key for me is prioritising a few non negotiable tasks (like writing and exercise) and then fitting everything else around it.
CM: Working in a tech start up space, we have witnessed our fair share of pivots, flearning and flat out hit-the-wall moments. Coming to the realisation that a business venture is just not going to work after the blood, sweat and tears that goes into any startup is an emotional and difficult process. Tracing back, what do you think is the single most prevalent mistake that founders make early on in the game?
AM: The number one cause for big-bang failures like this is what I call the innovator’s bias. When entrepreneurs get hit by an idea, they either race to build out their solution or raise money. Both of these are time consuming activities and also backwards. They are backwards because while entrepreneurs place a disproportionate amount of emphasis on the solution (the bias), this is NOT what either investors or customers really care about. The big epiphany shared in my first book, Running Lean, is that the solution is only part of the true product of a startup. The true product is a working business model. It then goes on to show how you can almost always test the business model without having to build anything.
CM: For startups who are close to that make-or-break point, what advice would you give on how they can focus their attention on learning from the mistakes and understanding what has gone wrong and why, rather than just pivoting in another direction to have the same outcome?
AM: A pivot not grounded in learning is a disguised “see what sticks” strategy and never an optimal strategy. Many discoveries in both science and business were accidental: Penicillin, x-rays, microwave, Google’s business model, etc. The key isn’t running away from failed experiments but doing what all these people did - which is ask the question: “why”. The flat portion of the hockey-stick curve is not flat because the founders were lazy or not working hard enough, but rather that you have to go through lots of stuff that doesn’t work before you find a breakthrough business model.
CM: In your blog you quote Womak and Jones from Lean Thinking; ‘Waste is any human activity which absorbs resources but creates no value’. What are a couple of the most common areas that you see waste taking place within startups? What are some simple tricks to identify and reduce waste?
AM: The problem in startups isn’t as much seeing waste because waste is everywhere. We often have a hundred things we can optimise at any given point in time. The real key is prioritising this waste and focusing on the few key activities that stand to drive the biggest impact. At the early stages, the biggest risks lie within your customer and problem assumptions. That is what should be stress tested not the scalability of your solution or even channels for instance. Over time, the best way to prioritise waste is to visualise new bottlenecks through analytics and then attack those.
CM: Obviously your Running Lean workshop is geared towards the startup industry, but if you had to pick a specific target audience within that demographic, who do you think will benefit the most from attending and applying that knowledge?
AM: The workshop isn’t just limited to startups. While a lot of this work started there, in just the last 2 years, the audience has grown to anyone grappling with bringing a new product to market whether at a startup or a large company. Even the domains are broad - ranging from software to hardware, high-tech to no-tech. These workshops are typically 30% startups, 30% corporate innovators, and 30% educators, coaches and mentors (who want to teach to their clients).
The Running Lean workshop will be at GridAKL on the 26th and 27th August. You can grab tickets here. Use the discount code GRIDAKL for 20% off.
Casey McLellan is the Community and Events Coordinator at GridAKL.