In the past few weeks I’ve become increasingly concerned that lean startup is swiftly heading towards a point of self-referential self-promotion that is perhaps unavoidable, but is certainly undesirable.
While there has been no swarm of locusts as of yet and the current authors, consultants, and experts that I’m familiar with are in fact unbelievably talented individuals, there are some signs that alarm me.
I’ll start with the worst offender … me.
Lean Startup Experts
I recently attended Startup Monthly as a mentor and was simultaneously flattered and embarrassed when I noticed I was listed on the site as
Tristan Kromer, founder of StartupSquare and Lean Startup expert
This is admittedly ridiculous as my only startup expertise is having hit so many potholes in my own attempts to get a company off the ground that you can probably become successful by simply avoiding doing anything I’ve done.
(My only excuse is that I didn’t ask the organizers to do this, but none-the-less, I could have objected more strongly when I saw it. But my ego got in the way! It’s nice when someone else calls you an expert.)
Learn from Other’s Failures
That’s not to say that you can’t learn from someone else’s mistakes and I’m happy if anyone else can learn from my blunders. I’ve certainly tried to learn as much as possible from them.
I’d rather learn from someone who has screwed up ten companies than someone who has only started one.
(After all, what’s Zuckerberg going to teach you? How to win a lawsuit against the Winklevoss twins? How often is that going to come up in a typical startup?)
As the term “learn startup” moves up the google SEO food chain, there will be an increase of self-proclaimed lean startup experts. This is almost contradictory. How can you have an expert in something that has only existed as a term for the past couple years? Where’s the ten thousand hours of practice required?
One of the things I love about lean startup is that no one can be an expert in your startup. That’s the whole point of the methodology. Besides, experts are dangerous because people listen to them uncritically.
The only expertise to be gained has to come from you, getting out of the building and learning about your customers.
Experts are Dangerous
In the Startup Monthly meetup, we were asked to give a brief statement to collate our impressions of the group. My contribution was that I thought at least 50% of the companies I talked to could go out and get cash the next day. They could all learn a lot about their business models by getting out of the building and asking people for money. In fact I repeatedly used the phrase, “Go get money!”
Only problem is that I failed to mention that I meant get money FROM CUSTOMERS… not investors. So instead of suggesting that everyone to go out and do concierge testing to get to revenue the next day, I unintentionally gave people the worst advice possible: stop coding and go for investment capital. Pretty much the opposite of what I wanted to say.
But the shocking thing was that not one person contradicted me. All I saw was nodding heads. I only realized my mistake ten minutes afterwards in a casual conversation with the other mentor Moshik Raccah, whose message made an infinite amount more sense than mine.
It was incredibly embarrassing and I had to run back into the room like a maniac to correct my mistake. So let me reiterate… no one should listen to me unless I happen to say something that makes sense. (10,000 monkeys, start your typewriters!) Experts can be incredibly dangerous.
Again, no one here is an expert in your startup. That’s the whole point of the methodology. No one is an expert, get out of the building, and learn about your customers.
Descent of the Locusts
At this point in this article, I had written a lengthy diatribe hear about 4 signs of the upcoming “lean expert” apocalypse that I fear. But upon reflection, I think it makes no point to publish it. The end is not nigh.
I’d only like to say that I truly hope that we do not enter the era of experts. I hope that no one ever refers to me as an expert again. Because the day I consider myself an expert will be the day I stop learning and I never want that to happen.
I had been considering whether I should look to consulting as a career. But now I’m certain that’s not a long term goal for me. I’ve really been enjoying the last couple years or so I’ve spent with entrepreneurs and I’m always going to clear part of my schedule to work with startups on whatever ideas they have, but I don’t want to make a career out of it.
Consulting is a great way to get involved in new projects and a great profession, but long term I need to find a project to dig my teeth into and see to the end. I’d like to continue building things and I’d like to continue writing. It’s very hard to do that if you’re scrambling for work too much.
(I asked a consultant I respect a lot and was informed I’d need to spend a couple days a week just looking for work and networking.)
Don’t Listen to Me!
I believe the only thing that will make the lean startup movement successful in the long run is if it continues to learn and evolve. That means everyone needs to be on guard against experts jumping the lean shark with a pivot.