Lean Failure and the Risk of No-Man’s Land

Giff Constable startups


Isn’t Lean startup” supposed to prevent failure?” That was the question posed by Andrew Warner to Sean Ellis in a recent Mixergy interview. There is only one answer, “of course not.”

Sean responds that not everyone is built to be an entrepreneur: even the best tools in the wrong hands go awry. True, and there are many other reasons startups fail: team chemistry, money woes, technical risk, and so on. You can pivot badly or run out of pivot ideas. A successful startup is a mix of great execution, luck and timing.

No-Man’s Land

Lean startup methodologies help you speed up and bullshit check yourself and your ideas, but many companies will still end up in a lean startup version of “no-man’s land”. Their ideas and iterations will be good enough to pass validation tests along the way but not quite good enough to create the breakout hit entrepreneurs need in our noisy online world, or at least not in the time the entrepreneurs can allot to chasing that dream. Good but not great.

Fear of no-man’s land is familiar to most entrepreneurs. Reality is messy, and can deliver a lot of false negatives and false positives.

Bradford Cross recently wroteIf you can’t falsify your hypothesis, it might be correct – but if you try to validate your hypothesis, you can easily delude yourself into perceiving it as correct.” I like the statement because it forces an entrepreneur to face fears and overcome the stubborn optimism that flows in our slightly-crazy veins. My only caution is that it is really easy to kill a good new idea, and most stuff doesn’t turn into gold without a hard fight. You could spend your life testing and killing ideas and never actually *do* anything. But I like the spirit of Bradford’s argument.

In the case of Aprizi, I know someone, somewhere, some-when is going to crack the code on shopping personalization/discovery and be hugely successful, and I fiercely want it to be us. Lean startup methods increase our odds of getting it right, but they do not guarantee it. Our job is to bust our asses to stack the deck in our favor and make our own luck.

Net-net, lean startup ideas and lower infrastructure costs combine to de-risk new software startups tremendously, but if you think they de-risk anything entirely, you would be deluding yourself.

Fight on my brothers and sisters!

Mirage photo at top by Michael Gwyther-Jones, Flickr, Creative Commons