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Review of Running Lean HQ by Ash Maurya – How I’d Take A Very Good Book To Great

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Ash Maurya’s book on lean startups, Running Lean, is a great read that I’m using in developing my startup idea. His core concept really resonated with me: Existing approaches to business plan suck. And not only that, but they’re not very helpful in building a product that people want, which requires intense-research-and-iteration to get there.

Existing approaches to business plans feature too much BS presented as “carefully researched forecasts” (more like numbers-pulled-out-of-our-butts-and-a-forrester-report) , not to mention that they’re these supposedly all-encompassing phone books which are just verbose collections of guesses.

Ash’s solution: Running Lean

Cut your plan down to a single page, the Lean Canvas, which documents key, testable hypotheses about your problem, solution, unique value proposition and a few other key areas.

It’s brilliant, it’s concise and it gets you moving forward much sooner than with traditional BS plans.

More importantly, Ash repeatedly explains how to go through the process of Plan/Research-Build-Measure/Learn. In particular the greatest value in the book is to do with teaching you how to qualitatively validate your problem and your solution.

Speaking personally, I’ve built/blogged stuff that hardly anyone else cared about and it’s a real shame – because you realize you’ve just wasted time and money. Ash shows you how to avoid that.

In both my first reading a year ago and my current reading I’ve skipped the last bit on scaling, because that’s a marketing problem and I feel I have a pretty good handle on how to do that. I suspect many other people in the tech/online world will feel the same way because the bible of direct-response marketing has been driven into us by countless blog posts on SEO, PPC, CRO etc.

He takes you through the process of documentation and marketing and research quite well – though it’s a bit out of order.

What do I mean?

I first read Ash’s book about a year ago, and I was learning a lot but not yet ready for a startup, hence not being able to apply (or remember) the lessons well. Now I am in the process of researching and it’s more useful.

I remember from my first reading that the key first step is to have a problem worth solving, which is essentially discovered from the “problem interview,” a concept Ash developed in which you discuss the top 3 problems you  want to solve with your prospective early adopters. So essentially, once you’ve documented your hypotheses, this is really the next thing you want to do.

Instead of giving you that right after the documenting section though, this is located much deeper in the book after a discussion on marketing channels which is out of place. Why talk about preparing marketing channels etc when you haven’t even figured out what it is you’re trying to solve? I get that you need to have channels that will scale, but ultimately marketing (i.e. acquiring customers cost-effectively) is a problem that can be solved with enough testing.

So I would move that elsewhere, personally. This fits better in the discussion on scaling in my humble opinion. Once there’s product-market fit…

The other issue I  have is with one small piece of advice that’s buried in discussion of choosing customer segments etc: that you should go for the high-ticket sale because then it takes fewer customers to break even. This assumes that conversion rates will be equal regardless of product/price point – which is not at all the case in reality, as Ash himself acknowledges in counselling against giving away your initial product.

In reality, taking Ash’s advice to go after the high-ticket sale is risky, because this entails a longer sales cycle and slower validation. Rather than default to pricing high, I’d encourage startups to test their pricing from day one, since this is a key element of their value proposition.

A motorboat for $500 ? I’ll take it! A backpack for $500? Stuff it!

Anyways, a small quibble in what is otherwise a wonderful book that I’ve highly enjoyed and learned a lot from – well done. Running Lean: Iterating From Plan A To A Plan that Works is worth purchasing.

Ash Maurya: Running Lean HQ Iterate From Plan A To A Plan That Works

Posted in Books, Business.

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. Jerusalem Startups Learn From Shlomo Kalish and Emma Butin linked to this post on November 28, 2012

    […] If you liked this post, you’ll also like Jerusalem is Frothing about Jerusalem’s startup scene, and my review of Running Lean HQ by Ash Maurya. […]

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