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Book Review: The Lean Startup

September 12, 2022

When you are first starting out, you might find yourself Googling how to start a business, most of your results are going to have a step that says “Write a business plan”. That does not sound like a whole lot of fun, enter “The Lean Startup”. In this book, you learn a different way of approaching launching your business and that is through testing and validation. Think of it like that 5th-grade science project that you did but without the baking soda. Below you will find my thoughts on the book, 3 key takeaways as they pertain to a creative business, and some action items that I took away from this book and you should too!

Book Summary

The Lean Startup is a book that I read many years ago when I was helping to develop new lines of business for the IT company that I worked for. Traditionally when starting a company you would create this long business plan based on a little bit of research and then you would take that plan to the bank or a group of investors and try to get your company off the ground. Months later you would find out that what you had assumed in your business is not the reality that exists in the market and that mistake could cost you thousands of dollars. That’s where the Lean Startup aims to flip the script. 
When you are starting your business, you are trying to solve a problem. If you are a wedding photographer you may have a certain look or style that people want and the local market doesn’t have anyone that is serving that clientele. If you are a senior portrait photographer, maybe the prices are way too high in your local market and there isn’t anyone to service those clients as well. Once you figure out the problem you are trying to solve, now you have to figure out a way to get paid to solve that problem, that is called your business model. One of the big strengths that you have, when you are first starting out, is the ability to make changes at a moment’s notice. You are agile, big companies are not. That is where this book shines. The lean startup takes you through the use of an MVP or minimum viable product and then onto the build-measure-learn methodology, and finally talks about the ability to constantly retool your business in order to pivot if need be.

Creative Takeaway #1: Develop an MVP

Ok, I have to be honest here. The reason that I made this my first book review is because of this single concept right here. I would not be at all mad if you skipped this book, for now, just promise me you will at least add it to your wishlist. 

What is an MVP? 

via https://clevertap.com/blog/minimum-viable-product/

An MVP is a product or service with enough features to attract early adopters. The MVP will help prove or validate that you can make money off the business you are starting. This also allows you to get feedback as soon as possible.

Why is the idea of an MVP important for creatives? I think the idea of MVP is something that all creatives need to focus on. As creatives, we are used to working on something until it is 110% perfect. It is our art, it is a representation of ourselves, and our art is what defines us. That is not the case when it comes to business. There is an adage that I have heard so many times on projects and that is “Perfection is the enemy of completion”. This is so true when it comes to building out your photography business. You need to launch, you need to do the bare minimum to get your brand up and functioning so you can start working on the business model that we talked about earlier. Remember, you are a businessman/woman whose business is selling your creative work. The faster you can accept this mindset, the more successful you will be.

I promise.

Build – Measure – Learn

Many of the examples in this book talk about startups that are testing the waters with certain products. After they launch their MVP, the next step is to measure the success of their MVP. They then review these metrics and learn as much as they can about the market and their customers. They then go back to the drawing board and make changes to their MVP and continue the cycle. This is called a BML loop. 

How do you apply the BML loop to your creative business?

It is all about the data! So when you first launch, I challenge you to take notes and utilize data. How many people are clicking on your posts? How many people visit your website? How many people are making inquiries? These are all important data points to help you build a better MVP. When you are making decisions (that usually involve money) it is important that you rely on the data and not just how you feel. If you have 1000 likes on Facebook but no one is reaching out then maybe it is time to make a change…

Be Ready To Pivot!

The term pivot, in business, is when a business changes directions or changes something about a product or service based on the data that it received. A business may pivot if customers are demanding a certain product over another or the audience they are targeting is no longer buying. You saw this a lot during Covid when businesses switched from making things like whisky and instead they made hand sanitizer. 

After you have your MVP up for a while, and you are analyzing the data, you may find that you need to do more than a small change. You may need to go in an entirely new direction. This happened to me early on. When I first started, my photography business, I offered EVERYTHING. If you had it, I would photograph it. I was the Walmart of the local photography market (that was true for offerings and price). After a while I found that it was way too much work to try and market an “everything studio” and it was really hard to master all of the different aspects of photography (especially newborns, I still have nightmares about photographing newborns). I found out that I really enjoyed photographing weddings and seniors so I took a hard pivot and just took on projects that would make me a better wedding / senior photographer. 

I need your vote. Which of these is a better cliche to explain pivoting in your business?

A:  “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results” 

B: “Know when to hold em, know when to fold em”

Put your vote in the comments below!

Final Thoughts

This book is a really good read and it gives examples of many different companies that launched a product, studied data, and learned from their mistakes. I challenge you to do the same thing. As I mentioned above, I don’t necessarily think this is a required read for starting your business but it is a book that I encourage you to look at in the future to get ideas on how you can continue to grow. In the next few blog posts, I am going to be referencing a few of the things that I talked about in this review so don’t worry if you don’t have time to read this book, just follow the action items below and stay tuned for the next few posts in which we get our MVP out there!

Action Items

  1. Develop your MVP. Are you already in business? Then MVP a new line or a new product offering. Are you just starting out? Your business is the absolute perfect MVP. Do what you have to in order to get in launched! 
  2. What metrics are important to you that will help you make informed decisions about your business? How will you track these changes? How often are you going to make changes?
  3. Set a goal, if I don’t get X jobs by this date then I will pivot and try this instead.

  • Publisher: Currency
  • Published: 9/13/2011
  • Pages: 336

Buy a copy of the lean startup here.