Welcome!

Blog Feed Post

Ash Maurya’s Running Lean — go read it now!

I just finished reading Ash Maurya’s Running Lean. Its one of those rare books that has lots of great content packed in only about 200 pages. The book is an easy read and flows like a magazine article or a nicely written blog post. Its a must read for anyone trying to start a business or anyone trying to go work for a startup.

Eric Ries codified the lean startup principles in a book titled: The Lean Startup. Ash Maurya, in Running Lean, takes the next step to translate philosophy to a more tangible set of actionable guidelines.

Practice Oriented Self-Help Guidelines

Running Lean is a self-help book for entrepreneurs. Like most self-help books, it provides a few pointers and guidelines to what must be done to move toward success. In this regard, the book is no different in intent than a self help book about losing weight, making friends, being happy, or becoming rich. Unlike a plethora of self-help concept books though, Ash Maurya focuses on practice and advice that can be applied. He presents a step-by-step process and a formula to enhance your chances. By the time you finish reading this book you have a list of action items to be applied to your own startup.

Many self-help books have the essence in the first 40 pages and the rest of the 200 odd pages that follow are simply continued explanations of this basic idea. Running Lean starts with thought provoking advise on the very first page and continues to remain fresh till the last one.

Know Your Customers & Their Problems

A large number of products are built with a solution in mind. In geek led startups, many of these solutions are purely motivated to satisfy a techie’s itch. I am one such person perhaps! I have been building a lot of things for years because it simply presents a great technology solution. A prime example is a time tracking software I wrote a couple of years back. It is clean and sophisticated in terms of code but I wasn’t able to make a business out of it. On hindsight, I did not invest in learning enough about the customer needs and was a bit confused about its monetization possibilities by the time I was ready to go to market with it. I wanted to sell it to everyday but didn’t sell to anybody and abandoned it prematurely.

I would surely use the lean startup methodology and speak to my potential early adopters first if I had to rebuilt that product today. I would meet these prospects in person and ask them questions with the objective of understanding their requirements.

Knowing your customers and their problems is the most important part in being successful. Steve Blank calls this customer development. His book Four Steps to the Epiphany is another must read for entrepreneurs. Running Lean is a detailed guide to how to reach out to customers and what questions to ask at each phase of your startup lifecycle. Ash Maurya recommends
(a) Problem Interview (to understand the problem and the customer’s needs),
(b) Solution Interview (to validate that your proposed solution solves the customer’s problem), and
(c) MVP Interview (to make sure your minimum viable product addresses the customer’s problem and the customer is willing to pay for it)
as three important times to connect with customers. He generously provides detailed examples from his own startup experience with CloudFire, making the recommendations way more than mere philosophical musings. I wrote a problem interview meeting request email today to one of my prospects, using a format I saw in the book.

‘Maker’ vs ‘Manager’

A techie founder of a startup can be torn between his simultaneous attempts in developing his software (maker role) and meeting his customers (manager role). Running Lean provides some guidance and proposes maintaining a balance between the two roles of a ‘maker’ and a ‘manager’. You must read Paul Graham’s Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule for a valuable viewpoint on conflicts between these roles.

I can completely empathize with Ash Maurya’s schedule of coding during early mornings (when most others are asleep) and talking to customers in the afternoon. However, I am unable to define my own priorities as clearly as I believe he presented it. My current startup is a small setup comprising of my co-founder with management experience, 5 developers, 1 designer and I. I am deeply involved in software release, bug fixes, feature planning, continuous deployment, product definition, and project management. I also spend time talking to potential customers, potential investors, potential hires, and partners. The long list doesn’t end there. I also spend time on miscellaneous other things like accounting, legal compliance, branding, and keeping my team motivated. Outsourcing many of these tasks would be great but is expensive for a bootstrapped startup. Despite reducing waste and staying focused on an MVP, a founder probably needs over 30 hours in a day! Running a startup is a grueling experience and I don’t believe there is an easy way to maintain balance among the multiple roles a founder needs to play.

Don’t be a Feature Pusher

This segues to the most important part of the lean startup methodology. Build a minimum viable product, better known as an MVP. Its very easy to get sucked into a features arms race with yourself. Lean MVP means build less but a good geek or an awesome visionary is often about doing more in less time. You see the disconnect! In my opinion, founders who are not expert makers or super efficient managers ironically do well in this regard. They quickly reconcile with building an MVP because it seems more palpable to them. The uber geeks and the smart managers struggle. Their MVP is often not minimal enough. Silicon Valley especially loves uber geeks and if you are one of those, then there is a decent possibility you may get funded without even a proper plan in your hand. This often can be a curse cause you start building a rather bloated SVP (Supposedly Valuable Product).

Conversion Metrics

The book talks in detail about user life cycle management, from acquisition to referral. This is a topic close to Ash Maurya’s heart and relates to his latest startup, UserCycle, which is trying to address the problems in this space.

Actionable metrics should be at the heart of every business. Vanity metrics are useless. Retention and repeat usage matters.

Early Adopters

All startups in their early stages should care a lot about their early adopters. Most startups are founded with a grand dream of addressing a global problem and reaching out to a diverse set of consumers. In reality though, you should feel very happy if you even get some traction in your neighborhood. The emphasis on building relationship with early adopters is highlighted in this book. Its a very valuable piece of advice.

Don’t Agree with Everything

Running Lean is a very inspiring book and I love Ash Maurya’s style of writing, full of honesty and personal examples. However, I must say that I couldn’t agree with every single part of the book. Lean Startup addresses a lot of issues but it does not consider issues related to
(a) distributed startup teams (they are increasingly getting common now),
(b) skewed skill sets (many startups are founded by geeks only who understand little beyond code!),
(c) acquired tastes (despite over 100 million iPads in the market, a majority of the users are still pretty unclear on why they need it and what problem does it solve),
(d) regulatory influences (VOIP over the years), and
(e) new markets (consumption of local and healthier food).

Its much harder to define the problem/solution fit in these cases.

My Own Failings & What Next?

I spent most of the last year building a really great product, called doaround. It will be launched to the general public soon. We did some things really well and struggled on many counts as well. We did seek consumer feedback from the very beginning but could have been more scientific about it. We built a full featured VP and not an MVP. It took much longer and costed us a lot more.

What Next? The next time I am building a product for What Next Labs (Yes! thats the name of our company) I am running lean.

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Shashank Tiwari

I am a technology entrepreneur, innovator, author and, as some say, a “thought leader”. I like to solve challenging computing problems, especially those that drive innovation. Being a polyglot programmer, I can program fluently in many languages, including Java, Python, C++, C, Ruby, ActionScript, JavaScript, Objective-C, Haskell, Scala, Clojure, PHP, Groovy, Lisp and Perl. I must admit that I like to learn programming languages and if there is a new interesting one coming, I wouldn’t be far behind getting to grips with it. Over the last many years I have built some cutting edge enterprise and consumer software applications, many of which have leveraged large data sets and the web based programming paradigms. This means I also know a lot about data bases and persistence. I am very conversant with relational databases, embedded databases, object databases, text based data and XML. Having leveraged web based programming paradigms, I have first hand experience with a lot of web development frameworks, including but not limited to Adobe Flex, Spring MVC, Rails, Grails and Django. Not to forget, I obviously have worked a lot with HTML, JS and CSS. My experience and interest are varied and diverse and range a wide spectrum of application development realms that include the server, the client and the middleware. Besides, programming, I am also deeply interested in mathematics and theoretical computer science. This motivates me to bring my knowledge of applied mathematics, statistical modeling, artificial intelligence and sometimes simply data structures, to good use, when I build applications. A couple of domains like financial mathematics and scientific computing seem to have been good fit for such expertise. I am an ardent supporter of open source software and try and contribute to open source code bases and causes. I like the plurality and variety that software development offers; the choice of programming languages, the abundant availability of tools and libraries, the existence of multiple operating systems and the possibility of varied software development methodologies. As a member of the technology community, I am an active contributor to the ever evolving software development languages, methodologies and standards. I am an expert group member on a number of JCP (Java Community Process) specifications, for example JSRs 274, 283, 299, 301 & 312, and have been recognized as an Adobe Flex Champion.I run and organize a few community events like Flex Camp Wall Street, Show Ramp and Polyglot World. I bring together all my expertise in terms of services and products via my primary venture, Treasury of Ideas LLC, in which I play the role of a Managing Partner. Treasury of Ideas LLC, through its focus on innovation and value optimization, offers many best of the breed services and products and has incubated many ideas to help translate them to reality. Our clients range from large enterprises, government agencies, not-for-profit organizations to promising new startups. I write regularly in many technical journals and magazines, present in seminars and mentor developers and architects. I have authored a few books, including Advanced Flex 3 (friends of Ed/APress, 2008) and Professional BlazeDS (Wrox/Wiley, 2009) , and am in the process of authoring a few more. You can learn all about my books and public talks by browsing through the Publish & Present page at www.shanky.org.

Latest Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that DXWorldExpo has been named “Global Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Digital Transformation is the key issue driving the global enterprise IT business. Digital Transformation is most prominent among Global 2000 enterprises and government institutions.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Datera, that offers a radically new data management architecture, has been named "Exhibitor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Datera is transforming the traditional datacenter model through modern cloud simplicity. The technology industry is at another major inflection point. The rise of mobile, the Internet of Things, data storage and Big...
Kubernetes is an open source system for automating deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications. Kubernetes was originally built by Google, leveraging years of experience with managing container workloads, and is now a Cloud Native Compute Foundation (CNCF) project. Kubernetes has been widely adopted by the community, supported on all major public and private cloud providers, and is gaining rapid adoption in enterprises. However, Kubernetes may seem intimidating and complex ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Calligo, an innovative cloud service provider offering mid-sized companies the highest levels of data privacy and security, has been named "Bronze Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Calligo offers unparalleled application performance guarantees, commercial flexibility and a personalised support service from its globally located cloud plat...
"We focus on SAP workloads because they are among the most powerful but somewhat challenging workloads out there to take into public cloud," explained Swen Conrad, CEO of Ocean9, Inc., in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"Outscale was founded in 2010, is based in France, is a strategic partner to Dassault Systémes and has done quite a bit of work with divisions of Dassault," explained Jackie Funk, Digital Marketing exec at Outscale, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"We are still a relatively small software house and we are focusing on certain industries like FinTech, med tech, energy and utilities. We help our customers with their digital transformation," noted Piotr Stawinski, Founder and CEO of EARP Integration, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"I think DevOps is now a rambunctious teenager – it’s starting to get a mind of its own, wanting to get its own things but it still needs some adult supervision," explained Thomas Hooker, VP of marketing at CollabNet, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at DevOps Summit at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"We've been engaging with a lot of customers including Panasonic, we've been involved with Cisco and now we're working with the U.S. government - the Department of Homeland Security," explained Peter Jung, Chief Product Officer at Pulzze Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"We're here to tell the world about our cloud-scale infrastructure that we have at Juniper combined with the world-class security that we put into the cloud," explained Lisa Guess, VP of Systems Engineering at Juniper Networks, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
There is a huge demand for responsive, real-time mobile and web experiences, but current architectural patterns do not easily accommodate applications that respond to events in real time. Common solutions using message queues or HTTP long-polling quickly lead to resiliency, scalability and development velocity challenges. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Ryland Degnan, a Senior Software Engineer on the Netflix Edge Platform team, will discuss how by leveraging a reactive stream-based protocol,...
"With Digital Experience Monitoring what used to be a simple visit to a web page has exploded into app on phones, data from social media feeds, competitive benchmarking - these are all components that are only available because of some type of digital asset," explained Leo Vasiliou, Director of Web Performance Engineering at Catchpoint Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at DevOps Summit at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
Your homes and cars can be automated and self-serviced. Why can't your storage? From simply asking questions to analyze and troubleshoot your infrastructure, to provisioning storage with snapshots, recovery and replication, your wildest sci-fi dream has come true. In his session at @DevOpsSummit at 20th Cloud Expo, Dan Florea, Director of Product Management at Tintri, provided a ChatOps demo where you can talk to your storage and manage it from anywhere, through Slack and similar services with...
"We want to show that our solution is far less expensive with a much better total cost of ownership so we announced several key features. One is called geo-distributed erasure coding, another is support for KVM and we introduced a new capability called Multi-Part," explained Tim Desai, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Hitachi Data Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"I'm here to leverage my secret sauce, which is using outsourced development and the company that I utilize is delaPlex Software and they've basically allowed me to win Fortune 500 companies," noted Justin Witz, CTO of FRA and PlanTools, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.