Q&A: Eric Ries, author of The Lean Start-up

Eric Ries

Marketing Week (MW): If a large company is successful, what is the problem if it doesn’t act like a small company?

Eric Ries (ER): The challenge for big companies is that they slowly go out of business [because of new and disruptive products that take away their market share, such as Nokia losing out to Apple].

MW: If I am a marketing manager in a big company with a great idea, how can I convince my boss it will work?

ER: People have to develop a language and logic in their argument that matches the concerns their boss has, rather than the concerns they have.

If the current system [of innovation or new product development] is disciplined, bureaucratic and process-oriented, then to do something innovative a person has to be anti-discipline, anti-bureaucratic and anti-process. But what they must do is try to convince their boss that there is a process-oriented approach to create an outcome they care about.

MW: How can a big company apply start-up thinking?

ER: At a recent workshop, I got participants to name a project they were working on and a few key assumptions that the project is based on. Then they had to pick a ‘leap of faith’ assumption [something they assumed consumers would want in a product] and name some metrics that might be an indicator of whether that assumption is true. Then they had to develop some ideas for a minimum viable product [a product with the smallest set of features to test] that could run to collect the data [to see if it would work].

Many of the teams came back saying: “We have been working on this for two and a half years and realised in the last five minutes that we have this key assumption that no one has bothered to test.”

If you think about the collective amount of money and time being wasted, if we can change even a fraction of that to useful work, we just made a huge contribution to the company’s bottom line.

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