Is the Lean Startup a roadmap for dying slow?

Is the Lean Startup a roadmap for dying slow? Is it creating smaller successes and more failures?

Entrepreneurs often forego satisfying, well-paying careers for the opportunity to start their own company. Yet, many founders (myself included), are willing to pivot or change their vision at the first sign of customers not wanting their products.

What does this say about us as entrepreneurs? Should we start a company over any whim or thought? Is the goal of starting a company to find something that customers want and make a few bucks along the way? Or, is it to bring something to life that we believe needs to exist in the world?

There are many ways to make a good salary that lets you buy a house, travel the world and create a nice life for your family. Starting a company is so risky. It can’t always be the best solution for achieving financial independence.

Yes, there are many valuable ideas from the Lean Startup methodology. I’ve done many presentations on these ideas over the years, and I’m generally a proponent of the methodology. In particular, running small experiments, measuring and iterating. Yet, I think we’ve taken things too far. In particular, the misunderstood idea of *only listening* to customers.

As entrepreneurs starting companies, why are we willing to give up on our ideas, product and vision so quickly? Why are we pivoting so much? If we’ll only build products that customers immediately say they want, aren’t startups just turning into inexpensive contractors for our customers?

Startups should exist to create something that needs exist in the world. This has to feel like a mission for founders. If your startup didn’t exist, the world would be for the worse.

Without that sense of mission, it’s easy to get sidetracked by customers and chase a new feature that customers say they’ll pay you to build. But that’s not a startup – that’s contract work.

The best startups have a mission, or an insight, that they know is worthy of their talents, time and sacrifice. The founders of Google knew that Page Rank was the right way to organize web searches. Marc Benioff knew that installed CRM software was too complicated and that software as a service was better. Dollar Shave Club only exists because Gillette got greedy and gouged customers for decades. It was inevitable a new razor company would be created.

Sure, listening to customer feedback is helpful for refining your vision, but customers shouldn’t set your vision. It’s our job as founders to build the future and make it easy for customers to join us in that future.