The Lean Startup: Summary Review & Takeaways

This is a summary review of The Lean Startup containing key details about the book.

What is The Lean Startup About?

Lean startup is a methodology for developing businesses and products that aims to shorten product development cycles and rapidly discover if a proposed business model is viable; this is achieved by adopting a combination of business-hypothesis-driven experimentation, iterative product releases, and validated learning. Lean startup emphasizes customer feedback over intuition and flexibility over planning. This methodology enables recovery from failures more often than traditional ways of product development.

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Who is the Author of The Lean Startup?

Eric is the author of the popular blog Startup Lessons Learned and the creator of the Lean Startup methodology. He is a frequent speaker at business events, has advised a number of startups, large companies, and venture capital firms on business and product strategy, and is an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Harvard Business School.

What are key takeaways from The Lean Startup ?

Takeaway #1 Finding a Sustainable Business Model

No matter how good your plans or how much free marketing you get, without a profitable and sustainable business model, your start-up won't succeed.

Answer these questions by doing real research (talking with people!) rather than a mix of guessing/hoping.

Does anyone want what I can provide?
Can I make money from it?
Is it sustainable – Will it work in the future as well?

Everything that your business does, including day-to-day operations, should be focused on your sustainable business model; finding the right products for the right people with a way to sell it to them because the faster you do this, the more likely your business is to succeed.

Takeaway #2 Bridging The Leap Of Faith

There will always be a moment when you have to do the leap of faith to see if what you envision can work as a viable business but you can bridge that gap by testing 2 fundamental assumptions early on.

The value hypothesis assumes that early adopters will embrace the item and that they will find value in the product. The growth hypothesis presumes that the product will only appeal to a certain type and number of people to start with, but that over time, a larger market will open up – If you need an example, just look at Facebook.

If these 2 points cannot be validated you should walk away and come up with another business idea but presuming you've passed the test, you can move on to testing.

You can test your product by creating a minimal version of it whilst getting real customer feedback. Leave off the bells and whistles, your MVP (minimal viable product) should have just enough to give customers a realistic idea of what they can expect. A dummy website that has the information, images, and price even though there's not an actual product to be shipped out but that has people signing up for a waiting list can also work if you're not creating a physical product – This is exactly what Dropbox did.

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From here you can enter the build, measure, learn phase in which you take on board all of the customer feedback, measure interest in the product, and talk to the people who tried the product/website so that you can then develop an even better product – Repeat the MVP and feedback loop until you have found your sustainable business model.

At this point you can start split-testing to work out which features are of most value to your customers, you should only include the most valuable ones as these will bring you money, ditch any 'extras' that you 'thought' would work but actually don't! This applies for the product itself as well as website features.

Keep asking how your product can be improved to help it find its market – What you think the public need and what the public actually need can be two entirely different things, don't get stuck in thinking your way is the right way and remember that pivoting is normal, the faster you resist the change the faster you succeed!

Takeaway #3 The Growth Period

To make sure your business doesn't become stagnant, it should have 3 different kinds of growth engines; a sticky engine, a viral engine, and a paid engine, these can run all at once but it's best to focus on one at a time.

The sticky engine works to retain existing customers, this can be done by providing great service and/or updating with new features so that they want to use your product more. The viral engine gets your existing customers to market your product for you, you make it easy for them to tell friends and family about your service/product, last but not least the paid engine is your paid marketing which is only possible if you have enough existing customers bringing in the revenue to ensure your costs per acquisition are less than your user lifetime value.

Takeaway #4 Stop and Reflect

As you develop, test, and grow your business you need to pause and see how much progress you've made towards your long-term goals. Don't caught up in the vanity of receiving a ton of social media followers if they haven't resulted in paying customers!

Define the correct metrics for your business and evaluate them often – When the metrics improve, you know you're proceeding towards your goal but if the numbers stay the same you know you need to try a new way.

What are key lessons from The Lean Startup ?

Lesson #1. The Sustainable Business Model

Your goal as a business owner is to find a sustainable and profitable business model as fast as possible as the faster you find your sustainable and profitable business model, the more likely your startup is to succeed.

You need to find a way to successfully obtain customers, serve them in some way, and earn money for the foreseeable future. Essentially, you have to sell something that people are willing to buy and that’s not as straightforward as you might initially think, requiring a lot of trial and error.

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Lesson #2. Using Validated Learning

List your theories of what your customers want, how you can sell what they want, and how you can make a profit. For example, if you’re a clothing startup when coming up with theories about how your selected product/s will be sold you might say that “Customers in the U.S.A and Europe are willing to purchase clothes online.”

Through validated learning you then put your theories to the test as however sure you feel that you’re ‘onto a winner’, you can’t know for sure until you’ve placed your product in front of the customer.

You might be tempted to create a questionnaire for your target audience to fill in or to create fictional customers but this can lead to false positives. Instead, get feedback from real customers by offering the product for purchase and see how they respond.

The shoe company Zappos started in this way - They had the theory that people would be willing to buy shoes online. So they tested the idea by taking photos of shoes that were for sale in retail stores and displaying them on a mock website. When people tried to purchase the shoes from their fake site they knew they were onto a winning business model.

Lesson #3. Taking The Leap Of Faith

Moving from theories to product development requires a leap of faith however, you don’t need to leap blindly without knowing where or how you’re going to land - bridge the gap by preparing and testing two primary beliefs, the value hypothesis and the growth hypothesis, as soon as possible.

The value hypothesis presumes that your product or service will provide value to your initial customers aka the early adopters.

The growth hypothesis meanwhile, presumes that the product will find a bigger market later on. If both hypotheses can be verified it is reasonably safe to continue investing your time, money, and energy on launching your startup.

Facebook managed to validate the value hypotheses and the growth hypothesis when they had only a few registered users. This was due to the registered users being very active with more than 50% logging in once per day or more which answered the value hypothesis. Next, it ticked off the growth hypothesis with its amazing user-activation rates - In the colleges where Facebook was initially introduced three quarters of the entire student population signed up within a month, this all without a cent being spent on marketing the platform.

Lesson #4. Developing a Product To Test The Waters

All too often founders will create their product in isolation, spending hour upon hour creating a product that a customer won’t actually buy. This is why you have to find out as fast as possible if there’s a demand for your product. How? Develop an MVP - a minimal version of the product.

The MVP should be as simple as possible, a bare bones product that allows the user to experience the product and give feedback but without all the bells and whistles being ready. Alternatively, you can do what Zappos did and create a ‘smoke test’ by pretending to sell a product that doesn’t yet exist.

When Dropbox was just an idea, the founders knew that developing the idea into a usable product would take a lot of time so they tested their hypothesis by creating a video to show what Dropbox would do. Within 1 night 75,000 people had signed up to the waiting list proving that the growth hypothesis was practical. They then proceeded to develop the actual product.

Lesson #5. Learn Fast and Often

Create BML loops that allow you to move through the build-measure-learn process with grace.

Using your MVP or smoke screen product to gain valuable customer feedback on what the customer did or didn’t like about your product you’ll also need to measure quantitative data such as how many people tried to purchase the product. What you learn from this feedback session can then be used to create a new optimized product (one that your customers have said they want) which you then show them again gathering more feedback. Rinse and repeat the build-measure-learn process as fast as you can until you’ve hit the nail on the head in terms of what customers want and what you can make a profit from - with each full loop you go through you’ll be getting ever nearer to reaching your sustainable business model.

When moving through the BML loops founders need to identify which features are valuable to their customers (the features which will either increase revenue or help attract more customers) and those which aren’t. Even if a developer thinks a feature is fantastic and that people just don’t realize it yet, unless it increases revenue or is a talking point that will bring in more customers it’s a waste and should be removed.

To determine the valuable features from the wasteful ones you have to do split testing. This means creating 2 versions of the same product, 1 version has the feature, the other doesn’t.

Split testing was first used by mail order businesses. They would have 2 versions of the same catalog printed and sent out to customers to determine which would get more sales - One version would have the original layout and be sent out to half the customer base, the remaining 50% would be sent the new layout. When orders were sent back in by post, the company could determine which catalog performed better.

Every change you’re thinking about making should be split tested to determine if it’s really better or not whether that’s a product feature, packaging, website design, or advert.

Lesson #6. Be Prepared to Pivot

Many startups mistakenly believe that if they persevere enough, throwing more time, energy, and money at any setback they come across, that the business will eventually take off and become successful. This ‘zombie attitude’ should be avoided at all costs. Instead, keep asking how and where you need to change to have your product find its market.
It’s likely that you’ll need to make a substantial change (pivot) along the way due to realizing that one of the core assumptions have changed. You might find you need to redefine your core value or product, change the sales channel, or target a different customer segment and therefore need to test the new hypotheses.

Groupon did a pivot and look where they are now, known for being one of the top daily deal platforms today, yet they initially started out as an activism and fundraising platform!

Due to the perceived loss of time, energy, and money when facing a pivot decision, many founders will avoid or postpone making the call to change direction but remember, pivots are often necessary to finding your sustainable and profitable business model. Schedule monthly meetings to reflect on the data you have so far to make sure you’re not burying your head in the sand about a necessary change of direction.

Lesson #7. Stick To 1 Engine Burning At A Time

You know the saying, don’t run before you can walk! Well, it applies to startups too.

There are 3 types of growth engines that are key for a successful business model and whilst you can have all 3 engines at once, it’s advisable to focus on one at a time so that you can see which engine works most effectively for you.

The ‘sticky engine’ retains existing customers who already generate a steady stream of income by getting them to use the product more, this can be done by introducing new features whilst providing great service.

The ‘viral engine’ uses its existing customers to promote the company or product through word of mouth and other easy to implement measures. This means the startup doesn’t have to spend a ton of money on marketing. Hotmail did this by adding the signature “P.S Get your free email account at Hotmail” automatically to all emails that.

The “paid engine” invests in marketing whether through TV or radio ads or online adverts. This engine is only sustainable if there’s an existing customer base that generates enough money to ensure the costs per user acquisition is lower than the user lifetime value.

Lesson #8. Don’t Let Vanity Get The Better Of Your Business

Have you ever heard of vanity metrics? These are the flattering yet useless metrics that make you and your startup look good but don’t actually help you to achieve real goals and certainly don’t help pay the bills. Social media metrics are a good example - It’s easy to start believing that when you get x amount of Instagram followers your business will take off, or mistakenly think that because you’ve already reached 100,000 fans you’re a success.

Unless followers are buying from you, or at least clicking on your website link, social media stats are worthless. Other misleading vanity metrics can include the number of hours you’ve worked, or the number of items you’ve ticked off your to-do list.

Don’t fall into the trap of running on a hamster wheel and getting nowhere!

Lesson #9. Analyze Your Core Metrics

Identifying, tracking, and evaluating your core metrics such as number of products sold, number of customers, and average website session length per customer (presuming you’re selling online) is essential as when you see the metrics improve, you know you’re on track for reaching your sustainable business model.

The cohort analysis, where you compare new customer’s behavior against old customer’s behavior can be useful in steering the startup in the right direction. For example, if you’re tracking your average website session you can compare how long customers spent on your website per session 6 months ago, 4 months ago, and last month. Ideally, you want to see that customers from the previous month spent longer on your site than those customers 6 months ago. If the metric is improving you’re progressing but if the metric is the same, you’re stagnating and need to find a way to increase numbers next month.

Book details

  • Print length: 299 Pages
  • Audiobook: 8 hrs and 38 mins
  • Genre: Business, Nonfiction, Entrepreneurship, Management, Leadership

What are the chapters in The Lean Startup?

Chapter One - Start
Chapter Two - Define
Chapter Three - Learn
Chapter Four - Experiment
Chapter Five - Leap
Chapter Six - Test
Chapter Seven - Measure
Chapter Eight - Pivot (or Persevere)
Chapter Nine - Batch
Chapter Ten - Grow
Chapter Eleven - Adapt
Chapter Twelve - Innovate
Chapter Thirteen - Epilogue: Waste Not
Chapter Fourteen - Join the Movement

What are some of the main summary points from the book?

Here are some key summary points from the book:

  • Validated Learning: The Lean Startup emphasizes the importance of continuous learning and validation. Instead of making assumptions and building a product based on those assumptions, it encourages entrepreneurs to quickly test their ideas and hypotheses through experiments, gather data, and learn from customer feedback.
  • Build-Measure-Learn: The book introduces the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop as a fundamental process for startups. It emphasizes the need to build a minimum viable product (MVP) quickly, measure its impact and customer response, and learn from the data collected to iterate and improve the product.
  • Minimum Viable Product (MVP): An MVP is the simplest version of a product that allows entrepreneurs to test their core hypotheses and assumptions. It helps in validating the product idea, collecting feedback, and making data-driven decisions on what to improve or change in subsequent iterations.
  • Pivot: A pivot is a strategic change in a startup's direction based on validated learning. The Lean Startup encourages entrepreneurs to be open to changing their product, target market, or business model if the data shows that the original approach is not working effectively.
  • Continuous Innovation: The book emphasizes the need for continuous innovation, which involves constantly testing new ideas, gathering feedback, and iterating on the product. It advocates for an agile and adaptable approach to respond to customer needs and market dynamics.
  • The "Three A's": The Lean Startup introduces three key metrics for startups: Acquisition, Activation, and Retention. Acquisition refers to attracting new customers, Activation is about providing a positive first experience, and Retention focuses on keeping customers engaged and coming back.
  • Build a Learning Organization: The book encourages creating a culture of learning within the organization. It promotes cross-functional collaboration, encourages experimentation, and values data-driven decision-making.
  • Innovation Accounting: The Lean Startup introduces the concept of innovation accounting, which involves measuring progress and success in terms of validated learning rather than traditional metrics like revenue or profit. It emphasizes the importance of actionable metrics that provide insights into the effectiveness of experiments and help guide decision-making.
  • Continuous Improvement: The Lean Startup promotes a mindset of continuous improvement and adaptation. It encourages entrepreneurs to be open to feedback, learn from failures, and iterate on their ideas to achieve long-term success.

What are good quotes from The Lean Startup?

[Favorite Quote]: “Reading is good, action is better.” (Meaning)

“The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else.”

― Eric Ries - The Lean Startup Quotes

What do critics say?

Here's what one of the prominent reviewers had to say about the book: "Eric has created a science where previously there was only art. A must read for every serious entrepreneur—and every manager interested in innovation." — Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz, Opsware Inc. and Netscape

What is the Lean Startup methodology?

Central to the lean startup methodology is the assumption that when startup companies invest their time into iteratively building products or services to meet the needs of early customers, the company can reduce market risks and sidestep the need for large amounts of initial project funding and expensive product launches and financial failures. While the events leading up to the launch can make or break a new business, it is important to start with the end in mind. This means thinking about the direction in which you want your business to grow and how to put all the right pieces in place to make this possible.

Similar to the precepts of lean manufacturing and lean software development, the lean startup methodology seeks to eliminate wasteful practices and increase value-producing practices during the earliest phases of a company so that the company can have a better chance of success without requiring large amounts of outside funding, elaborate business plans, or a perfect product. Customer feedback during the development of products or services is integral to the lean startup process, and ensures that the company does not invest time designing features or services that consumers do not want. This is done primarily through two processes, using key performance indicators and a continuous deployment process.

When a startup company cannot afford to have its entire investment depend upon the success of a single product or service, the lean startup methodology proposes that by releasing a minimum viable product that is not yet finalized, the company can then make use of customer feedback to help further tailor the product or service to the specific needs of its customers.

The lean startup methodology asserts that the "lean has nothing to do with how much money a company raises"; rather it has everything to do with assessing the specific demands of consumers and how to meet that demand using the least amount of resources possible.

What is a Minimum Viable Product?

A minimum viable product (MVP) is the "version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort" (similar to a pilot experiment). The goal of an MVP is to test fundamental business hypotheses (or leap-of-faith assumptions) and to help entrepreneurs begin the learning process as quickly as possible.

What is Split Testing?

A split or A/B test is an experiment in which different versions of a product are offered to customers at the same time. The goal of a split test is to observe differences in behavior between the two groups and to measure the impact of each version on an actionable metric.

What is a Pivot?

A pivot is a "structured course correction designed to test a new fundamental hypothesis about the product, strategy, and engine of growth." A notable example of a company employing the pivot is Groupon; when the company first started, it was an online activism platform called The Point. After receiving almost no traction, the founders opened a WordPress blog and launched their first coupon promotion for a pizzeria located in their building lobby. Although they only received 20 redemptions, the founders realized that their idea was significant, and had successfully empowered people to coordinate group action. Three years later, Groupon would grow into a billion dollar business.

* The summary points above have been concluded from the book and other public sources. The editor of this summary review made every effort to maintain information accuracy, including any published quotes, chapters, or takeaways

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Chief Editor

Tal Gur is an author, founder, and impact-driven entrepreneur at heart. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His journey and most recent book, The Art of Fully Living, has led him to found Elevate Society.

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