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The Lean Startup,” by Eric Ries has become the bible of the technology startup. The book prescribes a methodology for rapid and efficient product development based on Ries’s experience as a startup founder and adapted from lean manufacturing methods. The startup lexicon is dominated by terms from the Lean movement. Thanks to Mr. Ries MVP no longer refers to important people, people argue about the leanness of their companies, we pivot instead of paradigm shift, and we a/b test.

I recommend “The Lean Startup,” to entrepreneurs that I mentor or coach. It’s a great book. My issue with it is that it is not The Bible, The Koran, The Talmud, Bhagavad Gita, or Dianetics. It isn’t The Book. It is a book that technology entrepreneurs should read.

The emphasis on Lean has created a false impression that mastering the concepts of lean is all that is required to build a great company. I hear young startup entrepreneurs pivoting, and a/b testing and MVP-ing.  That’s great. They know how to create a product. Creating a great product, however, is one small component of building a great company.

I’ll submit it may be the least important part of building a great company.

Look at some of the world’s great technology companies, they didn’t make it big because they had the best product. None of them rose to dominance after reading The Lean Startup. Microsoft, Amazon, Google, even Apple weren’t first movers in their product categories, they refined them. These companies rose to market dominance because of go-to-market strategy, or the leadership of their management team, or design.

On the other hand, the landscape is littered with great products that failed or flopped or just didn’t dominate due to crappy execution, weak teams, bad strategy. Just look at BetaMax, Tivo, Apple Newton as an example. Great products, great market fit, great engineering, great failures.

So I’m skeptical when I meet some of today’s Lean Expert Founders who are lacking in the other disciplines. We have a new generation of entrepreneurs who are creating companies as if they were one-legged stools.

Lean Startup is a Strategy and strategy is great… strategy is fine, strategy is great sprinkled over cereal in the morning. As Management Guru Peter Drucker said…

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Lean startup devotees have the product thing down. But do you really understand leadership? Do you know how to build and maintain a culture of high performance? Do you understand where your product sits in the technology adoption life cycle? Do you understand how to generate buzz and traction? Do you know how to sell? How to dominate a market?

If running a startup is like flying an airplane, then mastering lean is like understanding how to taxi on a runway. But you need to understand how to take off, navigate, and land to be a pilot.

Here’s a list of books that might help: Leadership Reading List.

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