'The Lean Startup' Author Shares His Latest Advice

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Eric Ries, author of the 2011 bestseller The Lean Startup, is at it again. In March he launched a monthlong Kickstarter campaign to self-publish The Leader’s Guide, a hardcover and digital book to which only donors will have access. Within 24 hours, he raised $123,000, and by the end of the campaign, $588,983—making Ries the most successful author on Kickstarter.

The nearly 10,000 backers who signed on to receive The Leader’s Guide will also get exclusive access to webinars, classes and workshops, as well as copies of Ries’ The Startup Way, which will be published in late 2016. Ries took a break from filling orders to answer some questions on the next generation of lean startup advice.

Why did you take your second book to Kickstarter?

I was looking for a way to test the prescriptions I was making. I feel like in a lot of business books the advice is in the form of “this worked for me, so it will work for you.” That has always made me wary. How do you know it will really work? I did a lot of testing and experimentation with The Lean Startup before it was published, and I thought this would be a great way to take those concepts a step further.

Were you surprised by the response?

The interest in the project has been overwhelming. When you get an advance from a publisher, the only people who believe in your project are your editor and the publishing house. It’s no guarantee of success in the marketplace. A Kickstarter campaign is a different thing. It’s not just an advance but a guarantee of enthusiasm and customers for the product. Thousands of people have said, “I want this to exist, and I want to go on this journey with you.” You have this army of people behind you. That’s way more important than the money.

What is your primary advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

To step into the new-business tornado, you have to think like a scientist. When you’re doing a startup, every single thing you do is an experiment no matter what you label it. Is it going to work, will customers like it, will the business plan follow the way we think? These are all hypotheses that call for scientific testing.

Is this a good time to be an entrepreneur?

We’re living in a golden age for entrepreneurship. There’s been a total disruption to every business in the world that’s being tested to see if it’s fundamentally sound. If it’s flawed, it’s being replaced by a digital equivalent. Who would have thought that Airbnb or on-demand cars would be more than a picture of science fiction? Uber seems to be ordinary now. Also, it just so happens that management techniques for the 20th century are ill-suited for the current moment.

Finally, there has been a democratization of entrepreneurship tools. There aren’t just Lean Startup events but thousands of other things, from VC bloggers sharing and tweeting information to hundreds of entrepreneur conferences. Even if you don’t live in Silicon Valley, or couldn’t find it on a map, you can be as cutting edge in your thinking as anyone here.