August 28, 2018

Why MVPs “Fail Fast”

Making websites like it's 1999.

Andrew Chen started a great discussion on Twitter the other day:

“What is your least popular but deeply held opinion on tech/startups?”

Many of the replies were insightful, but Keith Rabois’s contrarian views on the Lean Startup methodology were the most thought-provoking:

“The lean startup method is a guarantee of failure.”

“It is a recipe for failure, and mediocrity at best.”

“I don’t believe in lean startup nonsense at all. You start with a vision and you WILL it into reality.”

Keith is an expert on this topic—he’s a partner at Khosla Ventures and helped build Paypal, LinkedIn, Slide, Yelp, Square, and Opendoor.

What is Lean Startup?

The Lean Startup methodology originated from Eric Ries’s book, The Lean Startup, a best-seller in management and entrepreneurship since 2011.

Lean Startup concepts include “minimum viable products,” “launching early,” “build, measure, learn” cycles, “data-driven decisions,” “pivot or persevere,” and of course, “failing fast.”

I’ve experienced the limitations of Lean Startup firsthand.

MVPs are built to “fail fast”

In practice, the Lean Startup process looks something like this:

  1. Build a low-cost MVP that delivers on a smaller vision.
  2. Launch early.
  3. Iterate through a few build-measure-learn cycles.
  4. Make the data-driven decision to “fail fast” because there's no traction.
  5. Pivot to a new idea and start the process over on a shiny new MVP.

Perhaps the next MVP will be more successful, or maybe following this process really does lead to failure and mediocrity.

My takeaway is to unlearn the Lean Startup mentality and be more driven by willpower and vision than data.

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