Victus Spiritus


Entrepreneurship !== Management

04 Jan 2011

For the most part I appreciated Eric Ries' year end summary, from his discussion of hacking MBA programs and his work launching the Startup Lessons Learned Conference. But there are a couple of his thoughts I shook my head while reading. 

The first (emphasis mine):

More and more, I am meeting entrepreneurs and managers from companies large and small who agree on this one point: entrepreneurship is management

I concede that one aspect of entrepreneurship is management. Yet building an audience and client base for a product takes creativity, technical chops, market feedback, planning, luck, timing, and management. If any one of these key areas suffer the startup falls out of balance as it leaps forward, and collapses in on itself. The greatest entrepreneurs of our time aren't premier managers from startup schools*, they're product and market visionaries who were also competent managers. Management skills sit in the backseat before product market fit when a team is only a handful of founders plus extraordinary early employees. 

The other concern I had was for Eric's suggestion that readers pre-order his latest book before reviewers and social filters take a crack at it. I understand his passion for wanting Lean Startups to go mainstream, but I don't believe blind adoption is a good standard to set. Besides, I have over a dozen excellent technical and business books gathering virtual dust in my Kindle library, not even considering the deluge of PDFs and other web docs that I have ear marked for specific projects. I have more interesting and actionable content to read than I have to time consume. Why should I buy another published book?

There is such a thing as taking a pattern too far, and Maslow's Hammer captures the cognitive pitfall of doing so. Not all (maybe not even most) startups benefit from a rigid process that minimizes mechanical iteration intervals at the cost of human feedback and authentic artistic design. The same concept holds for software design patterns. They're handy tools that require judgment to leverage effectively. Alternatively if the pattern becomes too encompassing, i.e. everything and everyone is Agile or Lean, it loses meaning (see innovation).

I look forward to reading about Eric's and Nathan Furr's research on startup processes this year. What will they incorporate into Lean Startups from successful companies? What best practices will they edit or remove? I'm not against bringing rational processes into startups. Many lean startup best practices have great utility in nascent businesses, but only when practitioners understand why.

*= While startup teams self profess how greatly they benefit from YCombinator and TechStars, company direction is heavily influenced by a few program leaders. Will the next Microsoft, Apple, Google or Facebook come out of process driven incubators which cultivate startup patterns? I have my doubts, but look forward to being surprised. 
*Update:* I was just reminded (by Paul Buchheit's angel investing post) of Heroku's exit and acquisition by Salesforce for a value over 200 million. Since I'm a very happy user and big fan of Heroku, I have to concede YC is capable of coaching new business juggernauts.