Getting to "yes" in a world of "no"…

Archive for the ‘Lean Startup’ Category

Scalable startups…

Having been happily away from the London startup ‘scene’ for a little while, it was actually rather refreshing to talk with a friend about her startup ideas a few days ago.

The most difficult part of the conversation was getting across the central idea of building a scalable company – i.e. that, given that starting up a scalable company is almost exactly as hard as starting up a non-scalable one, why waste your time with the latter?

Scalability isn’t about making yourself rich, it’s about seeing the world as a long series of genuinely accessible marketplaces and distribution channels, all of which you can get to from wherever you happen to start. Contrast that with being, say, a maker on Etsy etc: all such ‘creative platforms’ tend to do (in my opinion) is encourage people to build their own never-really-satisfying niche, and then lock themselves firmly into it. It’s nice but… not really (capital-B) Business in any properly entrepreneurial sense.

But at the same time, as we were talking I felt like I had silently morphed into a bit of a dinosaur without even knowing it. For even describing ‘scaling’ in such openly conceptual terms is a bit of a cop-out, startup ‘Top Trumps’ word fakery more for PowerPointing than for actually using in The Real World.

What struck me is that the genuine craft of entrepreneurialism isn’t about “aiming for scalability”, but rather “avoiding nicheness” – for what’s worse, (a) being trapped in a ghetto, or (b) being trapped in a ghetto that you built yourself?

The problem with ‘scalability’ – and indeed with all the other over-blown and over-conceptualized ways of thinking about startups – is that they can so easily become slideware cargo cults, bullet-point lists of abstract qualities or attributes or methodologies that your new business Must Have In Order To Be The Real Deal. You know, like that whole Lean Startup thing. *sigh*

The sad truth is that most startups dismally fail to service even their most accessible, best-understood markets: and so the whole notion of being able to scale that initial hopeful venture to attack larger, more global markets is rarely little more than a tragicomic joke, albeit one that many angel investors like to obsess over.

So what’s the right answer, Nick?

I guess I’m as tired of “conceptrepreneurs” (for whom scalability is not only utterly essential but also the backbone of slides 3-5 in their killer presentation deck) as of “nichepreneurs” (who deliberately aim low, probably out of a misplaced sense of fear). For me, the former group embodies the pointless, ungrounded sophistication that is all too typical of urban startup discourse: while the latter group embodies the trembling wannabe naivety about business I run into all too often these days elsewhere. Both suck.

For me, startups need to be a living social revolution – if you’re not in it to dramatically change people’s lives for the better, you’ve probably wildly misjudged the value of what you’re doing. All ‘scalability’ therefore means is that you’ve tried to set things up so that The Revolution Can Go Big: but without a great big revolution right at its heart, that startup is very probably a waste of time / effort / money, sorry. ūüė¶


Hot news: relatively speaking, VCs don’t actually suck…

I just read a clip-quotes-together-and-number-them article supposedly on why the VC model sucks. It annoyed me enough to want to answer my own question: right now, what in Startup Land really sucks?


Well… Venture Captal¬†as an asset class does indeed currently suck, it’s quite true.

But the way that wannabe entrepreneurs flood VCs with pathetic app-centric slideware designed more to wrap around the VC business model than around real customer needs, that also sucks.

And the ridiculous way that journalists and bloggers write about VCs and startups sucks too. I mean, what is the point of reading an article in TechCrunch about how insanely clever startup X’s founder is to have got VC funding, when the odds are at least 9:1 that it’ll all turn brown and runny inside 12 months?

Oh, and the way that business angels claim to be liquid (when nearly all their actual worth is tied up in a whole myriad of tax avoidance schemes): and so spend most of their time wasting entrepreneurs’ time doing meetings when they have an actual business to run:¬†that sucks as well.

And really, don’t get me started on how ridiculous cargo cults such as The Lean Startup waste startups’, angels’, and VCs’ time by encouraging entrepreneurs to design their companies around processes that can almost never¬†be funded or scaled. Because that sucks.

Even so, despite all that pathetic sucking, right now the maximal suckage in the whole train-wreck startup ecosystem is simply this: 95 or more out of every 100 people who currently want to be an entrepreneur are just f^&king kidding themselves.

Jeeez, so you lost your job as¬†a mid-ranking software project¬†manager at Acme Corp: does that automatically make you an entrepreneur? No. So you think you’d like to write a cool¬†app, does that make you an entrepreneur either? No. In fact, do just about any of the half-baked excuses people put about for being an entrepreneur actually make you an entrepreneur? No, they don’t. They really, honestly¬†don’t. And the more I hear them, the sadder it makes me.

Back here on Planet F^&king Earth, being an entrepreneur actually involves two things: (1) not spending money while still moving forward, and (2) selling like the biggest sales monster ever¬†seen. Almost all of the current demented crop of entrepreneurs act as if these are two¬†skills they can somehow get by without having to acquire or use: but they’re wrong, ridiculously and riotously wrong.

In fact, anyone can knock together a business plan based around spending someone else’s money (a Fantasy Startup game a child could play), but the real world is the cruel¬†antithesis to such self-indulgent reveries. It is the immovable rock on which all such plywood dream ships get brutally shattered. You don’t like this? Well, sorry, but welcome to my world.

So… you want to be an entrepreneur, do you? Ever wondered whether you might actually be part of the problem?

Applying Lean Startup to your Real Life… what could possibly go wrong?



It struck me the other day that if The Lean Startup is¬†as good an idea as its evangelists like to claim, why¬†not apply Lean Startup principles to real life? Hey, that would work perfectly… errrrm, wouldn’t it? Well…


  • No, sweetie, I’m¬†not being¬†“unfaithful”: I’m merely¬†A/B testing you and her. Oh, and six others… <sssssssslap>
  • No, sweetie, I’m not “dumping” you: I’m merely iterating fast towards a better product/market fit… <sssssssslap>
  • Hey, babe, wanna see my MVP enter a rapid scaling phase? Let me cross your sweet little chasm…¬†<sssssssslap sssssssslap sssssssslap>


  • Following in-depth UX testing, I pivoted¬†from homework to Call of Duty 11 : Rendition to Guantanamo…
  • I’m sorry, Ms Taffenheimer, I really don’t think Geography is going to be one of my “engines of growth”…
  • No, Jake, in exams you are not allowed to “build-measure-learn” from other students’ test sheets…

In Restaurants

  • Wow, I’ll have what he‘s having. Errr… no, I mean I’ll have what she‘s having. No, what that other guy’s having. No, wait…
  • Can I¬†order a mouthful of everything on the menu? I’d really like to iterate fast to¬†my perfect¬†meal…
  • I’m going to persevere with super-hot curries, even though I’ve lost all sensation above my knees…

In The Slush Pile

  • Yeah, we hire workers in pairs, set ’em at each other’s throats for a week, then fire whoever flinches first. Never fails…
  • We’re not “firing you”, we’re just “pivoting you¬†into an externally managed¬†role stack”…
  • I keep iterating my CV based on¬†my rejection speed metric – if it takes a whole week, I must have been at the top of the pile…

On The Phone

  • “We like to pivot fast. Press ‘1’ for BlueFab Corp. Press ‘1’ for Press ‘1’ for cloudnproud. Press ‘1’ for…”
  • “Hello, what product would you like us to make for you? Press ‘1’ for cloud, press ‘2’ for virtual, press ‘3’ for 3d printing…”
  • “We’re¬†sorry, but¬† pivoted before we could ship your food order. Can we make up the order with LED¬†pens instead?”

Elsewhere On The Planet

  • Yeah, Morty,¬†we just put “Snakes On A Plane 2.0” into production, it tested real great on the Internet…
  • The nuclear industry is so responsive now we’ve introduced continuous code deployment… <bawooooooooooooooshhhhhhhhhhh>