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Lean methodology vs Zero to One


In the startup world there are two schools of entrepreneurship advice. Eric Reed in 2011 created a best seller book, Lean Startup, that many consider a breakthrough in the management. In 2014, Peter Thiel, shared a lot of his insights with another book, Zero to One, condensing a lot a practical advice from his own experience.

That's not all of startup advice, as there's Reid Hoffman's blizzscaling and Paul Graham's essays on startups, but the Lean methodology and 0 to 1 are often put side by side due to the antithesis in best practices and approach.

1. Simple or contrarian idea

Lean Startup: The idea is not that important, you will pivot along the way.

Start with a minimal product and make incremental advances. You can’t predict what feature would be attractive and therefore you have to experiment.

Zero to One: Bet on a contrarian idea, it's better to risk being bold than not risk and being trivial.

A trivial idea would have being picked by a thousand entrepreneurs. People with more resources, better industry relationships and more startup experience. On contrary, some ideas are just crazy and could be infeasible to pull out. You should strive for somewhere in the middle. An idea that the number of people that are building it could be counted on one hand. Your goal will be to prove the idea and to outrun the few competitors that you have.

Lean startup vs Zero to one - Contrarian idea?

2. Is planning important?

Lean Startup: Planning is futile, markets brings surprises.

The planning phase increases complexity and therefore introduces friction and delay to the process of perfecting your product.

Zero to One: A bad plan is better than no plan.

At the end the self evaluating feedback you would receive, would be the most valuable part of the procedure. You will learn from feedback in regards to your plan and not to your product. The plan should be align with the vision you have regarding your idea. Your product may be wrong but your plan shouldn’t.

Lean startup vs Zero to one - Planning important?

3. The winning team

Lean Startup: You need great engineers, include marketing in engineering.

The lean methodology consists of 3 parts. Building, measuring and learning. Therefore you need great product engineers to build and great data scientist to measure so you as a startup learn. There is no place for sales or marketing people.

Zero to One: You need a mixture of talents.

A hacker, a hipster and a hustler. All three are equally important in bringing the new experience your product provides. The hacker would implement the nifty details of the product. The hipster would visualize the experience and make it closer to the user. The hustler would make the sales grow though different channels and keep all other processes accelerating.

Lean startup vs Zero to one - Winning team?

4. The sales trade-off

Lean Startup: Focus on the product, sales will come.

You don’t need to upsell a great product. A great product sells itself. Since the resources are limited, focus on your product.

Zero to One: Sales matter just as much as product.

A customer has limited attention and in a world where the attention spans shrinks day by day you need to sell to your customer. Selling will be a valuable experience and will tell you tons about your customer. Moreover that communication channels will be a great deal for latter part of your business development.

Lean startup vs Zero to one - Sales?

5. Competition

Lean Startup: Watch competition closely and outperform their product.

Learn what new features they introduce, how popular are they among users and what competitive advantage the have over you. This data is as important as your own data. Moreover, since product is king in the Lean methodology you should iterate faster and beat competitors products.

Zero to One: You should strive to avoid competition.

Competitive markets destroy profits and profits are what a startup builds its momentum on. The idea should beat competition on its own. You need a bold idea that very few people are trying so the competitors resources are not your greatest fail point. From that point on when you reach product market fit you will have the first movers advantage with your infrastructure in place that competitors would have to outpace.

Lean startup vs Zero to one - Competition?


In summary, there are two main decisions for entrepreneurs:

  1. Time on development vs time on sales
  2. Contrarian idea with little competition vs quick advances on simple idea that outpaces competition

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Andreas Tzionis @