The Lean Innovator

New Entrepreneurs usually wonder about protecting intellectual property, forming a business, getting the business licensed, etc. The good news is that there is a lot of information available for these known questions – and that it’s easy to learn about. What doesn’t come up oftentimes is the ‘make or break’ questions, like “Where are my customers? Who are they?

Do I have proof that they’ll buy?”  Before connectivity, we had to just cross our fingers and hope for the best when starting a new business. But now, we have so many wonderful ways to help us answer those questions before building anything. The days of waiting to break even are pretty much gone – but we don’t get them without some effort.

Teaching / Speaking

...but why?

I didn’t mean to be doing this.  In fact, I thought that by now I would have been at the head of a large startup that did some sort of app or hardware-connected-to-the-internet thing. 

After my first two businesses in fact, that’s where I set my sights.  I thought that if I could create an Internet Service Provider overseas and get things started in the US with a cupcake business, the world was my oyster – I had the power to conjure up any business I liked.

I jumped in and started creating an app.  I only got as far as the wireframe and a mockup.  Since programmers were going to cost too much, I thought I’d better learn it myself, and started teaching myself web development – mostly front end stuff.  Then I happened to get an Arduino kit, and fell in love with making electronic things, writing the code for them, and making gadgets for people.

Nothing really sold well enough.  Sure, some folks liked by ideas and prototypes, and even gave me money for some of them.  But I didn’t have any kind of meaningful, recurring sales from any of it.  Not like the first two businesses.

I was baffled.  How was it that I could be successful in those two first businesses but kept failing at the other things I tried?  Was it the lack of skills?  What was I doing wrong?  Something didn’t add up.

I had a hard look at the differences between the successes and the fails.  Operationally, things looked the same.  I knew how to execute.  The finances, cashflow, and taxes were copacetic.  But the one thing that eluded me – and this will seem obvious – was the customers. 

These new ideas I worked on had zero customers to plug into, and I didn’t know where to find them.  It was so frustrating to read a bunch of great business books and feel empowered after gaining some awesome knowledge, only to realize that I would need customers and a network to put any of it into practice.

While I was racking up “experience points,” I wanted to share with others so that they could benefit from my learning – and I found that teaching what I knew actually helped me learn it better.  So I taught classes on what I knew and what I found out about how to get customers.  That took three years – and I finally figured out how it works.

After teaching many others and reflecting on my own experiences, I decided to push pause on ‘empire building’ and put everything together for others.  The Lean Innovator, while in its youth, is the culmination of a nine-year journey.  I hope you can benefit from what I’ve learned.