The lean start-up methodology is a ‘a bit like science’ – Ash Maurya

15 Feb 2017

Ash Maurya at the Enterprise Ireland Start-up Showcase 2017. Image: Connor McKenna

We caught up with lean start-up machine Ash Maurya while he was in Dublin to discuss his Lean Canvas methodology and ask how the US start-up ecosystem is responding to political upheaval.

Ash Maurya is the author of Running Lean, a guidebook based on the lean start-up methodology originally proposed by Eric Ries. In it, Maurya takes on Ries’s lean tenets and other customer development and bootstrapping methodologies, and turns them into a systematic process for building a business or product.

Maurya is also the originator of Lean Canvas, a reimagining of the Business Model Canvas tool based on lean principles. This one-page business modelling tool is designed to help entrepreneurs stay focused on actions through identifying problems, solutions, key metrics and competitive advantages.

Since it was first proposed in 2008, the lean start-up methodology has experienced somewhat of a Gartner Hype Cycle. The idea caught on fast and gained plenty of attention, pushing it to a ‘peak of inflated expectations’. Now that the hype has died down and the idea has been given space to mature, Maurya and its advocates are calmly moving into a ‘plateau of productivity’ for their technique.

“You still see a lot of people claiming to be a lean start-up even though they are cherry-picking and maybe not doing the right things, but I find that it is time now where people are rolling up their sleeves and really getting to work,” he said, just before presenting his keynote at the Enterprise Ireland Start-up Showcase in Dublin Castle.

You see, when an idea becomes popular, unwieldy numbers start piling onto the bandwagon without truly taking stock of what it’s made of or where it’s going. But not every entrepreneur who talks lean start-up is truly walking the walk.

“It’s a bit like science. You can’t be kind of half in it,” Maurya advised. “It is a very rigorous practice, which in some ways is the Achilles’ heel. You have to go through first principles and, to be honest, we find ourselves sometimes taking shortcuts and having to pay the price later.”

The Enterprise Ireland Start-up Showcase featured more than 200 start-ups funded by the State agency in 2016, including 101 that were specifically identified as high-potential start-ups (HPSUs).

Enterprise Ireland defines HPSUs based on their potential to create jobs and likelihood to generate €1m in sales within the first few years. For Maurya, the difference between an average start-up and a HPSU is one word: traction.

“If you can go and convince stakeholders, investors, the market that people other than yourself, your team, your mom cares about your idea, then you’ve got traction. Otherwise, you don’t,” he said.

“It needs to be enough [traction] to where you can tell a compelling business model story behind it, but, ultimately, that’s the differentiator.”

Following his visit to Dublin Castle for the Enterprise Ireland event, Maurya spoke at the NDRC before preparing for his journey back to the US.

Based in Austin and embedded in the tech and start-up ecosystem, Maurya has been inspired by those in his community speaking out against recent political moves such as the immigration ban. Initiated by an executive order from US president Donald Trump on 27 January, the ban imposed severe restrictions on visitors from seven countries with majority Muslim populations. While it has so far not held up under legal scrutiny, a definitive end to the ban is not yet in sight, and elements of the US business community – reliant on the skills of immigrants – have been panicked by its presence.

“If anything, what this has brought to light is that everyone needs to own democracy,” said Maurya.

“We all take it for granted and we have for so many years. It’s so comfortable to just code away and let the government handle issues but, for the first time, I’m seeing more activism. I’m seeing more people having strong opinions and saying, ‘No. That is not what I believe in’.”

At Dublin Castle, Maurya presented his ideas to the gathering of Enterprise Ireland start-ups and curious investors. His new book, Scaling Lean, was released last summer and focuses on the next stage of business development after the lean foundations are laid.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.