Comparing Steve Jobs with Lean Startup & Customer Development

I’m still fascinated with the Steve Jobs book. Here’s some thoughts on new product development and comparisons with today’s popular models: Customer Development and Lean Startup.

I can’t let go of Steve Jobs ability to “stop the presses” when he felt that a product (or feature ) was not ready to ship. This is so different than the more common plan — “let’s stick with our plan, ship it, and fix it later.”

This “stopping & resetting” skill is essential in today’s popular new product introduction models, like Steve Blank‘s Customer Development or Eric RiesLean Startup. It’s the key point that I have trouble getting across in my classes ’cause it seems so obvious in hindsight, but it’s not in real-time. Each of these models have a “stop, review, and go back to the beginning” section, but most people seem to think that this doesn’t apply to their idea 😦 That this “reset” is not a commonly used part of the model. But in reality this “reset” is the new thing about these models. It’s their killer feature.

In the past two years I have taken to showing that the customer development model really means re-starting at least 2 times. ( This is consistent with the findings at Startup Genome. ) As one can see in the Jobs book he did a lot of resetting. On Page 418 there is a discussion of his love for a recording of the Beatles revising “Strawberry Fields” over and over .. ’til they get it.

Today’s new product introduction models are very Jobs-like, they are not espousing “lets ship it and fix it later”. These models are — let’s test our ideas out in the market to see if they work. Let’s collect information before and after the experiment. Let the data make the decision. Thus if the product doesn’t exactly match the idea, then you’ve blown the experiment. If you really watch, and are aware, then you can “stop” with conviction. You know what to change. Each new model then advances the art with features that stick and features that don’t.

I think this is why the Steve Jobs “This is Shit” discussion style was so useful for him. Most people will not go back to the beginning, or significantly revise their idea, unless hit on the head with a sledge hammer. But this is exactly what has to be done, as Steve Blank says, “No new business plan survives first contact with a customer“. There is no nice way to say, “This is Shit”, but there has to be somebody to do it. And often.

Sometimes you can get lucky and have a “This is Shit” review as part of your process. At one start-up we had a rule where the key developer had to lead the customer beta test of his work. At first it seemed an unduly harsh rule, but at the end the developers loved it. They really heard if it worked our not, what mattered and what didn’t. It was great first hand “unsanitized” information.
(The long term effect of this rule was that the development teams had a way to develop Blank’s “Day In the Life of the Customer”. )

ASIDE: I think this is where Jobs buddhist training may have come in handy. There is a lot of teaching around developing boundaries, and saying “no” compassionately. Maybe Jobs missed out on the “compassionate” part, but then again, nobody likes to hear that they’ve got to re-start. “This is Shit” is probably the least offensive thing one can say in these situations.
(Here’s a link to an indepth article investigating Jobs Buddhism What Kind of Buddhist was Steve Jobs, Really?
By Steve Silberman

This leaves me with some good news and bad news about these new models that I’ve been a “fan boy” of. The good news is that the Apple/Jobs new product introduction style seems consistent with the Customer Development course that I’ve been teaching for the past few years. The bad news is that the Jobs book highlights how important “This is Shit” detection really is. I’m not sure how many people can really do that.


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