Lean start-ups are great, but I want my Car to Fly

By Gabriel Parisi-Amon
Surprisingly, there were start-ups before the lean methodology became the most talked about phrase in entrepreneurial education and there will continue to be start-ups after ‘lean’ has faded away. I am not saying lean isn't a useful way to apply the scientific method to a venture idea. I am saying that it won’t produce cost effective renewable energy, the next Google, or even the rebirth of supersonic commercial flight. If we only teach lean methodology we will make 1,001 better cars, but never get one to fly.
Big ideas are leaps not calculated steps
The origins of “lean” begin in the corporate world with Toyota Quality Management in the 80s. From there we have been given 6-sigma and many other tools to make corporations, and research, more efficient. These processes institutionalize lean methods, and have been great for perfecting things like the production of the car. However, we only had a car to begin with because inventors thought of something beyond horses for personal transportation. If you talk to anyone who has gone through the implementation of 6-sigma they talk about becoming a slave to the process and the savings that it brought, but you will never hear someone talk about the great innovation that came from these processes. Is that the direction we are headed with start-ups? Do we want a rigid structure that people blindly follow and come out the other end with a company?
Color vs Lit Motors
There are two start-ups that epitomize what not to do when it comes to using, or not using, the lean methodology. First up is Color, who didn’t use the lean method when it should have. Color raised $40M dollars before even launching their product, a glorified location based Facebook albums. Why did they need $40 million? I am not sure, but I am sure that Color should be the poster boy for the lean methodology. They had an incremental product that customers could understand. They should have released quick and dirty versions and tested what people liked. A perfect candidate for lean, and a perfect candidate to add to the 75 other photo apps that I have on my iPhone folder marked “photo.”
Lit Motors on the other hand did use the lean method and shouldn’t have. Lit Motors has developed a completely new method of transportation, a self balancing two wheeled vehicle aimed at people who aren’t really into fracturing their skulls on the pavement with a regular motorcycle. This product is a game changer; it is unlike anything we have seen before. In order to convince people to change the way they transport themselves they want proof that it works and is safe. The way to do that is to build not one, but many prototypes, and prove their efficacy. I think it is incredible that Lit Motors made a prototype for $700k, but they should be starting out with $40M to build, test, and then define a new market.
The lean method is a great tool for every entrepreneur to learn but I am just scared that if we continue to hold it up as the end all be all of entrepreneurial education I am never going to get my car to fly, or even fly in a supersonic passenger jet like my mom did 35 years ago.


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