Lean is Listening

I have a lot of conversations with entrepreneurs. In them, I’ll mention something I found confusing or offputting. 99 times out of 100, the entrepreneur will immediately start defending the choice or selling me on their decision.

Other times I’ve had students in my classes do some user research on the product space for a start-up. 99 times out of 100, the founder’ll start grilling the student on how many people they talked to, or who exactly were these people. And while they are certainly right to ask how the data was collected, the tone of outrage betrays them. I don’t think the founders are just examining the research methodology. I think they are scared that the thing they are dreaming of and working so hard for might not work. And they are hoping to prove that the research is wrong, somehow.

In both cases, they are sticking to their vision instead of trying to understand why not everyone sees the world the way they do.

I have a word for these entrepreneurs:


Those start-ups are doomed because if they don’t learn to listen when their preconceived notions are called into question, they can never grow their company into a healthy viable enterprise. I know that the entrepreneur reality distortion field is vital to a start-up’s survival.  The belief that that little company, despite all the odds, are the ones who will make the next Google or Facebook is what keeps them going  through those long nights. That and coffee.  But if their vision and belief stops the founders from listening to the market, they are just as dead as if they had lost heart in their dream.

leanstartup-scaled1000The very heart of the Lean Start-up process is learning. The heart of learning is listening. You can’t listen when you are selling, nor when you are debating, defending or debunking.

There is only one response when someone says anything at all about your product, and that is

“Tell me more about that.”

Stop being an evangelist and become a product therapist.

  • What are your customer’s hopes?
  • What are your customer’s heartbreaks?
  • What are your customers trying to get done?
  • What do they use now?
  • Why do they like it?
  • What would it take to switch?

Every single moment of contact is a chance to do research. Do research when standing in a supermarket line, waiting for the train, even when on social networks. I know those 140 characters can infuriate you. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a real sentiment from a real person. It’s a chance to learn if you don’t have a real value proposition… or if you do and just aren’t explaining it clearly!  Never turn down a chance to get in someone’s head just because you’re scared your dream might be invalidated.  If it’s a good dream, it can survive a pivot or two.

If you don’t understand users, you don’t win their hearts.

And if you don’t win their hearts., you don’t access their wallets.

And that is the real end of your dream.