Ever since his 2011 first book, The Lean Startup, became a best-seller and one of the biggest business buzz phrases of the past decade, Eric Ries has been flooded with calls for consulting gigs from companies of all sizes, from legendary household names to scrappy startups. Today at the SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, Texas, Ries announced his follow-up book, and it’s not quite like any other publication we’ve seen. He spoke with Inc. about the idea.
“In The Lean Startup, I said that entrepreneurship is the management discipline that deals with extreme uncertainty,” Ries said. “And because every organization deals with uncertainty--especially these days--I realized the principles can work for all kinds of companies.”
The principles, in brief, involve focusing on rapid iteration rather than long development cycles. The new book, tentatively titled The Startup Way, will publish in late 2016, and it will address exactly how large organizations can apply Ries’s Lean Startup principles. In the meantime, he’s launching a Kickstarter campaign that will allow backers to get a limited-edition pre-book called The Leader’s Guide, which is something like a technical management workbook based on the many case studies Ries has amassed in his consulting. In addition to getting the pre-book (which won’t be available any other way), backers will become part of a community that provides further feedback to Ries as they implement his ideas--and those new insights, in turn, will inform The Startup Way.
Call it real-time, collaborative book publishing. Or, in Lean Startup terms, call The Leader’s Guide a “minimum viable product” that’s the first step on the iterative path toward The Startup Way.
In Ries’s consulting work, two kinds of companies have been especially receptive to the idea that they should act more like startups, he says. One is really large companies, like GE, where Ries has been an innovation consultant for several years. “The other is tech startups that used to be three guys in a garage and now have five or 10 thousand employees,” Ries says. “They suddenly don’t recognize their own companies--they’ve become siloed and bureaucratic, exactly the kind of company the founders wouldn’t want to work for. And it’s funny, I’ll be talking to a five-year-old tech company’s founder one day and [GE CEO] Jeff Immelt the next, and it’s the same conversation!”
What he says in those conversations doesn’t always win him fans. “I say, ‘OK, you’re not getting the results you wanted--totally, I get it. Now look in the mirror. You are looking at the problem. You set the accountability standards in this organization, and you are implicitly telling your employees you don’t want innovation.’” When that approach doesn’t get him shown the door quickly, he often builds longterm one-on-one relationships with the CEOs. Like any business book, The Startup Way is an attempt to do that kind of coaching at scale, but the process of getting there is about using his readers and fans to battle-test the methods as much as possible.
Ries hopes to sign up a few thousand backers with the Kickstarter campaign. Aside from joining the community, getting a copy of The Leader’s Guide and eventually getting a copy of The Startup Way, there are some pretty sweet rewards: spending a day at the VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, for example, or a three-night trip to Vegas to hang out with Zappos founder Tony Hsieh and the emerging tech scene he’s creating there. Ries hopes some backers will pledge for their teams, and they could get rewards such as customized Lean Startup workshops.