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Book Summary – The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses

The Lean Startup - Book summary

Each time startups and innovations fail, huge amounts of money, time, passion, and skill are wasted. Yet, with the right processes, their success could be significantly improved. This book by Eric Ries is not just about starting a new business. It’s about developing new products or services successfully under conditions of great uncertainty, reducing wastage, and building an adaptive organization that can thrive in a rapidly changing world. In this free version of The Lean Startup summary, you’ll get a synopsis of the lean startup concept and key principles/processes.

The Lean Startup summary_introduction

The 5 Lean Startup Principles

Startups face unique challenges, which call for not just ordinary management, but entrepreneurial management. There are 5 important principles that underlie The Lean Startup method.

1. Entrepreneurs are Everywhere

A startup is a human institution designed to create a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.” It’s not defined by company size, organization type (e.g. corporation, government, non-profit) nor industry. An intrapreneur in a big company – e.g. a HR manager doing creative recruitment, an IT manager developing a new solution – is as much an entrepreneur as a founder of a new company.

2. Entrepreneurship is Management

Many people think that management is dull and boring, while entrepreneurship is exciting and cool. But, entrepreneurship is management, since a start-up is basically an institution that needs to be managed. The Lean Startup integrates ideas from lean manufacturing (e.g. just-in-time inventory management, small batch sizes, accelerated cycle times), to the specific challenges of entrepreneurship and startups.

3. Build-Measure-Learn

Since startups’ products or services are new, they don’t know who their clients are. They can’t predict which approach works best until they put them to the test, yet it’s inefficient to test all the options via trial-and-error. Entrepreneurs tend to either adopt a just-do-it approach, or suffer from analysis paralysis and spend too long trying to perfect their plan or product. Either ways, by the time they realize they’ve created something that nobody wants, it’s usually too late.

The Lean Startup’s Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop allows you to learn as early as possible and make constant adjustments, so you can decide whether to change course (to “pivot”) or persevere.

4. Validated Learning

Learning is essential to startups. They must find out if customers want what they have to offer, and how to market, sell, and operate effectively. Yet, how do you really know you’ve learnt the right thing and are creating value from it?

The key is to determine which efforts are value-creating, which ones are wasteful, then systematically eliminate the wasteful ones. Validated learning is about measuring the results of each applied insight, so you can measure real progress from learning.

5. Innovation Accounting

In order to measure progress towards goals and prioritize their work, startups need a different type of accounting. Innovation accounting quantifies if our efforts are generating results, and allows us to create learning milestones to access our progress accurately and objectively.

Here’s a recap of the 5 Lean Startup Principles:The Lean Startup summary_5 Lean Startup Principles
These 5 Lean Startup principles can be incorporated into 3 phases of a Lean Startup growth or development – Vision, Steer, and Accelerate.

The Lean Startup: 3 Phases

In the early phases of your startup or innovation, you’ll need to clarify your assumptions (Vision) and test your hypotheses to figure out what really works (Steer), before you attempt to accelerate your growth (Accelerate). Our 14-page version of The Lean Startup summary explains these 3 phases in more detail. Here’s a quick overview in the meantime!
The Lean Startup summary_3 startup phases

Phase1: VISION

Building a startup is like driving a car. Most startups have a vision or destination in mind. To achieve that vision, they employ a strategy (a business model or road map) and create products or services to achieve that vision. The key is to avoid building your strategy and products/services on untested assumptions. Break down your grand vision into smaller components and identify the riskiest elements, or your “leap-of-faith assumptions”.  The idea is to do experiment(s) over a few weeks, rather than wait for months or years for a full plan to be developed.

Phase 2: STEER

Once you  have defined your leap-of-faith assumptions, we are ready to test them with a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). In this phase, you build experiments to test the hypotheses relating to your vision, so you can identify and refine the key variables to start the engine. Then, you can “steer” your startup via the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop, and use validated learning and innovation accounting to help you decide when to “pivot” or persevere.   Use Innovation Accounting to determine which efforts are delivering results and which ones should be dropped to minimize wastage.  Our complete version of The Lean Startup summary provides more examples and tips for (a) MVP/hypothesis testing, (b) how to use innovation accounting to optimize your resources, and (c) what it means to pivot vs persevere.

The Lean Startup summary_build-measure-learn feedback loop


So far, we’ve looked at breaking down a startup idea to its leaps-of-faith assumption, testing it with an MVP, using innovation accounting and actionable metrics to evaluate the results, and making the decision to pivot or persevere. All these set the foundation for the last part – acceleration. In this phase, we increase the gears, move through the feedback look faster, and strengthen our foundations for ongoing innovation and growth. This involves many components, including:

The lean startup_acceleration

In our 14-page summary, we elaborate on:

  • How to use the “Small Batch Approach” to get through the feedback loop asap;
  • How to apply just-in-time production concepts to minimize waste in your design and innovation efforts;
  • How to identify and focus on the right growth strategy, with 4 sources of sustainable growth, and 3 Engines of Growth;
  • How to build an adaptive organization that regulates its own pace of growth using the “Five Whys” system; and
  • How to set up an innovative company with a systematic way of generating new startups and innovation as part of your organization’s structure.

Getting the Most from The Lean Startup

Ready to hone your innovation process and build successful business solutions? Do get more detailed insights, examples and practical tips from our complete book summary bundle which includes an infographic, a 14-page text summary, and a 26-minute audio summary.

The Lean Startup summary - book summary bundle

This book is full of detailed case studies to illustrate the Lean Startup at work, from young startups to established corporations, government bodies and not-for profit organizations. Some examples include his own startup IMVU, online shoe giant Zappos, leading software firm Intuit, Village Laundry Service by Procter & Gamble,  Hewlett-Packard, Kodak, Wealthfront, Aardvark School of One, Toyota, Facebook and even the Consumer Federal Protection Bureau (CFPB) set up during the Obama administration. You can also get the book here or visit for more details.

Learn how to apply lean principles in other aspects of your business: read Running Lean summary to iterate your plans, and check out the Lean Analytics summary to learn how to use numbers to drive growth effectively.

About the Author of The Lean Startup

The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses is written by Eric Ries— an entrepreneur and author. He serves on the advisory board of a number of technology startups, and has been consultant to new and established companies as well as venture capital firms. In 2010, he was named entrepreneur-in-residence at Harvard Business School and is currently an IDEO Fellow. Previously he co-founded and served as CTO of IMVU, his third startup. In 2007, BusinessWeek named him one of the Best Young Entrepreneurs of Tech. In 2009, he was honored with a TechFellow award in the category of Engineering Leadership.The Lean Startup methodology has been written about in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review,Inc. (where he appeared on the cover), Wired, Fast Company, and countless blogs. He lives in San Francisco.

The Lean Startup Quotes

“Startups…have a true north, a destination in mind: creating a thriving and world-changing business. I call that a startup’s vision.”

“Startups exist not just to make stuff, make money, or even serve customers. They exist to learn how to build a sustainable business.”

“The goal of every startup experiment is to discover how to build a sustainable business around (its) vision.”

“Startup success can be engineered by following the right process, which means it can be learned, which means it can be taught.”

“When cause and effect is clearly understood, people are better able to learn from their actions. Human beings are innately talented learners when given a clear and objective assessment.”

“The Lean Startup movement seeks to ensure that those of us who long to build the next big thing will have the tools we need to change the world.”

Click here to download The Lean Startup book summary and infographic

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