I am currently reading the Lean Start Up by Eric Reis, who puts forward an organisational model for startups. He puts forwards principles and ideas that help a startup cope with an environment of uncertainty with the necessary agility to achieve scale efficiently. His methodology has created a movement not only in the entrepreneurship space but also within organisations, and his lessons can also apply to the social impact sector.
Reis puts forward a definition of a startup that goes beyond simply setting up a venture. He adds a clear level of uncertainty to the environment that the startup operates in.
“A startup is a human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.”
For the founders and impact initiators that I meet with, I think this is an apt description. It can be applied to social causes and non-profits that are looking to make a difference, regardless of size. The intent to make a difference has undertones of an implied unhappiness with the status quo, a better way to tackle a social problem hitherto undiscovered.
Reis provides principles and guidance on how a startup can face uncertainty with a strong sense of agility. At the core of what the author proposes is the idea of a Minimally Viable Product (MVP) released into a live environment. Rather than spend time and resources on developing the “perfect product” before releasing, he suggests building an MVP with a robust methodology of how to capture feedback to improve subsequent iterations of the MVP. By being able to test the assumptions that give birth to products, services and programs, he advocates that a lean startup is able to pivot more effectively. This can make the difference between success and failure as the startup takes advantage of opportunities and abandons courses to disaster.
This is not only valuable advice for businesses, but also for non-profits and social initiatives that deploy programs and activities to support their causes. The idea that programs can be released in their minimal viable state ensures that costs are minimised while still providing a social benefit. Prior to this, many programs seek are developed and deployed to a complete ready state based on assumptions that could prove wrong. The lean startup methodology reduces this inefficiency by providing progressive iterations based on actual beneficiary or stakeholder feedback.
Feedback is important to the process in that it needs to be captured meaningfully and be used to develop subsequent iterations of a program. Ultimately, by reducing this wastage of time and resources, a startup is able to allocate more effort into making a difference.
Reis' Lean Startup philosophy is being applied across the commercial world with a degree of success. For social causes, there is no reason why the methodology cannot be applied with the same degree of impact. Ultimately smarter organisations get more done and build more effective programs.