(Lean) Startup Lessons from my 11-month old baby! (UPDATED)

Ryan B&W

(UPDATED 10/06 WITH LESSON #3 : Einstein was wrong!)

Bringing up a baby is like working in a startup – lots of late nights, you have no choice but to deal with crap and often your only reward is a gurgle and a charming smile!

Not a surprise therefore that some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learnt have been watching my baby boy grow up alongside my startup (this is actually quite literal as he spends most of his time playing in my basement office).

Lesson 1: Learn to fall before you learn to walk

In the last few weeks my baby has gone from exclusively crawling to standing while holding onto his playpen to taking a few unaided steps. Eventually he falls – mostly, but not always, he’s ready to try again. His willingness to immediately walk again has been a function of how well he fell! If he managed to fall on his bottom, it’s usually painless and he’s up within a few minutes. If he falls on his knees , it’s a bit painful and you can see him take longer to try again.

This feels like the #1 maxim for startup success … if your cost of failure is minimal to non-existent (i.e. you’ve learnt to fall on your bottom) then you can keep trying until you succeed (as all babies eventually learn to walk) – it’s that simple. And the cost of failure can be a multitude of things – some of it is time and money spent but much of it is emotional (what you’ve vested in the idea). The real challenge is to keep this minimal so you can try again and again – this is the basic principle of the lean startup idea. So what’s the most effective way of keeping costs to the minimum – to quote Eric Ries, lean startup guru : “Sell it, then build it”.

Lesson 2 : Eat your baby’s food

Feeding the baby is a whole other learning experience & the fun started when he graduated to solid food. Initially he would try anything (he clearly didn’t know any better), so we managed to get him to eat veggies we wouldn’t eat ourselves (I’m vegetarian btw so I can eat a variety of veggies but it surprises me how awful some of the babyfood veggies can be).

But it didn’t take him long to figure out that green peas suck (you should try the baby food variety), rice and oat cereal were acceptable when he’s really hungry but given a choice he would prefer to eat fruit and yoghurt (i.e. the sweet stuff).

Predicting what he would like was actually quite easy – if we liked it he liked it too! This kind of brings me to fundamental startup maxim #2 – if you can’t / don’t use your own product no one else is going to – the best way to build a product that others might use is to ‘eat your own baby food’!  Many successful products (Facebook, iPhone) were creations that essentially were designed to please their creators. Of course if your tastes are very unique, you are in real trouble … but if you can find something about yourself that is universally applicable (like a love of sweet things) – you’ll also find it easy to build a great product by just building stuff you like.

Lesson 3 : Einstein was wrong! 

I just realized that my baby might be insane – at least according to Einstein’s famous definition of insanity, i.e “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Ever since he learnt to crawl he’s been curious about what’s inside the fridge. So every time any of us open the fridge door he rushes to it (regardless of where he is) and tries to get his hands on the cold and interesting stuff inside. And when we see him doing that we being good parents shut the fridge door on him before he can get his paws on the stuff inside. And he keeps trying again and again regardless of outcome!

Recently though I’ve noticed a curious thing — there are a few occasions when he actually manages to get inside. I’ve either got a lot of things in my hands from a shopping trip or I’m cooking and rushing back to the stove from the fridge with stuff. These are usually rare (I don’t cook or shop very often!) but it does happen and in seconds the lower layer of the fridge is on the floor and he’s sitting there with a wicked smile having proven Einstein wrong!

Maxim #3 is therefore really simple – just keep trying. Stop worrying about how well you’re doing or wasting time trying to figure out the perfect strategy –  in an uncertain world where you are handicapped by being a startup trying repeatedly is a much better approach to success. And for a startup a single act of success is often all that’s necessary to survive for a bit longer.

Are you / have you worked in a startup while bringing up a baby … did you learn anything valuable? Don’t be shy to share your experiences in the comments section below.

[This is Week 2 of participating in Lean Startup Challenge Boston 2013 and I’m beginning to see Lean Startup Lessons everywhere!. You can read about my Week 1 experience here.]