I’ve been going through my “Read Again” articles folder this week and was glad I’d held on to this NY Times piece from last year on “The Rise of the Fleet-Footed Start-Up“.  It discusses the efforts of Eric Ries and Steven Blank to encourage more “lean start-ups.”

Both are successful entrepreneurs; Blank also teaches at Stanford and Berkeley.  A key part of their philosophy, says Blank, is that “a start-up is a temporary organization designed to discover a profitable, scalable business model.”

Here was a section of the article I circled:

The concepts apply both to designing products and to developing a market, and emphasize an early and constant focus on customers. To be sure, the methods often build on the work of others.

In product development, for example, Mr. Ries is an enthusiast of so-called agile programming methods, which emphasize rapid development, small teams and constant improvement. But, he adds: “The agile practices have to be adapted, shifting the focus somewhat from generating stuff to learning about what customers will want. Most technology start-ups fail not because the technology doesn’t work, but because they are making something that there is not a real market for.”

So the lean playbook advises quick development of a “minimum viable product,” designed with the smallest set of features that will please some group of customers. Then, the start-up should continually experiment by tweaking its offering, seeing how the market responds and changing the product accordingly. Facebook, the giant social network, grew that way, starting with simple messaging services and then adding other features.

I also liked this comment from Ries’s partner in a social networking startup, about why they raised no money early on:

“I didn’t want us to have the freedom to go for years without customer feedback.”

Worth a read.  Blank also has a ton of great links to tools for startups on his site.