Case Study: The Lean Startup

The business world has created a strategy for new ventures on the internet that differs greatly from the traditional business models. We have a traditional model for starting new ministries that mirrors some of the thinking of the traditional business models. This raises the question, “What can we learn from the way that business have adapted to the internet?”

Business has certainly taken their licks on the internet. and the internet bubble comes to mind, since then some of the greatest entrepreneurial minds have had time to correct the mistakes of the past. Herein lies the “Lean Startup Model” (LSM):


1. Only Visionaries Need Apply

This chart below is from futurist Ray Kurzweil, who estimates that the speed of technological advancement is actually speeding up.

It’s often said that the post-it note “answered a problem nobody knew they had.” Such is the case with the LSM. Your idea should be anticipating a future problem, not necessarily addressing an existing one. To do so is to fall behind.


2. Identify Key Assumptions

OK, so you have a great idea, now you have to figure out whether or not it will work. The first step is to identify the key assumptions your idea is making: “Will customers use blank,” “will blank and blank work together,” “Is blank worth any value,” “Is blank even possible to build.” After you have your list, try to find industry examples of where these assumptions have met. If the examples are similar enough, you can cross them off your list. The remaining assumptions bring us to 3.


3. Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

This is the most challenging – and least intuitive – step of the LSM. The trick is to do the least amount of work – and spend the least amount of money –  to prove (or disprove) your key assumptions. Instead of building a perfect product, you put together a skeleton product, bugs and all, to test your product. Perfectionists will need to temper their OCD in order to do this. The goal is to get valuable information without wasting unnecessary resources.  Your key audience for the “beta” of the MVP is the early adopters within your target market.


4. Proceed or Pivot

If your assumptions prove true, not only can proceed, but you can do so with vigor. You will be able to show donors and investors the fruits of the MVP and redouble your efforts.

If your assumptions prove false, you have undoubtedly gained valuable information, and will have the energy and resources to put that information to work. This is called a “pivot.” Think of the early anti-depressants, which were originally tested as sinus medication but proved to have the valuable side effect of making people feel betters.


Lessons for Ministries

Businesses didn’t adapt this strategy because is works for business, they did it because it works for the medium, the internet. About 96 of 100 internet start-ups fail, but the ones that work are often revolutionary. Without staying lean, chances are you are wasting all your efforts on a looser, which will sap your money and your drive. Better to take the shortest path towards the most valuable information. There is no reason why these assumptions shouldn’t apply to ministry, practically or theologically. Theologically speaking, I would call the Lean Startup Model “prophetic”.

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