Lean Startup and Design Thinking: Getting the Best Out of Both
In the world of entrepreneurial incubation, design thinking, a user-centered way to conceive and create a successful product, is often compared and contrasted with the lean startup approach, which is more engineering-based and quantitative. The two methods are far from mutually exclusive, however, as both seek to effectively serve customers’ needs through a systematic, low-risk path to innovating in the face of uncertainty.
To explore the places where design thinking and lean startup intersect, we organized a conversation between two faculty members who help run the Stanford Graduate School of Business Startup Garage, where students design and test new ventures. Stefanos Zenios, the Stanford GSB Investment Group of Santa Barbara Professor of Entrepreneurship, joined lecturer Matthew Glickman, founder of BabyCenter and Merced Systems to discuss the science of startups.
Stefanos Zenios: Every startup is a series of hypotheses — about who’s a customer, what makes your product or service attractive to these customers, and so on. Lean startup provides a rigorous framework that you use to prove or disprove as many of these hypotheses as possible at as low a cost as possible. An interesting question is how do you generate the hypothesis? If you have not already identified the user need through your own pain point — having experienced the need firsthand — how would you discover that need? Design thinking gives you a methodology to do that. There’s an interplay. For example, in design thinking you develop a prototype that you use to get feedback — that’s very qualitative — and lean startup makes it more rigorous, so you don’t end up convincing yourself that the feedback is positive feedback.
Matt Glickman: I echo that. We start the class with design thinking, which is more inquiry-based and open-ended. It forces you to put yourself in the customer’s shoes. BabyCenter, which is still the leading site for pregnant women and new parents, was started by two guys without kids — so we needed to go out and try to understand what it’s like to be a pregnant woman. We talked to lots of people and started to intuit that the real problem was that they don’t know what’s coming up next in their pregnancy and their needs change frequently.There was no target customer who said, “Boy, wouldn’t it be great if I could get highly personalized week-by-week information!” But by developing intimacy with the customers, we were able to come up with the insight that with the internet you can personalize down to the week of pregnancy and give people exactly what they need to know. That ended up being the core insight that we built a whole business around. We developed a set of features, and it turned out that baby-naming and personalized information — two of the 20 things we tried — were the ones that really moved the needle. You want to build a “minimal viable product,” see what’s working, and double down on those.
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