When is it time to ditch the lean startup mentality?


I blame Eric Ries of course. I’m not sure if he started the ‘Lean Startup’ movement but he sure popularised it. And of course, it makes good sense. One of the movement’s main aims is to eliminate the huge amount of wastage that occurs in the startup world and truly, anything that eliminates wastage in the world we live in today can only be a good thing.

The problem with any movement however is when people fixate on just one aspect of it.

The Lean Startup method is all about taking a venture from ideation right through to (hopefully) a period of accelerated growth followed by consolidation and/or sale. Unfortunately – most people get stuck on the lean part at the start and never shift their mindset to the part where you need to spend money to make money.

So where and when do you need to ditch the lean startup mentality? Here are three good places/times to start.

1. In the beginning – your logo

Logos are like pillows. Our head rests on a pillow every single night of our life, yet we find it hard to spend a lot of money on a pillow when we can get one so cheaply. Our logo will grace every single piece of collateral related to our business, but because you can get one from anywhere between $5 and $100 on Fiverr, Elance or 99 designs, that’s the route many people choose to take.

There is no doubt Fiverr and Friends can produce a serviceable logo for you but nine times out of ten they are simply finding a vector illustration on iStock and plonking the words of your business name in front of it. This means not one strategic thought has gone into the thing that is going to be representing you everywhere in the marketplace. The visual base upon which all your branding sits.

If there is one place you should invest some money in the early days, it’s your logo.

2. If your new venture is entering a crowded market-place

Just because a marketplace is crowded doesn’t mean there isn’t room for a new player. In fact, if a marketplace is crowded this usually means there are plenty of customers to go round (take websites about food/clean eating/clean living as an example). If you’re entering a crowded marketplace however and want people to take notice of you, doing it with a lean mentality means you will struggle to get traction and thus your venture will struggle to take off.

For example, if you’re in recruitment and your branding and website doesn’t match the professionalism of all the recruitment companies you’re going to be competing with, no one is going to take you seriously and you’ll be damaging your brand before you even start. The benefits of investing money straight up go beyond simply having a professional look. We’re working with a client right now who is about to enter a VERY crowded marketplace. They’re not just getting a beautiful logo and website design from us, they’re getting a lot of advice and guidance with regard to positioning, message and how they’re going to make themselves stand out from the crowd once they launch. You’re just not going to get this if your logo and website is done by someone on Elance.

3. When it’s time to grow

This is the area where I see many businesses struggle to spend money. They’re growing, they’re busy, they’re finally making money from their venture … and they find it hard to invest any of that money back in the business. It might be time for a logo refresh or a website upgrade but they think ‘I’ve got more work than I can handle right now, those things can wait.’ And yes, they can wait. Until the works dries up and suddenly they’re looking for a magic bullet to kick-start sales again.

The best time to spend money on your business is when you have money to spend.

Your website is often the most obvious thing to look at first as it’s your 24/7 Sales Manager. The online world is moving ridiculously fast at the moment and even a website design that is only two years old could be in desperate need of a refresh. A website design that is more than two years old? It will DEFINITELY need to be looked at.

The other place I advocate spending money during a business’ growth phase is advice. I read widely and listen to a lot of podcasts when it comes to growing Swish Design. And I’ve learned a LOT from what I read. The problem with books/articles/podcasts however is by nature, they have to be generalist. Which means they leave it up to you to apply their teachings to your situation. That’s why I like to invest it in the time of smart people. I’ve paid up to $600 to talk to someone for an hour and never regretted a single cent I’ve outliad. Not only am I getting to pick the brains of someone very clever, I’m also getting them to apply their significant knowledge to my situation and my business. I get to ask ‘why’ and ‘how’ and ‘what do you think about this?’ The answers I get to those questions? Priceless.  

Have you ever found yourself stuck in ‘Lean’ startup mode? Was it invaluable for your business to finally break out of this mindset?

2 thoughts on “When is it time to ditch the lean startup mentality?”

  1. Caroline Telfer

    This is great to hear as I have been struggling to convince others in my company that it is a good investment to spend money on branding before the launch of a new product/service. But I have surged on and I have an appointment with a branding agency next week!

  2. Branding is just so important. I understand it can be very expensive, and there are exceptions to this rule … But going to market without a good idea of ‘what you’re all about and who you’re here to serve and how you want to serve them’ … It’s going to make things difficult

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