Since its release in 2011, Eric Ries' “The Lean Startup” has amassed a large and devoted following.
Companies from around the globe have adopted the concepts and principles it presents, leading Ries to be a very busy consultant for big-name businesses.
Naturally, Ries’ publisher wanted a sequel. He agreed, but with one caveat: He wanted to crowdsource the writing process.
"I was feeling like it's not very lean to just lock yourself in a cave for two years, write a manuscript, then publish it and hope the customers are going to love it," Ries said.
He felt that the experiences, insight and feedback of Lean Startup practitioners should be represented in the next book – tentatively titled “The Startup Way.” So Ries concocted a bold new experiment, one which would crowdsource the writing process while offering a quality product to his fanbase. He decided to release another book.
Confused? Don't worry, all will be explained.
In March, Ries launched a Kickstarter campaign for "The Leader's Guide,” a 250-page book of stories and case studies from real companies that have adopted Lean Startup methodology.
To be clear, "The Leader's Guide" is not "The Startup Way."
It is an independent project meant to accomplish two important objectives.
First, "The Leader's Guide" will address a handful of issues common to many Lean Startup companies.
Ries found that as soon as these companies experienced any kind of success, they began struggling to balance their priorities.
The ultimate question they had to ask themselves, Ries says, was, "How much of my time should I spend on the old stuff that made me successful and making that better, versus how much should I spend on searching out new customers, new things, new products?"
"The Leader's Guide" contains many of the same materials Ries uses when guiding companies through this exact situation.
As Ries notes on his Kickstarter page, "I can't possibly work with all the companies who ask for help, but I can do my best to translate the work I do into book form."
Second, "The Leader's Guide" will enable Ries to crowdsource the writing process. Backers of the Kickstarter will not only receive a copy of "The Leader's Guide," they will also be invited to join a private online community where they can exchange Lean Startup ideas and offer Ries feedback for his next book.
Ries believes that this collaboration will lead to a better product, as the recommendations he'll be making in his next book won't be solely based on his personal experiences but validated by a multitude of experiences from a diverse group of people.
"It will really be a community effort," Ries says.
Another quirk of "The Leader's Guide" is its exclusivity. The book will only be available to backers, and only on this one occasion. It won't be sold in stores. It won't be available on Amazon. When the campaign ends, it’s over.
"By making it a one time only thing, it's really freed me up to be kind of avant-garde about it," Ries says. "This book doesn't have to be relevant in 2025. It doesn't have to be the greatest be-all, end-all thing. It can be perfect for people right now. It can be for early adopters and for people who really want that really detailed information."
Something like "The Leader's Guide" has never really been tried, but despite its unorthodox nature – or maybe because of it – it's already taken the crowdfunding world by storm.
The Kickstarter reached its funding goal of $125,000 in just two days, and will most likely finish at around $450,000.
The campaign has also hit five stretch goals, which include special offers such as a free Q&A with Ries and fellow entrepreneur Dave McClure, and an hour-long webinar with business theorist Alex Osterwalder.
Ries says he didn't expect this level of engagement.
"When I first did this … I had ideas for planning a community for something like 500 people, or maybe 1,000. That's very different than a community for like 6,000 people, which is where we are now. God only knows where it'll be by the end."
Although those are some impressive numbers, Ries still sees some hesitation in adopting the methodology.
“A lot of people come to Lean Startup, they see ‘The Leader's Guide' campaign or something like that, and they'll be like, ‘Well, that's not for me,’” Ries says. "Everyone always thinks that these techniques and tools only work for other people.’I'm not a technologist, so it's not going to work for me,' or ‘I don't live in Silicon Valley,' or ‘I don't work at this kind of company,' or ‘I'm just a freelancer.' I hear every kind of excuse."
But the truth is that that any individual, team, or company can benefit from the Lean Startup methodology.
Ries's ideas emphasize experimentation, customer feedback, and iterative design. They favor testing products before fully investing in them.
The success of these concepts is not dependent on the size of the company or the type of business that company engages in.
"What I learned over several failed startups and many years in my career," Ries says, "is that how you go about building your company matters just as much as what the idea is."
The Lean Startup methodology may have begun with Ries, but it has since radiated out into the world.
In a way, the idea is now bigger than him, and Ries has embraced that fact with “The Leader’s Guide.”
By crowdsourcing his next book, Ries is honoring the people who have helped propel him to success.
He is also gauging and generating interest in the “The Startup Way” while ensuring it meets the needs of his customers.
In short, Ries is following his own advice.