The Startup Dragon

Yesterday I received a survey request from Lean Launch Lab. I didn’t bother to answer, and quite frankly I stopped using the tool about a month after signing up. The whole “lean startup” movement is interesting and I appreciate the idea behind LLL. They want to make building a startup easier by enabling entrepreneurs to better organize what they’ve learned, what they’re working on, and what their next steps will be. That’s all great, but there’s just one thing that startups in this field seem to forget: I’M BEING CHASED BY A GIANT FIRE-BREATHING DRAGON.

I’m a big fan of Steve Blank in general. I saw him speak a couple of times when I lived in Palo Alto and since he was partly behind LLL, I was excited. When they launched a beta, I happily forked over my $10 in the hopes that it would help me improve how I organized things for Curvio. I admit that I haven’t read The Four Steps to the Epiphany, but I have watched Steve present so many times that I generally knew his approach to startups.

The reason I stopped (well, barely started really) using LeanLaunchLab is because, at the end of the day, I cannot be bothered to learn another tool. That may sound crass or willfully ignorant, but my life as a startup co-founder is not exactly a leisurely one. Here’s a metaphor…

The Startup Dragon

You’re in a deep, dark cave. There is a giant, fire-breathing dragon chasing you and you are desperately trying to get out. Periodically as you run, your path is blocked by some collapsed rocks. When you reach one of these points, it’s all you can do to frantically try to grab each rock and throw it out. After all, this dragon is hungry and if he catches up to you, you’re toast.

Every rock feels like it weighs a ton. Your heart is racing. Your blood is pumping. You can feel the heat of the dragon’s breath as he draws near.

The Forklift Fairy

Poof! A fairy appears as you’re scrambling to remove some of the stones that are impeding your path.

Hello! I’m the forklift fairy of the cave. I’ve lived in this cave for many years and seen many people try to escape just like you’re doing now. I’ve come to help you! If you learn to use this forklift, these boulders will be much simpler to move. The dragon will have no chance of catching you!

That’s great… but I don’t know how to use a forklift. As you continue to claw with your bare hands, torn to shreds from the stones’ jagged edges, the fairy continues her story.

Never fear! The forklift is simple! Climb in and try it out. Let me know if you have any issues and I will try my best to teach you what you need to know.

So you climb in. After all, this is a freaking fairy who just appeared to give you a tool that will save your life. All you have to do is take a second and learn how to use it…


Now, I don’t want to sound like I’m picking on LLL. In fairness, this applies virtually every tool out there that aims to help with productivity if only I invest the time to do it this way. Well, I won’t.

If you really want to help me, then hire a fireproof forklift operator who is already trained and charge me enough to pay his wage. Let me tell him “Move these rocks!” and then have him actually do it while I am busy dodging fire blasts.

At the end of the day, I can’t stop moving even to learn how to use something that may help me. I couldn’t even be bothered to learn how to draw a decent picture– I crowdsourced all the artwork here on Mechanical Turk!

I wish I could. I wish I could just stop and take a breath, relax, read some books or learn to use some tools. Certainly the next time I go into the cave I’ll be better prepared. But for now, that dragon is right there!

If you liked this article, please upvote it on Hacker News. You should also follow me on Twitter and my startup Curvio on AngelList.

Also read...


  1. Hey Wesley:

    I think you’re missing the point. Lean isn’t really a tool, it’s a way of thinking. It provides a useful framework (I’d say essential, but there are obviously some successful companies who did it by luck or brute force) for launching any product in any company, but is particularly relevant to startups.

    But, let’s say that it’s a tool. What are your alternatives? Nothing? If you intend to launch something without some sort of methodology, or science behind it, then how are you benefiting from all the knowledge and learnings that came from those who did it manually? If education is a similar tool, would you argue that you don’t need education? Would you also argue that you don’t need to learn a programming language to build/design a tech product? It’s just a tool too.

    If someone could package it up with a nice bow and sell it to you, it might look nice, but it would be worthless to you. And, you’d be overcharged for getting no value. Lean is something you need to internalize as a process. Customer development is an essential approach that provides you critical insights into your market space. Sure, you can get it other ways (e.g. by accident, luck), but why?

    Your objective is to identify your product market/fit (if you have one) at the lowest possible expense and in the fastest time possible so you can stop burning cash and make some instead. Do you have an alternative way to get there that is better?

Comments are closed.