Starting up? Two good how-tos: UX for Lean Startups & Managing Startups – #business #bookreview

You are eager, maybe too eager, to throw yourself and your meager funding full-force into starting a business, creating a product–yes, another app!–and getting it out to the marketplace. After all, the world wants and needs it now, you keep telling yourself.

But wait, are you basing your gamble on gut instincts, the good wishes of family and friends, and the money smoldering in your pocket? Or have you actually done some planning, research, and testing? What if you could figure out, before you go broke, that the app you have dreamed up and developed actually sucks, but something similar to it, with a better user interface, might do well in the marketplace? And what if you don’t know as much about startups as you think you do?

Here are two books you should consider before rolling the dice on a startup: UX for Lean Startups and Managing Startups.

If you’ve already tossed the dies, you may want to look at the books, too. They contain rich gatherings of well-tested ideas and hard-won advice from many who have started up before you.

Even if you are now well beyond calling your business a startup,  it’s not too late to learn new techniques and ideas that can help you stay afloat and prosper.  You can pick up some useful tips and insights from both of these books.

UX for Lean Startups
Faster, Smarter User Experience Research and Design
Laura Klein
(O’Reilly – hardback, Kindle)

“Lean UX is more than a buzzword,” says engineer and designer Laura Klein in her new book. “In some ways, it’s a fundamental change in the way we design products.”

A key aspect of UX, user experience, is learning how to start out with a “minimum viable product,” or MVP. “[I]nstead of taking months and months building a huge product with dozens of features and all sorts of bells and whistles,” she explains, “maybe it would be a better idea to launch something smaller and start learning earlier.”

In short, you give your customer something useful that they can work with, and you respond to their feedback by making the product work better for them and “adding features that people will use.”

UX for Lean Startups is a smooth blending of how-to steps for creating the best user experience for your new product–while staying within the lines of a tight-budget startup. The author injects some humor and personal experiences to help keep the discussions lively. And you don’t have to read the text from cover to cover. You can find good ideas while jumping around from topic to topic as your needs and curiosity arise.

The 204-page book makes “a lot of references to web-based products and software, but the UX design techniques…will work equally well for building most things that have a user interface,” Laura Klein promises. “Hardware, software, doorknobs…if you sell it and people interact with it, then you can use Lean UX to better understand your customers and to create a better product faster and with less waste.”

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Managing Startups
Best Blog Posts
Edited by Tom Eisenmann
(O’Reilly – paperback, Kindle)

 Okay, information on how to manage startups is everywhere. Mentally, at least, you can drown in it while trying to sort out the business you have just started or are planning to launch soon.

But you can learn plenty from this gathering of more than 70 well-written blog posts by successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.

Each year since 2009, Tom Eisenmann, a Harvard professor of business administration, has, on his blog, published an annual compilation of “the year’s best posts by other authors about the management of technology startups.”

In his annual roundup and in this book, he says, he steers clear of “news about product launches and funding rounds; likewise, I don’t include posts that analyze trends in technologies or markets (e.g., big data, cloud computing, SoLoMo services). Instead, my focus has been on the management tasks that entrepreneurs must undertake when they search for a viable business model and then scale a startup.”

He pays close attention to lean startup management practices and various organizational issues such as dealing with cofounder tensions, structuring a startup team, working with a board of directors, and “coping with the psychological pressures that inevitably confront entrepreneurs.” He also tracks “developments in capital markets that are relevant to the management of tech startups; for example, the ebbs and flows of valuation bubbles and the proliferation of incubators and seed-stage funds.”

Some of the well-focused and meaty topics in Managing Startups range from “Very Basic Startup Marketing” to “Five Outsourcing Mistakes That Will Kill Your Startup” to “How to Hire a Hacker” and “Why Do VCs Have Ownership Targets? And Why 20%?”

Eisenmann makes his best-blog-posts-of-the-year selections the old-fashioned way. “I don’t use an algorithm that tracks traffic or social media mentions,” he writes. “Rather, I regularly read a few dozen blogs–mostly written by entrepreneurs and venture capitalists–and I follow links to other posts that look interesting. My criterion for flagging a post for future reference is simple: did I learn something that seems worth passing on to my students or to current entrepreneurs ? When I publish my compilation, I ask readers to suggest other posts that I’ve omitted, and I always get some great additions.”

Some of the other topics in his new book include branding, company culture, the role of product managers, knowing when to bail out, and building “relationships with potential acquirers. You never know when you may need them,” he notes.

No matter what size startup you are contemplating or are already running, you can find articles on topics that may be on your front burner now or looming larger and larger in the background.

Si Dunn

Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works – A smart business startup guide – #bookreview

Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works
By Ash Maurya
(O’Reilly, hardback, list price $24.99; Kindle edition, list price $19.99)

Starting a business soon?
Still sketching one out on cocktail napkins but getting ready to approach potential partners and staff?

Don’t launch without spending some well-focused time with the second edition of this thought-provoking and popular book.

If you have launched already and now have doubts about what you are trying to do, it’s not too late to consult Running Lean and pivot in a better direction. (The first edition was an ebook aimed mostly at those who create web-based products. This new edition adds tested new materials for a much wider business audience.)

The book’s goal is to help you “find a plan that works before running out of resources,” by “stress testing” Plan A and quickly moving to a new plan – even all the way to Plan Z and beyond – if your original schemes flounder.

Running Lean aims to provide “a better, faster way to vet new product ideas and build successful products” so you are able to make the best use of any startup’s most critical resource: time.

The book also is “about testing a vision by measuring how customers behave.” It is “about engaging customers throughout the product development cycle.” And, Ash Maurya writes, it is about getting your butt out of the building and away from your computer and your labs.

“You have to get out and directly engage customers.”

Furthermore, you have to push that engagement in a way that avoids the “classic product-centric approach [that] front-loads some customer involvement during the requirements-gathering phase but leaves the customer validation until after the software [or other product] is released. There is a large ‘middle’ when the startup disengages from customers for weeks or months while they build and test their solution,” Maurya emphasizes.

“During this time, it is quite possible for the startup to either build too much or be led astray from building what the customer wants.”

This excellent book, the first in O’Reilly’s new “Lean Series,” pulls together ideas from Steve Blank in The Four Steps to the Epiphany, Eric Ries in The Lean Startup, and others, as well as Ash Maurya’s multiple successes with startups. Eric Ries is the series editor.

Running Lean provides a well-structured guide to putting Lean Startup ™ principles directly to work in virtually any new business venture. And it could help you revitalize an existing enterprise, while you still have time and resources, if your current Plan A needs a Plan B, Plan C, or Plan Z, ASAP.

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Si Dunn is a novelist, screenwriter, freelance book reviewer, and former software technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist. His latest book is Dark Signals, a Vietnam War memoir available soon in paperback. He also is the author of a detective novel, Erwin’s Law, a novella, Jump, and several other books and short stories.