VCJ Interview: Eric Ries Brings Order to the Unruly World of Early Stage Entrepreneurship

Eric Ries, author of the “The Lean Startup,” offers a worthy attempt to bring the scientific method to the often intuitive exploration of young companies.

What leads most startups astray is the lack of a disciplined, empirical procedure for making decisions, says Ries, who also writes on the blog Startup Lessons Learned and is a 2010-11 entrepreneur-in-residence at Harvard Business School.

Ries (pictured) is by equal measure upbeat and cautionary. He sees a worldwide renaissance of entrepreneurialism, but worries about wasted, misguided efforts.

Venture investors take heart. He has an answer, which he details in the October 2011 issue of Venture Capital Journal.

“The nice thing about relying on human judgment and using the scientific method is [we develop] a system for training judgment to get better over time,” he tells VCJ Senior Editor Mark Boslet. “We will eventually start to develop better entrepreneurial instincts.”

VCJ subscribers can read the full story here, which we’re posting ahead of the October publishing date.

Following is an excerpt of the Q&A:

Q: Are we more entrepreneurial than in the past?

A: My belief is there are more startups operating today than at any time in history. There’s this worldwide entrepreneurial renaissance. But I think it’s not going to come to a good end unless we get serious about systematically improving our entrepreneurial practice. I think there is both greater opportunity and greater waste.

Q: “Build, Measure, Learn” is one of the key messages in “The Lean Startup.” Isn’t that what startups do today?

A: That is one of the things I think is missing in most of the startups I meet with today. When I meet with most entrepreneurial teams, I ask them a simple question: How do you know that you’re making progress? Most of them really can’t answer that question.

Q: If you could give these entrepreneurs one key piece of advice, what would it be?

A: I would say, as an entrepreneur everything you do — every action you take in product development, in marketing, every conversation you have, everything you do — is an experiment. If you can conceptualize your work not as building features, not as launching campaigns, but as running experiments, you can get radically more done with less effort.

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