SE Podcast #24 - Eric Ries

by Alex Miller

on October 26, 2011

Jeff & Joel are joined this week by Eric Ries, author and expert on The Lean Startup.  Topics for the chat include:

  • Jeff Atwood is joining the podcast from his vacation. He has an announcement! He is having twins! In February! This will bring the total Atwood Child Count to 3, meaning they will outnumber the adults. Congratulations, Jeff!

  • Talk of children leads to talk of war which leads to talk of Battlefield 3. The core team spent some time playing today. It incentivizes working as a team!

  • ANYWAY. Eric Ries is our guest today! He's got a new book out called The Lean Startup. What is a Lean Startup? It's an analogy to lean manufacturing: a system of management about fast cycle time and building quality in from the beginning. Lean startups take those techniques and apply them to startups, where there are a lot more unknowns about the product and the customer.

  • Eric wants to convince Jeff and Joel not to batch deploy anymore. (We deploy multiple times per day. We have at least one per day, and other than that people can deploy as they see that they need to.) The discussion about the way the teams deploy changes leads to a discussion about unit testing.

  • Joel's criticism of lean startups: the combination of Lean Startups and the fact that any startup can get a huge amount of funding instantly leads to a lot of startups that seem to "pivot" an awful lot. Color is a classic example of this. Eric reminds us thatwinter is coming for entrepreneurship, and this might not be a problem much longer.

  • What is a pivot? A change in strategy without a change in vision. The key to the analogy is that in a pivot, one foot stays planted while you shift around to a new direction.

  • Innovation accounting is Eric's alternate accounting system that's designed to tell if you're getting close to product market fit. ROI, profitability, growth rates - all the traditional accounting metrics don't apply at the really early stages of a startup.

  • Joel's dream for the Stack Exchange Network is medical research. The problem is getting a critical mass of people together to make the site work. Currently, we branch into other verticals via "overlapping circles" - starting out with programmers who also have other hobbies.

  • Gaming is one of the biggest sites that has been created out of the "overlapping circles" theory. It's likely to be an excellent bridge between the existing community of programmers and civilians who also play games, so we are going to put time and effort into figuring out how exactly to make Gaming more awesome.

  • Eric is Mr. Pivot, so let's get back to that: Pivoting is not necessarily a mistake. It's the realization that a strategy that you used to be pursuing is working well for a specific customer base, and that you should pursue the parts of it that work. Gamers tend to pick a certain game to obsess over for a while, so it makes sense for the Gaming Stack Exchange to take a more specific approach to games as opposed to the Stack Overflow generalist approach.

  • If you could imagine having An Encyclopedia Of X, there could be a site about X. (There might not be an encyclopedia on Call of Duty, but there would be one about all games in general.) That leads to the generalist approach, which can get messy, but we allow users to participate in segmenting themselves.

  • Joel has decided to attack the Stack Overflow moderator flag queue. Some things he's noticed: There is a tendency to pile flags on people that don't speak English natively. The mental load on a new moderator can be very high as they learn the ropes of how to handle particular types of flags. Handling flags requires a lot of effort and decision from moderators. Joel has an idea on how to handle this! Discussion on moderation and flagging ensues.

  • Eric's book The Lean Startup, found on Amazon or right on Eric's website, peaked at #2 on the New York Times bestseller list!

Make sure to join us next week (at the usual time of course) when our guest is Mar Russinovich.