The Importance of Staying Lean

This morning this video caught my attention:

It is a heart wrenching tale of a man so passionate about his ideas and gave up so much. Yet despite all his convictions and effort, he pretty much failed.

I posted this video not to point and laugh at Marc, nor do I intend to elicit pity for him. Rather, I’m sharing this video because it serves as a cautionary tale for the intrepid entrepreneur.


Right now, Pressyo, my startup is going through a heavy rethink. The word passion is thrown out a lot in our discussions. Passion in doing X, passion in language Y. In my personal opinion, passion is really overrated. I work in advertising, and I know exactly how easy it is to stir up passion in people. Grassroots activism is a prime example of passion, but if one has the resources, one can simply “manufacture” said passion. To some the resources are simply personal charm and charisma they have on a person (Hitler * Based on a real life chat in Pressyo – we were arguing about passion, and then I invoked Godwin’s Law ). To others, it’s money (The Koch Brothers).

Waste Reduction

Marc Griffin had spent 26 years of his life inventing BulletBall. He had dreams of BulletBall being an Olympic level sport. When the judges voted No to his idea, he was visibly crushed. One can imagine – 26 years down the drain.

Since this is a cautionary tale, let’s take a look at where Marc had went wrong. 26 years is a long time. That’s roughly my age* In human years. In Time Lord years that roughly translates to 450 years and about 3 regenerations. Oh also, a Gallifreyen year is simultaneously longer and shorter than an Earth year :P . I don’t know the specifics, but from the video, it was made out that Marc had spent 26 years perfecting the game.

26 years spent perfecting a game is a lot of wasted effort. There I said it. One crucial bit of the lean philosophy is waste reduction. This is one bit many people I have talked to seem to be confused about. Often people think MVPs are shitty products, and their professional self would not allow them to release such products. Only it’s not. Perhaps MVP is not a good phrase to use – a better phrasing would be “what is the product that minimizes wasted effort/money/time one can create to test an assumption”

Of course, the next question (or indeed, the question preceeding that question is): “How do I test the assumption about the product I have in mind?”. Armed with these two questions, I have no doubt that Marc would not have needed to spend 26 years of effort. I suspect like many inventors, the efforts come in bursts, not continuously sustained over 26 years, but either way it’s still a very long time to waste. If indeed efforts on the invention came in bursts, then a “natural” schedule of sorts would be available for testing of assumptions.

The Pivot

Marc’s story did have a somewhat happier ending. BulletBall found its niche in therapeutic sports. This is a clear pivot from the Olympics-level goal that Marc originally had. I was rather happy for the man that he had found his niche despite not being his dream.

In many ways, American Inventor was a test of assumption for Marc. It validated to him that investors would not be interested in even considering his product (the prize money for American Inventor is $1M if I am not mistaken). He did not. He persevered with his idea of a product, and pivoted into a niche. Whether by luck or by sheer brute force of will, he found it.

Of course, Marc Griffin found a niche because a niche exists. And a niche exists large enough for his company to exist. There will be times that niches do not exist. And try as hard as the entrepreneur would like to, he/she would be unable to create said niche. Even Apple, famous for manufacturing demand, could not create enough demand for Macintosh TV in 1993.


So the question is this: Do you want to spend years, and countless hours of effort working on your product and end up discovering that it is not wanted? Or do you want to test early and often?

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