The adoption of lean methodologies has been a huge advance for startups. For decades, countless startups failed after spending too much time on insular product development and too little time “in-market” discovering what their customers want and need. The new model pushes startups into the marketplace much more quickly. In fact, it might push them into the marketplace too quickly without maintaining some real discipline.

Contrary to popular wisdom, I still think that it's valuable to formalize your initial assumptions and hypotheses—and to write them down so you can take them out for a test drive before you spend lots of time and money trying to bring them to life. In this chapter, I'll explain how to more crisply define and test your story out before you start telling it to the world. I wish this school of thought had existed in 1999 and 2000 when we started Return Path. We probably would have saved ourselves a couple of years of our lives and several million dollars in burn if it had.


Here is how a major enterprise might tell the story of their upcoming product release: “Our customers, who number x, have y problem, and they will pay z dollars for our solution. This is our plan for rolling that solution out and these are our cost and revenue projections for the next 18 months.”

Here, by contrast, is how a startup should tell its story: “We believe that x potential customers face y problem. Our proposed ...

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