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Rethinking the Lean Startup

By Sander Biehn | Mar 11, 2015

How do I say this? Here at Thought Horizon, we are aiming to become a “big-boned” startup. Wait… that doesn’t sound right. How about a “full-figured” startup? Nah. Let’s face it. We are building a “Fat Startup.”

We believe that in the wake of the Lean revolution, it may be time to rethink that model. Heck, when corporate dinosaur publishers like Wiley are paying top dollar for manuscripts to anyone who has the word “lean” in their resume, it may be that “lean” is losing its luster.

There is nothing wrong with “lean” on the surface. There is no doubt that “lean” works to achieve operational excellence, but the rational question is “Why is ‘lean’ being applied to everything, with the expectation that it will improve any and every industry and business model?”

For example, “lean” in the startup world means, among other things, creating a “minimal viable product.” Lean startups are taught not to worry about the bells and whistles out of the gate. By doing this, the lean startup can change course and evolve into that next big killer idea. The problem is that creating crap products with the hope of learning on a corporate customer’s dime is a bad move all around. The products get a bad rap, the corporate customers feel ripped-off and the startup employees have nothing to take pride in except for their shameless worship of capitalism. Startups can do better than that, but they may need to throw some of the principles of “lean” out the window.

Here is how we are bucking that trend at Thought Horizon:

Build to exceed expectations:

We are building a platform that exceeds the needs of our customers. Our platform is purposefully fat. During World War II, when the allies landed on the beaches of Normandy, they did not want just enough firepower to win the day. They needed to make sure they had an excess: an excess of troops, boats, spies, planes, etc. In the same way when our customers test the uncharted waters of social media, there needs to be sufficient force in order to ensure success. For that reason, we are providing more services than any one business will need. For example, we offer training in any format our clients want it. We offer video, live and one-on-one training. We even offer a hotline for end-users to call to have their questions answered. This isn’t a shotgun approach. It isn’t a lack of focus. We have done this purposefully. B2B social selling isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, and we aim to provide all the tools and resources necessary to ensure our clients’ success. Our commitment to their success transcends our need to make a buck. We want our customers to be wildly successful so we can capture a large emerging market.

People first; automation second.

Instead of trying to build an automated platform out of the gate, we are using smart people to do the work.“How are you going to scale this?” How many times have startup’s been drilled by this question from the legions of VCs who lack a scrap of imagination. The real question for most of these startups is “Why would anyone want your product at scale?” Scale is meaningless if the product stinks and doesn’t exceed the customers’ expectations. Our plan is to deliver the human touch and figure out what is truly needed in advance of deciding how a machine can solve all the world’s problems. There is no doubt that scale is critical, but a Google search will quickly show you the number of startups slinging a software product that belongs on the Island of Misfit Programs. Who needs a water pistol that squirts jelly anyway?


The mantra of “lean” begs for simplicity. But too often with that simplicity comes an arrogance and singularity of thought that all the world’s woes can be answered by one sleek design. You may be familiar with the story of the botched restoration done by a villager of this “Ecce homo” painting in Borja, Spain. The villager was just trying to spruce up the centuries old painting and made a real mess of it.

We plan to avoid this problem that can plague a “lean” startup. When we need high-powered analytics, we don’t run to the spread sheet. Instead, we partner with those who have the expertise. This is a costlier way of doing it, but it avoids mistakes that can make us and our clients look bad. By doing this, we are creating a big fat value chain that customers can tap into.

Does your startup have what it takes to be fat and happy? Toss aside those books from MBA school and let’s dig into the truth behind “lean.” We may find that a bigger and broader approach to your product offering provides the “force” necessary to capture the metaphorical beachhead. Who knows, we might just build better products and companies this way.

If Wiley or Harper is interested in a book advance on what we are doing, don’t bother. This theory will be decidedly self-published.

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