Author, Entrepreneur and FoundersCard Member  – Q&A with Eric Ries

Eric Ries is the California based author of the 2011 bestseller, The Lean Startup, and who just last week released its sequel, The Startup Way. The books are aimed at changing the way startups are built and how established enterprises can learn from successful startups. He’s able to offer a fresh perspective as both an author and fellow entrepreneur. Eric has been a FoundersCard Member since 2010 and this is his second interview with us.
What is an essential part of your morning routine?

My days are so crazy now; I hardly have any kind of routine. We have two young kids at home, so the only consistent thing about my day is taking my son to preschool. Everything after that is totally different every day.

What are the most essential products and apps for productivity for you?

I use Twitter, Gmail, Headspace, Slack, and Discord+ every day. We’ve been enjoying using Amazon Alexa at home as well.

How have you been inspired by somewhere you’ve traveled recently?

Before the chaos of the book tour started, I had the chance to join Steve Case and JD Vance and the whole Revolution team for a stop on the Rise of the Rest tour in Columbus, OH and learned so much. I had no idea that CompuServe started in Columbus and was surprised by the magnitude of disparity in venture capital across geographies. California gets as much venture capital investment in a week as Ohio gets in a year, which simply should not be the case.

The truth is, entrepreneurs aren’t just in Silicon Valley. They’re everywhere, and they’re in every kind of organization. They just need the right environment and structures to show their true colors. There are so many great entrepreneurial groups across the country providing support and even big companies are doing a better job at supporting entrepreneurs within their ranks. I’ve never worked anywhere–and that includes non-profits, small businesses, local and federal government, and giant enterprise corporations–where in-house entrepreneurs didn’t emerge once they were given the chance. The Startup Way lays out a way of working that uncovers that existing talent no matter where it’s hiding.

 

 

What’s something you’ve read recently that you found particularly relevant or inspiring?

In the face of so many terrible news cycles, I’ve been focused on working through a long book list.

I really enjoyed Tim O’Reilly’s new book, WTF?: What’s The Future. It’s an important examination on how technology can shape a better future by one of the smartest thinkers on the subject.

Sam Walker’s The Captain Class was a fascinating book about what the greatest sports teams in history have in common and the critical aspects of leadership they share. It’s as helpful for business leaders as it is for team coaches.

Finally, The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath – two of my favorite storytellers – is all about designing experiences that have real impact for our families, our customers and employees.

I share more suggestions of favorite business books in the “further reading” sections at the end of The Lean Startup and The Startup Way.

What innovations are going to be most crucial to the tech industry in the next 10 years?

I’m not much of a futurist, and unlike a lot of my VC friends I don’t have a special talent for predicting the future. Knowing where we are headed isn’t the hard part: obviously software will eat the world, every human-machine interface will be supplemented with really good AI, marginal costs of production for all physical goods will continue to fall – all assuming we avoid the dangers of political instability or worse.

From a management point of view, this means that we have to really reconsider some basic assumptions about how organizations work. Take Uber & Lyft, for example. If you drive for Uber, who is your boss? You don’t have a human manager in the conventional sense. Most managerial interactions are with a software product, with the occasional appeal to a human being. But who builds this software? Other human beings who have no direct connection to the driver, organizationally speaking.

In other words, Uber and Lyft are already human-computer hybrids. As their product teams use more and more technology to optimize the management of their drivers, this combination is going to get really interesting.

More and more companies are going to work this way.

So we have to get ready for this strange future, now. We have to plant the seeds of a management system – and organizational culture – that can survive this level of dynamism and rapid change. Of course, I tried to sketch what this needs to look like in The Startup Way, so I hope you’ll check it out.

The Startup Way focuses on what established enterprises can learn from successful startups – what would you say are the most important things the founders of startups can learn from established enterprises? 

Successful startups often have a problem that is caused by that success: scale. The systems that work so well for small companies don’t translate into the larger ecosystem that a growing company needs, so the company eventually stalls. One of the big surprises of my work over the last few years has been that founders and CEOs of startups that have grown to hundreds, thousands, and even tens of thousands of employees started getting back in touch with me to learn about how they can manage this positive crisis of growth. When they originally built their companies, they were excited about the parts of Lean Startup that are about getting going quickly. Once their idea has taken off, though, they realized they need to focus on the parts of running a company that are a little more boring but just as critical–things like accounting and management. Large organizations, of course, know how to do scale really well. They’re designed for it. It’s the combination of those systems with the innovative startup mentality that make The Startup Way so powerful.

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