Whatever happened to the Lean Media framework?

(Updated) I received a message from a European media executive about my Lean Media framework proposal from a few years back. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

A few years ago, before the mobile startup, I heard Eric Ries give his Lean Startup stump speech at MIT. It immediately clicked with me. His focus was software development, but I realized that the things he was saying about product development, feedback cycles, and speed applied not only to software, but to media content as well. I had seen it with my own eyes. Print content, websites, video, music and other products/projects that were developed with these qualities in mind had many positive qualities. They were cheaper to produce, they made it to market more quickly, user feedback loops started sooner, and if they were new brands, they got a huge head start. They were also more fun to work on.

Conversely, products that took the big media approach — bloated teams, top-down directives, planned by committee, limited feedback cycles, etc. — encountered problems. They required huge staff and budget commitments, took years to complete, and seemed to have a higher rate of failure.

Almost immediately I realized there were some issues I had to think through (see Lean Media: The Importance Of Intangibles And Brands and The Lean Media mindset: Can it work for large companies?) even while I found more examples of lean media such as Led Zeppelin (who started lean) and The Deftones (who returned to lean).

Earlier this year, I started writing a book about lean media, but quickly realized that the idea still needed to be refined. This is what I told the European executive:

Thanks for reaching out. I started to write a book about lean media but stopped because A) I have too many other things going on with my business and B) it was hard to think through some aspects of the framework.

For instance: talent/creative can make such a huge difference in the success of a lean media project but “dream teams” with lots of resources can fail. “Creative” is also hard to measure, which in turn makes it hard to translate into actionable advice

Another intangible aspect: “Brand.” It is so easy to create in the lean media world but how it fits in with existing brands (if it is part of a corporate effort) gets very tricky.

There is also the issue of scaling a lean media project into a true business, if that is the goal. Perhaps it is beyond the scope of lean media, though, because more resources and coordination is required.

As you can see I still have some thinking to do about this. Ideally, at the end of the day I want to have a simple framework that managers/companies/entrepreneurs in all kinds of media industries can apply. But I am not sure if such simplicity is possible.

What I probably should do is talk with more people in the trenches. I know there is something here, but expressing it cleanly will talk more contemplation … and perhaps collaboration.

November 2015 Update: I am expanding Lean Media into a book. Read sample chapters here, or sign up for the lean media newsletter.

The behind-the-scenes story of an experimental Chinese cookbook

My company just released a new “In 30 Minutes” guide, titled Easy Chinese Recipes In 30 Minutes. I’d like to share a little behind-the-scenes news about the experimental Chinese cookbook, which is special in several regards:

  • It’s the first cookbook we’ve ever released
  • The author, Shiao-jang Kung, rose to the challenge of creating authentic recipes that contain ingredients you can get in any large supermarket. The recipes include Sesame Cucumbers/涼拌小黃瓜, Soy-Flavored Fried Tofu/香煎豆腐/香煎豆腐 (includes video), Fried Rice/炒飯 (healthy recipe – limited oil and no soy sauce!), “Almost” Three Cups Chicken/“差不多”的三杯雞, and more.
  • It incorporates video and an app-like user experience
  • It only costs 99 cents (!)

Our experimental Chinese cookbook contains lots of easy Chinese RecipesThe inclusion of video and other app-like features is something that has been talked about for years in the industry, but it has been very hard to implement for the Kindle, Nook, and Android tablets. However, Apple has created production tools that let authors incorporate video, photo slideshows, and other elements (see iBooks Author Review: Video ebooks and intriguing possibilities on the iPad). I decided to apply these elements to our experimental Chinese cookbook.

Limitations of Apple’s ebook authoring tool

If it proves successful, I will look into creating a Kindle version … but the lack of production tools and uncertain support for features such as video will be hurdles. This gets into the “walled garden” problem that is cropping up for sophisticated ebook technologies. For a basic ebook that uses just text, photos, and links, Scrivener has served me well. I just create the ebook, and then export to epub (iPad and Android tablets), .mobi (Kindle), PDF, paperback, and other formats.

Because Apple’s production tools do not support export to non-Apple formats or the ePub standard, that limits the distribution of the title. I am sure the smart people at Amazon are looking into enabling video support for .mobi ebooks, but if I have to use another product tool to create it, that will lead to all kinds of production headaches. I will basically have to build each title multiple times in different production tools, and make sure that edits in one manuscript are applied to the other.

To learn more about the experimental Chinese cookbook and download a copy for your iPad, iPad Air, or iPad mini, check out the product website for Easy Chinese Recipes In 30 Minutes.

The Startup Roller Coaster

In 2010, I heard a talk by angel investor and entrepreneur Howard Anderson about the emotional roller coaster that comes comes with launching a new technology venture. He explained how the highs are so high, while the lows feel really low.

For those of us in the room who had never been in the position of launching a company, it didn’t sound surprising. Of course the pressure will be intense, and incredibly risky. But how extreme could the highs and lows be?

Extremely extreme, as it turns out.

I worked in large organizations for more than a decade. A bad day at an established company might entail sharp-elbowed office politics, hurt feelings, and worry about career advancement or a raise. Worst cases involved the loss of a job. But in most situations at a large company, problems will eventually be worked out. Everyone knows the organization will endure.

Startup Roller CoasterNot so at a startup. Before you’re funded or generate revenue, the venture is fragile. Things move fast, there is too much to do, and the sense of responsibility is huge. Even minor problems feel big, and failure of the business can take many forms.

Conversely, the accomplishments feel huge. Hard work, a new product out the door, positive feedback from customers (or, in the case of my company, readers), and lucky breaks can really boost your spirits. When a bunch of things are working well at the same time, the feeling is spectacular.

Then the crash: reality checks, unforeseen problems, pushback, lack of alignment, and the flat-out “no” when you were hoping for a “yes.” These and other issues can really throw a wrench in the works.

There are ways out of the funk, though. Keep on executing. Work through or around the problems. Reach out to your partners or customers or mentors or anyone who might be able to help with a new approach or pivot. The wins begin to trickle back, and the cycle starts again.

A few years ago, I met an experienced startup founder at the Cambridge Innovation Center. She was very familiar with the entrepreneurial roller coaster, and offered some advice on how to handle it.

Highs and lows on the startup roller coaster

“For the highs and lows, be careful of what you do on those days,” she said. For instance, on a good day when you get a big win like recruiting a customer, call your investors and tell them about it.

She also alluded to things founders should not do on the bad days. She didn’t have enough time to explain what they were (it was at the end of a late-night meeting) but one of them I have been able to deduce from multiple sources (including Y Combinator founder Paul Graham), as well as Howard Anderson’s reminder at the end of his talk: “It’s always darkest before the dawn,” he said.

In other words, keep pressing ahead, even when the world seems to be working against you. And don’t give up.

The above image is a creative commons licensed image from Tanki on Flickr.

Why it took so long to release Twitter In 30 Minutes

At the beginning of this month, I released a new In 30 Minutes guide that explains what is Twitter and how to use it. Some people who have been following my story over the past year may wonder why it took so long to release Twitter In 30 Minutes — after all, the series has covered popular Web and mobile services since the beginning, and Twitter is one of the most popular services of all. Why not write it sooner? But I have my reasons, and this post explains some of the thinking behind the timing for this particular title.

Twitter In 30 MinutesI have considered the idea of doing Twitter In 30 Minutes since the early success of the In 30 Minutes guide for Dropbox in the summer of 2012. It was clear there was a marketplace need for titles that quickly and clearly explained consumer-oriented online software. In addition, a guide to Twitter would not be hard for me to write — I have been using the social network since the early days (2007, to be precise) and have a solid level of domain knowledge.

Learning from an earlier In 30 Minutes book

But a few other factors held me back. The first was the lackluster release of Excel Basics In 30 Minutes in late 2012. It was a hard title to write, and it flopped upon release.

I did a lot of experimentation with pricing and positioning of the guide, but it took a long time before I was able to get much sales traction. Why? It seemed like a perfect candidate — the software is complicated, and there are millions of people who need to learn how to use it. But on Amazon there are about 100 other titles that explain how to use Excel, and many of them target specific versions. It was therefore very hard to stand out in the crowd with Excel Basics In 30 Minutes. I foresaw a similar problem with a guide to Twitter. In the Kindle store in particular, there are dozens of “how to use Twitter” guides, which makes it much harder to stand out.

Another issue that crossed my mind: Was Twitter so easy to figure out, that few people would actually need a guide? Compared to Dropbox and Google Drive, Twitter is a cinch to start using. But I also knew that many people who started using Twitter stopped shortly after for a variety of reasons. One Harvard Business School case I read claimed Twitter’s retention rate in the late 2000s was just about 25% after the first month. The rest gave up, many never to return. That meant lots of people could be coached on techniques that would keep them interested and engaged.

A couple of other factors pushed me to consider bringing Twitter In 30 Minutes to market.

  • Readers of other In 30 Minutes titles began asking me for a guide to Twitter.
  • LinkedIn In 30 Minutes, released in May 2013, was a breakout success

LinkedIn In 30 Minutes was an interesting case. Even though it was entering a crowded market (there are dozens of LinkedIn guides on Amazon), it did manage to have strong sales right out of the gate. This was in large part because of creative and sustained marketing efforts on the part of author Melanie Pinola and myself. In addition, it was written by someone who I knew was a strong writer and more of expert on LinkedIn than I.

Based on the success of the LinkedIn title, I began asking contacts, bloggers, and other writers to see if any were interested in taking on Twitter In 30 Minutes. When that did not work, I considered just hiring someone out. But I was worried about quality issues and costs. Eventually, I decided to do it my own. Now I am asking myself if it’s time to create Facebook In 30 Minutes.

If you’re interested in learning more about Twitter In 30 Minutes, check out the table of contents and the options to buy the guide for paperback, Kindle, iPad, PDF, and other formats.

MDP: Minimum Delightful Product

Minimum Viable Product, or “MVP”, is a startup buzzword that is actually a powerful concept for product development. It basically means creating a product that has just enough functionality for early customers to use, and helps guide future development. It greatly shortens feedback loops and can help companies avoid investing huge amounts of resources designing more complex products or features that customers don’t want. Building an MVP is a central part of the “lean startup” approach espoused by Eric Ries and others, and is used by startups and even larger companies to build Web, mobile, PC, and enterprise software. This post is about a variation known as MDP, or Minimum Delightful Product.

I first heard about this interesting twist on MVP from startup veteran and marketing guru Adam Berrey. In a 2011 email about a consumer app my company was developing, I mentioned MVP. He noted the importance of design and user experience (UX):

“For consumer apps, I like to think about ‘minimally delightful product (MDP)’ instead of MVP. The reason for this is that in the consumer world ‘viable’ isn’t really compelling. It’s like someone in the ICU. They are alive, but not really fun to hang out with. Create a product with just enough features (lean) and the right UX to be delightful, and you’ll capture the passion of consumer users.”

Taking a prototype from MVP to MDP

Adam’s idea resonated with me — imagine taking the UX to the next level in an MDP. It might take extra time, but there would be a payoff in terms of better adoption rates for the new product, which translates to more plentiful and more accurate feedback and usage data. MDP lets people get past potential qualms about simple UX or amateur design elements, and spend more time on the products features. These experiences can help founders identify what needs to be improved or jettisoned for the next version.

MDP can also result in better word-of-mouth loops, both online and off. I once heard Mint founder Aaron Patzer talk about the launch of the personal finance tracking website, and how paying attention early on to UX and design elements like fonts, the number of screens and even the name of the service led to viral growth as users told their friends about the service. Marc Hedlund, the CEO of Mint competitor Wesabe, acknowledged that this factor contributed to Mint’s success … and Wesabe’s eventual demise:

“Mint focused on making the user do almost no work at all, by automatically editing and categorizing their data, reducing the number of fields in their signup form, and giving them immediate gratification as soon as they possibly could; we completely sucked at all of that. … It was far easier to have a good experience on Mint, and that good experience came far more quickly.”

Naturally, getting to “delightful” may be a challenge. Design and UX choices can be complicated. They can also be very subjective — what appeals to one group of users may not work with others.

MDP examples: Bikes to books

MDP Minimum Delightful Product example for a mobile app
MDP example

For my old company, we employed MDP in early versions of our product, which was a classified app. People loved it. It looked better in the app store, which resulted in more downloads. The app also had engagement rates that were well above the norm — something like 20% of users were still using the app a month or two after downloading it, and average session times were several minutes long.
Dropbox Guide
I also used the MDP concept for my second startup, In 30 Minutes guides. While I employed an “MVP” to test the idea (a Dropbox book in ebook and paperback formats) I quickly swapped out my amateur cover for a professionally designed cover, which resulted in more sales and a brand identity that I am still using today.

Update: Adam Berrey, the marketing expert who coined the phrase “Minimum Delightful Product”, has since written his own blog post elaborating on the MDP concept.

Positioning: A powerful marketing concept (with some limitations)

A few years ago, I picked up Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, by Al Ries (with Jack Trout). It’s a quick read, and an old book (it was written in the 1980s, and based on a series of articles for Advertising Age that date from the early ’70s) but it was recommended by Lean Startup practitioner Ash Maurya, author of Running Lean. When I began writing books, I used some of the ideas in Positioning to position Dropbox In 30 Minutes as well as a second guide that is like a Google Docs for Dummies alternative. But it wasn’t just the technical topics that appealed to people — I actually created a series of guidebooks that can be read in 30 minutes. I learned from customers that this “positioning” is very compelling. It’s worth digging into the concept to learn how it can be applied elsewhere, while keeping in mind that there are some limitations.

Positioning, by Jack Ries with Al Trout

Summary of Positioning by Ries and Trout

Positioning starts with several compelling premises. First, we are constantly bombarded with marketing messages. “We have become the world’s first overcommunicated society,” Ries writes. “Each year, we send more and receive less.” As a result of the huge volume of marketing messages, advertising is like a “very light fog that envelops your prospects.” Note this was written long before the advent of the World Wide Web and mobile phones!Beyond the challenge of getting noticed, is the issue of convincing people to believe in the messaging. According to Ries, this is where many companies make a big mistake — trying to change audiences’ minds that their products are better than the market leaders.

“Were the average consumer rational instead of emotional, there would be no need for advertising,” Ries says. The reasoning here: Customers would gravitate toward better-quality products, regardless of who produced them or how they were marketed.

Of course, that’s not what happens — people tend to gravitate toward the familiar brands and products at the “top of the ladder” for each product category. And knocking the market leader off that ladder with claims about quality is nearly impossible.

Therefore, according to Ries, it makes sense to work with what customers already know. Strategy should be built from the perspective of the “prospect”, rather than the perspective of the company (and the ego of company executives). Often, this involves finding the hole that the market leaders have neglected or don’t serve well.

These are the concepts that lie at the heart of Ries’ and Trout’s thesis, and they use many case studies and examples to illustrate the companies, brands, and products that have successfully positioned themselves in the mind of the consumer. Consider these examples from decades past, and the holes that they filled:

  • 7-Up: “Uncola”
  • VW Bug: “Think Small”

In the first example, 7-Up was introduced to a market which associated “soda” with “cola”. It filled a hole for people who wanted something other than cola, which was at the top of the sweetened carbonated beverage ladder. The original VW Bug couldn’t compete with what drivers saw in the size and power of cars from Detroit, so its marketers sidestepped those issues and concentrated on the hole that Detroit had neglected — small vehicles, which have their own advantages in the minds of the prospect: price, parking, fuel use, etc.

Other marketing strategies in Positioning

There are other strategies Ries mentions in Positioning. One involves invoking other successful products. One clever example involved positioning Jamaica as “The Hawaii of the Caribbean.” It’s a great line, but it apparently fell victim to micromanagement at the highest levels of Jamaica’s government.

However, I had to question other parts of Positioning. For instance, Ries spent a lot of time discussing the importance of of having the right name. Some of this makes sense, such as the example he used of “Hog Island” being a poor choice for a tropical resort until it was renamed “Paradise Island.”

But should companies completely avoid “coined names” like Coca-Cola? I think the jury is still out on this one. Ries states that it’s “dangerous” to have “mean-nothing” names, and it only seems to work when the product is first-to-market, like Xerox. But in the digital age, we have seen a slew of successful companies and products that have obscure or semi-relevant names (Google and Google Docs, Apple and the iPod, Nintendo and the Wii, etc.) None were first-to-market in their respective categories, yet all have been runaway successes.

On the other hand, some people in the digital realm are still firm believers in using easy-to-remember and easy-to-spell names. At a conference a few years ago, I heard Mint cofounder Aaron Patzer talk about spending a lot of time on finding (and paying for) the right name. The personal finance tracking site had to be easy to understand, spell, and enter into a browser address bar. He also thought his competitors were crazy for choosing names that were hard to spell or pronounce — he specifically mentioned Geezeo.com and Wesabe.com.

Ries also struggles with disentangling positioning problems from other business problems. For instance, he suggests that Eastern Airlines was failing at the time of the book’s writing because of its name (“when prospects are given the choice, they are going to prefer the national airline”). No mention was made of deregulation, new competition, Eastern’s fleet, or the titanic management/labor struggles Eastern was dealing with at the time.

Positioning a big company vs. positioning a startup

It must be noted that the ideas in Positioning are often best suited to major national brands and multinational corporations. Startups may find some lessons here — I certainly derived value in the hole and ladder concepts described above. But other theory and examples will resonate best with people who work for Google, G&E, and other giants of the corporate world, in which big-budget advertising campaigns and months-long market research studies are possible. Ries is clear that it takes time and money to follow his advice (e.g., “If you don’t spend enough to get above the noise level, you allow the Procters & Gambles of this world to take your concept away from you”). Of course, time and money are two things that most startups don’t have.

Lastly, Positioning is a book from another era — the golden age of one-way mass media. It was written long before the Web, social networks, and mobility had a chance to impact the way people communicated and formed opinions. Technology-driven trends such as the Web or mobile phones as well as game-changers such as Google search results must be considered in any discussion about marketing, but these developments came too late for Positioning. On the other hand, it leaves a few holes that I am hoping other authors, bloggers, or experts will try to fill.

Lean Media in the music world: From Led Zeppelin to Deftones

Led Zeppelin I and II. Husker Du’s Zen Arcade. Slayer’s Show No Mercy. What do these three hard rock albums have in common? Besides being “classics” in their time, all were recorded in a very short period — weeks or a few months, compared to a year or more for established artists.

Led Zeppelin I took just three weeks to record. Led Zeppelin II was recorded in 1969 a string of studios in various cities on Led Zeppelin’s tour route, using songs they had written along the way or had prepared for the tour. In the case of Husker Du’s Zen Arcade, the double album cost just over $3,000 to make in 1983. All but two of the songs were recorded “live” in just one take, with a total recording time of 85 hours. The Slayer album was recorded in November 1983, and released just three weeks later, with the band promoting it using the singer’s Camaro and a rented U-haul trailer.

I’m fascinated by these examples, because it shows that great music can be made with limited resources. When I say “limited resources,” I am not just talking about money, but also time and even technology (according to Rolling Stone, Led Zeppelin’s drummer “played the percussion part to ‘Ramble On’ on a guitar case, a drum stool or a garbage can”). They proved that you don’t need huge budgets, lots of process, or the most expensive gear to produce something that fans like. In that sense, it fits the Lean Media philosophy.

When the music industry abandons Lean Media

However, lean processes can fall by the wayside as bands get big. Led Zeppelin, for instance, was famous for extravagant and sometimes unhinged recording sessions later in their career. When I was employed in the British music industry many years ago, I worked with an engineer who had some connection to Led Zeppelin in the 1970s, and said drummer John Bonham was often rip-roaring drunk, and once crashed his car at the estate they were using for recording. Their 1975 double album Physical Graffiti reportedly took 18 months to record.

Music industry and Lean Media example: Deftones performing in Brazil. Photo by tatu43/flickr, licensed under creative commons.
Lean Media in the music industry.

Singer Chino Moreno of Deftones offers an interesting perspective. Like many bands, Deftones started out lean, and moved to “fat” later as they became famous and had the financial resources to spend lots of time — sometimes even years — recording a new album. But they moved back to lean methods. Last year, he told Spin:

We recorded our last record, Diamond Eyes, pretty fast. I think we spent six months from writing it to recording it. Our whole work ethic changed at that point. Not dragging things out and really capturing a moment in time is a great way to make a record. We did a couple of records before that — Saturday Night Wrist and the self-titled record — both of those took a couple of years. Taking that long just is not a good work ethic. We’d have an idea, a riff, and it would be tweaked and mangled and months and years later, after enough things are added to it, you kind of lose the sense of what it was you were trying to do. Capturing the essence of what the idea was in the first place is very important.

The importance of the artistic purpose, and the creative elements that go into the writing of music and the production of an album cannot be overlooked. The creativity of the musicians, and the dynamics between them and the producer can lead to great music — or artistic and commercial failure — regardless of the budget or time spent in the studio.

There are other examples of albums that were lean. Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska. Nirvana’s Bleach. What other albums do you think fit the Lean Media mode?

Update: I am expanding the Lean Media concept into a book. Read sample chapters of the Lean Media book here, or sign up for the lean media newsletter.

A proposal for a Lean Media Framework: Input and iteration required

(Updated) I’m a media guy. I’ve been involved as a producer and manager in various sectors of the media industry my entire adult life, including the music industry, broadcasting (radio and TV), newspapers, magazines, and, starting in the 1990s, online media. I’ve experienced the shift from analog to digital, and the many struggles that have resulted from this sea change.

More recently, I’ve become a startup guy. I co-founded a mobile software startup that released a classifieds app. I’m currently trying to bootstrap an e-publishing venture around In 30 Minutes® guides, and have released more than a half-dozen titles on Amazon, iTunes, Kobo, and other ebook distribution platforms. These guides are aimed at mainstream audiences who need help getting up to speed with mildly complex subjects, ranging from health to technology. The guides include ebooks/books as well as online components — including the guide which people mistakenly compare with Google Docs for Dummies and posts such as What Is Dropbox? to get an idea of the products and information being offered.

The Lean StartupA few years ago, before the mobile startup, I heard Eric Ries give his Lean Startup stump speech at MIT. It immediately clicked with me. His focus was software development, but I realized that the things he was saying about product development, feedback cycles, and speed applied not only to software, but to media content as well. I had seen it with my own eyes. Print content, websites, video, music and other products/projects that were developed with these qualities in mind had many positive qualities. They were cheaper to produce, they made it to market more quickly, user feedback loops started sooner, and if they were new brands, they got a huge head start. They were also more fun to work on.

Conversely, products that took the big media approach — bloated teams, top-down directives, planned by committee, limited feedback cycles, etc. — encountered problems. They required huge staff and budget commitments, took years to complete, and seemed to have a higher rate of failure.

But I also realized that there were some problems with applying the Lean Startup framework to media content.

First, out of all of the “Lean” media products that I had been a part of or had seen close-up, very few could be considered successes. My blog about the Harvard Extension School is one (more than a half-million page views, thousands of dollars in revenue) and an online community for Computerworld (probably 10 million visits before it was retired) is another. But other products floundered or failed out of the gate, and even after iteration, they failed.

Second, it wasn’t hard to find examples of fat big media products that were hits. Turn on the TV, and you can see examples on every channel. A reality TV talent show that takes millions to produce, is planned for at least a year, and follows a format of a three-judge panel with at least one British judge, has a very high chance of success. In the music world, there have been many albums that have taken years to produce and have broken every Lean rule in the book, yet have sold millions of copies. To illustrate, Def Leppard started writing the songs for Hysteria in 1984, yet the album wasn’t released until 1987. The songs on Hysteria didn’t take long to write. But finessing them, producing them, marketing them, and launching them took years. This is the exact opposite of Ries’ Minimum Viable Product (MVP) concept, or even the variation known as Minimum Delightful Product.

Third, it was hard to isolate certain factors that are commonly found in media products but are seldom seen in the software world. “Brand” and “star power” can be hugely important in new product launches for media, but in the software world (aside from Apple) it’s more about the product and what it can do. For media products, another difference relates to creative processes and team dynamics, and the feedback cycles that exist within teams (think of the Beatles in the studio, the New York Times editorial processes, or the Saturday Night Live script readings). There is also the huge disruption that is taking place around business models, which clouds everything around media.

Lean Media: From Theory To Practice

When I launched a mobile software startup, I finally had a chance to put Lean methodologies to work with my co-founder. We made mistakes, especially at the beginning, but eventually released a product that proved to be very popular with consumers, and had high engagement and retention rates. I felt that when we followed the Lean philosophy, it worked very well for product development.

When I started my second venture this summer, the ebook experiment, I pledged to myself that I would attempt to actively follow the Lean philosophy. Get products out to the marketplace as soon as possible. Measure. Iterate. Improve. Some of these processes were already ingrained, owing to my earlier experiences with rapid product development in the online media and music industries, as well as the mobile software startup, and my grad school experience, which emphasized iterative product development. But I was more methodical with measuring and incorporating feedback. I also paid a lot of attention to revenue, something that I had not been focused on with any previous venture or media experiment.

As the ebook venture progresses, my mind has been circling back to the inconsistencies I observed earlier. Yes, Lean methodologies do work for media content. They can lead to better products, and better sales. However, the Lean approach does not take into account important factors — such as brand and creative processes — that can determine the success or failure of media ventures.

The Opportunity For Lean Media

Therefore, I believe there is an opportunity to build a new Lean framework that is specific to media ventures — a Lean “mod” for media, if you will. The goal of building a Lean Media Framework is to help startups and established companies build innovative products, platforms, and business models that have a higher chance of success and can contribute to new models of creation, distribution, and consumption.

In the old media world, an idea like this would have been developed by a single writer or a small team of collaborators. An essay would appear in a communications journal or The New Yorker. If it got traction, the author(s) would get a book deal.

In the spirit of Lean development and distributed knowledge, I am starting with a simple blog post (which took two hours to write) and throwing these concepts out to my favorite forums for discussion and iteration. Share your thoughts below, tweet to @ilamont, write a blog post, or do whatever you think is appropriate to carry the discussion forward and iterate until we have something that we can share with a wider audience.

November 2015 Update: I am expanding Lean Media into a book. Read sample chapters here, or sign up for the lean media newsletter.

Update: More thoughts and discussion here: