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The Lean Startup: Lessons for a Print Service Provider

In today’s printing industry, uncertainty is the rule rather than the exception. Citing Eric Ries’ New York Times Bestseller entitled The Lean Startup, this article explores how print service providers can leverage the advice in this book.


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About Barb Pellow

A digital printing and publishing pioneer, marketing expert and Group Director at InfoTrends, Barbara Pellow helps companies develop multi-media strategies that ride the information wave. Barb brings the knowledge and skills to help companies expand and grow business opportunity.

Please offer your feedback to Barb. She can be reached at [email protected].


By Gina Danner on Nov 21, 2013

Well stated Barb. I love Ries' book and you presented the compelling case for the evolutionary efforts of a savvy PSP. The fragmentation in our industry presents opportunity at every corner for the insightful and engaged owner/leader. The question now... who is going to truly put forth the effort?


By Jennifer Matt on Nov 21, 2013

Barb - My favorite concept in this book is the idea of a minimum viable product or MVP. In the print industry lots of software projects have died a long, painful, and expensive death because they assumed including everything equaled success. Software/technology projects don't fail because you didn't get everything, they fail because you did the wrong things.

We do the same thing when we go to train customers on new software, send them to a class that teaches them everything. They go back to the plant and they can't actually do anything. MVP teach a little, experiment, teach a little more, experiment, rinse and repeat.

I've seen 100's of web-to-print and Print MIS projects take the comprehensive approach. Customers tell printers they can't launch until all 3,000 products are configured on the new store. Come to find out only 10% are actually actively ordered. Your minimum viable product (MVP) should have been that 10%.

I think admitting that you don't know what's going to happen is critical - that's why its so important to get live fast so you can learn what's important to your customers. Don't assume, don't guess, go get real data. I always say, "get an order to travel from order entry to invoice" once you experience that end-to-end flow, you'll know where to focus your efforts.

On the Print MIS side, I've seen printers spend months paralyzed by trying to get every piece of legacy data from their old system into a new system. If you had to run your business on a new Print MIS tomorrow what's the minimum viable product? Launch that and then your direct experience will tell you what the next priority is.

I think we (the print industry) can use a lot of tools from the startup world. In fact a few of my customers asked what events they should attend to expand their horizons. I strongly suggest the Lean Startup Conference. I've gone for the last couple years, last year I met Todd Park there - the CFO of the US Government. It was a great two days of learning from all organizational types and sizes.

The biggest difference between the startup community and the print industry? Startup community sees change as 100% opportunity. The print industry often views change as 100% threat. Go hang with the guys (mostly guys in their 20's ;-) and get infected with the opportunity bug.

If you decide to do it this year (Dec 9-11, 2013) - let me know I'll be there: http://leanstartup.co/ Meet-up for the print industry in my hometown - San Francisco.




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