Phil Morle of Pollenizer on Lean Startup Thinking

Phil Morle of Pollenizer on Lean Startup Thinking

Phil Morle, co-founder and CEO of startup incubator Pollenizer, started his SydStart workshop by explaining, "Today I'm going to talk about how I think about getting massive – which we all want to do when we're in a startup – and how you do that in a more systematic, predictable, less uncertain way using lean startup."

"One of the criticisms that I hear frequently is, 'Well I can't do lean, because I have a big idea, you know? I wanna be as big as Facebook, I wanna be Tesla. So I can't do lean. Lean doesn't work in that context.' I believe you can, and that's what I wanna talk about today," he said.

Why go massive?

According to Phil, we're in a very exciting time. Human progress is happening at an accelerated pace and it's creating opportunities for us as entrepreneurs to make the next generation of businesses. It's on us to make the products that are massive.

What is Lean Startup?

Phil says you can absolutely go massive through lean startup. He cited how Peter Thiel – the founder of PayPal, a massive investor, and one of the early investors in Facebook – doesn't have a high regard for lean startup as an approach. From Peter Thiel's standpoint, lean startup is making small things that already exist or listening to what customers say they want, instead of making something extraordinary that they've never heard of before. Or, it means making nothing more than a minimum viable product. Peter Thiel's book called From 0 to 1 is about the whole idea of creating exponential technologies, making things that don't exist, exist. It's about making something extraordinary that no one's seen before. And his argument is that you can't do that with lean startup.

Phil, however, thinks the contrary. "I think this is a misunderstanding of lean, 'cause lean is a process. It's a state of mind, it's a discipline that we act upon to give ourselves a more certain chance of de-risking and building a great business model," he said.

To illustrate, he made a lean canvass for Facebook in the early days. "Here's a very uninteresting, not zero-to-one, not game-changing idea; small utility, but it's testable; it's workable; it's validateable; it got those 70,000 users; it got them going, right? It's not the endgame. So no one said to do lean startup you have to dream small. Look at Facebook, look at its journey, look at how it rolled things out, look at how it's taken its big vision of making a socially connected world and it's stepped towards it, brought us along on the journey with it. I would also argue if someone launched Facebook today, and said I've got some amazing site, social network, it does all these things, log on with another website, you can do all these things – you guys won't know what to do with it. But they've educated us week in, week out, over the last 10 years."

When they started Pollenizer, Phil said that they always used to say, "Actually, stop having this big idea" because they saw all these people coming to them saying, "We have this big idea, we're going to make the next Facebook." And they had to say to people all the time, "Well you can't start with the next Facebook, you need to start with something that you can deliver, and you need to head towards being the next Facebook." For the first instance of Pollenizer, they went by the concept of "Be smaller, and then you can prove it and you can get somewhere, and get to the first step."

After the first year however, they realized that people didn't have enough ambition. They've kind of lost sight of the big goals. So they started using the phrase, "the top right". "It became sort of a common thing, like how do you have your North Star that you never forget, the top right massive, massive vision that excites you, gets you out of bed everyday, but also informs your thinking? It kind of drags you up towards your ultimate intention of making a zero-to-one company. But what is the thing that you're testing today as well? You need to know what this is because you can't just make the massive, you have to make the thing that you can deliver and make a sustainable working business model to get you to the next step," Phil said.

Phil then went through several examples of lean startup applications – colonizing Mars, Tesla, Uber, and Lawpath.

Thinking Lean

Phil mentioned that a really great way to think about massive is the unifying theory of Peter Thiel and lean startup. The question you should ask yourself as an entrepreneur is "What is the valuable company nobody's building?"

Another thing he finds really useful about thinking through this stage is that if you actually put water in front of it, it gets you feeling a bit more ballsy and courageous. "You're saying, 'What if I can change the world like this?' And you start off with this enormous thing, and you step down to all the other steps that are possible to get you along that journey," he said.

Phil ended his talk by saying, "I think lean – it's a process. That's all it is. And at the heart of it is actually proving in an achievable way the components of your business model as you go and then scaling up from there. And I think, as I showed, I would class that SpaceX business model, Tesla business model, as just as lean as someone deciding to sell shoes or glasses online. That's the kind of thing that feels easier to validate with a lean approach, but you can do space, you can do solar batteries, and you can do any other business. It's about building, measuring, and learning. If that's what you're doing, you're doing it lean. I'll leave you with this one thought – be massive!"

Watch Phil's full workshop with a Digital Pass.