Entrepreneurial Research

  • Lean start-up – the sailing approach

For moving long distances across waters, one can use a motor, hand paddles or sails. Paddling is for sports and sweat, but entrepreneurs need their strength elsewhere. As for motor sports, if you have the money and the environmental nonchalence to buy engine fuel, it takes you quickly anywhere – until you’re out of gas. When sailing, the wind doesn’t always blow – and sometimes in the wrong direction– but it’s a powerful, unlimited and, above all, a free resource. If you know how to navigate a sailboat that is. It sure is a little more demanding than stirring a motorboat. In some ways, smart entrepreneurship is like navigating a sailboat.

Take, for instance, the lean start-up method. While large companies often apply the motor fuel approach and pay for market research to learn what their (potential) customers might desire, lean start-ups are not afraid to set their sails, launch their product in beta, and ideally have paying (or at least enganged) customers who gladly send live feedback. The lean sailing start-up may even get paid for conducting market research. And they engage in dialogue with their customers. As a side effect, they will relate more closely to a brand.

The dialogue counts

Paying to know what your customers want is for the uncreative and unbrave ones. It sure takes a good portion of self-consciousness to expose your branded but not-yet-perfect product or service to the public and ask more or less openly for feedback. But like in any working relationship, the company or brand should question itself and engage in dialogue with their most valuable partner: the customer. On a personal level, who would not want to have a partner who says: How can I improve? What else can I do to make you even happier?

Free marketing with partnerships

Marketing is another domain to which the sailing metaphor applies vividly. You can either buy gas (any kind of advertisement) and stir your marketing motor boat in any direction – but also in the wrong one. And once your budget is burned, the journey is over. Or you look out for winds that move your marketing sailboat free of charge – in partnerships for instance.

Professional partnerships work on a win-win basis. Identify companies or publications which might be interested in your product or service, approach them and offer to their employees or readers vouchers for discounts or even free trials. The discount vouchers generate new customers and enough revenue to cover the operating costs for them. That’s new customers at no cost – except the time invested to approach potential partners. It may not be suitable for all, but that’s the sailing principle: you only pay with time.


[photo credit: © Florian Stenschke / on Booma, Lake Charlevoix, Michigan 2013]