In Eric Ries’s view, author of The Lean Startup (2011), technology risk is less of a factor than market risk in order for a startup’s product to succeed. I believe both risks are important and need to be addressed concurrently. While Fiberlane, and then Cerent was designing the Cerent 454 in 1997 and 1998, the marketing team met with prospects and gauged market reaction to the proposed product. The tension within the startup, between engineering and marketing, was palpable as the product was shaped to address service provider needs more so than enterprise customer’s needs. Eventually, the feedback gathered by marketing led to a product launch that found a wide range of customers clamoring for the Cerent 454.
Cerent’s engineering team mitigated the technology risk while the marketing team reduced the market risk. The value of the Cerent 454, reinforced from the top down, led to an elegant product that fit the market, in what Ries calls a “minimum viable product” with a constrained feature set. The Cerent 454 led to a simple, fast, and easy way for customers to do business with the Telecom Valley startup.
The Cerent approach allowed for orders of magnitude improvement in how its telecom customers allocated capital and expense dollars; how they built their optical infrastructure; and how they introduced new services. Cerent embraced the notion of “failing fast” in order to jettison ideas for features that would not work for customers building the new optical infrastructure. In that, I agree with Eric Ries.