Anti-Agile Anti-Lean Startup

We’re all pro-Agile and pro-Lean Startup here, right? In most all cases, there is a significant value difference when you build products in a traditional method versus an Agile method. Agile just #wins, right?

Well not so fast. Coach Wei, the founder and CEO of Yottaa (pronounced like Yoda-Jedi-Master), says no to Agile and lean startups. His 2 year old company from Cambridge, MA makes software tools to help business websites run faster, monitor their performance, and generate sales more efficiently, or Web Performance Optimization.

Wei recently talked with Greg Huang from xConomy in depth about what he’s doing with Yottaa. You might call it the “anti-lean startup.” In some ways, it is the opposite of the lean startup model, started by Eric Ries, which involves having a small team, creating software prototypes quickly, and using customer feedback to rapidly iterate code.

I'm Yottaa Yobot. I'm not down with Agile man!

As Wei explains, that approach works well for some social media and Web startups, but not all. In particular, he says, if you’re trying to build a company that will be able to grow from, say, $1-5 million in revenue to $50 million, you could run into difficulties with the lean startup model. If you start small and local, ramping up to hire a team of 100 people in Boston or San Francisco will be almost impossible because of the current talent crunch and skyrocketing cost of good developers. “There’s a huge scalability gap,” Wei says.

So he’s trying something different at Yottaa—and he’d probably be the first to acknowledge that it might not necessarily work. The idea, he says, is to be “global from day one and have scalability built in.”

Translation: hire most of the team in Beijing and the rest in the Boston area, from the start. “We try to integrate the best of here, and the best of China, to build a company,” 

Yottaa is positioning itself to grow quickly by tapping into Beijing’s developer talent pool (which Wei says is very deep and fast-moving) and making that a fundamental part of the company’s culture.

But having the team split across such a huge distance is very challenging, especially for a startup. In fact, geography is a big reason why techniques like agile software development don’t work for Yottaa—fast iterations and code releases (on a daily basis, say) usually require developers to be in the same room.

Currently, he says code development has “converged to a semi-agile, semi-waterfall [traditional]” model and regular visits to Beijing and daily meetings and e-mails are the norm at Yottaa.

Yup, doesn’t sound too Agile to me. I’m very interested in how this will fair. I’ll keep my eyes on this as it progresses!

[HT: xconomy]

12 Responses to “Anti-Agile Anti-Lean Startup”

  1. David J Bland
    September 13, 2011 at 9:48 am #

    At some point (unless you run out of runway & close up shop) your organization evolves from iterating over experiments to find a viable business model & product market fit to scaling the organization.

    It doesn’t make sense to scale right away before finding a fit… that’s how we ended up with the dot com bubble.

    After you achieve that fit then you tend to evolve into the “company building” phases of your organization. That is where you scale from 1-5mil to 50mil (if you are extremely lucky!).

    In short, I’m confused by his statements which leads me to believe he doesn’t distinguish between startup experiments and company building phases.

    • Adrian Smith
      September 13, 2011 at 2:18 pm #

      Completely agree with your comments David. Scaling a business and finding a scalable business model are two different problems.

    • peter
      September 13, 2011 at 6:59 pm #

      Good points David. I’ll see if I can ask… maybe clarify a bit… stay tuned

    • Zsolt
      September 14, 2011 at 2:53 am #

      Additionally, the lean startup approach isn’t just for small companies. I watched Eric Ries and Patrick Vlaskovits talking about it and they put emphasis on the measurement and learning. I believe that size does not matter in this case.

      • peter
        September 14, 2011 at 8:26 am #

        Yep. Agreed!

  2. AgileRenee
    September 15, 2011 at 3:02 am #

    I’d like to argue that a business with a $1-5 million dollar revenue is anything but a start up – it is a business well past that phase.

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