订阅

多平台阅读

微信订阅

杂志

申请纸刊赠阅

订阅每日电邮

移动应用

领导力

“精益创业”思维如何成就了一位创业大师

Adam Lashinsky 2018年03月12日

无数企业高管成为此人的粉丝,但他并不真正喜欢商业。

旧金山的Warfield剧场隔壁是传说中的摇滚圣殿,多年来经历过鲍勃·迪伦,感恩而死乐队,还有枪炮与玫瑰。走进啤酒味飘香的大厅,坐进空旷大厅陈旧的椅子里,眼前是衣冠楚楚的商业精英们大谈创业,似乎有些格格不入。

演讲者们观点不算犀利,不过提倡的观点相当类似。零售商诺德斯特姆负责用户体验的副总裁乔迪·舒克娜非常热衷“顾客第一的思路”,还有“紧跟变化,勇敢走出舒适区的能力”。咨询公司Strategyzer鼓励客户开展 “创新短跑”活动,亚力克斯·奥斯特瓦尔德敦促各公司建立“21世纪组织架构”。连联邦政府代表也掌握了新鲜术语。美国国际发展署前创新主管安·梅·张就警告非营利机构,不要用“虚荣指标”衡量成功,还称“扩张太快”会造成巨大风险。

这场“布道大会”去年11月举办,演讲者有个共同特征:都是《精益创业》一书作者埃里克·莱斯的支持者。这本书掀起一场积极的运动,本次论坛就由忠实粉丝举办。论坛主要讨论的话题包括,最核心概念“最简化可行产品”,简称“MVP”,意思是企业应该用最快,成本也最低的产品测试市场。另一个概念是“转向”,意思是遭遇挫折时业务应转向新方向。这些概念都来自莱斯2011年写的书,英语版已卖出超过百万本,已被翻译成另外30种语言。

莱斯对创业圈的影响可谓巨大。各处的创业者都接受了他提出的概念和建议策略,包括与用户一同测试假设,判断创新成功与否时应跳出收入和市场份额等会计原则。“毫无疑问,过去十年他对创业公司的思路产生了巨大的影响,”在斯坦福商学院教授创业课程的罗布·西格尔表示。

39岁的大师本人也参与了论坛,他在剧场深处一个绿色房间里主持论坛。交流者还包括国家安全局的团队,该团队也因践行他提出的概念获得成效,是个有关核密码的项目。他跟贾斯汀·罗森斯坦亲切拥抱,据说罗森斯坦(自称)发明了Facebook上的“点赞”按钮,现在负责一家名叫Asana的协作软件创业公司。对莱斯来说,论坛更多出于感情,而不是为了盈利。他留着络腮胡,脸庞特别像演员塞斯·罗根。但在他一人开创的咨询、出版和演讲事业王国里,论坛的作用还是巨大的。

如今,莱斯咨询过的公司已数以百计。虽然他最大的关注点仍是创业公司,但《精益创业》发行后的几年里,他越发意识到业界对相关概念的理解太窄。他表示,只要提供适当的环境,再古板的公司也可以鼓励创新。去年10月,莱斯的第二本书《创业之道》中就直接点名大公司,特别是通用电气。通用电气也是最早聘请莱斯当顾问,随后大规模推广其理念。

莱斯并没有主动找大公司,其实大公司在过去某些时候曾充满创新精神,但往往变得官僚主义,注重流程且厌恶风险。大公司找到莱斯时,他发现还是有些事可以做。“有几年我过着双面生活,”他说。“一面是跟成功企业家谈,他们想在扩大规模的同时保留创业公司的DNA。与此同时另一群人则拼命想找回失去的创业精神DNA。”

莱斯按照自己提出的建议,不断测试假设,不断问问题,终于找到了商业世界普适的创新方法。他的想法看起来有些直接,写下来感觉有点太明显,但就像其他好老师一样,他能将观点解释得很有说服力,在发表演讲、谈话和提供指导时能让人觉得很有紧迫感。他还走出大胆一步,开创了自己的公司,目标是打造新股票交易所,解决华尔街的短期主义倾向问题,也为他热爱的创业公司创始人们提供服务。看来莱斯真是少有能切实践行理念的好老师,他一直努力提升课程对各种领导者的价值。

精益创业论坛之后几天,莱斯一直在旧金山家附近公寓里写作。此处环境郁郁葱葱,房间里墙壁和沙发都是白色,是个很方便的隐居之处,也很适合思考。莱斯很需要安静的环境。去年深秋前,他为了宣传新书去了纽约、费城、波士顿,然后又去纽约,还有洛杉矶。之后一周他计划在辛辛那提的宝洁公司开设工作组,之后飞去伦敦。

他从没想到需求如此之多。《精益创业》一书出版后,莱斯收到雪片般的邀请,他频频出席演讲,提供咨询和指导,这也是他之前从未想过要从事的职业。“就这么发生了,”他说。他还表示,接受人们花钱听他介绍自己思想这个事都花了点时间。莱斯由此摇身一变,跻身硅谷杰出的创业大师。“这样的个人介绍可能不太好,”他边说边思考自己言论的影响,“但我其实对商业没那么大兴趣,至少没有谈话对象们兴趣大。我其实不喜欢经商。”他说时任通用电气总裁的杰弗里·伊梅尔特曾经问他,如果让他掌管通用电气会怎样。“我说,‘我会死的。10分钟都撑不了。这份工作会压垮我。’”

莱斯更喜欢的是写代码,还有开班公司。他在圣地亚哥长大,双亲都是物理学家和教授。(他有两个妹妹,一位是精神科医生,另一位是联邦检察官。莱斯的妻子塔拉·莫尔是斯坦福大学MBA,职业是人生导师,也是一位作家。“我是家族里的黑马,”他打趣说,“家里感恩节聚会时我总是唯一一个没有高等学历的人。”)他在耶鲁学习哲学,后来改为计算机科学,辍学创业后惨遭失败,后来返回学校完成了学业。毕业后他迅速去硅谷再次创业,但还是失败。

后来他成立了IMVU公司,也开始研究后来变为精益创业思路的理论。IMVU经历了多次“转向”,目前主要为社交网络制作虚拟形象,公司产品是一款处理软件,出了名的迭代迅速,人们称赞其开发“敏捷”。莱斯和联合创始人威尔·哈维有自己的导师,是加州伯克利分校教授史蒂夫·布兰克,他也要继续写创业方面的畅销书《四步走向创业顿悟》。“每周四我们都会坐BART”——湾区的主要交通线——“去伯克利听他讲课,”哈维回忆说。

讽刺的是,虽然后来莱斯在创业圈地位崇高,但他的创业生涯不算多辉煌。IMVU如今仍是私有状态,盈利性收入不过6000万美元,按硅谷的标准不算什么。2008年莱斯离职,先在风投公司凯鹏华盈待了一阵,后来专心写博客,内容是他对如何创业和扩大规模的观察。博客越发受欢迎,之后他开始写书,转向演讲和咨询事业。之后大公司开始找上门。

《创业之道》书中开头不久,莱斯就比较了“老派公司”和“现代公司”的特征。二者的差异可能会让在老派公司工作的人受打击,迫切希望公司转型。据莱斯分析,老派公司最重视季度业绩,有通晓各种职能的专家,跟踪的指标都让管理者看起来很能干。中层管理者喜欢重复之前的工作,而且影响力很大。相比之下,现代公司更注重长远,擅长组建跨部门团队,迅速实验,更关注业务运营的实际影响。总之,现代公司让具有创新精神的人担任改革先锋。

莱斯的批评针对了当今商业世界大部分公司。一开始他完全抵制大企业。但他逐渐发现理念中存在矛盾。莱斯对创业有个标准定义,“在极端不确定情况下实施创新的人类组织。”他在演讲时反复强调概念,也指出定义“并未指明企业的规模,发展阶段,存在时间,领域和行业”等等。“最核心的一点是不确定性,”他表示。“所以只要符合定义就是创业,”不论规模多大。后来,随着越来越多《财富》500强公司请他介绍,也有人说他吹牛,他的思路越发清晰,也接受挑战开始与大公司合作。

莱斯认为大公司发展的重点是,别总想着规模。大公司要成立小团队实施创新,充分授权而且要持续保护,这也是他的追随者称道的“21世纪组织架构”核心。一旦成立,小团队可以跳出常规采取各种实验,采取与公司之前开发产品不同的方式。

测试精益创业理念最著名的大公司当属宝洁。这家消费品巨头向来有创新的传统,旗下有20个品牌,年销售额超过10亿美元。但近年来增长停滞。2016年宝洁聘请莱斯担任顾问,给领导层将精益创业。宝洁首席研发和创新官凯西·费什称,莱斯鼓励宝洁认真考虑加快研发并测试简化产品。“我们公司很大,有很多人负责创新,”她表示。“现在成立了小型的专门团队,最小的只有三个人。”(团队简化后有什么意想不到的好处?开会少多了。)

时任通用电气总裁的杰弗里·伊梅尔特曾经问他,如果让他掌管通用电气会怎样。“我说,‘我会死的。10分钟都撑不了。这份工作会压垮我。’”

宝洁的精益创业实验要等多年才能显现效果,但在改变大企业思维方面已经初见成效。举例来说,去年秋天宝洁推出了简化版新款护舒宝和丹碧丝卫生巾,并开始在美国市场测试。宝洁采取了“事务性简化实验”,在200家塔吉特商店推出了早期版本。宝洁希望千禧一代消费者会喜欢新款。对比之前要等三年才能推出新款,这种简化迅速的测试证实消费者愿意支付额外费用尝鲜。

虽然此前宝洁也会做态度研究和大规模市场调研,“现在我们很早就能做出‘充满信心’的假设,”费什表示。三款卫生巾中有一款表现不好。如果在过去,整个测试会受阻。但现在宝洁只要继续推另外两款即可。

莱斯最出名的案例要数通用电气,多达60000名员工接受了有关精益创业的培训。他们在数百个项目里事件,从加速设计飞机引擎到“数字化”风力电场到帮助客户决定如何更好地配置通用电气涡轮。莱斯的方法在通用电气还有个新名字,叫“快速法”,管理者表示这套思路已经融入整个公司。“现在公司上下通行‘快速法’语言,”通用电气文化转型负责人詹尼斯·森佩尔表示。“具体来说包括重视客户价值,行动前先理解问题,还有认真考虑资本配置等等。”

即便一些老将陆续离开通用电气,包括伊梅尔特和曾负责创新事务的副总裁贝斯·康斯托克,但莱斯的方法,也即“快速法”似乎已在通用电气扎根,由此可见其影响力。当然了,通用电气的问题可能不只是缺乏创新精神。新上任的首席执行官约翰·弗兰纳里就对增长乏力很不满意,提出要拆分公司。莱斯表示对通用电气的前景“谨慎乐观”,还相信快速法会发挥重要作用。

莱斯在《创业之道》结尾处理了一个长期困扰他的问题。他能帮助创业公司增长,却无法改变上市公司面临的问题,因为市场过于痴迷短期财务数据,这种氛围不鼓励冒险因而扼杀创新。他建议成立长期股票交易所,公司只用专注长期发展,长期持有的投资者会获得丰厚回报。其商业模式将涉及与传统股票交易所竞争公司首发上市。

但没人按照莱斯的建议行动,几年后他成立了一家名叫长期股票交易所(LTSE)的公司,开始不断向证券交易委员会递交文件,申请挂牌和交易股票的资质。2016年公司获得多家风投1900万美元投资,包括安德森·霍洛维茨等科技圈大佬。按照莱斯设想,新交易所将采取全新的监管制度,例如禁止出具季报。投资者层面,LTSE建议采取终身投票制,长期持有股票的投资者投票权会增加。交易员仍然可以买进卖出股票,但对管理层几乎不构成影响。

虽然向来理性,但莱斯提到LTSE需求时还是忍不住充满义愤。他指出,现在越来越少公司愿意上市,因为保持私有化状态远远好过应付一帮无情的激进投资者和其他只看短期的假投资者。“如果这种趋势持续下去会怎样,我真是不明白,”他表示。“感觉最后市场上只能留下,比方说七家超级集团,其他公司都保持私有。这种政策结果太可怕。”

然而,理论想转化为实际挑战多多,虽然公司里15名员工全力奋战,莱斯担任首席执行官,但LTSE仍然停留在纸面上。去年秋天,莱斯表示年底会向监管部门提交文件,但到12月公司发展“转向”。其与一家新股票交易所IEX达成合作,IEX创始人曾出现在迈克尔·刘易斯畅销书《闪击者:华尔街的反抗》中。合作后在LTSE挂牌的股票可以在IEX交易,IEX已经获得证券交易委员会许可。

另外,市场上还存在普遍担心,重视长期投资者会降低挂牌公司的价值。LTSE并不同意这一观点:“我们打造的系统里,企业可以提升到更高标准,”曾在奥巴马政府财政部和纽交所任职的米歇尔·格林尼表示,目前她担任LTSE首席政策官。“市场鼓励管理层为长远打算时,企业才能创造更多价值。”

目前来看,LTSE面临的还是先有蛋还是先有鸡的困境。没有证券交易委员会的批准,就没法吸引公司挂牌;但即便获得许可,在此挂牌的公司还要拿发展过程中最重要的融资机会去测试一个尚未证明的概念。“有公司真正挂牌之前,还有很多未知数,”Twitter前首席执行官也是LTSE投资人迪克·科斯特罗表示。专门负责帮创业公司上市的LTSE顾问利斯·布耶尔补充说:“埃里克做的是好事,但前路十分艰辛。高度监管的市场里,变革是十分缓慢的。”

然而莱斯还是全力投入LTSE发展,现在是他的全职工作。他基本上不接新的咨询业务,他也表示“咨询行业的竞争也越发激烈。现在做创业咨询的人已经大把。”

说有大把人加入创业咨询可能都保守了。由于企业对精益创业需求太旺盛,Bionic、Moves the Needle和Leanstack之类纷纷投身其中,精益创业论坛上还有更多类似公司热情洋溢,准备争夺莱斯做不了的领域。莱斯仍然在接业务。前通用电气高管史蒂芬·里郭利负责溢价创新咨询公司,向荷兰银行ING和香港的怡和洋行等机构提供莱斯式咨询服务。里郭利和莱斯还做起副业,成立了名叫企业创新社区的会员组织,主要聚集大公司负责创新的高管,分享优秀案例。创始会员包括通用电气、大都会人寿、宝洁、先锋集团、ING和惠普等。

莱斯有两个孩子,他表示现在没什么时间享受爱好。但他经常弹钢琴和吉他,最近还将极客一面与音乐结合起来。“我自学了声音剪辑和音频工程,”他表示。“我喜欢乐器领域可编程和模式化趋势。专家们对乐器的物理特性进行数学模拟,然后产生的对应的声波。”如果莱斯继续精进研究,没准有一天能在Warfield剧场开演奏会呢。(财富中文网)

本文另一版本刊登于2018年3月出版的《财富》杂志,标题为《意料之外的创业大师》。

译者:Pessy

审校:夏林

 

The Warfield Theatre in San Francisco’s gritty Mid-Market neighborhood is a legendary temple of rock, host over the years to the likes of Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, and Guns N’ Roses. It’s jarring, then, to walk through its beer-soaked halls, plop down onto a threadbare seat in the cavernous auditorium, and listen to smartly dressed business types evangelizing about entrepreneurialism.

The speakers are an eclectic group, yet they’re singing from the same buzzword-laden hymnal. Jyoti Shukla, vice president of user experience at retailer Nordstrom, enthuses about having a “customer-first mindset” and “an ability to ride with change and embrace discomfort.” Alex Osterwalder of the consultancy Strategyzer, which coaches clients through “innovation sprints,” urges attendees to have a “21st-century org chart.” Even outposts of the federal government have mastered the lingo. Ann Mei Chang, a former chief innovation officer at the U.S. Agency for International Development, warns nonprofits not to measure success with “vanity metrics” and decries the perils of “ramping too quickly.”

The occasion for these sermons is the annual Lean Startup Conference, in November, and the speakers share a common trait: They are disciples of Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, the seminal tract that spawned a self-proclaimed movement of which this is a convocation of the faithful. The mantras they repeat—most prominently “minimum viable product,” or MVP, a company’s quickest, cheapest way to test the market, and “pivot,” which is what businesses do when failure demands a new approach—all come from Ries’s 2011 book, which has sold more than a million copies in English and has been published in 30 languages.

The mark Ries has made on the startup landscape cannot be overstated. Entrepreneurs everywhere have adopted his vocabulary as well as his methods, including testing their hypotheses with customers and gauging the success of innovation with relevant accounting measurements beyond revenues and market share. “He unequivocally has been as impactful on the mindset of startups as anyone else in the last decade,” says Rob Siegel, who teaches entrepreneurship at Stanford University’s business school.

The 39-year-old guru himself is here too, holding court in a dimly lit greenroom in the bowels of the theater. He huddles with a grateful team from the National Security Agency, which has implemented his techniques—on a project involving nuclear codes, no less. He bro-hugs Justin Rosenstein, who holds the dubious distinction (by his own admission) of having invented the “like” button on Facebook and now runs Asana, a collaboration software startup. The conference is more labor of love than profit-making effort for Ries, who sports a mustache-less scraggly beard and, in a pinch, could play stunt double for actor Seth Rogen. But the event also is an important linchpin in his one-man consulting, publishing, and speaking empire.

The companies that Ries has advised now number in the hundreds. And while startups are his passion, in the years since The Lean Startup appeared he came to realize the term had been too narrowly understood. Properly nurtured, he now says, innovation lurks in the bellies of even the stodgiest corporations. Ries’s second book, The Startup Way, published in October, focuses squarely on big companies, notably General Electric, one of the first to hire Ries as a coach and to widely deploy his teachings.

Ries didn’t seek out big companies, which all had been innovative at some point but all too often have become bureaucratic, process-oriented, and risk-averse. But once they found him, he realized he could help. “I had several years where I was living a double life,” he says. “On the one hand I was talking with these guys”—successful entrepreneurs—“who were trying to figure out how to retain that startup DNA as they scaled. At the same time a separate group of people were trying to recapture that DNA they had lost.”

By following his own advice of relentlessly testing his hypotheses and asking questions, Ries hit on a formula for corporate innovation that’s relevant across the gamut of the business world. His ideas can seem straightforward or even obvious on the page, but like other adept teachers, he’s able to make them compelling and urgent in lectures, conversations, and coaching sessions. Today, he’s even got a fledgling startup of his own, an audacious gambit to create a new stock exchange focused on squelching the scourge of short-termism on Wall Street—to the benefit of founders of his beloved startups. Ries, it turns out, is the rare teacher who practices what he preaches, potentially making his lessons all the more valuable for leaders of all stripes.

A few days after the Lean Startup Conference wraps, Ries has holed up in an apartment he keeps as a writing retreat just down the street from his home in a leafy San Francisco neighborhood. The walls and the couches are all white. It’s a simple hideaway, a good place for reflection. Ries needs the tranquil setting. By late fall, he already has traveled to New York, Philadelphia, Boston, New York again, and Los Angeles to promote the new book; he has plans for a workshop with Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati the following week and a trip to London after that.

He never expected to be in such demand. After The Lean Startup came out, Ries was inundated with invitations to lecture, consult, and coach, a career he hadn’t previously contemplated. “It just happened,” he says, adding that it took a while to get used to people paying him to tell them what he thought. Indeed, Ries volunteers a startling admission for Silicon Valley’s preeminent business guru. “This is probably not good for the profile,” he says, the author-as-subject anticipating the impact of his words, “but I don’t really like business that much, at least not as much as most of the people I talk to. I actually kind of feel bad about it.” He says Jeffrey Immelt, the erstwhile chief executive of GE, once asked what Ries would do if he ran the conglomerate. “I was like, ‘I would die. I wouldn’t last 10 minutes. It would destroy me.’ ”

What came naturally to Ries was writing code and starting companies. He grew up in San Diego, where both of his parents are physicians and professors. (He has two younger sisters, one a psychiatrist and the other a federal prosecutor; Ries’s wife, Tara Mohr, a Stanford MBA, is a life coach and author. “I’m the black sheep of the family,” he quips, “the only one at Thanksgiving without an advanced degree.”) He studied philosophy and then computer science at Yale, dropped out to pursue a startup that flopped, then finished school. He quickly made his way to Silicon Valley to work on yet another failed startup.

At his next company, IMVU, Ries began developing the theories that would lead to the lean startup methodology. IMVU, which after several “pivots” now makes virtual avatars for social networks, became known for rapid product iteration, a process software people call “agile” development. Ries and his cofounder, Will Harvey, had a guru of their own, University of California at Berkeley professor Steve Blank, who would go on to write his own innovation bestseller, The Four Steps to the Epiphany. “Every Thursday we would get on BART”—the Bay Area’s mass transit line—“and go to Berkeley to audit his class,” recalls Harvey.

The irony of Ries’s subsequent exalted status among entrepreneurs is that none of his startups amounted to much. IMVU, still privately held with $60 million in profitable revenue today, is a plodder by Silicon Valley standards. Ries left in 2008, hung out for a time at venture firm Kleiner Perkins, and mostly devoted himself to an increasingly popular blog about his observations on starting and scaling companies. The blog got him going on the book, which led to his speaking and consulting career. Then big companies started calling.

Early in The Startup Way, Ries compares the traits of “an old-fashioned company” and a “modern company.” The contrasts are devastating for anyone who works at the former and wishes their employer were more like the latter. An old-fashioned company, in Ries’s estimation, focuses on quarterly results, has experts in functionalized silos, and tracks metrics that make managers look good. Middle managers, intent on doing things how they’ve always been done, hold tremendous sway. A modern company, in contrast, is long-term-oriented, utilizes cross-functional teams, deploys rapid experiments, and measures the meaningful impact of business operations. Above all, modern companies empower entrepreneurial thinkers as change agents.

Ries’s criticisms amount to an indictment of most of the corporate world. Initially, he flat-out resisted becoming a sage for big businesses. But he gradually came to see a contradiction in his own philosophy. Ries has a standard definition of a startup, “a human institution designed to bring something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty.” His rinse-and-repeat presentation on the subject notes that his definition “doesn’t say anything about size of company, stage, its age, sector, industry,” and so on. “It’s fundamentally about uncertainty,” he says. “And therefore anyone who meets this definition is an entrepreneur,” regardless of scale. Over time, as more denizens of the Fortune 500 came to hear him speak—and called his bluff—his intellectual curiosity got the better of him, and he accepted the challenge of working with megacorporations.

Ries reckoned that the trick for big companies was to stop thinking about their size. They needed to form small groups devoted to the practice of innovation, and empower and protect them on a continual basis—as the core of the “21st-century org chart” his followers admire. Once formed, these smaller units could run experiments that were outside the norm of how their companies might typically launch products.

One of the most storied companies to give lean-startup thinking a whirl is Procter & Gamble. The consumer products Goliath has an impressive history of innovation—it has 20 brands with more than $1 billion in annual sales—but in recent years, growth had stalled. The company hired Ries in 2016 to speak to its top commercial leaders. He inspired them to get serious about speedier and leaner product testing, says Kathy Fish, P&G’s chief research, development, and innovation officer. “Because we’re a big company we had lots of people involved with innovation,” she says. “Now we have small, dedicated groups, as small as three people.” (One unexpected bonus of lean teams? Fewer meetings.)

[/bs-quote]Ries was asked what he would do if he were CEO of GE. “I was like, ‘I would die. I wouldn’t last 10 minutes. It would destroy me.’”[/bs-quote]

While P&G’s lean-startup experiments will take years to play out, it already has seen a measurable change in its corporate mindset. This past fall, for example, it began market-testing new versions of its Always and Tampax feminine pads in the U.S. that featured simpler ingredients. It deployed a “transactional learning experiment” that introduced early versions in 200 Target stores. P&G hoped the products would be popular with millennials, and the limited, speedy test—they got to market in a year compared with the typical three—confirmed that customers would pay a premium.

Whereas before P&G would have conducted attitudinal research and large market tests, “now we get clear early on ‘leap-of-faith’ assumptions,” says Fish. One of the three sizes for the pad initially tested poorly with consumers. Traditionally, that would have stalled the entire test; instead, P&G moved forward with two sizes.

At Ries’s most prominent test case, General Electric, upwards of 60,000 employees have been trained in lean-startup methods. They have worked on hundreds of projects, from speedily designed aircraft engines to “digital” wind farms that help customers determine how best to deploy GE turbines. The Ries way even has its own name at GE, FastWorks, which executives describe as a corporate way of life. “The language of the company has become the FastWorks language,” says Janice Semper, culture transformation leader at GE. “That includes customer value, understanding problems before we start, and being smart about our thinking before we decide on capital allocation.”

It speaks to the impact of Ries’s approach that FastWorks appears to have stuck at GE despite the departure of many of its champions, including Immelt and Beth Comstock, the vice chair who previously led GE’s innovation efforts. Of course, GE’s problems may be bigger than being more innovative. New CEO John Flannery is so frustrated with anemic growth that he has floated the idea of breaking up the company. Ries says he’s “cautiously optimistic” about GE, and confident the FastWorks efforts will bear meaningful fruit.

At the very end of The Lean Startup, Ries addressed a policy matter that was bugging him. He could help startups grow, but he couldn’t do much about the environment they’d face as public companies in a marketplace obsessed with short-term financial goals—a climate that stifles innovation by discouraging risk-taking. He proposed a long-term stock exchange, where companies would agree to focus on the long haul and investors would be rewarded for holding on to their shares longer. Its business model would involve competing for IPO listings against traditional stock exchanges.

No one acted on Ries’s proposal, so a few years later, he founded a company, called it the Long-Term Stock Exchange, and began the arduous process of getting permission from the Securities and Exchange Commission to list and trade stocks. In 2016 it raised $19 million from a bevy of VC firms, including Andreessen Horowitz, and tech-industry luminaries. It instituted novel governance rules, like forbidding quarterly earnings guidance. On the investor side, LTSE proposed so-called tenured voting, which gives shareholders who keep their stakes more voting power. Traders would be free to dart in and out of stocks, but they’d have little to no influence over management.

A rational guy, Ries can approach righteous indignation when talking about the need for LTSE. Fewer companies are going public, he notes, because it’s easier to stay private than face the wrath of ruthless activists and other short-term actors. “I don’t really understand what people’s plan is if this trend continues,” he says. “We’re going to wind up with, like, seven public companies that are mega-conglomerates, and everything else is private. That’s a terrible policy outcome.”

Translating theory into reality has proved challenging, however, and despite the efforts of a 15-person staff, with Ries as CEO, LTSE remains mostly an idea. Last fall, Ries said LTSE would file with securities regulators by the end of the year, but in December the startup pivoted. It reached an agreement with IEX, a new stock exchange whose founders starred in Michael Lewis’s bestseller Flash Boys, whereby LTSE-listed stocks will trade on IEX, which already earned SEC approval.

There’s also the niggling and widespread fear that favoring long-term investors will decrease values of the listed companies. It’s an assertion LTSE disputes: “We’re creating a system that allows companies to be held to a higher standard,” says Michelle Greene, an Obama administration Treasury and NYSE veteran who is LTSE’s chief policy officer. “When you really enable management to manage for the long term, that will enable them to create more value.”

For now, LTSE faces classic chicken-and-egg dilemmas. It can’t list any company without SEC approval; but once it can, any company that chooses it for its IPO will risk the most important fundraising event in its history on an unproven concept. “Before you take a company public there’s a lot you don’t know,” says Dick Costolo, the former CEO of Twitter and an LTSE investor. Adds LTSE adviser Lise Buyer, who runs a firm that helps startups go public: “Eric is trying to do good things, but it will be a long hard climb. Change comes very slowly to regulated markets.”

Still, Ries is so committed to the Long-Term Stock Exchange that it’s now his full-time job. He generally isn’t taking on new consulting clients. But he notes that “a lot of other entities have taken up the slack. There’s now a cottage industry of people who do startup consulting.”

Cottage industry may be an understatement. Corporate hunger for lean-startup help is so robust that groups with names like Bionic, Moves the Needle, and Leanstack—and oodles more that roamed the halls at the Lean Startup Conference—are ready to step in where Ries can’t. And Ries still has his hand in the game. Stephen Liguori, an ex–GE executive, now runs an innovation consulting firm that plays Ries-ian roles for the likes of Dutch bank ING and Hong Kong’s Jardine Matheson. Liguori and Ries also have a new side business, a membership organization called the Corporate Entrepreneurship Community, that brings together innovation executives from large companies to compare best practices. Charter members include GE, MetLife, P&G, Vanguard, ING, and HP .

Ries, who has two small children, says there isn’t much time left for hobbies. But he does play piano and guitar, and he has a new musical passion that indulges his geeky side. “I taught myself sound editing and audio engineering,” he says. “I like the programmable and modeled instrument trend. They build a mathematical simulation of the physics of what the instrument would be, and then generate the sound waves from that.” If he gets good enough, Ries might even play the Warfield one day.

A version of this article appears in the March 2018 issue of Fortune with the headline “The Accidental Guru.” We’ve included affiliate links in this article.

我来点评

  最新文章

最新文章:

500强情报中心

财富专栏