It’s time to try it. How I went from stuffing envelopes literally to metaphorically

I finally read ‘The Lean Start-Up’ by Eric Ries. I had been learning the principles of ‘small batches’ and getting an ‘MVP’ (minimum viable product) out into the world from other sources for the past year or so, but as I said, I finally read the original source of the advice.

I thought it was appropriate to mention this book now and its lessons now, as we are currently in the middle of the NBA Finals, and with LeBron James facing the San Antonio Spurs, my mind was cast back to one of my favourite blog posts from my original blog One Man Weave, a running diary of Game 4 of the 2007 Finals.


The writing is fairly awful, the text colour and inconsistent font are somewhat disorienting. It was the wild days of blogging. Back when people still kept running diaries, and people actually read them after an event (not mine, but some popular people like the guy I mimicked at the time, Bill Simmons). I had never heard of Twitter, but this post is like a ‘live-tweeting’ commentary from the game, or it would be now.

Bringing all of this back to The Lean Startup, the One Man Weave blog was my minimum viable product; something that was consistently evolving, something far from perfect, but helping me learn lessons, and move in the right direction to my goal at the time of working in sports journalism. Each post, however small and insignificant to most, was teaching me lessons, helping me hone my skills, and improve my writing, and marketing of my blog.

The most powerful analogy of the book for me, was the example of the importance of ‘small batches’ and the example used was one of ‘stuffing envelopes’. It was based on the notion that completing one small task over from start to finish, was more valuable than completing all separate parts of the task individually, and then trying to bring them all together.

This resonated with me for a number of reasons, firstly because that literally was a former job of mine as a mailroom assistant at a prominent Melbourne law firm, so I could easily envisaged the process from personal experience.

Ries explained the way the process is usually done (I can attest), and the way it should be done for maximum efficiency and progress. Note ‘envelopes’ can be substituted to replace anything build or aspire to build.

Usual process for stuffing 50 envelopes. 1. Fold 50 pieces of paper 2. Stuff paper into 50 envelopes 3. Seal 50 envelopes.

Lean Startup suggested process for stuffing 50 envelopes. 1. Fold 1 piece of paper. 2. Stuff 1 piece of paper into 1 envelope. 3. Seal 1 envelope 4. Repeat steps 50 times.

Pulling out some thought starting questions for you from this.

What if you completed step 1 and 2 of the first process and realised the glue on the envelopes wouldn’t stick down? Or if you reached step 2 and realised the paper did not fit the envelopes?

The answer is you would be in trouble, you would have wasted significant time, and energy.

Following the LeanStartup process, you would have noticed on the very first envelope all of the problems above, and been able to address the issues much easier.


How can this relate to your life?

It’s the try before you buy option. It’s starting a blog and seeing whether you like writing, before spending money on a writing course. It’s volunteering time at a PR business in your free time, deciding whether you like the industry, before enrolling to study it at University. It’s making five baskets to sell at a market, as opposed to making 100, only to find out people are not interested.

Don’t go down a path without testing out whether you will be happy with where it leads. The earlier you learn that something works for you, or does not, the quicker you can move towards your goals.


Follow me on Twitter at @RyanMobilia here or connect with me on LinkedIn here.

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