New research on Lean Startup: hypotheses good; MBAs bad

How we learn to learn has a big impact on success

Pete Lead
6 min readMar 30, 2021

New research on the Lean Startup methodology finds that a business school background (i.e. an MBA) can hinder a founder’s ability to adapt to new evidence in an early-stage lean startup context, if they don’t embrace the hypothesis-testing approach through customer discovery interviews. On the other hand, if they do embrace the approach — getting out of the building and gathering evidence from customers — they move faster than non-MBAs.

As an MBA graduate who runs startup accelerators and teaches a Lean Startup course much like the one in the research, I am very interested in what this means. So, let’s dig in!

The research by Michael Leatherbee and Riitta Katila is published in the Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal, which is paywalled — but they discuss the findings in this Stanford podcast, joined by Steve Blank. The research covers 388 teams who went through an 8-week experiential lean startup course.

Two entrepreneurs mid-discussion, with businessy slides up on a projector screen
The least-cliched startuppy photo I could find on Unsplash | Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

I’ve read the published journal article and highlight some of the key findings, with my comments in italics, below:

1. Probing hypotheses via customer interviews leads to faster convergence, both through invalidating hypotheses and discarding them, and also inspiring…



Pete Lead

I work with startups, teach entrepreneurship, and freelance in improv and leadership coaching.