Leanpub is called Leanpub because of the idea of Lean Publishing, which is defined as follows:
"Lean Publishing is the act of publishing an in-progress book using lightweight tools and many iterations to get reader feedback, pivot until you have the right book and build traction once you do."
Lean Publishing was born from the epiphany that I had back in 2010 that, in many ways, a book is a startup.
I realized that just as Eric Ries's Lean Startup idea and Steve Blank's Customer Development idea were changing the way that startups were being built in Silicon Valley, there needed to be something similar for publishing.
So, in many very direct ways, Leanpub is the application of Lean Startup theory to publishing.
Now, technically, a book is basically a bunch of words in order, whereas Eric Ries's definition of a startup is "is a human institution designed to deliver a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty". So, strictly speaking, a book is not a startup.
But, as I wrote in my original Lean Publishing manifesto, there are four parallels to consider when comparing books and startups...
Risk: There are market risks, technical risks and a very low probability of success.
Creative: Both writing a book and creating a startup are highly creative processes undertaken by one or a few people working closely together.
Stealth: Historically it has taken about a year, often spent in isolation or “stealth mode”, to develop and release the first version.
Funding: Historically, startups have been funded by VCs and authors have been funded by publishers, both of which are hit-driven businesses.
(By the way, another parallel I didn't go into in that manifesto, but which is very true, is that both authors and startup founders are really worried about other people stealing their ideas. I think authors are even more worried about this than startup founders today, partly because of the impact of Lean Startup on startup thinking.)
So, the application of Lean Startup theory to publishing is the origin of Lean Publishing, and why we're called Leanpub. This emphasis on iterating, getting feedback, pivoting if necessary--this all comes from Lean Startup and from Customer Development. Just as entrepreneurs have to get out of the building, authors have to get their work in front of readers...