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How AAp evolved by Adopting Principles of Lean Startup

Aam Aadmi Party is the first Startup of Indian Politics in real sense. Therefore, the key to their further expansion lies in thinking like a Startup and acting like a Startup. It is equally important for parties and politicians opposing Aam Aadmi Party to decode this puzzle as it can help them in designing effective counter strategies against AAP. Why Aam Aadmi Party is a Startup? Startups work on various design principles and Aam Aadmi Party followed the Principles of Lean Startup. In simple language, Lean Startups grow through experimental learning under uncertain conditions, through observations and instant responses.  Following are the key principles of radically successful Lean Startups, and this is how Aam Aadmi Party applied these principles:

  1. Find a Problem worth solving, test the strength of the Problem, and then work to find solutions

Is the problem worth solving? When Startups approach me for seeking advice, I always recommend this basic analysis to them. Stronger the problem, bigger the quantum of people suffering from a problem, more viable will be the solution. Weaker problems with easy solutions are rarely viable.

AAP used this principle twice and both these instances provided a decisive push. First instance was India against Corruption movement (2011) which is the mother of Aam Aadmi Party. In the background of this movement were some big scams and controversies like 2G Spectrum, Aadarsh Housing and Neera Radia Tapes which were getting huge media coverage. Public anger against corruption was at its peak. So, the problem was extremely strong and a believable solution had the potential to unite people. Key here was that people were apprehensive about BJP or any other Political Party’s capacity to give a believable solution to corruption. To test the strength of this problem, a group of activists started a basic campaign through Social Media. The solution proposed was creation of Lokpal who would have the powers to arrest and charge Public officials (including Politicians) accused of Corruption. Response was amazing. Then the hunt for a credible public face to lead and expand this movement started. Initial choice was Baba Ramdev, but because they wanted the movement to be non-political, they chose Anna Hazare. Anna Ji already had a support base, and his flawless image attracted high profile support including Bollywood, leading Bankers from private sector, Public servants with honest image and so on. A grand Public Dharna started at Delhi which attracted huge media attention. People started developing the impression that Lokpal is the only solution to India’s Corruption woes, and the movement spread on National level. Notable here from marketing angle is that they had already tested the strength of the problem as well as the solution (through Social Media) before Venturing big.

Second instance was when they decided to form Aam Aadmi Party (November, 2012) despite strong reservations by Anna Hazare, the hero of India against Corruption movement. They conducted a survey through Facebook page which indicated that there was a huge support for Politicization.  From there on, it became a policy of Aam Aadmi Party to take every major decision by conducting a public survey. In this process, they experimented with many new ideas, and learnt through these experiments. They learnt about the burning issues among common people, and drafted their manifesto based on public feedback. Thus, they formed a continuous mechanism through which they could know the strength of the problem and then found solutions based on public feedback. Common man started feeling that he may also make a direct impact on Indian Politics, which till the emergence of AAP was a distant dream.

In the process, AAP started developing a Minimum Viable Product.

  1. Work Smartly

That’s where I advise Chanakyaneeti to my clients. There are many possible ways of doing things, and Chanakyaneeti teaches us how to select the smartest way.  The next challenge for AAP after forming the party was to fight and give a basic minimum performance in elections. In Marketing or Startup parlance, it’s called Market Validation i.e. to test whether a solution has viable demand or not. Difference here at this stage was that projecting a new Political Party as a solution is far more difficult than gathering people for a protest.

AAP used some out of the box, smart tactics while marketing their party to the electorate. Territory chosen was Delhi, where that strong movement was born. Arvind Kejriwal emerged as the undisputed leader of the party when he observed Anna Hazare type fast against inflated electricity bills. They picked up this strong issue by following the process described under Point 1. What do you do when someone from electricity board cuts your power supply? Kejriwal, an Engineer from IIT fixed it himself. Though Illegal, this created the right vibes among his electorate. This was a new thing for media, who incidentally found many of Kejriwal led events worth coverage on Prime Time. AAP smartly started planning out of the box events/ protests which gave them free and huge media coverage. Some new age ideas in Politics were announced and momentum kept building.

The result was 28 seats out of 70 in Delhi elections (2013) which was highly unexpected. They formed the Government on Congress support which again was a smart move because they started implementing what was promised in manifesto, without caring for the economic consequences. They were very clear in their mind that their purpose of forming Government was to create a strong impact on the electorate, without caring for the longevity of their Government.  When Congress didn’t support some of their decisions, they resigned after 49 days. This was again a smart tactic, unheard in Indian Politics.

This is how they smartly created the Minimum Viable Product, and people in other states also started believing in the possibility of AAP forming Government in their own states.

  1. Entrepreneurs (Read Politicians) are everywhere

Eric Ries, Author of the Book “The Lean Startup” says that Entrepreneurship is a Universal Phenomenon, and Entrepreneurs can be found everywhere. He further states that we are living in an era of technology where it is easier to start an enterprise and easier to make it to the top. AAP used the same principle in Politics. Completely unknown names became MLA’s and Ministers in Kejriwal Government, defying the general perception that it takes huge money and muscle power to become a Politician. This impressed many aspiring Politicians, and almost everyone having aspiration to enter Politics joined AAP. This strengthened the foundations of the organization and the Party found its cadre in almost every state of India.  

  1. Entrepreneurship is Management

Eric Ries further says that a Startup is not just an idea or a product, but an institution which requires management. I have seen many startups with Brilliant ideas do well initially, but going down during the process of expansion. The problem is lack of creativity and knowledge while applying management principles. An extremely important point to note is that Management style should be customized to suit the context. Startups in the process of expansion seek the services of experienced management gurus who apply the proven management principles to provide value to the startup. But why do most of such experiments fail? Startups shouldn’t change their course to fit in to management principles, but rather management principles should be redefined to suit the startups. In a Startup, you don’t require an experienced Management Guru, but a Rebel who knows management well.

AAP has this Rebel in Arvind Kejriwal. He may not be a management expert, but knows how to adapt to make his ideas click. AAP committed the mistake of fighting on 434 Lok Sabha seats in last general elections in 2014. They failed to recognize the diversity of issues throughout the country, and did poorly in elections. They won only 4 seats (Punjab) and 414 of its candidates lost their deposit. In my book “Attain Divine Marketing Powers through Hanuman Chalisa” I have explained how grandeur is important in creating sacred brands. This ordinary performance was enough to dilute the surging Brand Equity of AAP and Arvind Kejriwal, and many internal conflicts started. Kejriwal devised his own management techniques to handle each and every conflict. He also understood the importance of grandeur, and announced that his party will follow the selective strategy while fighting elections. Results were outstanding. In Delhi State Assembly elections in February 2015, AAP won 67 out of 70 seats. Brand Equity of AAP surged manifolds after this unprecedented result, and the Rebel Manager Arvind Kejriwal became the Chief Minister again (and also became the undisputed leader of his party).              

  1. Build-Measure-Learn

AAP now had no option but to run the Government for the next 5 years. Option of quitting in-between was virtually ruled out and the task was to show to the World that they can responsibly rule a state. The challenge was to implement some of the unbelievable ideas. They started building reality out of their ideas. Some radical reforms in Health sector (Mohalla Clinics) were commendable. They also reined in some of the malpractices by private schools. While governing, they got a good measure of which idea was implementable and which was not. They also showed to the World that governance can be learnt. They soon realized that some of their ideas were not-implementable. They also faced some controversies because of misconduct of their elected MLA’s. Like a true lean startup, they didn’t hesitate in changing their stance to suit the circumstances. That’s a lesson for startups also. For running a successful startup, you must learn how to create an ongoing accelerated process which decides which ideas deserve perseverance and which ideas need course correction.

Can only new political parties follow the principles of lean startup? Not necessarily. Leading political parties can apply these principles in individual constituencies/ set of similar constituencies and create a repositioning strategy for themselves. This may also solve the problem of anti-incumbency in many cases. For budding Politicians, principles of lean startup can be panacea.

I hope this blog post describes how Aam Aadmi Party evolved. Both AAP and their opponents can formulate their strategies based on above understanding. While AAP can learn how to consolidate further, opponents can learn from the weaknesses of lean startups to devise strategies against AAP. I’ll write more on Political Marketing Process with interesting case studies and will share through my blog

Author of this Post Kujnish Vashisht is a leading Strategic Marketing Consultant, Start-ups Consultant, and a Practitioner of Chanakyaneeti. He is an Author of three successful books on Marketing and Sales. He can be contacted at 91-9779883347, 91-9878904347,

Copyright: Kujnish Vashisht,




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