This past weekend I mentored and judged in my third “Lean Startup Machine” (LSM) at the offices of Forward Internet Group in Camden. This post is for people who have an idea and don’t know how to execute on it as well as a few tips for those who are planning to attend similar events. It’s a rant really…
LSM is a weekend educational program designed to teach the principles of lean startup and customer development. It is a metrics-driven approach, enabling teams learn to identify the key risks in their business model through hands-on mentorship and a framework of tools, including the ‘Validation Canvas’ (see video below), a process-based method originated 100% by LSM. It’s a methodical alternative/supplement to the ‘Business Model Canvas‘ originally created by Steve Blank, and later modified by Alex Osterwalder, which is more analysis-based.
Some would call it a ‘hackathon’ as it follows a similar format: a group of people meet, pitch ideas on Friday and set up teams, spend the weekend ‘hacking’ until the final presentations/judging on Sunday afternoon. But LSM is different. It encourages participants to get out of the building and speak to potential customers has a rigorous focus on the methodology with less emphasis on building and more on customer validation, setting up tests and pivoting rapidly.
Lean Startup methodology will help you save time and money as you’ll learn to make decisions based on data, following a process. But it doesn’t mean that you should sacrifice prototyping. One of the basic principles of lean startup is that you shouldn’t write a single line of code that your customers aren’t asking you to. You should create an MVP (minimum viable product) and then test rigorously to validate or invalidate your hypothesis based on customer behavior/feedback. By definition, your MVP should be ‘basic’ and you should almost be ashamed to launch it. But this is where it gets a little tricky. An MVP doesn’t automatically mean a rockstart landing page with a big image and a box to capture emails. While it’s not accurate science, in order to really validate an idea I argue that your MVP needs to be a bit more than a landing page, and your validation needs to be more than just sharing the link of your newly purchased domain with your friends on twitter and Facebook. If you have the skills in your team – take a page from the Startupweekend book and launch an MVP over the course of a weekend. Springboard startup 5minutes.to will get you up and running with a site in… you guessed it – 5 minutes.
Validation happens when you either got a tremendous amount of traction and word of mouth distribution, or when someone is willing to pay for your product (even if you don’t accept payments at that stage). Let’s take the following example. You’re thinking of creating a social network for startup founders. You speak to 20 entrepreneurs and 15 tell you it would be cool to have something like that. You also found out that there are a few competitors that have raised funding. Have you validated the concept? No! as Rob Fitzpatrick, a friend and Lean mentor puts it – “everyone will say your idea is good if you annoy them long enough”. Check out his presentation on how to actually do customer development without wasting your time for great tips on talking to customers.
There’s lots of great lean methods out there for validating customer interest, but don’t give up on prototyping and putting in some hard work before you talk to customers, especially if your product is something that never existed before. As Henry Ford said ” “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”. Sergey Brin didn’t asked people if they wanted Project Glass. He created a prototype and is now validating… big time.