Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Lean Startup Machine London Review

29 hours across 3 days, 25 interviews, 3 pivots, 1 idea.

Last weekend I attended the Lean Startup Machine (LSM) here in London. I wasn't really sure what to expect since I don't know anyone who had already been to one. I definitely wanted to go to something practical and hands-on, because while I feel I "get" the Lean books ("The Lean Startup" and "Running Lean") in terms of why they outline the Customer Development (I really recommend "The Startup Owners Manual" to learn about this) they do - where I was struggling was the how to do it.

What's Lean Startup Machine?

It's an event that will really get you focused on the first part of the 3 stages of a startup* - Problem/Solution Fit. Before we start worry about producing the end-product we need to ensure that it's designed to solve a problem that people actually have.

* At least this one was - there may be future events focused on other areas.

Why Should I Go to Lean Startup Machine?

If you're new to Lean principles, or having problems with really feeling confident about your ideas before implementation - this is for you. TBH, I would even go so far as to say "do it regardless".

Go to LSM to radically change the way you approach innovative product development. You don't have to be working on a startup, the "startup" bit is a bit of a misnomer, go if you're looking to do something innovative.

What Happens at Lean Startup Machine?

Simply put, you become part of a team that essentially validates an idea to see if it has problem/solution fit.

The Idea

You can either bring your own idea and pitch it to the group, or you can jump in on someone elses.

What I would say is this "the actual idea is pretty much meaningless, what's important for the weekend is process".

Team Size

I saw a few teams really struggling at the 4+ mark. This weekend is intense. It's imperative that you are in a small (2-4 people) team that gets on well.

There are times you will be tired, times where you will be confused and times where you might feel completely lost. Only a good team can pull you through this.

I was in a two-man team (we splintered off from another large team) and while we got on absolutely great - we found that we kind of burned each other out quite fast. Therefore, I would recommend a team of 3-4 people.

The Process

At an incredible rate, you will go from "just an idea pitch" to getting out on the streets, finding your target customer and talking to them.

I think it's fair to say that a lot of us were really outside our comfort zone with this. For many, it was a complete baptism of fire. We just aren't used to profiling and finding people, let alone forming a good question flow and conversing in the right way to validate our assumptions.

The key focal point is the Validation Board, on which you place your target customer segment, the key problem you are solving for them and all your core assumptions. Ideas are always loaded with them - "people want my solution", "people have the problem", "they would use a mobile app", "everyone would LOVE to get involved" etc.

Once your core assumptions are on the board, you pick the next riskiest one (the one that if proved would mean you need to seriously re-think how this thing is going to work). For most, the first iteration on this is normally "do they even have the problem I am defining". Once you have some hard data, you then decide to pivot (change an integral part of the problem/solution) or persevere (continue on to the next riskiest assumption).

One key point to note here - the term 'pivot' is often thrown around by those that have read the "lean" books. A pivot is a fundamental change in you business strategy, like changing customer segments, the problem you are actually trying to solve or the pricing model etc.

Validation

How do we validate? Getting out of the building! At LSM, you don't have a choice! You will be herded out and expected to come back with results! This is really important. We had some amazing conversations with people throughout the weekend and it's really changed how I approach new ideas.

"Getting Out of the Building" can mean:

  • Face-to-face with actual customers.
  • Online surveys.
  • Focus groups.
  • Testing your pitch via landing pages.

Why is the first one in bold? Simply because that should always be the most preferable one. Seriously, I am a convert - it's amazing.

Homing in

Once you have pivoted and persevered a few times, you will start to realise a couple of things:

  1. Your idea where you are at now is quite different to your original hotshot idea.
  2. You feel a lot more confident about what your idea is.

You are now in a much better position to decide if you want to start "getting serious" about this idea (i.e. investing some money into it).

Wrapping Up

This weekend was really intense, I came away exhausted but absolutely buzzing with ideas to implement in my own startup.

The validation process we were taught at LSM really helped us focus on getting our assumptions tested - and in many cases, invalidated. This is a good thing. I was talking to my team mate Ben at the end and said:

"Oh man, you realise that if I had run off with the original idea and started coding, I would have been working for 6 months, easy".

This original idea was binned on the 2nd iteration of our validation board. It cost us about 2 hours in terms of having conversations and assimilating the results.

Lean Startup Machine works.

For my team, we were getting some very strong signals that we are on to something with our idea at the end of the weekend (hence why I have not gone into too much detail about the idea yet). We will likely be running some more validation in the short term. Watch this space! :)

Lastly, I would just like to say a big "thank you" to everyone that helped make it happen, especially the organisers (Ryan and Obe), you are all amazing.

(I will do the rounds and list them here soon).

 

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