Do More Faster: Lean for Startups

Terms like MVP and Pivot have become synonymous with startups. With many of your competitors running as Lean Startups, how do you break out from the crowd? During the 2015 Techstars Boulder program, we used several additional techniques with the companies to help them accelerate their business. I’ll be doing an experience report about the Boulder program at this year’s Lean Startup Conference. If you can’t make it, here is an overview and links to detailed how-to guides. If you prefer a podcast version, you can find my Lean Startup Podcast interview here.

These techniques will help you:

  • create coherent behaviors, decisions and a sense of purpose within the founding team and employees;
  • maintain a shared understand of the current state of your business model;
  • surface key risks and unknowns; take focused action to reduce those risks/unknowns;
  • do more of the right work faster by visualizing and optimizing the flow work in your company; and integrate learnings from the market at a daily, weekly and monthly cadence.

All of this will help you get to product/market fit faster and more effectively scale the company.

The Company OS is where you start. This simple document will help you translate your vision into a concrete sense of purpose for your business. The alignment and energy created by articulating your core purpose, behaviors, decision making framework, and your aspirational destination, allows you to move so much faster.

The Lean Canvas is an essential tool in building a shared understanding of your business. The canvas forces you to be succinct and direct when describing the most important aspects of your business. By doing so, you’ll spend less time working on distractions, and focus on what’s really important.

After you articulate your best understanding of your business via the lean canvas and company OS, it’s time to build a business that works. The impact uncertainty exercise helps you uncover all the guesses, assumptions, risks, and dependencies in your business model. We’ll then help you best take action against these obstacles, and systematically de-risk your business.

Once you’ve surfaced key risks and uncertainties, the monthly strategy session helps your team take focused action on what really matters. Additionally, this exercise encourages you to learn from past performance helping you hit your goals in the future.

Finally, learn how to get the most out of each and every day with an effective Kanban board.

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MVPs and experimentation are no longer competitive advantages. To get ahead, there is so much from the Lean methodology, not originally included in The Lean Startup, that can accelerate your business. The techniques above are an excellent way to inject discipline into your both your day-to-day operations, and your company’s long-term future.

Want to learn other ways to Do More Faster? Apply to Techstars today.








MEET the Judge

Ida Nerbø shares this advise with Startup Weekend participants:
“Work hard, have fun and be a team player. Everything else we can fix.”
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MEET the Mentors

Roald Brekkhus is a Lean Startup Enthusiast with a wide entrepreneurship experience,  constantly looking for new startups to invest in

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Connaissez-vous Lean Startup ? Partie 1 : Le contexte

Le Startup Weekend est un moment important pour découvrir l’univers de la création de startups. Contrairement à l’image générale, une startup ce n’est pas forcément une structure anarchique sans méthode qui cherche à transformer un coup de chance en business. Depuis quelques années, de nombreux managers de startups ont pris du recul sur ce qui a fait la réussite ou l’échec des startups mondiales. Plusieurs méthodologies en sont sorties dont la méthode Lean Startup qui ressort comme une excellente base pour de nombreux entrepreneurs.

Là où est l’intérêt pour vous, participants du Startup Weekend, c’est que cette méthodologie peut être mise en oeuvre dans le cadre des 56 heures pour entreprendre. Nous aurons l’occasion de vous inciter à vous appuyer sur la méthodologie, mais surtout les jurés vont attendre des éléments particuliers qui correspondent bien à la méthode. Donc afin de vous aider en amont, voici quelques notions à connaître sur le sujet.

Dans la série des articles du blog du #SWTO, pensez à lire l’article sur “Qu’est ce que l’innovation” (à venir…) qui vous aidera à comprendre dans quels cadres appliquer ces conseils (et c’est vaste). Par ailleurs, l’article sur le Lean Startup a été divisé en 3 afin de le rendre plus digeste.

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Le Lean Startup est une méthodologie qui veut permettre de gérer la mise en oeuvre d’un service ou produit innovant en maîtrisant au maximum les coûts et en validant les besoins auxquels il veut répondre. L’expérience montre qu’une innovation empirique (on conçoit un produit sur papier, on dépense des fortunes en développement et on le confronte au terrain longtemps après la conception) rencontre un taux d’échec très très fort. La littérature sur le sujet parle d’un taux d’échec de 80% pour les projets innovants. Afin de réduire ce taux d’échec, Lean Startup propose de ce concentrer sur 3 points :

  • Définir une vision et des axes forts pour présenter cette vision

  • Expérimenter vite pour analyser la réponse des utilisateurs

  • Décider de persévérer ou pivoter

Ces 3 points sont souvent évoqués à travers le cycle Build, Measure et Learn.

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Dans les prochains articles, nous étudierons ces points en détails.








From Lean Startup to Minimum Viable Product to Traction: A Rundown of Startup Weekend Concepts and Lingo

Startup Weekends attract a wide range of participants, including innovators and inventors who may be unfamiliar with the “lean startup” approach to creating a business that SW advocates. Boston EDU Startup Weekend shared this great primer that will give you a grounding in the concepts and language you’ll see at Startup Weekend Lehigh Valley. We’ll also be sharing some definitive readings as the Weekend approaches.

Lean startup modelEric Reis turned his blog  into a recently published book, The Lean Startup, which was #2 on the New York Times Bestsellers list. (Inc. Magazine featured a condensed version of Reis’s book  if you want further reading. Essentially, Reis developed a business model that encourages startups to find out as quickly as possible whether or not the business idea/product/service is viable. The path to achieving this learning is to create a rough version of your product that goes into a cycle of testing, iterating, testing, iterating, testing, and iterating until the product is viable. An important part of this process is early and frequentcustomer validation.  The lean startup model came out of a concept in manufacturing where small batches are created so that there is minimal loss of time and money if the market isn’t interested in that version of the product. The same lean process works well applied to technology too. When creating a web-based tool or an app, you can create a mockup to garner feedback without building the actual product or feature, for example.  (I love Balsamiq for this!)

Minimally viable product or MVP: This is not the same as a prototype! In the Lean Startup model, the goal is to create and test the smallest piece of a business to see if there’s a market for it. Reis defines the MVP as “that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”  Essentially, you’re looking for the minimum set of features needed to learn from your early adopters because you want to learn early what users want and don’t want. It limits spending time and energy on products that no one really wants. Most teams try to develop a minimally viable product during a startup weekend, not the whole business. It looks great to judges if you’re able to validate your idea/product during the weekend.   You may be asking, but how do I do that?

Customer validation or validated learning: There are a number of ways to learn about your customers and what they like and don’t like about your product/service. There’s also a big difference between what someone might say they like and what they’re willing to buy or do. The best validation is showing that customers/users will in fact want your product/service and be willing to pay for it.

You first want to see if there’s any interest. For example, if you already have a free product but are curious if people would pay for some additional features, you could add a button to your site that advertises the new version (which you haven’t built yet!). If a number of users click the button, then you have begun validating that customers are interested. If no one clicks, then all you’ve wasted is the time to develop the concept—you haven’t spent excessive money and time on something no one wants.

During a Startup Weekend, you’re likely to focus on establishing general interest in your product or service, and if you’re lucky, getting some users to act. There’s not a lot of time to build significant traction. One way to establish initial interest is to create a landing page.

Landing page: To test the viability of an idea, a single webpage is sometimes created to see if anyone will sign up for the product/service.  There are several pre-built free pages out there. I’ve used and liked KickoffLabs and LaunchRockOoomf creates landing pages for mobile devices. What’s great about these programs is that they provide data: how many times the page was visited, how many visitors were unique, how many actually signed up. (There are some great programs with more bells and whistles for when your business grows and you need to track more complex user actions. At LessonCast (www.lessoncast.org), we use MailChimp (mailchimp.com)).

Here’s an example: I joined the team TeenStarter (TeenStarter.com) at Startup Weekend EDU in Seattle . The concept for this youth-only site was to provide both advice on creating a business (how to pitch, how to develop an idea, how to market) and to provide a platform for students to pitch their ideas to get seed funding (micro-financing for teens). Our hypothesis was that a student would post a video pitch and then use social media to send it out to his or her network. Friends of friends might also contribute, until the student received the money he or she needed to launch a business or community project.

Here are the steps we took to validate the concept that weekend:

  1. We created a landing page and used social media to blast to contacts of everyone on the team. (KickoffLabs showed 73 unique views and 17 users signed up.)
  2. Again using social media, our team sent out a request for any teenagers who had an idea to pitch. (One 13-year-old relative of a team member uploaded a video late Saturday night!)
  3. Once we had the site minimally functional, we posted the teenager’s video pitch and at uploaded a PayPal donate button. (Our featured teenager needed $60; $40 was raised before final pitches on Sunday night. She had the rest the next day!)

For a Startup Weekend, this exercise demonstrated a good conversion rate, and was a fairly solid proof of concept!

Conversion rate: It’s one thing to get users to your site; it’s quite another thing altogether to get them to act/buy/participate. For example, if you send out an email directing folks to a landing page, the first conversion rate will be how many viewers actually click on the link to that landing page. Then the next level of concept validation is how many of these users actually sign up. It’s possible to have more levels of increased engagement beyond this, of course. Each increased level of engagement provides more validated learning about what customers will do. In the Teenstarter example, one measure of a conversation rate would be that out of 73 people who viewed the landing page, 17 actually signed up by providing their emails.

There are other ways to validate what your customers like: interviews are often used

Interviews: Interviews are a great way to gather information during and after a Startup Weekend. Just because you are an educator does not mean that you should assume that you know what all educators will want—still take the time to get feedback from other teachers and administrators. Other participants, organizers and mentors can help you get in contact with people outside your own educator circle. Asking educators on other teams is one good method to gather some immediate input. Showing two or three versions of a product works well to provide you with specific feedback about features.

Mockups: Remember that you do not have to create a full product to get feedback. A mockup can provide the same information with much less time investment. I learned how to use Balsamiq (free trial period!) at one Startup Weekend—it’s great for creating a design of a website or iPhone app.

Traction: Once you’ve validated your concept, you next want to build traction, something that’s unlikely to occur during a Startup Weekend because of the condensed timetable but definitely an area of focus as you move your business forward. Traction means building a set of early adopters and being able to get those adopters to do something. For example, if you’re building a community-based site, then your traction would be connected to how many users are interacting on your site. If you’re selling a product to schools, how many schools have signed? If you’re interested in investors, then they will be interested in your traction.

When you’re at Startup Weekend, learn as much as you can from other participants and mentors about other effective ways to develop your concept into a viable business!








Ya llega “Before” Startup Weekend Mendoza

Antes de emprender el desafío que nos espera los días 24, 25 y 26 de octubre en las jornadas intensivas para aprender a emprender del Startup Weekend Mendoza, nos vamos a reunir para trabajar sobre conceptos claves con el fin de aprovechar aún mejor esta oportunidad.

El día Miércoles 22 de octubre de 16 a 20 te esperamos en el Espacio de la Ciencia y la Tecnología (Ex Eureka) para trabajar sobre aspectos importantes que te ayudarán a entender la metodología del Startup Weekend.

¿Tenés claro qué es un emprendimiento social? Nuestro lema “Mejorando Vidas” apunta a que trabajes sobre este tipo de startup durante el evento. Por lo tanto, en este encuentro dejaremos claro a qué nos referimos con social, cuál es su alcanze, sobre qué bases se funda y cómo generar rentabilidad para los emprendedores.

Avanzaremos sobre cómo dar un buen “elevator pitch” para transmitir tu idea de emprendimiento de manera eficaz y eficiente, que llame la atención y genere público interesado en tu proyecto.

También trabajaremos sobre cómo hacer un modelo de negocios Canvas, el cual te permite tener una idea global de tu emprendimiento de manera sencilla y rápida, organizando todas las áreas necesarias para presentar un proyecto.

Al final de la jornada que luego se realizará del Startup Weekend Mendoza, cada equipo mostrará a través de una presentación el prototipo de su emprendimiento. Es por eso que en este encuentro te contaremos porqué es necesario trabajar sobre un prototipo, metodología del Lean Startup, y te ayudaremos a diseñar una presentación eficaz para vender tu idea a los miembros del jurado.

Si estás inscripto al evento pronto te enviaremos por correo electrónico la invitación para que confirmes tu asistencia y nos acompañes en esta primera etapa de “Startup Weekend Mendoza Mejorando Vidas”.