Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Mastery of Lean Startup

The concept of Lean Startup introduced by Erik Ries is an amazing collection of common sense and  innovative ideas. If you have not seen his Google talk or read his book on Lean Startup, my advice for you is to stop reading this blog and watch this video instead. My Agile team at work has our own Book Club, and the last three sprints, we are reading Erik Ries' book, and each time we find a lot there to admire, and about as much to disagree with. Some ideas resonate with me (validated learning, minimally viable product, pivoting once your assumptions are invalidated - all makes perfect sense) while selecting a small group of customers to validate your product and make decisions based on this restricted subgroup does not.

I value contradictions. Primarily, I do so because I do not believe that they exist. I treat them as puzzles for us to solve. So when I got a qiestion whether I would want to go to Lean Startup Machine Training in New York, I said "yes" without hesitation, even though I had no clue what the training is going to be. And once I did, I found that it is all-weekend training which starts on Friday evening and ends of a Sunday evening, and goes almost non-stop for all three days. It is a hackathon-like experience for entrepreneurs and for anyone who wants to learn how to start building your product right. The concept of working through the whole week-end slightly scared me but not enough to pass on this exciting opportunity, so I rolled my sleeves, checked into a hotel in New York and started the 3-day marathon.

Now that the second day is over, I want to share my thoughts with you while the experience is still fresh.

First, it is worth doing! Learning about lean startup is nothing compared with going through it. Powered by a simple yet powerful product envisioning tool called validation board, my team started with building a fee-free tool for business professionals who need to find company after work hours while on travel (at that time, we were thinking of social activities or just a friendly chat) and after 5 pivots and a lot of interviews of potential customers, we have designed a VIP Travelers Club with a $5K/year membership fees. Interesting that our first idea had a very low conversion rate while the final one brought us an advisor who wants to introduce us to an investor. You never know your customers until you ask them directly! This is my learning experience #1. And the second one is similar: "go out"," "talk to the people". My two teammates - Hao and David - and I spoke a lot to the strangers and learned that the first product that we loved and voted for has limited business value while the final one has a significant business potential.

Why am I telling your this? - To encourage you to get out of the building, meet your end user, validate your assumptions and pivot as many times as you need until you find a perfect combination for your Minimally Viable Product (MVP). And once you did, validate and build over again. This is how all successful product owners create their winning products.

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