This is How You Spark & Drive Change: March Roundup

22528485494_7b82391530_zIn the spirit of continually delivering fresh inspiration to your mailbox, the Lean Startup Monthly Roundup is back.

These quickie digests collect the best profiles, podcasts, webcasts, essays, success stories, and bits of advice into the month’s required reading list. Think of the roundups as our ICYMI culled from the business and tech press, expert blogs (including our own), and other motivational sources that’ve caught our attention.

Of course, if you want a full week’s worth of this type of tactical advice and practical case studies, you’ll want to join us at Lean Startup Week Oct. 31-Nov. 6 in San Francisco.

What We’re Reading

How to Get Buy-In to Drive Change (Lean Startup Co.)

Whether you’re angling for a cultural shift or rethinking the products your company produces, it’s difficult to get the ball rolling when transitions make your team anxious. Yammer’s director of user experience Cindy Alvarez imparts really great advice about what you should — and should not — do to get a wary group on board with major changes.

Millions of Millennials Get Their Career Advice from These Women (Lean Startup Co.)

If you missed our interview with founders Kathryn Minshew and Alex Cavoulacos about their Millennial career hub The Muse, it’s worth a read. These women innately understand their generation’s needs when it comes to job hunting and career development, and they’ve grown a sizeable following by testing their riskiest hypotheses in smart ways.

How the Lean Startup Methodology Has Helped the Labor Movement (Lean Startup Co.)

Creating a current database of unions organized by industry, state, and name could’ve been a daunting task. But UnionBase.org founders Larry L. Williams Jr. and Louis Davis were adamant about pushing the labor movement out of the Analog Age. Using Lean Startup practices, the duo has been able to validate its offering and modernize solutions for the problems they’re solving for.

IBM’s Design-Centered Strategy to Set Free the Squares (The New York Times)

Design-thinking is a decades-old strategy that’s complementary in many ways to the Lean Startup. In the words of The New York Times, this esteemed practice, which is gaining traction in the business world, allows companies to “look at problems first through the prism of users’ needs, research those needs with real people and then build prototype products quickly.” Sound familiar? The Times looked at the massive changes IBM has been able to make thanks to its head of design, Phil Gilbert, a design-thinking enthusiast. If you’d like to hear more about this methodology, and learn more about the ways Phil is using it at IBM, he’ll be speaking at our Lean Startup Week in SF this Fall.

What BuzzFeed’s Dao Nguyen Knows About Data, Intuition, and the Future of Media (Fast Company)

The head data scientist from one of the top innovative companies in the world discusses BuzzFeed’s approach to data and experimentation. A fascinating read, especially in regard to Nguyen’s thoughts on the importance of combining metrics with employees’ gut instincts.

What We’re Watching

Lean Analytics with Ben Yoskovitz webcast (General Assembly)

The entrepreneur and angel investor breaks down best practices for capturing and synthesizing data, as well as practical examples of the build-measure-learn cycle.

What We’re Listening To

TheSkimm Built a Massive Email Following. Now It Wants More. podcast (Re/Code)

The founders of TheSkimm, the newsletter that preps young women with “all the news they need to know for the day” in minutes, divulge to Re/Code the initial MVP that now attracts millions of eager brand ambassadors.

The Events We’re Going To

Hustle Con: May 13 in Oakland, CA

Our team is excited to check out Hustle Con, a one-day conference where all-star(tup) founders share the specific tactics they used to launch and grow their companies. Speakers include the founders of OkCupid, GoodReads, Headspace, Casper, and more. Click here for tickets, and save 20% with the promo code “leanstartupco”.

And if you only have five minutes, check out:

5 Priceless Lessons in Collaboration, Risk Taking, and Motivation (Fast Company)

From Charles Duhigg, author of Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business.

Step Away From This Blog Post

Build on the ideas we send you this and every month by attending our Lean Startup Week in San Francisco Oct. 31 – Nov. 6. We’ve expanded our flagship event to include more speakers and workshops as well as partner activities and bootcamps. Plus you can discuss everything you’re learning, or the problems you’re trying to solve for, with the larger Lean Startup community! Click here for details, and take advantage of our Early Bird sale for Lean Startup Week now.

The Lean Startup Methodology: A Conversation with Adam Berk, Cofounder of Neighborrow, Founder of the MilValChal, and PLC at Pearson.

25086618079_e4752157fa_zBerk’s background

Adam Berk (@AdamBerk) is a lean entrepreneur, lean teacher, and Serial Entrepreneur. He is one of the more intrepid experimenters. He is currently an Implementation Coach at Pearson and Entrepreneur-In-Residence at The Entrepreneurial Science Foundation. In the past, he has founded or cofounded Neighborrow, Fotogether, and the MilValChal, which funds all startups at a $1,000,000 valuation if they conduct + submit 100 customer interviews within 50 days and use the funding to test a hypothesis (or multiple hypotheses). He holds a BA in Economics from Emory University.

Using Lean Startup Methodology to Identify the Certain “Je Ne Sais Quoi” in Entrepreneurs

Adam Berk isn’t one to shy away from admitting when endeavors don’t end up going his way. “I applied [Lean Methods] to Neighborrow, probably five years too late. I guess I could say I am the rare case that I am almost glad that I did it the wrong way and didn’t apply it earlier.”

Berk says Lean startup instantly made sense to him in terms of logic, but when his cofounder at Neighborrow first challenged him to run an experiment, he resisted the way many of my mentees and enterprise teams do now.” The struggle Berk faced made him tough and a better mentor for future mentees.

Consequentially, Berk argues entrepreneurship’s cardinal sin is failure to learn. “The je ne sais quoi that [differentiates the best entrepreneurs] is total learning– every other trait is a function of total learning.” The other variables, which are functions of total learning, include fearlessness, capacity, autonomy, and speed.

Fearlessness leads to increased total learning, whether it be the courage to ship products earlier, challenge the status quo, even bending the law (whether it is Harvard law and you hack into the database and borrow some photos or San Francisco livery cab law) (including certain laws), or leave a comfortable job to work on one’s own idea.

One of the key attributes of successful entrepreneurs is the capacity to learn. Absence of this attribute nullifies the effectiveness of the other traits.“Capacity to learn leads to autonomy for entrepreneurs, which leads to speed of learning. Part of the reason why so many entrepreneurs know how to code is not coding’s intrinsic value, but rather it’s [propensity] to increase speed of learning. The only way to saturate that capacity is by learning longer or learning faster.”

Berk also challenges the importance of two traits traditionally linked to successful entrepreneurship: coachability and work ethic. Coachability and great work ethic increase capacity but coachability in and of itself is not necessarily the characteristic of a great entrepreneur. “Coachability is one of the traits we are tracking now in our data this year. Coachability is necessary for a mentor-driven fund like ours but in my opinion it does not need to exist.”

As for work ethic, Berk argues “[an entrepreneur] is not likely to be a crazy success “without a good work ethic. However, good work ethic alone will not cause success. Instead, it will lead to more cumulative learning, if initial capacity is the same.”

In Berk’s opinion, velocity of learning is where lean startup plays the biggest role. “Lean does not change the entrepreneur’s total capacity, it does not change the work ethic, and in most cases it does not change the coachability — but it changes the velocity of learning.” This velocity of learning refers to proper implementation of the aforementioned (N) traits that are functions of total learning. If Lean is used properly, then it can accentuate the N traits to increase total learning. Conversely, if Lean isn’t used properly this velocity can actually do more harm than good, either by leading the venture in the wrong direction or producing a blind output.

“The lessons I learned the hard way made me a better mentor both in the skills [I gained] and in the legitimacy that I did struggle the same way that I see founders struggling still.” As a result, Berk is now more committed to identifying the true problem and understanding the requirements of the real world. Berk does both with his fund, the MilValChal, which seeks to invest in learning in very small amounts as opposed to investing in a market size, investing in a team, or traction.

Future Aspirations

When asked the question of what problem he would like to work on Berk quipped, “world peace is a little too lofty.” On a more serious note, Berk would like a solution “to provide warnings or security built into transportation to supplement speed and cost. Self-cleaning apartments and a dishwasher that puts dishes back in the cabinets [would be nice too].”

Berk is still trying to make Neighborrow and the sharing economy work to solve the problem of wasted goods, though he thinks 3D printing a drill may prove to be a better solution than borrowing one at this point. Fall in love with the problem, not the solution!

_____________
Notes and resources
http://www.fastcompany.com/3050775/the-sharing-economy-is-dead-and-we-killed-it
https://www.linkedin.com/in/startupfunding
Credit to Jonathan Bertfield and Tristian Kromer (@TriKro) for the function of learning and “One Experiment Per Week“.

How the Lean Startup Methodology Has Helped the Labor Movement

23071170326_9aeda1392e_zUnionBase.org is bringing the labor movement into the 21st century by creating a virtual hub where workers can find, join, and learn about unions. Founders Larry L. Williams Jr. and Louis Davis applied Lean Startup techniques to create this singular portal, which connects workers to labor organizations by industry, state, or union name.

In an Ignite Talk for the 2015 Lean Startup Conference, Williams explained how UnionBase’s success came in part from the founders using Lean Startup techniques. They tested an MVP, for example, and established metrics that place value on the connections UnionBase is creating along with the amount of revenue the site is generating.

Before co-founding UnionBase, Williams was a college student working multiple part-time and temp jobs in Washington, DC. In 2007, he worked as a temp for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Joining the organization granted him benefits he’d never received before — things like vision, medical, and dental insurance. The experience sparked in Williams a sense of purpose moving forward: he wanted to help labor unions foster economic justice for marginalized groups.

Williams came up with the idea for UnionBase after spending hours sifting through the books that keep track of local unions. He realized that there wasn’t an efficient way for, say, a worker to just hop online to find a union in his or her area.

He began work on the country’s most comprehensive labor union database with a simple MVP —which was basically the UnionBase logo and a search field for local Teamster organizations by state. Once Williams built the prototype, he approached several people with his new business idea before connecting with Louis Davis, a buddy from school. Davis agreed to listen to the pitch, but Williams said he asked for two tasks to be completed first. Williams would need to learn web development (through General Assembly in New York) and he’d have to read The Lean Startup.

Williams completed these tasks and the co-founders applied Lean Startup methods from the onset. They created an imperfect MVP, enabling them to be first to market. They also used validated learning with early adopters to project what the demand would be for each feature they created, such as a basic search with nearly every union in the country listed.

Williams and Davis also held regular “pivot or persevere” meetings.

“We would stop ourselves after a few weeks of working on a feature and say, ‘Is this something we need to keep working on, or do we need to move on to another project?’” Williams said.

These meetings also doubled as landmarks for the co-founders to stay on track.

“If we didn’t meet a launch that we expected to make, we’d ask, ‘Why didn’t we make this? Did we set goals that were too lofty? How do we improve so we meet the next launch?’” Williams said.

Williams confessed that working with a co-founder who is a pragmatist isn’t easy when you’re the visionary in the company.

“[I’m] in danger of dreaming forever without actually accomplishing much if I don’t set specific benchmarks. [Davis] is more realistic,” Williams said. “The biggest challenge was to set aside time from our lives and our priorities to do something that started as my dream but didn’t become [Davis’] dream until later.”

Now that the founders have a shared vision for UnionBase, they’re able to focus on markets that would be well-served by their product. Williams said he sees a real opportunity in reaching the people who are contracted by the big “sharing economy” companies such as Lyft and Taskrabbit, for example.

“People are being turned into independent contractors as opposed to employees, which comes with a whole set of disadvantages: there are fewer benefits, you can be let go at any moment, etc.,” he said. People like the freedom but the downsides usually don’t hit them until they need healthcare, vacation time, or sick time for a child, he added.

Williams sees the potential for labor and management to collaborate with the new, human-capital-intensive companies. Work is already being done to bridge this divide, including a recent deal between Lyft and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

UnionBase is also exploring the idea of hosting educational content for its community.

“[We want] to create videos that are educational and explain to people what unions are, why they should join them, how to join them, and encourage progressive conversation,” Williams said.

He’s particularly interested in reaching web developers and media workers—people in industries that aren’t typically organized, but have the potential to be because they employ high concentrations of Millennials. According to Williams, unionized Millennials make an average of $10,000 more per year annually than their non-union counterparts.

In the end, Williams said, the labor movement needs to be more progressive in reaching new audiences.

“There needs to be a new strategy centered on technology, inclusiveness, diversity, equity, and education,” he said. “People need to know their rights and they need to know the benefits of being a union member. Hopefully Unionbase.org will be at the leading edge of that movement.”


Want more? Learn about the Lean Startup methodology on http://2015.leanstartup.co/

How to Get Buy-In to Drive Change

22473533354_6a69ae6d50_zGetting people—much less companies—to change can be a complex task. But it doesn’t have to be so challenging, as Cindy Alvarez knows. Alvarez drives entrepreneurial change at Microsoft, and before that, she spent more than a decade leading design, product management, user research, and customer development for startups.

“I’ve always been interested in how people think and how they work,” Alvarez said during a live webcast with Lean Startup Co last fall. She studied psychology at Harvard, and thought she’d become a professor. But when she bought her first computer, she dove into trying to understand it—and then trying to understand other people’s tech-related problems and needs.

Alvarez, who wrote Lean Customer Development: Build Products Your Customers Will Buy and is the director of user experience for the Microsoft company Yammer, offered practical advice during her webcast with us, for those looking to lead change within their organizations.  

UNDERSTAND THE CURRENT CULTURE

Understanding the current company culture is crucial if you want to effect change within it. You need to know how people behave in the organization, what they’re afraid of, what their bosses reward them for, how they’ve reacted to previous changes, and whether they get punished for trying new things, says Alvarez. If you understand the constraints that people are working under, you can start providing them with solutions.

To better understand your organization’s culture, Alvarez suggests asking employees about something that went well and something that went badly. You can say, “Walk me through the last project that your team worked on. How did it go from beginning to end? Who came up with ideas? Who approved them? Who worked on them?”

Another useful prompt could be, “Tell me about when someone tried to introduce a change and it didn’t go well.” Follow up with, “Why do you think that was?” The answers will give you a real sense of your company’s tolerance for risk and what mistakes have already been made.

LEADERS CAN ENCOURAGE CHANGE

Leaders can do a lot to promote change so that it sticks. It’s useful if a CEO backs something new, but it’s not sufficient to support a sustainable culture shift. The biggest predictor of how employees behave is how their direct boss acts. So if you’re a manager, lead by example. And communicate clearly about changes and experiments, including following up with your employees and admitting mistakes. Start small and build—changing products might be too big a jump at first, but changing processes (shortening meetings, for example) can happen faster.

If you’re someone whose employees bring suggestions to you, Alvarez suggests that you avoid being a “seagull manager” who “swoops and poops” on ideas. If a manager does that to you, neutrally respond to the quick criticism by clearly presenting the problem you were trying to solve. You could also ask for specific feedback about why your idea isn’t resonating.

ASK QUESTIONS—AND LISTEN TO THE ANSWERS

When trying to make lasting changes in an organization, it’s natural to want to skip to solutions before focusing on the problem. But your first step should be talking to people about what they need. Alvarez suggests asking, “What would you be able to do if things were different?”

Most often, Alvarez says, you’ll hear from an employee, “You need to build this.” Your response to that answer should be, “OK, but why? What would that allow you to do?” If their answer is just, “Well, it would be nice to have,” then don’t build it. But if they’re saying, “I want X because I can’t do Y,” then a good, worthwhile solution might exist, unless Y is something very obscure.

This method of investigating your employees’ stumbling blocks involves a lot of repetition. Train people to ask why when they hear someone say, “I want this.” The answer could identify the problem, which needs to be fully understood before attempting a fix.  

IDENTIFY—AND ACCEPT—RISK

Fear can be a powerful deterrent—it can hold your company back and cause dysfunction. So Alvarez recommends that when someone says, “We can’t do that because bad things will happen,” responding with: “What bad things will happen? What’s the worst-case scenario?” People shy away from this type of thinking but it’s really quite freeing. Often, the potential fallout (e.g., “Customers will get mad”) isn’t actually a consequence. Decide beforehand—and without fear—on an acceptable level of risk for your organization.

Also, when conducting experiments, Alvarez suggests asking the people above you: “How much can I spend without you coming in?” Managers don’t want to be approving a lot, so most will respond with something like, “Use your judgment and tell me the results.” Pushing boundaries slowly works well.

Alvarez says that case studies are also important factors in getting manager buy-in. Because everyone’s afraid of screwing up, being able to point to similar scenarios that ended up successful can help. But Alvarez warns that case studies should be deployed with caution—make sure the ones you’re using are appropriate and relevant.  

WHAT NOT TO DO IF YOU WANT TO ENCOURAGE CHANGE

Don’t try to be prescriptive, says Alvarez. It’s a mistake everyone makes, but don’t tell someone how they should change. Instead, listen to what they have to say. And avoid asking leading questions, such as “Wouldn’t you like…” and “Don’t you think it’d be easier if…” People’s responses to those questions won’t reflect how they really feel. You’ll get misleading feedback and miss out on big opportunities as a result—this is what sinks a lot of startups during their research phase.

Another counterproductive approach: trying too hard to enforce change. Alvarez warns that you shouldn’t  come in with solutions already in mind. In other words, don’t push instead of trying to create pull. People resist change for reasons that seem small but aren’t. “Supposedly irrelevant factors”—or SIFs, as behavioral economists call them—drive most of the reasons people don’t evolve, even when they should.

Is there anything you shouldn’t say when advocating for change? Yes. Alvarez says “minimum viable product” is a phrase to which people only respond negatively. Same thing with “Fail fast,” since it sounds like “Give up right away.” And instead of “You’re doing it wrong,” say, “Tell me what’s not working.”

WHAT YOU CAN TRY RIGHT AWAY

So what can you put into practice immediately to change things within your organization? Alvarez says to think about the things your team grumbles about but that no one has tried to fix. Is it meetings? To make them better, propose an experiment: Instead of having the usual prolonged status update, your team could try posting updates on Yammer. Or give everyone a one-minute talking limit. Try it, then at the end of the week, discuss whether it went well.

You can also shift people’s environment, since physical changes are a good way to inspire change. Alvarez says that visual reminders are helpful. Put up a sign, for example, that says, “What’s the problem?” Or write down the problem and focus on it.

And the next time someone complains, ask that person what should be done about the situation. Then say: “Why should we do that? What’s the problem we need to solve?” You’ll get interesting information that you can move forward with.


Want more? Learn about the Lean Startup methodology on http://2015.leanstartup.co/

Millions of Millennials Get Career Help from These Savvy Women

The Muse photo

The Muse co-founders Kathryn Minshew (CEO) and Alex Cavoulacos (COO) innately understand how to target career-minded twentysomethings because they fit that profile themselves. But they’ve also done lots of testing around who their core audience is and what problems they should be solving for.

In the five years since these two started their Millennial-focused career site, The Muse has attracted a base of 50 million users. It’s an audience that ranges from job seekers looking for gigs and advice to companies targeting digital natives. Although capturing the attention of this coveted demographic is no simple feat (18-34-year-olds are the largest generation in the US, and everyone wants a piece of them right now), The Muse’s growing fanbase is by no means capped by age.

The founders say their success comes in part from experimenting with numerous hunches, a Lean Startup approach that sometimes means building a manual MVP for a future digital offering.

We’re really excited to introduce you all to the women behind The Muse and hear their thoughts on creating an intentional culture of innovation during next week’s Startup Tours, part of our Enterprise Summit in New York City Feb. 24-25. But first, Minshew and Cavoulacos tell us a little more about shifting audience assumptions, their riskiest hypotheses, and how Millennials differ from previous generations when it comes to career searches and job expectations.

As the heads of a millennial-focused career site, how do you see this generation’s career needs versus versus older generations? And what does it mean that your audience is comprised of digital natives?

Millennials are looking for more out of their career than many previous generations, with a greater emphasis on mission or culture fit than personal income/reward. For example, a recent Deloitte survey demonstrated that Millennials believe an organization’s treatment and development of employees (and society) is paramount, alongside economic goals and motivations. More so than prior generations, Millennials are looking for a career with meaningful purpose and societal impact. Our audience relies upon a company’s digital footprint to comprehend how a company’s values align with their own, and uses a Muse profile to get a deeper look into whether this is the type of place they would want to work. It shouldn’t be rocket science to give potential candidates a photo and video “inside scoop” on an employer before they apply — but we’re the only ones who are doing it at scale.

What’s something people are using your site for that you didn’t expect?

Funnily enough, one of the most surprising elements was employers using our articles internally for their employees’ professional development. For example, one company created a “hitlist” of their favorite Muse pieces and sent it to every new manager as required reading (who doesn’t need to read “This Is How You Give Honest Feedback to Anyone, Anytime—Without Hurting Feelings” or “Here’s How You Can Be the “Cool Boss” Without Losing Your Authority”?). We’ve also seen other organizations make some of our round-ups part of their weekly internal newsletters, such as this piece on 45 free online professional development classes we recommend. It’s an upside of employers seeing us as career development, not just job search.

What was the company’s MVP when you first started, and how has that changed over time?

Any company in the career space has a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem, as you’re building a two-sided marketplace (individual users/career searchers and company customers/hiring partners). We started out with 100% of our focus on one half of the marketplace: our individual users. We became laser focused on creating the best career content on the internet, and on providing value and advice that our community would find relevant and share with others. We built this audience to 100,000 monthly active users before we launched company profiles and jobs, the other side of the marketplace. Many of our users were thrilled to have better job searching options (and the ones that weren’t job searching pretty much just used us as before), and our companies were able to access a ready-made demographic from Day 1.

What’s the riskiest hypothesis that you’ve tested about The Muse, and how did that test turn out in the end?

Recently, one of the riskiest hypotheses we tested was that our users wanted to book career coaching through The Muse. Our initial belief in the idea came from user interest via inbound emails and social, but there were still plenty of naysayers. Internally, our biggest question was whether a stated user desire for more career help would translate into actual credit card transactions — and whether it would be an additive to our business as we believed, or a potential distraction.

We did a small initial test via email, sending users to one of four landing pages for a resume review with various tiered pricing and positioning. Looking at data from the transactions and initial reviews (combined with 1:1 conversations with several of the early people who bought), we found several hypotheses confirmed and several surprises. For example, one of our early beta purchasers was a 28-year Air Force veteran looking to transition to a civilian career.

With this early data and user input as a guide, a portion of our team spent the next three months designing and building the product — a substantial investment on an as-yet-unproven part of the business — and launched in early November, the morning of a board meeting. So how did it go? Luckily, pretty well. We’ve nearly doubled revenue from that part of the business in the three months since launch, and the average user-to-coach rating is 4.9/5. Check it out for yourself at TheMuse.com/coaching!

What have you learned about your audience that’s different than the assumptions you had about them in your early days of thinking about the company?

When we launched The Daily Muse in 2011, we were initially focused on empowering women in the first 10-15 years of their career. It wasn’t long before professionals, young and old, outside of that core demographic, found the The Muse, and identified with that key question, “What do you want to do with your life?” From professionals in their 50s or 60s who were looking to change careers, to parents seeking to re-enter the workforce, to veterans looking to transition into civilian jobs, it became clear that our content appealed to a much broader group than we initially anticipated.

In the early days, we were excited to see 100,000 people on The Muse in a given month; now we’re nearing 5 million monthly visitors (and almost 60 million lifetime visitors). While our core demographic continues to be female with an average age of 29, it’s exciting that The Muse has been able to help so many different types of people improve their careers and find jobs they love. We’re excited to see that continue.

How has Lean Startup methodology come into your product and/or process?

The biggest way Lean Startup methodology has become part of our process is that we test everything, and we think about the smallest thing we can test. We’ve built bandit testing methodology into our back end so that we can run numerous tests at a time, and continuously improve our product. We also aren’t afraid to launch something initially with a manual component, which we later build out and automate if the launch is successful; but which could be scrapped if it’s not a hit. This approach has made sure our engineering resources are spent in the most impactful places.

What’s next for The Muse?

Ultimately, our goal is to build The Muse into the most beloved, trusted career destination in the world. In 2016, this means reaching over 10 million individual users each month and continuing to expand nationwide (and beyond!) to more than 1,000 companies. In 5 years, this means that every single person who is thinking about the next step in their career, considering a new job, or seeking to improve their skill set in an existing job is thinking about The Muse. We’re very excited about Coach Connect, a product we launched at the end of 2015 that allows our users to connect with Muse-vetted career coaches for personalized advice. From career changers and job seekers, to executives, to new managers, coaching is something that people need in all different stages of their career, and we’re excited to continue to roll out new services to best serve our user base.
Join our Startup Tours in NYC as part of Lean Startup Labs’ Enterprise Summit Feb. 24-25. Grab a ticket here, and bring your whole team for maximum inspiration value.

How One Startup Turned Empty Spaces Into Productive Places

JulienWhen co-founder & CEO Julien Smith launched Breather two years ago, he was working on a risky assumption: the idea that businesses would be willing to pay to rent temporary spaces from strangers for meetings, brainstorms, and other team events. Since then, the “Airbnb for meeting- and work-spaces” has grown into the go-to app for everything from business pitches to marriage proposals(!), and his service helps folks with an extra 1,000 ft. on their hands in one of five Breather cities see that property as a new revenue potential.

We’re going to learn more about this office space-on-demand concept when Smith’s company leads a Startup Tour as part of our Enterprise Summit in NYC next week (Feb. 24–25).

What’s the most unusual space someone has listed through Breather?

We [recently] launched a space in New York that was actually a very large storage closet but is now a beautiful, small Breather.

When someone wants to rent their space, what are your requirements for them?

We love spaces that are about the size of a meeting room (under 1,000 square feet), with lots of great light and enough room to seat a small group of people. Couches, great tables to meet at, and lots of other things impact how well a space does.

What’s something people are using Breather for that you didn’t expect?

There have been a lot of surprising use cases. Probably the most delightful is those that have proposed to their significant others in our spaces (there have been quite a few!) and small weddings that we’ve hosted.

What was the company’s MVP when you first started, and how has that changed over time?

We hit on the service we wanted very early on and there was very little pivoting. The spaces have become more friendly to business over time (business meetings are a big use case) but we’ve been on the same track, rightly, for a long time now.

What’s the riskiest hypothesis that you’ve tested with Breather, and how did that test turn out in the end?

There was zero evidence for the demand we’ve seen. Now that we’ve run the service, we know how big our market is, but it would be VERY difficult to figure that out if you didn’t feel the need yourself. So, starting this from zero was the riskiest thing of all.

What have you learned about your audience that’s different than the assumptions you had about them in your early days of thinking about the company?

Many more business users than we intended. Lots of need for larger spaces. More technology, which we resisted (projectors, for example).

What was a big fail that turned into an excellent learning moment?

We tried to keep price stable for a very long time. This turned out to be totally wrong. Variability won out over consistency here.

How has Lean Startup methodology come into your product and/or process?

We try to look for evidence for everything we do. Iterating from a bad first draft is a part of our nature.

Why are you excited to host a Lean Startup group at Breather (or what is your team planning on focusing on when our tour comes through your office)?

Startups are hard — we have to learn from each other to succeed. Being able to see where we came from, and seeing a now successful startup scaling, can help anyone feel that they have what it takes.


Jump on the Startup Tours as part of our Feb. 24-25 NYC Enterprise Summit by registering now.

Cleaning Out the Old School Mindset

Managed by Q headshot Dan

Managed by Q cofounder Dan Teran once worked with companies that were “designed to reject change,” as he so eloquently phrases it. He’s witnessed firsthand the resistance executives show as they ignore, to their own peril, the real potential an intrapreneurial mindset has in a large organization. So although he runs a tech startup focused on office management-on-demand these days, Teran is the perfect host to include on the Startup Tours portion of our Enterprise Summit in NYC Feb. 24-25. He understands both the obstacles and the rewards in instituting an agile company mindset, for both early endeavors and established corporations.

What is Managed by Q (or just Q, as Teran calls it)? Well, while you’re busy running your company, you can outsource these folks to help you with cleaning, maintenance, and maintaining those office supplies, among other services, on-demand. Oh, and in case you’re wondering (we were), “Q” is just a name inspired by the characters in James Bond and Star Trek.

The company offers help on-call but is also committed to the idea that all of its workers a) should know how to clean well, no matter their position and b) deserve benefits, a 401(k) plan, and educational opportunities no matter their position with the company.

In a sea of gig-economy startups, Q’s level of commitment to its employees is commendable — but it’s just one the business’ admirable qualities. Q also places a high value on diversity with its staffing, which Teran says is a natural outgrowth of being based in New York City.

We’re excited to bring you into Q’s world as part of our Enterprise Summit Startup Tours, when you can meet Teran and team in person (and see what we assume will be their very clean and well-stocked office). In the meantime, we asked Teran about reimagining office management, learning from early failures, and the value Lean Startup methodology has played in Q’s success.

What fundamental problem were you solving by starting Managed By Q?

Running an office isn’t easy, and companies often get bogged down by the operational aspects of running their space. This includes anything from coordinating with cleaning crews, finding reliable handymen to take care of ad hoc projects such as plumbing issues or offices moves, and ensuring that their office is well-stocked with all the necessities they need to keep their team productive. The problem that Q solves is managing all of these core operational tasks to help companies focus their energy on their business. Being Managed by Q means investing in a higher functioning, more productive office.

What’s been your biggest success so far?

We’ve seen incredible growth and momentum in the four markets where we’re currently active—NYC, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Word of mouth about Q has traveled like wildfire, and one of our biggest successes so far is our growth fueled by personal recommendations and consistently strong ratings about our service. Our Yelp reviews can give you an idea of the great experience we’ve been able to create so far.

What was a big fail that turned into an excellent learning moment?

When we first began servicing clients, we worked with partner companies who provided janitorial service to help us staff our early accounts. This made running our operation simpler, but we sacrificed our ability to control the client’s experience, train the team properly, and provide Operators with consistency in their employment. After only a handful of weeks later we realized the importance of building a company that provided the highest quality service—not only to retain and grow our client base, but also to create meaningful jobs for our Operators. This in turn became a huge part of who we are as a company.

How has Lean Startup methodology come into your product and/or process?

Lean has been a big part of how we built our business. In fact, when we signed up our first dozen customers in February 2014 all we had built was a page to process credit card signups. Once we had enough validation that there was demand for smart office management, we went to work to build the products that our beta customers used just a few months later. Today, Q is a much bigger company but the culture of experimentation and hypothesis driven development lives on as we expand into new geographies and new business lines.

What sort of intentional culture have you created for the company?

At Q, we are all Operators, and everybody cleans. We have gone to great lengths to ensure that everyone in the company feels like they are on the same team, and have aligned incentives for long term success.  For example, our cleaners and handymen have the exact same health and retirement benefits as our executives and engineers, and everybody at Q has to go through field operator training and clean offices in their first few weeks at the company. This has created a culture that cares deeply about one another, and about the success of the company.

Generally how does the New York startup scene differ from Silicon Valley’s in your mind?

We’re really proud of having built an incredibly diverse and inclusive company, and I think New York lends itself to that. Compared to the Valley—or any city for that matter—New York is one of the most diverse cities in the world. We all live on top of each other in this super dense geographic area. Millions of people from all over the world and different socioeconomic backgrounds are jammed into subway cars with each other every day. As basic as that sounds, I think New Yorkers have a different sensibility about what real diversity looks. It has been a big part of shaping our company’s culture—and arguably a big part of how NY tech distinguishes itself.

What do you plan to discuss with the Learn Startup Enterprise Summit folks who’ll be visiting Managed by Q for a startup tour?

Prior to co-founding Q, I was a partner at a NYC-based firm called prehype. I worked with big companies like Mondelez, Castrol, Unilever, News Corp, and others to help build new digital businesses, so I know how hard it is to innovate inside of an organization that is designed to reject change. I’m excited to share what I’ve learned building Q, and hope that it can help inspire the visiting executives to act like entrepreneurs in their own businesses. We think of Q as a company of entrepreneurs, and this has been a key to our success.
Lean Startup Labs’ Enterprise Summit is Feb. 24-25 in NYC. Grab a ticket here.

Going The Distance; We’re All in This Together

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Photo credit: Anthony Quintano

Lean Startup Co. was started to ensure that anyone, anywhere, would have access to the methodology, no matter your budget, location, or industry. We’re shooting for the moon, helping everyone who needs us develop the modern management and rapid product development skills necessary to survive not just for today, but for all the curve balls tomorrow’s gonna throw your way.

We also practice what we preach. We hear you saying that you want affordable, in-person training, access to more case studies, and virtual education. You want to learn specific practices that will immediately impact your work. Our team is going out into the world and building great stuff based on these needs through our Lean Startup Labs. We’re committed to testing new ways to directly support you.

The Summit Series is a perfect example of Lean Startup Labs at work. It’s Lean Startup on the road, aimed at helping you resolve some of your biggest business challenges alongside your community and peers. At a Summit event, you’ll hear short, powerful talks on relevant business issues, interact with a community of local innovators, and emerge with the insight you need to create profound change in your workplace. It’s an intimate experience, only 200 or so attend; giving you unique access to some of the smartest minds and most effective solutions around.

The Summit Series kicks off in New York City Feb. 24-25 focusing on the needs of enterprise and corporate organizations. We’re homing in on the challenges that large organizations face when trying to implement a new method like Lean Startup — building the right culture, getting buy-in, how to create an MVP, innovation accounting, regulatory issues and customer development (when you already have customers), and more.

From there, the Summit Series moves to New Orleans to host thought leaders in startup, education, and social good sectors. Then we’ll head to Detroit to take a close look at the folks driving growth and innovation in the Motor City’s burgeoning startup scene.

When we say we’ll meet you where you are, we mean it. The Summit Series is also a tiered event. In other words, we’ll provide scholarships and realistic pricing for you bootstrappers out there.

You can learn more about our Summit Series here. And if you haven’t already, sign up for our newsletter to stay up on all the new ways we’re working on meeting you — and meeting your needs.

Meet Our Supergroup of Corporate Innovators

Photo by The Lean Startup Conference/Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin
Photo by The Lean Startup Conference/Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin

One is the loneliest number. You get all fired up about modernizing the way your company does things, only to find that momentum stalled by any number of downers. Rigid managers. Employees who are terrified of change. Communication breakdowns between folks in different time zones. Teams for whom the idea of sharing info just. does. not. compute.

Our Lean Startup Labs Enterprise Summit (Feb. 24-25) is the catalyst you need to go from being the only innovator in your organization to creating a domino effect across an office or around the globe.

Workshop Lean Startup Principles

Even if you’ve read the Lean Startup book, making the jump from paper learning to active practice can be a challenge. So we’re doing a day-long deep dive into the methodology and discussing advanced topics such as innovation accounting in an intensive workshop. You’ll come away with an understanding of all the important terminology as well as key Lean Startup components such as leadership behavior and organizational culture, product development, and portfolio governance. We’ll get into the nitty gritty of introducing Lean Startup to a corporate workplace and scaling it across large organizations.

Do While You’re Listening

We’re not going to spend two days talking at you. The Lean Startup Labs Summit Series is a hands-on bootcamp that includes exercises throughout — including a live challenge where you’ll be testing a hypothesis in real time with our expert coaches. With the help of Alpha X, that hypothesis will go out into the real world, so you’ll get actionable feedback on your idea. From there we’ll teach you how to best use data and metrics to drive all your hypotheses.

In another workshop, Frank Rimalovski, Executive Director of the Entrepreneurial Institute at NYU, takes us through the nuts and bolts of designing an effective MVP experiment, with industry experts Ryan Jacoby (founder, Machine) and Giff Constable (acting CEO, Neo).

Learn About Their Incubators … and From Their Mistakes

Our Enterprise Summit speakers hail from the top names in healthcare, energy, finance, media, government, and education. They’re bringing you their wins and, well, their “we aren’t gonna talk about this on record”s alike. You’ll hear the stories that you won’t get anywhere else. Through their case studies, you’ll understand how lone wolves at industry giants infused their teams with Lean Startup practices and pick up new tactics for your organization.

  • Learn the specifics of how education giant Pearson found great success in fine-tuning its product cycle using Lean Startup from Sonja Kresojevic, SVP of Product Life Cycle.
  • Get the scoop on the steps GE used to implement its FastWorks innovation program around the world — a system based on improved communication, accountability, and understanding the customer — with Viv Goldstein, Global Director of Innovation Acceleration.
  • American Express’ VP of product delivery Andrew Breen didn’t let a regulated, conservative environment stop him from pushing through Lean iterative processes. He’ll divulge the secrets to overcoming cultural and organizational roadblocks so you don’t get bogged down at the starting line.
  • The Garage is a Lean Startup-style incubator inside Optum, the health services arm of Fortune 14’s United Healthcare. The VP of innovation and R&D at Optum, Kunjorn Chambundabongse, proves that you really can create a successful new startup within an older enterprise landscape.
  • Dun & Bradstreet CMO Rishi Dave will show how an international, 175-year-old company remains an aggressive player in the credit industry thanks to a marketing strategy that uses Lean thinking to target only the most valuable customer relationships.
  • And because we value failure as highly as we do success, Ken Durand, Head of Innovation at the Atlanta Ideas Factory (Ericsson) will give a brutally honest talk about what didn’t work when he tried to implement Lean Startup techniques in an enterprise setting. Spoiler alert: he’s made it work in the long-run, but now you won’t have to remake his mistakes.

Break Down The Silos

Teams that don’t understand how to share information can bring the whole organization down. Our Summit experts busted down the silos between their departments and lived to talk about it.

  • Benjamin Kumpf, policy specialist at UNDP, will discuss how he’s turned his division of the United Nations into an innovation lab, working with teams in very different cultures and countries. His case study will also focus on deprogramming the rigid multi-year planning mentality that can tank experimentation.
  • Kimberly Hicks, VP of product management-user platform at Viacom, will discuss how she was able to get the company’s multiple brands to work together and to become more adaptive to their audience’s rapidly evolving media consumption habits.
  • Amee Mungo, Digital Transformation at Capital One, will lead a discussion on how to best get UX, design, and development to play nice. She’ll be joined by experts who know the importance of interdependent teams: John Whalen (founder, Brilliant Experience), Scott Childs (experience design lead, Capital One), and Greg Whalin (product, Facebook).

Build Teams For Ingenuity

What traits inspire ingenuity in an office? We’re hosting open discussions with these corporate rock stars about what’s worked for them, from rewiring the way your current teams operate to bringing in outside hires to facilitate change. Each speaker and workshop leader has taken a unique approach in this arena. Learn how the innovation experts, academics, and doers out in the field suggest you design teams to best meet your customers’ needs for the long haul.

Small Fries Think Big

Even if all your employees could currently fit in a single subway car, there will (hopefully) be a time when scaling is an issue. Our Enterprise Summit is also geared for the smaller startups who want to get a head start on scaling intrapreneurship.

The Lean Startup Labs’ Enterprise Summit has it all. Specific case studies that discuss the how. Small workshops where you can get your problems solved with a team. Experts across industries who collectively comprise an unparalleled supergroup of corporate innovation. Startup tours of NYC’s Silicon Alley.

Get in on this corporate community-focused summit by grabbing tickets for yourself/your team before they’re gone. Because it’s so much less fun trying to figure all this stuff out by yourself.

Our Two-Day Bootcamp in Corporate Innovation

The Lean Startup Conference, a five day gathering of entrepreneurs, is held at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco from December 8th through December 12th 2014. (© 2013 Photo by The Lean Startup Conference/Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin)
Photo by The Lean Startup Conference/Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin

You want to create serious, lasting change in your corporation’s processes and products — and it’s causing you some serious migraines? We get it. But luckily we also happen to know some amazing corporate trailblazers who can help you with the specifics of your mission.

Lean Startup instigators at government agencies, industrial corporations, educational organizations, and media companies alike learned how to transform and modernize their workplaces in impressive ways. You can exchange ideas with these enterprise leaders, in person, together with just 200 other corporate decision makers and influencers as part of our intimate new learning labs series.

Learn the nuances of enterprise innovation from these industry rock stars during our Lean Startup Labs two-day crash-course Feb. 24-25 in New York City. (Space is very limited, so sign up for yourself or your team now)

Our Enterprise Summit is an experiment in focusing first and foremost on our corporate community. This two-day bootcamp is structured to sharpen your Lean Startup skills and expand your network of corporate leaders modernizing their workplaces. During our hands-on workshops, keynote talks, startup tours, Q&A sessions, and optional VIP dinner, you’ll meet the folks making lasting headway in corporate innovation. Even better, you’ll be able to pull these mentors aside and hear their suggestions for issues you’re grappling with, or get further clarification about exactly how they’ve managed to make something work with their teams.

The Enterprise Lab is designed for both the Lean Startup newbie seeking an applicable entry point to the methodology and the OG intrapreneur hungry to transform multiple teams at once.

So what exactly are you getting with the price of admission to the Enterprise Lab?

  • The global perspective on enacting change from inside a division of the United Nations (which should be a source of inspiration for anyone tackling an international brand)
  • A live case study from Pearson, which was awarded the 2015 prizes for Best Innovation Culture and Best Innovation Product in the Corporate Entrepreneur Awards
  • Practical advice on how to scale innovation in the corporate world from experts who’ve made it happen in their workplaces
  • A refresher in all the terms and concepts you’ll need to be an effective corporate leader, from innovation accounting to the major developments in organizational culture
  • A hands-on workshop on complementary methodologies to Lean Startup, such as Design Thinking
  • A Lean Startup bootcamp where you’ll generate and test a hypothesis using an experiment of your own design, with step-by-step help from our trained coaches
  • The chance to work through specific obstacles with your team while you have the ear of leaders who’ve modernized incredible organizations
  • Time behind the scenes at new and emerging New York institutions, during our Startup Tours (at Uber, Artivest, Breather, Managed by Q, PCMag Labs, The Muse) and at our VIP dinner for speakers and attendees at Norwood Club, a members-only hub for the city’s creative community.
  • Experience New York with leading edge-spaces on the brain: from our Enterprise Labs HQ, Civic Hall, a community center for civic tech startups, to the 21st century take on cafe-meets-retail space on the ground floor of the Hall, to Capital One’s innovation lab across the street.
  • The unique summit-only combo of specialized best practices for corporate leaders, learning by doing, and tips and suggestions from other attendees who also work in the enterprise sphere
  • Intimate Q&A sessions where your questions will get answered
  • Afternoon roundtables where teams work together to tackle the big issues

Check out the full schedule of activities and opportunities here.

Whether you’re looking to scale intrapreneurship or you just want to get some MVP experiments off the ground, the Enterprise Lab caters to your corporate innovation needs. Space is limited to 200 attendees, though, and this is our only corporate summit of the year, so grab your tickets now if you want a guaranteed spot.


Lean Startup Labs Summit Series isn’t just another business conference. Inspired by feedback from you, Lean Startup community, we’ve created a series of regional events intended to host a smaller audience and meet you where you live.