[30 Days] What is a Lean Startup?

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

Today is Day One of our new series, “30 Days of Lean Startup”. We are starting with a very simple, but important question: what is a Lean Startup?

Read more about the different kinds of risks of each in our original post, Lean Startup 101. Also, check out one of Eric’s early posts on how he settled on the name “lean startup”.

The word “startup” often brings to mind an image of two people working in a garage in Silicon Valley. But there’s a more useful definition laid out by Eric Ries, who coined the term Lean Startup: “A startup is a human institution designed to create a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.

In other words, in Lean Startup terms, a startup is a group of people working on a risky new product, even if that group of people works for Exxon or the US Marine Corps.

With that definition in mind, there are three areas in which a startup typically faces a very high degree of uncertainty—or risk:

  1. Technical risk, also known as product risk. You could think of this as the question: Can we build this thing at all? For example, if you’re seeking a cure for cancer, there’s a big risk that you’ll fail to find it. If you do find it, you’ll certainly have customers, so there’s no market risk.
  2. Customer risk, also known as market risk. This is the question: If we build this thing, will people use or buy it? Put another way: Should we build this thing? The story of Webvan illustrates this risk: At the turn of the millennium, the company spent $1 billion to build a series of high-performance warehouses and trucking fleets on the assumption that people would buy groceries online. Although it was technically possible to offer groceries online and deliver them to homes, customers weren’t interested in the service at the time, and Webvan folded after a couple of years and a lot of investor dollars down the drain.
  3. Business model risk. This amounts to the question: Can we create a way for this thing to make us money? Strong business models aren’t always obvious. For example, you know Google as a company that makes a lot of money selling search-related ads. But when the Google website launched, it wasn’t obvious that ad sales would become the killer business model, and it took a number of years before they hit on that approach.

If you’re wondering which kind of risk you face, let me help you out: It’s customer risk. Nearly always, it’s the biggest question, because you simply don’t know the value, if any, your new product has for potential customers. When I say, “Nearly always,” I mean: this is so often the case, you should assume it’s true every time.

The tricky part is that commonly, product risk looks more urgent. After all, if you’ve hit on an exciting new idea that you’re pursuing, you’re doing so because you believe other people will be interested in it, too. And if you assume the demand will exist, you’ll be tempted to make sure you can build the product before you offer it to people. But that’s a very big assumption, and many, many startups have failed after building cool stuff, because they relied on a framework of inaccurate assumptions about how customers would behave. Good news: There’s no reason you should put time and money toward a belief you haven’t proven. Below, I’ll talk more about assumptions and how you can avoid repeating a doomed history like Webvan’s.

Note that when you think in terms of risk, rather than company history, it becomes clear that lots of existing organizations have startups within them. For instance, if you’re Gillette and you add a 5th blade to your iconic razor, you have no risks: the product, the market, and the business model are all known. But Gillette’s parent company, Proctor & Gamble, has R&D teams looking at new methods for hair removal. For those new ideas, everything is unknown. Which means the teams working on them are startups.

Incidentally, the biggest company we know of that’s systematically applying Lean Startup methods is GE. Ranked seventh largest in the world, as of May 2014 by Forbes, the company has trained 7,000 managers around the globe in Lean Startup principles and has used them to improve outcomes on things like diesel engines and refrigerators.

If you want to learn more about The Lean Startup methodology and how it applies to enterprise, small business, government, healthcare, and education–this year’s Lean Startup Conference is for you.

Specifically: Here are some talks at this year’s conference that you might be interested in:

GE–Fuel Cells: Running a Lean Start-up inside a big corporation

Johanna Wellington

In this talk, Johanna Wellington who runs an internal startup, GE-Fuel Cells, will share how GE is applying Lean Startup principles in a long cycle, equipment-based business in order to dramatically accelerate their path to commercialization and reduce risk. You’ll also learn how GE has pushed the envelope with out-of-the-box opportunities to apply Lean Startup methodologies including a “Manufacturing MVP”.  

Minimum Viable Taxes: Lessons learned building an MVP inside the IRS

Andrea Schneider, IRS

The IRS isn’t known for quick internal change; it still uses many applications from the Kennedy administration. But it has now partnered with Pivotal Labs to build an MVP to revolutionize your access to basic tax information.  The product will launch early in next year’s filing season and will allow taxpayers to access basic tax information online, including their balance, tax records, and payment histories, as well as make a payment. Andrea Schneider, Senior Manager of Product Management in Online Services and Lauren Gilchrist, Product Manager at Pivotal Labs, will discuss their biggest challenges along the way and share advice for experimenting and iterating inside large bureaucracies.

How Data Can Save Hollywood

Prerna Gupta, TELEPATHIC

Remember when companies would launch massive software projects without A/B testing? It sucked! Believe it or not, there is a multi-billion dollar industry that still produces products like that today. That industry is Hollywood. Join Prerna and explore the final frontier of analytics: creativity. Creative geniuses often have an aversion to incorporating data into the creative process. Creativity is driven by intuition, they argue, and cannot be analyzed. Data kills creativity! But this is a fundamental misunderstanding of analytics, which is costing Hollywood billions of dollars a year. In this talk, Prerna discusses some of Hollywood’s greatest big-budget flops, and how analytics could have saved them. She’ll also provide examples of how innovative storytellers are breaking with tradition and using Lean principles to create modern blockbusters for tremendous gain. Join her in discovering the role Lean Startup can play in revolutionizing Hollywood.

Interested in joining Andrea, Joanna, and Prerna and over 60 other speakers in San Francisco at The Lean Startup Conference? Get all the details here.

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How The Lean Startup Team Practices Customer Development

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

Customer development is one of the cornerstones of Lean Startup. It teaches that instead of assuming your beliefs about your business to be true, you should apply an engineering, or scientific method, in order to validate the ideas.

Though customer development is one of the toughest aspects to execute in the build, measure, learn framework–and is often seen as an “extra”–it’s a critical part of the process that helps us avoid mistakes early and identify new market opportunities.

In this post, we’ll share how our team at The Lean Startup Conference uses customer development to shape our product design.

  1. Talk to your target customers first before you build anything

Every January, a good 10 months before our next conference, our core team holds 45-minute calls with alumni to learn whether or not they’ve gained the knowledge they’d hoped to get at our previous conference. Additionally, we talk to potential customers all year round to discover what struggles new community members are facing.

The benefits to conducting feedback early are two-fold: We make sure that the conference–our product–aligns and evolves with the needs of our audience. We build what brings most value to our customers.

If you’re looking for an additional application of this idea, check out this talk from Daina Burnes Linton, co-founder at Fashion Metric. She learned that her assumptions about her target market were wrong, switched gears, and built technology that was more in line with her customers’ needs.

  1. Create low-touch, high-impact feedback loops with customers

We practice a continuous and ongoing learning process. To maximize the time of the core team, we divide and conquer. We segment our customer base into four key groups: young startups, established businesses, enterprise, and government/education/nonprofit. This process allows us to streamline the analysis portion of our efforts, which in turn allows us to see themes and share findings within the team, on an ongoing basis.

Next up, each team member interviews 1-2 customers each week, and take notes in an analysis-ready, living, breathing Google spreadsheet. When a customer conversation really inspires us, we share our notes, news feed style, in Slack.

Once we begin to see themes, our co-founder, Heather McGough, does a full analysis across segments, allowing us to later be ready for synthesis; in other words, decide which content, tools and services we should test based on the needs of our community. It’s a low-touch process that keeps our customers close to our day-to-day operations. Think: It’s a lot like your check-in meetings with your boss, coupled with a semi-annual performance review. Only this time, your boss is your customer.

Our biggest takeaway is that customer development should integrate with your own processes. There’s no right or wrong approach. When we first started building out our systems, we studied multiple methodologies for interviewing, qualitative research, etc… the list goes on. But we realized that the best thing to do first was simply get started. And that’s what we encourage fellow Lean Startup practitioners to do, too.

Conference speaker Charlie Scheinost, an engineering manager at Adobe, spoke about how his team takes turns answering questions through their product’s live chat software. The process takes very little time out of each engineer’s week while providing direct and relevant insight into customers’ key needs.

Extras: we recommend this book by Steve Portigal as a guide for interviewing users.

  1. Build MVPs and test ideas in increments

The Lean Startup Conference takes a full year to build out its annual program, but we test editorial concepts iteratively. By the time November hits, we’ll have published more than 50 blog posts, podcasts, and webcasts. The significance? These are all MVPs that lead up to our flagship conference.

Through these content experiments, we look at feedback between the lines: what’s getting shared, and what’s generating sign-ups. We take these lessons learned, adapt, and iterate as much as we can–with more content. For example, one of our most popular webcast, Speed as a Competitive Advantage with GE, helped us see that we have a huge number of enterprise folks who want to see more stories about enterprise innovation in highly-regulated environments. In turn, we created a ‘corporate innovators track’ for the 2015 event and actively pursued speakers like the VP of Product Delivery at American Express and the Head of Digital at Wells Fargo to meet this demand come November.

For another application of this idea, check out this talk from Anita Newton, marketing advisor to CPG startup Mighty Handle.

In 2014, the company faced one of the biggest opportunities in its existence: a pilot with Walmart. Mighty Handle had one shot to perfect its packaging, and couldn’t afford to take any chances. So what did Newton do? She ran a series of Facebook and YouTube ads to test concepts with Mighty Handle’s target audiences. This iterative approach helped her identify the right packaging for her target audience. Today, Mighty Handle is sold in 3,500 Walmart locations nationwide.

Validation Between The Lines

In addition to the steps referenced above, we use multiple channels to sanity-check our assumptions. We run a post-registration survey to give every attendee the opportunity to express what they’re looking to learn, we engage with audiences on Twitter to find popular topics, and we host a live chat on our registration page. The bottom line is that we’re engaging with customers year-round, so that we can come up with a conference program that addresses their current struggles. It’s an iterative process that ensures we’re hitting the mark each new year.

Get Started

What is one way you can implement these strategies into your own customer development process? Get even more hacks, tips, and case studies from companies that are using Lean Startup in our Explore Lean Startup Bundle. You will get free, instant access to 9 HD video case studies packed full of strategies you can implement now.

This post was written by @ritika puri, resident storyteller and Heather McGough, co-founder of Lean Startup Co.

Five case studies you’ll see at the Lean Startup Conference 2015

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

Wondering what’s new in the Lean Startup community? With hundred of thousands of global practitioners, the supply of ideas and best practices is endless. What’s more challenging is finding the right information that will influence positive change within your organization.

Every year, our team conducts more than 500 customer development calls to understand what challenges the community is facing. We come across some interesting stories from people who are really making things happen. Here are some of our favorites:

1. Product Hunt, an 18-month old startup, has evolved from a basic idea into a thriving online community.
Entrepreneur Ryan Hoover transformed an email list experiment into a venture-funded startup community with tens of thousands of active members.

It all started with a small group of founders and product enthusiasts who self-aggregated into an online community. With positive feedback from his peers, Hoover decided to transform his email list into a website. Over Thanksgiving weekend in 2013, right after launching his email list experiment, he built Product Hunt’s first website mockup with his team. Today, that MVP has evolved into a thriving online community with more than $7M in funding.Though Ryan is now running one of the hottest startups around, he’s a down to earth guy with some great ideas on how to get things going. Check out his post on how he launched Product Hunt, a story captured in tweets, emails, and photos.a
2. Telepathic, a new technology startup, is bringing A/B testing to the world of mass-market fiction and storytelling.
Entrepreneur Prerna Gupta believes that there’s a billion-dollar opportunity in bringing “Lean” principles to the development and distribution of mass-market fiction, and in presenting stories as a mobile-first experience. Her goal? She wants to disrupt Hollywood with the Lean Startup method.
Prerna began her startup journey after leaving a job as a management consultant, and launched Yaari, a youth-oriented social network in India. Since then, she’s applied her business and technology skills to build apps like Songify; and after a period of time wandering the world with her husband, arrived at the idea for her new business.Prerna’s vision is to share stories across multiple platforms, including apps, video, and virtual reality. It’s Lean Startup storytelling for the Snapchat generation. Read about Prerna’s journey here.3. ReadyTalk, a 15-year-old web conferencing software company, launched an internal startup.
ReadyTalk became interested in Lean Startup principles to develop new lines of business. Along the way, the company faced many of the same challenges that Lean Startup practitioners experience: balancing new customers and product lines with existing ones.After attending the 2014 Lean Startup Conference with 6 of her team members, intrapreneur and product strategist Andrea Hill realized that ReadyTalk needed to hold its emerging business lines to a different standard of success. She shares: “We now use metrics like cost-per-learning and validation velocity to show progress since traditional things like ROI weren’t applicable.”

With this approach to establishing and tracking milestones, ReadyTalk launched its beta of UbiMeet.com in March 2015.

4. Dun & Bradstreet, a 174 year old financial services company, has spent the last year building an experiment-driven marketing operation.
Dun & Bradstreet is undergoing a big cultural shift. One of their major initiatives is to launch marketing programs that engage customers in a fresh, new way. As part of this process, the company’s CMO Rishi Dave, is encouraging teams to launch campaigns faster. He shares: “It’s not about being perfect— it’s about being perfect enough to start gathering data.”

He’s encouraging his teams to get confident with this gap and recognize that the present is always a stepping stone towards a new opportunity. Dave is at the helm of an experimentation story in the making. He shares: “You need to test your way through this process until you find that crucial connection point.”

5. The United States Digital Service, a federal government agency, is building a ‘stealth startup.’
At the 2014 Lean Startup Conference, Todd Park, former CTO of the United States and current advisor to the White House, concluded his panel discussion with the following sentence: “come work for us.”

Three Lean Startup Conference attendees have taken him up on his offer, and that number is growing (we’ve heard that they’re very, very happy). They’re working to build a 21st century government, and improving on processes that typically burden government workers. Their mission is to drive efficiency, transparency, and savings. You can read more about 18F here.Want more of these stories?Come hear about them live at the 2015 Lean Startup Conference. All of the people mentioned in this post (and many more) will be speaking at the conference, and they’re excited to meet you. Get the details here.Do you have a cool Lean Startup story to share? Tweet us @leanstartup, and we might feature you in a blog post, too!

Build Your Own Lean Startup Hub

 2013 Photo by The Lean Startup Conference/Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin
2013 Photo by The Lean Startup Conference/Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin

Thinking about starting your own Lean Startup group? Here’s a list of ideas on how to get started, from Ursula Shekufendeh, a strategic partnerships manager and former Lean Startup Conference Speaker.

Her company, AppFolio, introduced her to Lean Startup methods in 2012. One year later, Shekufendeh was running an experimental company initiative, RentApp, as part of an internal incubator.

Here are Shekufendeh’s tips for joining and staying close to the Lean Startup community.

  1. Start a book club

Shekufendeh’s initial exposure to Lean Startup was through a company book club. After reading The Lean Startup, AppFolio’s VP of Product decided to launch an internal incubator, to experiment with Lean methodologies and build a cross-functional team.

“We would read a few chapters every week,” Shekfundeh says, “discuss, and share perspectives on how to apply those ideas to ongoing experiments with RentApp.”

Using this approach, AppFolio spent time discussing frameworks, tracking successes, figuring out ways to measure success. The book club, in a way, was its own Lean Startup MVP.

  1. Host a community event

The Lean Startup Conference has a live stream that you can broadcast, if your team members are unable to attend the event in person.

“A few months after experimenting with Lean Startup, our team signed up for for the conference live stream,” Shekufendeh says. “This was the first time that I got to watch the talks. Our team did something similar in 2013, and in 2014, I attended the conference for the first time, as a speaker. Several of my team members and I will be back in 2015.”

In addition to broadcasting the Lean Startup Conference live stream internally, AppFolio hosted an event for the public. The company advertised the Lean Startup Conference through Facebook and Eventbrite and invited local startups to come to AppFolio’s headquarters.

“We broadcasted the live stream in one of our conference rooms and offered food,” says Shekufendeh. “It was a great way to meet people. We actually discussed each talk with one another.”

  1. Tune into a live Lean Startup webcast

Lean Startup Co. hosts 1-2 webcasts per month. These sessions feature live, interactive Q&As with business leaders like Aneesh Chopra, former CTO of the U.S.; Mark Little, head of global research at GE; Laura Klein, UX leader and principal at UsersKnow; and Cindy Alvarez, head of user experience at Yammer.

Why not invite your team (or even companies in your community) to view the webcast and discuss takeaways after? You can access the Lean Startup webcast library here.

  1.  Build your own Lean Startup curriculum

Pick and choose what you want to learn, and use Lean Startup Company’s resources to build your curriculum.

In addition to its webcast recordings, Lean Startup Company has an arsenal of content from past conferences. Co-founder Heather McGough also hosts a podcast series. Instead of watching and listening to these recordings alone, why not invite your company team or meetup group? Here are a few ‘editor’s choice’ recommendations:

  1. Attend the Lean Startup Conference in person

The value of attending the Lean Startup Conference is that you’ll be able to meet practitioners, experts, and community leaders from all over the world. It’s your one annual opportunity to connect with others and see what’s happening at other companies. You’ll get actionable lessons that you can apply immediately.

It was after two years of following Lean Startup from a distance that Shekufendeh decided to join the conference in person. She explains that connection-building opportunities were invaluable and plans to attend the conference, as much as possible, in future years.

One big difference between being there in person, than the livestream, is the conversations that happen outside, of the talks,” says Shekufendeh. “So connecting with people that might be going through the same challenges, or have run into similar situations as you, and exchanging those ideas is invaluable.”

“As you’re there, with everything happening around you, you can bounce ideas off of each other, in the moment,” says Shekufendeh.  “You can ask as many questions as you want and see what the other person’s experience has been, or you can enrich your own as well. If you have people that are familiar with your own context, with your own situation, and your own challenges, and then can pick and choose the lessons that you heard from other companies.”

You can even bring your new connections back home.

AppFolio recently invited Kathryn Kuhn, transformation leader at Rally Software and 2014 Lean Startup Conference speaker, to come give a local talk on product development. Shekufendeh and Kuhn met at the 2014 event and stayed in touch. For this reason, Shekufendeh encourages Lean Startup practitioners to attend events in person.

If you’re interested, you can learn more here.

Final thoughts

At its heart, Lean Startup is a learning experience. The time and energy you spend getting familiar with Lean Startup is an investment in your own education, and a valuable resource for your company.

“We’ve very lucky to have senior management being supportive of our learning,” says Shekufendeh. “They see Lean Startup as an investment and way to grow.”

Prioritize your group like you would any other educational investment. Track milestones, make sure that you’re evolving, and find ways to built on one another’s insight.

If you want to bring speakers like Kuhn to your own event, you can reach out to Lean Startup Company to set up a series of coaching or business education sessions. Just email [email protected] for suggestions, case studies, and coaching session options.
For more info on Lean Startup, check out http://2015.leanstartup.co/ and join us at The Lean Startup Conference in San Francisco, November 16-19


Your Brand: Innovation Asset or Albatross?

The Lean Startup Conference/Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin

Big companies know that change is easier said than done. So what steps can leaders take to bring their big ideas to life? Cindy Alvarez recently shared her thoughts on the topic for Dun and Bradstreet’s Connectors blog. In anticipation of her upcoming webcast on August 27, at 11am Pacific with Lean Startup Company, we’ve republished it here.

As the director of user experience at Yammer (a Microsoft company) and former head of product at KISSmetricsCindy Alvarez helps organizations get closer to their customers. Her power tool is an experimentation process that helps teams learn faster. At the intersection of marketing, product and customer experience, Cindy encourages organizations to think past their brands to laser focus on the market’s needs. In this interview, she explains how.

Why are you passionate about corporate innovation?

I definitely would’ve started my career introducing myself as “a startup person.” The funny thing is, though, that in all of my startup roles, I was working with enterprise customers and providing value through helping them to experiment and respond to challenges more quickly. Through an acquisition, I now work for Microsoft.

In a big corporation, there are so many resources — intellectual, financial, and influential — that go mostly untapped. Just imagine how much they could achieve if just 5% of employees were more empowered, if just 5% of projects could move faster and backed by data!

What are the biggest challenges that marketers–and companies–face with respect to innovation? What’s holding them back? 

Corporations are burdened by what they perceive as one of their most valuable assets: their brand. “Brand” isn’t something you can monetize. Take McDonald’s: they have one of the most recognizable and beloved brands in the world. But their sales are suffering. They’re competing in a market that is rapidly shrinking.

I can’t count how many times teams at Microsoft have resisted building experiments or minimum viable products because “We’re Microsoft; we can’t release something that doesn’t meet the (extremely high) bar that customers expect from us.” Meanwhile, smaller companies can release things that are imperfect but are amazing vehicles for learning. They can use that learning to leapfrog the bigger companies.

What are the most important steps that organizations can take to become more innovative?

Organizations need to figure out a way to embrace being experimental. Having a separate “labs” brand, like Walmart or Google or Nordstrom, is one approach that I expect to see more of.

The first step is transparency. In most companies, communications are siloed; only the executives know the objectives and obstacles to any big initiative. And that’s basically telling the rest of the org, “We only trust these people to come up with solutions.” It’s wasting the brainpower of the other 95% of your employee base. We’re taking the 95% of corporations that are actually on the front lines, building products and serving customers, and telling them, “Nope, just do this clearly prescribed job and turn off the rest of your brains.” What a waste!

When corporations communicate transparently–when they share goals and objectives and setbacks–it empowers that 95% to speak up. It empowers teams to share information and build off what previous work has been done, versus reinventing the wheel each time. We’ve seen this happen in companies that have adopted Yammer wholeheartedly, but it doesn’t have to be any one specific tool. It just needs to be a widespread mindset change–away from “need to know” and towards “unless there’s a specific reason not to, I’m going to work openly and share ideas and ask for help.”

The next step is embracing an experiment-driven methodology. Many corporations consider their domain expertise to be one of their greatest assets. I believe it’s often an albatross around our necks. When you’re confident in best practices that worked for the past decade (or more), you don’t question them. When you have one employee who is “the expert” in a specific technology, you are less receptive to new ideas from other, less experienced employees.

The companies that have spoken publicly about experimentation–Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft–all agree that 50% or more of the product features they test do not perform as expected. They don’t move the desired metrics. I think we can all agree that there are phenomenally smart, experienced employees at those corporations. But even the best of the best are wrong half the time. This means we need to treat every “known” as a hypothesis and test it with rigor. We have the tools now. Experimentation on new lines of business, new product features, service changes, marketing campaigns–all of these are very possible even for small teams to adopt.

What are some challenges your team has faced, and how did you overcome them? What types of data have played a role in helping you navigate this process?

Microsoft leadership has been pretty phenomenal in terms of leaving Yammer alone to let us continue with our lean development methodology and experiment-driven culture that has worked well for us. But in any acquisition, the new team has to learn to collaborate with “the old guard.”

One of the challenges we’ve faced has been from teams who aren’t even skeptics; they actually love the concept of being more agile, more lean, more experiment-driven. But they’re simply overwhelmed by how to translate every part of their existing process–a process that worked for three decades and made Microsoft billions of dollars, by the way–into this new world. How do you change product prioritization? How do you make data-driven decisions when the infrastructure for measuring isn’t in place yet? How do you evaluate employees when “shipping product” is no longer the goal?

We’re actually still trying to solve this. It’s not an easy problem! Finding allies within Microsoft who know the system and want to drive change has helped tremendously. So has being very mindful of which approaches work–for example, the phrase “minimum viable product” just doesn’t work within Microsoft. People hear it as “releasing crap products” and then they just stop listening. So we talk about being “hypothesis-driven,” because it’s really that mindset that matters the most. Our data analytics team does training and outreach to teams that want to be more data-driven. I’ve just started a series of workshops for program managers, engineers, designers and researchers, to give them practice in thinking in “hypothesis-driven” ways. You have to take a Bayesian approach, because different things work for different teams and people.

Any other advice that you’d like to share?

There’s a lot of magical thinking around Big Data these days. People tend to assume that if you just collect enough data on what customers are doing, you’ll magically spot patterns that lead to amazing innovations. That just doesn’t happen. Big Data is just a pile of numbers. It doesn’t yield anything unless you ask the right questions of the data. At Yammer, we have an amazing partnership of data analysts and user researchers. Those two ways of thinking, together, is what gets us great insights.

People tend to prefer quantitative data over qualitative data. I understand that; intuitively you think, “Okay, one form of data is telling me what 20 people are doing, the other form is telling me about what 20 million people are doing.” But quantitative data can never tell you why things are happening. At Yammer, we have plenty of data telling us when customers aren’t using certain features or behaving in our desired manner. But the numbers don’t suggest any ways of solving that problem. It has been through deeper, richer, and much smaller-scale user research that we’ve gotten clues towards solutions.

Join Cindy in This Week’s Webcast

Through our own customer development at Lean Startup, we found that one of the biggest struggles intrapreneurs have is getting the buy-in from decision makers. As the Director of User Experience for Yammer (a Microsoft company), this is something Cindy Alvarez is an expert on. This Thursday, August 27th at 11am PT, she is leading a Lean Startup Webcast, Get Buy-in to Drive Change: Bringing Lean Startup to Enterprise. Register free here. By registering, you will have immediate access to the recording.

Latest Round of Lean Startup Speakers Announced

Lean Startup Conference speakers are experts at telling stories. They condense years’ worth of experience into powerful talks that leave audiences with useful, applicable tips for bringing products to market faster.

This doesn’t happen on accident. It’s the byproduct of a 9-month vetting, planning, and training process: Every Lean Startup speaker goes through multiple rounds of interviews, training sessions, feedback rounds with peers, and two or more practice rounds of their final talks. This entire process is to create the best experience and learning environment for you, our attendee.

We’ve just onboarded our next batch of speakers for the 2015 Conference and want you to get to know them. We’re including their Twitter handles so you can let them know what you’d like to hear from them (they’re all ears!) or to tweet them with a high-five. Here they are, in no particular order:

1 – Harper Reed
CTO at Obama for President and Threadless

Harper Reed’s blog states that he’s “probably one of the coolest guys ever” — and, we agree. He’s done some remarkable work on the Obama for President campaign and the super hot e-commerce community organization Threadless (just to name a few things). He’ll join us at the conference to talk about what went into developing those businesses, and the importance of building a great team. You can read about his journey to becoming Obama’s CTO in this Medium post.

[email protected] – Can’t wait to hear about building Lean Startup teams at @Threadless and Obama for President at #LeanStartup Conf” – Click to Tweet

2 – Poornima Vijayashanker
Founder at Femgineer and Venture Partner at 500 Startups

poornimavijayashankerPoornima’s passion for what she does is incredibly contagious, and that’s just one of the reasons we can’t wait for her to be in the front of the room at the conference. Through her education startup Femgineer, Poornima empowers engineers, founders, and product leads to transform their ideas into tangible, high-impact products. In November, she’ll share that expertise with the Lean Startup audience.

[email protected] – your idea-to-prototype workshop at the 2015 #LeanStartup Conf is going to rock!” – Click to Tweet

3 –  Aditya Agarwal
VP of Engineering at Dropbox

For many startups, growth is a Bermuda Triangle, presenting fatal but hard-to-spot challenges on the path from traction to success. That’s why we invited Aditya Agarwal to speak at the conference. Aditya has led teams at Facebook and Dropbox through critical growth phases, and will talk about how to prepare for success while building for the reality of the present.

“@adityaag – Excited for your talk on @dropbox’s growth at the 2015 #LeanStartup Conf” – Click to Tweet

4 – Tomer Sharon
Sr. User Experience Researcher at Google

Tomer SharonTomer has authored multiple books about the topic of user research and is a known leader in the space. He established The Israeli Chapter of the User Experience Professionals’ Association and is a mentor at Google’s LaunchPad program, a bootcamp for early-stage startups around the world. At the conference, Tomer will run a live experiment that demonstrates how Google gets critical customer information. It will be a can’t miss session.

[email protected] – Can’t wait to see your live experiment at the 2015 #LeanStartup Conference” – Click to Tweet

5 – Christina Wodtke
Principal at Wodtke Consulting

christinawodtkeWith deep roots in Silicon Valley, Christina has helped grow companies like LinkedIn, Yahoo, Zynga, The New York Times—and a ton of startups. She speaks worldwide and shares her thoughts at eleganthack.com. On Monday, November 16, Christina will run a workshop for platinum and gold badge holders on customer development and how to adapt for product-market fit.

[email protected] – Look forward to your customer development workshop at the 2015 #LeanStartup Conference” – Click to Tweet

6 – Devon McConnell
Managing Director, Head of Digital at Wells Fargo Advisors, LLC

devonmcconnellWe’re excited to have Devon share her story about building a digital presence in a highly regulated industry. With just one year under her belt at Wells Fargo, she’s been able to successfully implement Lean Startup with her team, to improve Wells Fargo’s digital strategy and enhance customer experiences.

[email protected] – Excited to learn about @WellsFargo‘s digital transformation at the 2015 #LeanStartup Conference” – Click to Tweet

7 – Chris Dixon
General Partner at Andreessen Horowitz

Chris Dixon has a rich history with building businesses. He was co-founder and former CEO of Hunch, which was acquired by eBay in 2011 and SiteAdvisor, which was acquired by McAfee in 2007. He is currently a partner at Andreessen-Horowitz, and he has invested in companies like Kickstarter, Warby Parker, Foursquare, and more.

At our conference, Chris will join Eric Ries on stage to discuss building a modern Lean Startup company, attaining operational excellence, and how the Lean Startup community of entrepreneurs and executives can create a roadmap that moves them in the right direction.

[email protected] – Excited to see your conversation with @ericries at the 2015 #LeanStartup Conference” – Click to Tweet

Have a question, or want to recommend a talk idea? Give us a shout @LeanStartup. We want to hear your thoughts!

Interested in hearing these talks? You’ll make a great addition to the 2015 Lean Startup Conference community. Join us on November 16-19 at Fort Mason. Come away with new Lean Startup contacts and actionable takeaways that you can immediately apply at your company. Click here for all the details and to register now.

Monthly Roundup: 8 Resources to Check Out This August

In the spirit of back to school, our team is catching up on our summer reading (seriously, we have a monthly book club). We’ve learned through customer convos that you’re looking for new resources, too. Below are 8 to check out and share with your team.

But first, a shoutout to our friends at General Assembly, a business education powerhouse, who are giving away a pair of tickets to The Lean Startup Conference, and covering the trip to San Francisco to boot. Enter for a chance to win (and tell your friends!).

1 – Product Hunt’s Secret Weapons (Podcast)

Source: Lean Startup Co.

Ryan Hoover, founder of Product Hunt, is interviewed by Heather McGough of Lean Startup Co. In this podcast, Hoover discusses the Product Hunt journey, how to scale an invite-only community, and his plans for expanding into new verticals.

2 – 731 Slack Users Reveal Why It’s So Addictive (Blog Post)

Source: Hiten Shah, co-founder at CrazyEgg and KISSmetrics

What makes Slack so popular? In the spirit of Lean Startup, Shah answers this question by talking to Slack’s users. While the results are interesting, the real story comes from his customer development and research process. We love how transparent he is about his research methods and encourage you to adapt them into your own.

3 – Speeding up JavaScript Test Time 1000X (Blog Post)

Source: Shyp

This post is for the engineers in our community. Learn how Shyp’s technical team cut down core API tests from 100 seconds to 100 milliseconds.

4 – Lean Startup Tools (Curated List)

Source: Product Hunt & Femgineer

Looking for Lean Startup tools to bring back to your team? Check out this list from Femgineer founder Poornima Vijayashanker who will be teaching a session on transforming ideas into software products at the November Lean Startup Conference.

5 – How to Calculate the Value of a Pivot (Blog Post)

Source: Chris DeNoia, consultant and startup advisor

Lean Startup practitioners know the value of learning milestones but are often unsure of how to measure success. This article breaks down a few different options, for different types of organizations.

6 – Places Make Us (Video)

Source: Christina Wodtke, consultant and startup advisor

We make places, and places make us back. In this keynote from Midwest UX, Lean Startup Conference speaker and mentor Christina Wodtke shares her best tips for designing in the ‘new’ digital world.

7 – Is Perfection the Enemy of the CMO’s Growth? (Blog Post)

Source: Dun and Bradstreet

An experienced startup founder, product leader and intrapreneur at Pivotal Labs, Janice Fraser has committed her entire career to helping companies innovate faster and get closer to their customers. In this interview, she shares entrepreneurial insights most relevant to enterprise CMOs as they strive to perfect their marketing.

8 – Practicing Lean When You’re Not a Startup  (Podcast)

Source: Lean Startup Co.

Often there is a perception that Lean Startup methods are only for the inception phase of a product. The ‘startup’ part is a bit of a misnomer, it’s not meant to be literal. Companies of all sizes can benefit from the principles by adopting a more customer-centric approach and engendering a culture supporting build-measure-learn. In this podcast, the Lean Startup team speaks with Rahim Adatia, consultant and former director of mobile and presentation platforms at PayPal, who will share some of his experiences working with both startups and larger organizations to ship products using Lean methodologies.

Want to talk about what you’ve just read? You’ll make a great addition to the 2015 Lean Startup Conference community. Join us on November 16-19 at Fort Mason. Come away with new Lean Startup contacts and actionable takeaways that you can immediately apply at your company. Click here for all the details and to register now. 

The Startup’s Guide to The Lean Startup Conference

Photo credit: The Lean Startup Conference/Jakub Moser & Erin Lubin

The Lean Startup Conference teaches companies of all sizes how to build iteratively, bring new ideas to market quickly, and outsmart their own perfection to create successful products. As part of our program-building process, we conduct hundreds of customer development interviews. One thing we’ve learned is that our startup attendees want to see the unique benefits offered to them.

So here we go: from programming to networking opportunities, here are 6 opportunities that we want on every startup attendee’s radar. (If you’re working for an established company, we’d love for you to pass this note along to your startup friends!)

1 – You’ll learn how to tackle your biggest challenges. The Lean Startup Conference creates a culture that helps startup founders and employees learn from one another. This year, we’ll be featuring talks with founders like Ryan Hoover of Product Hunt, Prerna Gupta of Telepathic, and Gagan Biyani of Sprig, who will be sharing ‘in-the-trenches’ lessons learned that you can apply back to your business. We’ll also be hosting attendee-led small group discussions, startup-focused dinners, and a q&a with Eric Ries: all forums where you can share your own story and get great advice to apply to your business.

One of our community members, Emmanuel Eleyae, founder at consumer products company Satin Lined Caps told us that the 2014 Lean Startup Conference helped him grow his monthly revenue by more than 20 times in less than six months. Emmanuel implemented new customer development techniques in his family-run business—like conducting feedback sessions and tailoring his product to his target market—all decisions driven by attendee-led discussions and a group Q&A session with Eric Ries. And now, Emmanuel’s coming back in 2015 to learn new techniques for scaling his team.

2 – You can demo your product in our Startup Alley. We get that startups need exposure but don’t have the same event marketing budget as more established companies, so this year, we’re launching a new program. It’s called Startup Alley, and it’s a demo space for our startup attendees

If you take part, you and a team member can demo your company and product to our audience of enterprise companies, growing startups, nonprofits, and government organizations. We’ve made pricing startup-friendly, too, but sign up soon: space is limited to 20 companies. For instance, Advanced-HR, a tool for compensation surveys and consulting service, will be demoing its product to reach its target customer base of startups and VC firms.

3 – You’ll meet collaborators, customers, and potential employees. We provide a unique atmosphere where introductions and conversations happen with ease. Throughout the four days of the conference, you’ll mix with our cross-functional community of corporate innovators, senior leadership team members, marketers, product development leaders, engineers, and other decision-makers who are all eager to learn about your organization. These are all connections that will last beyond your conference. A couple of examples:

  • At the 2014 Conference, former U.S. CTO Todd Park recruited at least three attendees to the United States Digital Service (side note: you can read about Obama’s stealth startup here
  • We constantly hear about attendees consulting for one another and becoming each others’ customers after meeting. In 2015, we’re carving out opportunities to help attendees do more of this.

4 – You’ll meet potential mentors and advisors. At some conferences, speakers and expert attendees like to hide behind the scenes. Not here. In fact, it’s the opposite: we constantly hear stories about attendees syncing up with speakers and becoming one another’s customers, coaches, and collaborators. These experienced founders and corporate innovation leaders make it a point to be available and accessible, and you can sign up to meet with them one-on-one during our speed-mentoring and office-hour sessions.

5 – If you’re a Platinum Pass holder, you can join our Startup Tours. This is a popular option, especially among our non-San Francisco community. For a full morning and afternoon, we give you the opportunity to tour your choice of eight companies that utilize Lean Startup in their everyday operations. You’ll get to see Lean Startup stories in action—full of anecdotes and perspectives to bring back to your team back home.

We typically finalize our Startup Tours itinerary in October. You can see last year’s list here.

6 – If you can demonstrate need, you can apply for one of our $250 bootstrapper passes. We know that early-stage (or never-been-funded) ventures are often strapped for cash, and we want to make sure that any revenue you’ve generated—or funding that you’ve raised—stays tied to your core business. No matter your financial standing, we want you alongside us in November.

A bootstrapper pass is the exact same as a silver pass, except you get your ticket for $250. Learn more and apply for these passes on this page.

While we don’t have a hard deadline to apply, we’re only offering 200 bootstrapper slots, and we expect them to fill up quickly.

If you’re part of a larger organization or VC firm that would like to fund a set of passes, please email [email protected].

Want to get involved sooner?

You don’t need to wait until November to get involved with The Lean Startup Conference. We’ve got lots of resources for startups and other organization types, too. You can follow what we’re up to here

Interested in continuing the discussion from what you’ve just read? You’ll make a great addition to the 2015 Lean Startup Conference community. Join us on November 16-19 at Fort Mason. Come away with new Lean Startup contacts and actionable takeaways that you can immediately apply at your company. Click here for all the details and to register now.

Lean Startup Story: Andrea Hill, Intrapreneur and Product Strategist at ReadyTalk

Andrea running in a recent marathon.

If you’ve ever been to The Lean Startup Conference, you’ll know that some of the best opportunities to learn come from fellow attendees—entrepreneurs, product strategists, and transformation leaders from around the world.

We’re launching a ‘meet the community’ blog series to help you learn how to create a culture of innovation, turn ideas into products, and build a sustainable business. You’ll also get a glimpse of the Lean Startup practitioners (i.e. rockstars) you’ll meet this November at the conference.

First up is Andrea Hill, a Denver-based intrapreneur, product strategist, and marathon runner (both in and out of the office). She’s helping audio and web conferencing provider ReadyTalk, launch an internal startup and bring a new product to market. Here’s what she has to share.

Tell us about what brought you and your team to the Lean Startup Conference in 2014—and what’s bringing you back in 2015.

Hill: We’ve become interested in Lean Startup principles to develop new lines of business. Prior to attending the conference we were trying to balance doing customer discovery and working on new problems while also serving our existing customers.

We had a cross-functional group from product, technology, and finance who attended: our CFO, our director of engineering, director of product management, enterprise agile coach, product strategist (me) and a product manager. The biggest benefit was that we could divide and conquer.

We tried to have coverage for all sessions, and then meet over lunch and dinner to share our learnings and reflections. I thought it was great to have a team there as we were more effective in coming back and sharing our learnings with the rest of the organization.

The experience from 2014 helped us integrate lean into the company. We launched our beta of ubimeet.com in March 2015, helping people run more effective meetings. We are now in the product-market fit stage and are coming back to the Lean Startup Conference to explore this next stage of our product development.

What are some of the biggest changes that you’ve made in the last year?

Hill: The biggest takeaway was that Lean Startup wasn’t something we could enter into half-heartedly. The innovation accounting workshop from the 2014 program helped us convince our COO that a Lean Startup team needed to be held to different standards of success than development in our more established line of business. We now use metrics like cost-per-learning and validation velocity to show progress since more traditional things like ROI weren’t applicable.

One of the biggest changes in corporate mindset that allowed us to innovate was the recognition that things didn’t have to be perfect and complete before release; that we actually didn’t even know what that meant.

We knew our initial release offered value but it wasn’t as fully-featured as we may have wished. With our parent brand, we’d have been concerned about not meeting the needs of all of our users, but we were okay with releasing something and working with customers to help determine the order in which we’d develop additional functionality (and whether we had to build it at all!)

The product is a meeting productivity tool, and after three months with beta testers on the service, we were able to better understand the type of meeting organizer who finds the most value from the product. We could then focus on building a product that really fit in with the workflow of our strongest advocates, rather than trying to guess. It meant we had to make the hard decision to drop support for one platform, but that allowed our engineering team to focus on what would have the most impact for our best users.

We’ve reached a point in our process in which we need to be laser-focused on only doing tasks that added customer value.

What tools are helping you drive change and innovation within your organization?

Hill: We adopted the use of the Lean Canvas as a primary resource to describe the business opportunity, and drive our experiments.

The canvas was displayed prominently when we met with internal stakeholders to help them understand what we were actively working on, and give them confidence we had a backlog of experiments to run to challenge assumptions.

What were some of the biggest challenges that you’ve addressed?

Hill:  Prior to attending the conference we were trying to balance doing customer discovery and working on new problems while also serving our existing customers. Innovation accounting helped us understand the need to dedicate folks to these types of initiatives, and we were able to get the corporate buy-in to do so as a type of experiment in and of itself.

As a result we’ve been able to iterate much more quickly, and overcome some of the executive fear of releasing something into the wild in an MVP state. As it turned out, some of our first external testers immediately latched onto the value proposition and said they’d have no hesitation in recommending it to others.

What are you looking forward to learning at the Lean Startup Conference in November?

Hill: I’m really looking forward to returning this year with some practical experience under my belt. Now that I’ve been through one cycle of intrapreneurship, I’m eager to learn how to formalize this within our organization so we can have more concepts being explored in parallel.

To use a metaphor anyone reading this will be familiar with, Lean Startup is the solution to a problem we had at ReadyTalk (new product innovation). The next step is how to scale it!

Interested in results like this for yourself? You’ll make a great addition to the 2015 Lean Startup Conference community. Join us on November 16-19 at Fort Mason. Come away with new Lean Startup contacts and actionable takeaways that you can immediately apply at your company. Click here for all the details and to register now.

This post was written by @ritika puri, resident storyteller at The Lean Startup Conference.

Monthly Roundup: Lean Startup Stories You May Have Missed


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

Summer is heating up — and so are we! We’ve been publishing, reading, and tweeting up a storm about all the great stories in the Lean Startup community. We don’t want you to miss out on flexing your entrepreneurial muscles while you’re away at the beach, so at the start of each month, we’ll be packaging our favorite articles for you to read.

But first, check out our newly launched sponsors and community partner pages, which feature discounts from partners like TechCrunch Disrupt. We’ll be adding more deals and perks from partners in the months to come. (Interested in sponsoring? Email [email protected])

For some new reading material, bookmark the following 7 articles:

1 – Five Tips for Quickly Testing Your Idea
Source: Intuit Labs

When it comes to running experiments, you have a lot of options for techniques to try— sometimes too many to know where you should start. Intuit Labs decided to tackle this ‘analysis paralysis’ challenge by interviewing three speakers from the Lean Startup community: Yammer’s head of user experience Cindy Alvarez, Solve for Interesting founder Alistair Croll, and Adknowledge’s VP of marketing Anita Newton. Learn how these three leaders tackle their biggest experimentation challenges.

2 – Lean Innovation Management
Source: Steve Blank

It’s hard for established companies to innovate. When your primary responsibility is to your shareholders, it can be challenging to justify a new investment or pivot in direction. Long-term, however, innovation is critical to keeping your business alive and outpacing your competition (before a competitor sweeps in). What you need is a model that supports innovation without distracting teams from their core operations. Steve Blank’s framework for Lean Innovation Management provides great insight to help you get started.

3 – What a 123 Year Old Company Can Teach Us About Innovation
Source: Lean Startup Co.

It’s commonly known that most ventures fail within their first three years of operation. So when we look at a company like GE that has been around for more than 123 years, we can’t help but wonder what’s happening behind the scenes. Read this blog post for a recap of Lean Startup Company’s recent webinar with Mark Little, GE’s director of global research.

4 – Inside Obama’s Stealth Startup
Source: FastCompany

Learn how the Obama Administration silently recruited top talent from companies like Google and Facebook to reboot the government. This in-progress story will be fun to watch over the coming years, as it continues to unfold.

5 – Innovation Tips from the First U.S. CTO
Source: Lean Startup Co.

In April 2009, the Obama Administration appointed Aneesh Chopra, Virginia’s then Secretary of Technology, to be the first CTO of the United States. Soon after, Chopra found himself immersed in a billion dollar immigration project, a program to help Veterans retrieve healthcare records faster, and an initiative to help accelerate approval processes within the gold standard of bureaucratic organizations—the FDA. Learn how Chopra’s team outsmarted these constraints to get things done.

6 – How to Implement Hypothesis Driven Development
Source: ThoughtWorks

Barry O’Reilly, principal at ThoughtWorks, co-author of Lean Enterprise, walks us through the nuts and bolts of forming focused hypotheses and using the scientific method to drive software development. Read this story to rethink how you’re framing your business stories.

7 – How 5 Companies Created a Culture of Innovation
Source: The Next Web

Some businesses make innovation look easy. While most of us are struggling to find the right idea, certain brands seem to have everything together—steady streams of new products, never-before-seen branding concepts, and serious creative magic. Read this blog post to see the science behind these processes.

Interested in continuing the discussion from what you’ve just read? You’ll make a great addition to the 2015 Lean Startup Conference community. Join us on November 16-19 at Fort Mason. Come away with new Lean Startup contacts and actionable takeaways that you can immediately apply at your company. Click here for all the details and to register now.

This post was written by Ritika Puri, resident storyteller at The Lean Startup Conference.