3 Ways to Outsmart Your Perfection

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

Product teams are natural perfectionists. No matter where you work, you want everything that you build to be perfect in meeting the needs of your users and outsmarting competitors in your market.

The problem with perfection is that it slows us down and increases our chances of risk. At enterprise companies, it can take years and millions of dollars for a new venture to see the light of day. At startups, one faulty assumption could force founders to close their doors for good.

Lean Startup practitioners will tell you to circumvent this process and the resulting uncertainty by building a minimum viable product (MVP), which Eric Ries defines as a bare-bones product that yields the most learnings at the lowest investment levels.

With bare-bones, however, comes ambiguous territory. Product leaders don’t want to sell their customers short or create lackluster user experiences. Today’s buyers have high standards for where they’re investing their attention, emotional energy, and money. If your product falls flat, you’ll risk damaging your brand’s reputation.

So how do you outsmart perfection without building a product that’s cruddy? Take a lesson from the following 3 product development leaders.

1 – Test as soon as you can communicate an idea

Tip nominated by: Lauren Gilchrist, product manager at Pivotal Labs

When bringing a new product to market, it’s important to launch with the minimal feature set that’s required for generating feedback. This concept, for the majority of people reading this blog post, makes sense. The challenging piece is how to condense a big list of ideas into something that people can actually use.

Gilchrist encourages her fellow product leaders to test an idea as soon as they can form sentences about it. Practically speaking, this process involves qualitative research through customer development, experimentation through A/B testing, and usability research by asking people to test a version of your product.

By testing sooner, you’ll learn critical lessons for preventing future UX and product positioning blunders.

2 – Create an audience before you start building your product

Tip nominated by: Laura Klein, principal at UsersKnow

Some of today’s most successful companies like Moz, Mint.com, 37signals, HubSpot, Groupon, and Mattermark didn’t start with a product. They started with a blog, which they grew into a full-fledged audience.

What audience-building enables is two-fold conversation and discovery. Through dedicated content creation, you’ll build a community in which you can conduct product development and test potential product/market positioning. Most importantly, you’ll start to build a relationship with early customers—giving you some leeway to launch an imperfect product for validated learning, if necessary.

Often, businesses will position content as a marketing tool. Don’t let this view constrict you—content is a product development and learning opportunity too.

3 – Get comfortable with tradeoffs

Tip nominated by: Kathryn Kuhn, transformation consultant at Rally Software

Product leaders in big companies who need to test new ideas quickly are often stuck with slow release cycles and rigid team processes. It can be challenging to overcome these legacy systems and workflows.

That’s where tradeoffs enter the picture.

During her time at HP, Kuhn sped up the production cycle for a complex, cross-functional technical team. She was able to build a new product to market in a matter of months by focusing on what she describes as ‘second best.’ While her solution wasn’t perfect, it was an important first step to move her team’s project forward.

Final thoughts

The art of balancing quality with speed is always challenging. No matter how many products you launch, you’ll likely always have fears lingering in the back of your mind.

Practice, test, and let yourself make mistakes. It gets easier.

At the 2015 Lean Startup Conference you will get more actionable tips to outsmart your perfectionism and create results and more profits for your company. You still have one week to get the ‘Spring Sale’ rate on your tickets before June 30.  Click here for all the details and to register now.

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

Innovation Tips from the First U.S. CTO

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

Imagine that you’ve just joined a 233 year-old organization, with more than 4.4 million employees, as the very first CTO. A few weeks into the job, you’re asked to take on a complex project that touches the lives of six million people each year. Your timeline is 90-days, and there’s absolutely no wiggle room because you’re CTO of the United States, and your direct supervisor is President Barack Obama.

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.

Success, according to Chopra, wouldn’t be as simple as creating an MVP. The Federal Government can’t afford to make mistakes. The stakes for Chopra and the Obama Administration were high, because if something did fall through the cracks, it would end up on the front page of The New York Times and impact millions of Americans.

Under these tight constraints, Chopra learned a powerful lesson—that innovation and bureaucracy aren’t mutually exclusive. Watch the video below to learn how he applied Lean Startup within the U.S. government:

Some Highlights:

  • Using customer development to prioritize product development. Entrenched in a multi-billion dollar transformation project, Chopra’s team knew that they wouldn’t be able to fix the underlying system overnight. With a deadline of 90 days to fix a key problem, Chopra relied on customer development to figure out where to prioritize his team’s efforts. His team pinpointed one ‘blockage’ as a starting point for ‘unclogging the arteries.’
  • Asking before mandating. With one of the first iterations of HealthCare.gov, Chopra and his team found that health insurance shoppers wanted plan data that wasn’t yet available. Instead of mandating and requiring insurance carriers to share this information, Chopra and his team illustrated demand based on user search data. From this process of learning, the HealthCare.gov team positioned itself to make iterative changes and improvements.
  • Untangling politics. In federal government and healthcare-related government arms, there are many stakeholders and variables at play. In the webcast, Chopra explains how his team navigated these often-competing forces to push initiatives forward.

Love what you’ve watched and read? Come join Aneesh Chopra at the 2015 Lean Startup Conference from November 16-19, where he’ll talk about leveraging Lean Startup principles in public/private partnerships, alongside entrepreneurs like Ryan Hoover of Product Hunt and corporate innovation leaders like Janice Semper of General Electric.

If you can’t wait until November, check out our next webcast, “Speed as a Competitive Advantage”, featuring GE’s Lean Startup Methodology with Eric Ries and Mark Little of GE by signing up here.

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

Meet The Lean Startup Conference Faculty!

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 Credit: Lean Startup Conference/Jakub Mosur and Erin Lubin

We’re doing something different this year. We’ve created a conference faculty — a team of experts and innovators who will help guide the programming and format of this year’s event. We’ve rallied this great group of people to get closer to the community we serve, and to help us uncover the emerging projects and best practices that are shaping the future of the Lean Startup.

Over the next few months, I will be sharing the behind-the-scenes of our editorial process, so you can see how we’re programming and developing the curriculum for The Lean Startup Conference. You’ll get to read about what we’re building on our blog, and join the discussion through the Lean Startup Webcasts Series with faculty members and conference speakers.

I am looking forward to the new set of remarkable people and ideas we’ll experience in San Francisco this November as a result of our partnership.

And speaking of remarkable people, we’d like to hear from you, too. Tell us about the Lean Startup issues you’re grappling with, what you’d like to learn or achieve at the conference this year, and any other ideas in a short note to me at kirsten [at] 2015.leanstartup.co.


Aneesh Chopra

Aneesh Chopra is the co-founder of Hunch Analytics, a “hatchery” incubating open data startups that improve the productivity of health and education markets, including NavHealth, a patient journey analytics service. He serves as a Member of the Council on Virginia’s Future and an inaugural Walter Shorenstein Media and Democracy Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

From 2009-2012, Aneesh served as the first U.S. Chief Technology Officer with a focus on better public/private collaboration as described in his 2014 book, “Innovative State: How New Technologies can Transform Government”. Check out his Lean Startup webcast here:

Cindy Alvarez

Cindy Alvarez is the author of “Lean Customer Development: How to Build Products Your Customers Will Buy.” Cindy has been using customer development techniques for well over a decade, across a variety of roles and organization sizes. She hates that alleged Henry Ford quote “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would’ve said ‘a faster horse.'” After seeing many organizations struggle, she wrote “Lean Customer Development” as a practical, hands-on guide to effectively talk to customers. Through the tactics in the book, organizations will learn how to rigorously validate their ideas, differentiate customer ‘wants’ from ‘needs,’ and build constant learning into their product development culture. Check out her 2014 Lean Startup talk here:

Diane Tavenner

Diane Tavenner is the Founder and CEO of Summit Public Schools (SPS), a non-profit charter management organization focused on Silicon Valley. SPS opens and operates high performing public charter high schools and works with communities and parents to ensure that every child has access to a rigorous, college preparatory public school education.

In 2003, Diane founded Summit Preparatory Charter High School in Redwood City. Today, Summit Prep is ranked by Newsweek as one of 10 miracle high schools in the nation that is transforming student lives. Check out her 2012 Lean Startup talk here:

Mark Graban

Mark Graban is the Vice President of Customer Success for the software company KaiNexus, helping further their mission of “making improvement happen” in healthcare organizations and other industries.

Mark is the author of the book “The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen: Leadership for a Continuously Learning and Improving Organization”. He is the founder and lead blogger and podcaster at LeanBlog.org. Check out his Lean Startup talk here:

Laura Klein

Laura Klein is a Lean UX and Research expert in Silicon Valley, where she teaches companies how to get to know their users and build products people will love. She blogs about UX, metrics, customer development, and startups at Users Know. Her book, UX for Lean Startups, was published by O’Reilly and is aimed at helping entrepreneurs learn enough research and design to let them validate their ideas.  Check out her Lean Startup talk here:

Wayne Sutton

Wayne Sutton is a serial entrepreneur and general partner at BUILDUP.vc. BUILDUP is dedicated to growing global innovations by bringing innovators together from an array of backgrounds and experience – technology, corporate, healthcare, design, environmental, social and political leadership – to a forum to investigate new realms of technology.

Wayne has over 14 years experience in technology, design and business development. He was recently recognized as one of the Silicon Valley 100 coolest people in tech.

Why You Should Speak at Lean Startup Conference

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

Last week we announced the first round of talent confirmed to speak at the 2015 Lean Startup Conference. Now, it’s your turn. We’re reaching into the Lean Startup community to find hidden gems–the stories we don’t know.

Lean Startup methods are being applied by people around the globe, in startups and established companies, non-profits and civic organizations, and there are many stories to be told. We’re passionate about bringing fresh experiences and ideas to the community, and we encourage you to apply as a speaker–especially if you haven’t had the chance to speak from the Lean Startup stage.

What we’re looking for

Our goal is to bring the most interesting, relevant, and impactful stories to the conference. We’re looking for practitioners who are doing the real work. That’s where you come in. As a speaker, you’ll have the opportunity to share your advice, insight, failures, and successes in order to help and benefit from the Lean Startup community.

Now in its 6th year, the conference has evolved from entrepreneurs-helping-entrepreneurs to something much larger and more powerful–a global community of businesses helping each other grow. This year, we’ll stick to the key themes you’re already familiar with, such as Innovation Accounting, Experimentation, Reducing Risk, and Lean Impact; but, we’re expanding our focus to include examples of how the Lean Startup method is changing the way we do business, and what the future of that might look like. Topic categories such as Leadership Development, Change Management, Marketing, Design, and Data Science and more, will be on the agenda.

What is your Lean Startup story?

If you have a Lean Startup experience to share, regardless of whether you’ve ever spoken publicly or not, we encourage you to propose a talk via our application form. You’ll submit your idea in the form of a short video, but don’t worry–iPhone video capture is just as good as broadcast quality. We only ask that you make sure the sound is good, so we can hear you. Here’s an example of a CFP we loved:

Here are some basics to keep in mind as you put your proposal together:
  • You don’t need to be a Lean Startup all-star. You just need a good story, useful tips, advice, or practical applications to share.
  • The core of your proposal should be around one of the questions posed in the CFP form. Keep it simple and focused.
  • Do your best to deliver your pitch in the proposal video as you would on stage. Though there’s still time to practice, stage presence matters.
  • Your presentation can be in the form of a case study, an interactive session, a list of lessons learned, or a discussion — whichever format you think delivers the most punch. Let us know.

Conference attendees are entrepreneurs of all kinds–venture backed, bootstrappers, even entrepreneurs in corporate and government settings. We are seeking talks aimed at all segments of our audience:

  • Bootstrappers and startups
  • Corporate intrapreneurs
  • Educators
  • Government innovators
  • Non-profit and social impact leaders
  • Developers

Just as our audience is incredibly diverse, we are looking for speaker candidates from all over the world and from all walks of life, regardless of gender, race, or age.

So, why apply? Because the community needs you, and your work deserves to be celebrated.

Here’s what to do next:

  1. Click here for the application. Read it thoroughly (the directions are KEY).
  2. Submit your CFP by 11:59p PT on Wednesday July 15.
  3. We’ll do our best to respond to you by mid-August.

Would you rather attend?

The Lean Startup Conference is the best way to connect with other experts in the Lean Startup community. You’ll receive practical ways to immediately implement the Lean Startup methodology into your daily business

Now is the best time to purchase your tickets for The Lean Startup Conference; you will be able to take advantage of our Spring Sale prices. There is a package for every budget (and options to bring your entire team at an affordable rate). Click HERE for the details.

What business challenges can we help you solve?

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

Last week, we announced our initial speakers  for the 2015 Lean Startup Conference. With featured speakers like Ryan Hoover of Product Hunt, Janice Semper of General Electric, and Dr. Alexander Osterwalder of Strategyzer, we look forward to helping our community of entrepreneurs, corporate innovators, and modern managers increase experimentation, alleviate uncertainty, and minimize risk in organizations large, small, new, and established.

What excited us most about our speaker lineup is that there’s more room to grow—much more. In the next five months leading up to the conference, we’ll be recruiting many more speakers, hosting bi-weekly webcasts, and writing weekly blog posts for our 130,000-person community of innovation leaders, Lean Startup practitioners, and entrepreneurs..

That’s where you come in.

We want to learn what you want to learn at the 2015 Conference. We want everything that we launch to be a product for you.

Share your thoughts about what you’d like to see at the 2015 Lean Startup Conference, on the blog, or on our webcasts by filling out this super short form.


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

A Sneak Peek of Who You’ll Meet at the 2015 Lean Startup Conference

We are thrilled to announce the first round of speakers who will be joining us at the annual Lean Startup Conference in San Francisco, November 16-19, 2015. The stellar line up includes a visionary four-star general who has transformed how we think about leadership, an entrepreneur who is radically changing the way that people eat, one woman who founded an innovation lab inside the federal government, and another who runs an energy start-up inside one of the world’s biggest companies. This is just the start of who you will see, learn from and connect with at the 2015 Lean Startup Conference!

This November, you’ll hear from:

StanleyMcChrystalStanley McChrystal, Former Commander of U.S. and International Forces in Afghanistan, Author of Best-Sellers Team of Teams and My Share of the Task, and Co-Founder of the McChrystal Group





Gagan Biyani, CEO, Sprig





Hillary Hartley, Deputy Executive Director, 18F





Johanna Wellington, GM & CTO, GE Fuel Cells





Mark Little, SVP, GE Global Research





Alexander Osterwalder, Entrepreneur / Speaker / Business model innovator





Ryan Hoover, Founder, Product Hunt





Errol Arkilic, CEO, M34 Capital





Janice Semper, Leader, GE Culture





Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup and the forthcoming Leader’s Guide



Interested in joining this incredible list of speakers?

Take a look at our Call For Proposals form. If it seems like a fit, we highly encourage you to apply today.

This year’s conference (our 6th!) will shine the spotlight on what’s next for the Lean Startup community. You’ll hear stories from the startup and enterprise sectors, as well as non-profit and government, healthcare, finance, consumer goods, and more — all supported by tools for practical application, deep dive case studies, workshops, and master classes.

In San Francisco, we’ll gather at the historic Fort Mason, where you’ll get downtime by the bay and ample time for the unexpected conversations that help to create the most memorable event experiences.

The Lean Startup team is working hard to plan an exciting event, and this year, we’re throwing in a few new twists to the program. You won’t want to miss it!

Don’t put off getting your ticket

Attending The Lean Startup Conference is the best way to connect with the Lean Startup community and receive practical ways to implement the Lean Startup methodology into your daily business — immediately.

Now is the best time to purchase your tickets for the conference; you will be able to take advantage of our Spring Sale prices. There is a package for almost every budget (and options to bring your entire team at an affordable rate). Click here to pick the best pass for you.