Author Archives: Heather McGough

State of The Lean Startup 2015: Grow With Us


written by Heather McGough, Co-founder of Lean Startup Company

I would like to take a moment to tell you about the places our community has been in 2015, and more importantly, invite you to continue learning with us in 2016. Let me start by saying that before 2011, I didn’t know what Lean Startup methodology meant. I’d been in the world of nonprofit for seven years, and thought an “mvp” played basketball for the Chicago Bulls. Fast-forward to now, I’ve spent five years immersing myself in the Lean Startup community, and earlier this year co-founded Lean Startup Co. with Eric Ries and Melissa Moore. My goal is to teach folks Lean Startup methods and modern management techniques to help companies of all sizes in any sector learn the best ways to build products.

The majority of people who will learn and apply Lean Startup methods have not yet heard about it. In other words, we’re still sort of in our infancy. Sure, here in Silicon Valley it’s been on our radar for awhile, yet the movement continues to grow around the world. Over 60 countries have gathered in groups to learn how to apply the scientific method to business — from Kenya to Brazil, and Israel to Slovenia — people are just starting their journey to learn the Lean Startup approach. They go beyond the buzzwords of HBO’s hit show Silicon Valley, and enter a world where they know that the work they’re doing matters to someone other than their boss, solving problems they can actually validate.

Our community is one-part startup, one-part small business, and one-part enterprise. We come from the world of hardware, retail, education, non-profit, government and more. Heck, the other day the first CTO for the federal government, Aneesh Chopra, emailed us to say Lean Startup was explicitly called out in the Presidential Innovation Strategy document for problem solving. See page 110.

Lean Startup has crossed over into the mainstream of business. Look no further than the companies whose stories we’ve shared this year to see that the applications are helping companies large and small make inspiring transformations. I’ve been chatting with a lot of people. Check some of them out:

  • Techstars is a world renowned startup accelerator that’s using Lean Startup methodology to overcome challenges in supporting entrepreneurs. And get this: They have a 90% success rate.
  • In the world of education, Virginia Tech is keeping libraries relevant by developing new products and a cutting edge experience for their customers — the students.
  • The current hot topic in our community is how to use Lean Startup in highly-regulated industries. The director of innovation at AZ Credit Union achieved executive buy-in and created minimum viable products (mvps) within the world of finance.
  • The US Olympic Committee is using Lean Startup methods to develop technology for humans. Coaches are training athletes using gadgets that they wear to better understand their bodies.
  • Scientists from the National Science Foundation are using technology to get out of the lab and into the marketplace.
  • From the world of enterprise, Google’s Senior UX Researcher is using Lean Startup methods to create a good user experience.

What started as a grassroots movement has morphed into the way modern companies stay relevant. One example of a leader who deployed Lean Startup is Hugh Molotsi. Hugh is the former VP at one of my favorite companies, Intuit, and I’m fortunate enough to have him as my mentor. He used to run something called ‘Incubation Week’ for Intuit Labs. Even a $4 billion company can identify leap-of-faith assumptions, design effective experiments, build mvps, and fake the backend. Just ask him about it; he’ll tell you.

The organizational leaders I’ve spoken to are dead-set on building modern companies that can sustain innovation. They’re tired of time, energy and creativity being wasted. Lean Startup is more than just words in a book, it’s gone from ideas to practical use and is busting open doors in some of the most difficult workplace situations. Practitioners apply the scientific methods in startups and in the world’s largest companies, and know it’s also about setting up systems and processes, knowing that success isn’t sustainable unless they constantly adapt. They test, explore and iterate. They hold themselves accountable by using math like metrics, innovation accounting, and analytics.

Let’s face it, startups want to become enterprises and enterprises want to act like startups. People come to us for support, and we continue to learn what they need. I know this because my team holds calls with our customers year-round. We ask loads of questions, and here is what they’re saying: they need access to real world examples, want to learn how to coach teams inside their organizations and gain the ability to carry them forward even after the trainer is gone. Some are stuck at square one, seeking buy-in from management. Others want stories from outside Silicon Valley, and beyond software development. They want case studies by industry and a way to connect with one another to talk about what they’re going through. They seek tools, want to learn how to use metrics, and would love to snag a mentor. The good news? We’re listening. We have a blog, training program, annual conference, and have just announced our traveling road-show called Lean Startup Labs with an inaugural enterprise-focused summit taking place this Spring in NYC. But lookout Detroit, New Orleans, and more — we’re coming for you in 2016 with themes around startups, social good, education and more.

Our company has so many stories and so much advice to share in many forms. In 2016 we’re going to get it all organized so that all of you can more easily access it. Want to learn how to build an mvp in the enterprise in the field of healthcare, for example? We’ve got you covered. Companies are looking to us to help them scale programs like GE’s FastWorks. Lean Startup Company houses the best faculty and advisors in the world of Lean Startup, and if we don’t have the solution, we’ll help you find someone who does.

Then and now. People used to do stuff the old way; you know, spend years building something before they ever put it in the hands of a customer. One of the most exciting parts of my job is talking to people who are finding Lean Startup for the first time, helping them gain support from their peers or superiors, and seeing their utter enthusiasm for this stuff. People are using Lean Startup in new and unique ways. Some we don’t recommend, like dating or child-rearing. Others, we’ve found inspiring.  

Erica Swallow from Little Rock, AK is using Lean Startup in high schools. Ken Howard is using it at his church. Tiffani Bell used the approach to build a nonprofit that tackles the Detroit water shortage. Anthony Fraser uses it to bring entrepreneurship to underrepresented, minority, and low-income communities.  

Continuing to consume Lean Startup education. As a kid who grew up in small-town Indiana, I never thought I’d be hanging out with so many authors. Practitioners are writing books, teaching masterclasses, and hosting meetups around the globe. Eric Ries, my business partner and author of The Lean Startup, recently became the most successful author in Kickstarter history for crowdsourcing a workbook called The Leader’s Guide, which is the mvp for his next book, The Startup Way. He’s currently using a community platform called Mightybell to engage thousands of people in the curriculum he’s developed over the past few years during his work with startups and corporations.

Helping folks learn from each other. We’ve created a Slack channel, LinkedIn group, ambassador program, and university outreach program. We give free Lean Startup 101 training courses to accelerators and startups, invite underserved groups to our annual conference, and provide a livestream at no cost. As an organization we’re always looking to support people beyond our little bubble, and beyond tech. One of the potential clients I’m most excited about working with in the near future is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The movement continues to grow and evolve, and what my team is doing right now is an mvp for the future of Lean Startup. We interact with the world through our blog, engage with everyday stories by hosting you on our webcast and podcast series’, thousands of people gather at our annual conference and in dozens of cities around the world via livestream, and nearly everyday I get to talk to someone new about our training program.

Join us. Not everyone can build rocketships or cure diseases, but I believe that the people in our community are tackling some of the biggest issues of our time. Lean Startup practitioners are a serious group of learners, and we welcome you to continue to learn and grow with us as we step into 2016.