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Lean Startup Machine – London October 2012

Over the past year I have been familiarising myself with the Lean Startup methodology and trying to adopt it in both my bootstrap evening enterprises and my IT Consultancy day job I had heard lots of great things about London Lean Startup Machine (LSM) and thought it would be a great way for me to learn from other people and challenge myself in some of the areas I am more uncomfortable (incompetent) in. The weekend is focused on customer development and the right hand side of the Business Model Canvas. Rather than the building and deliver of the solution. Its not a hackathon, but more like The Apprentice on steroids where you have to develop your own internal Lord Sugar to criticise you.

The weekend starts with a Friday night introduction session, where people can pitch an idea that they would like worked on over the weekend. My objective for the weekend was to focus on process, so I opted to be a participant rather than pitcher. Once the pitches where complete individuals had to choose which idea they want to work on and then form a team.
The idea that resonated with me the most was that pitched by Thomas Thüer, a mechanical engineer from Switzerland  who identified a problem that not everybody has the time or a schedule that allows them to attend an organised activity e.g. Football on a Saturday morning, and that there must be a solution that could help people organise more events.

I immediately felt an empathy with this problem as having 2 kids and a busy work life I very rarely have the time to attend more formal organised events, let alone organise stuff myself. However when I have the time it would be great to do stuff (Mountain Biking, Kite Surfing, Running etc) with other like minded people.

Once we created the teams we started breaking down the problem and dropping our assumptions into post-it notes onto a white board so that we could pull out our most riskiest assumptions.

Customer development is all about talking to customers and we quickly realised that finding people that “Wanted to do activities with people but could not because of their busy schedules” where going to be pretty hard to find. This lead us to a pretty early “customer segment pivot” to focus on footballers wanting to play football in the park (not unusual when you consider we where near Regents Park on a Saturday, lots of people playing Football).

In reality our problem statement was pretty poor and targeted a rather inaccessible customer segment. So, in the spirit of learning the process and not focusing on the actual product, we decided to push on through the stages of developing a product pitch and concierge MVP.

The weekend’s work was focused around the new ValidationBoard (designed & developed by Lean StartUp Machine) which we used for charting our progress.  Its a great tool for using as the backbone for you customer discovery, however we found it heard to be iterative. We found that our interviews ended up creating a significant amount of data which when sorted through provided us with enough data to validate a number of assumptions. As a result we ended up using the Validation Board more as a retrospective documentation tool.

I really liked the way that the board helped with documenting our findings and is a format that I will continue to use moving forward.

So what did I learn?

  1. I hate speaking to customers, much happier stuck behind a computer.
  2. Its not actually that hard to speak to customers
  3. I need to push myself harder to speak to customers (there is a trend here)
  4. Its much harder to focus on the problem rather than the solution than I expected
  5. Leading a Lean StartUp team requires a split personality disorder, 1 to question every assumption/opinion that is spoken, and the other to encourage and inspire the team to believe that the problem is worth solving.

Next steps for me:

I need to go back and start retrospectively applying what I have learnt to my existing projects, as I think that there is a lot of undiscovered insight to be learned. Plus I need to develop my Split Personality Disorder some more.

Advise for anybody looking to attend:

If you ever intend to start your own business just go along.
Focus on why you are there, learn the process or to win?
Pick a project that is suited to the weekend, e.g the winning teams both picked projects that had easy access to customers.

Thanks to Ryan MacCarrigan, Obi Mbanefo and Michael Hann for organising an excellent event and thanks to all of the excellent mentors who spent their weekend helping, guiding and supporting us.

For those interested here is our final presentation for KickNow a platform for crowdsourcing a football team within your local area for a improptue kick about!!

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