Wednesday, November 4, 2015

How Lean Startup Helped Serve Communities in Kenya

Guest Post by Jennifer Maerz, Contributing Editor of Lean Startup Co., with Kirsten Cluthe as Contributor.

Here’s the thing about The Lean Startup methodology. It isn’t just for use by one industry, or one staff size, or even in any one country. Our customer-first, rapid trials-rapid discovery ethos is adaptable to all varieties of mission driven, enterprise, and startup companies around the world.

At The Lean Startup Conference on Nov. 16-19 in San Francisco, innovative thought leaders from around the globe will offer examples of the remarkable changes they’re making across industries using our simple methodology. And yes, we’re very excited for you to meet them all.

As we lead up to the big day, we’re spotlighting speakers who’ll be involved in our hands-on workshops, lightning talks, keynotes, interactive breakout sessions, and other learning and networking events.

First up in our speaker spotlight series is an edited transcript of our Q&A with Rocio Perez-Ochoa, co-founder of Bidhaa Sasa, a non-profit working to distribute beneficial goods to rural communities in Kenya. She will be offering her startup story in an afternoon breakout session on Tuesday, Nov. 17. The Lean Startup method helped Rocio and her co-founder get their idea off the ground, and to continue to grow this important business. She revealed the key things she’s learned in the evolution of her organization.

The inspiration for Bidhaa Sasa? Fix the distribution bottleneck in rural Kenya.
“My business partner and I [previously] worked in East Africa with companies that provide energy solutions to people living without electricity. In some countries, like Kenya, the vast majority are not connected to the grid because there is no grid. This is especially true in rural areas. There are a few technology companies developing small, mostly solar-powered solutions to help people [get] electricity in their homes.
“We felt very frustrated because we could see how households were still living in poor conditions despite companies working to developing technology solutions for them. “There are many gadgets out there that could help ordinary rural families improve their lives — goods like solar equipment for lighting and electricity, water filters to drink clean water with, and stoves for healthier cooking do exist.
“Most companies were focused on the tech and very few even admitted there was a distribution bottleneck. So we decided to set up Bidhaa Sasa to try to understand why these goods don't reach the ones who most need them.”
They aimed to understand the user before worrying about the technology
“Many of the tech businesses we met in East Africa were ‘back to front’: the technology seemed to be at the centre, not the user. Businesses were focusing on inventing new products and tech almost for the sake of it. Managers did not seem to really understand the users' pains and the way they currently go about solving their problems.
“In mid-2014, I re-read The Lean Startup and suddenly things started to make sense. I could see why so many tech businesses I was very familiar with were going nowhere and why they were making similar mistakes.

“The customer development theory was an eye opener and gave us the final push to launch this venture. It makes so much sense to design a business around the customer instead of the product.”

Don’t get into a “startup mindset.” Instead, get into your customers’ mindset.

“Sometimes it was difficult to abstract the core ideas from [The Lean Startup] theory, to remove the Silicon Valley/high-tech component in most of the examples in book, and to apply these ideas to our very particular context. But we did not waste any time worrying about the practical things of starting a new company (and in Kenya, everything is harder than in your average developed country). We went straight into customer discovery. We spent around six months running surveys and meeting prospective clients. We first ran a problem discovery exercise and then a solution presentation one.
“Our MVP is a service MVP. We offer a small range of technology goods (a solar lamp, a solar system, a cook-stove, a radio, and a mobile phone) on credit. We deliver the goods to clients' doorsteps no matter how remote they think they are. We also educate the users on how to best use the goods, we install the solar systems in people's houses, and we manage the product warranties.
“We want to be known as a client-centric company that responds quickly to our clients' needs and aspirations. One pending feature is adding a TV to our range, since that's the top aspiration for most of our clients.”
Bidhaa Sasa moves at the pace of its client’s needs, not some board member’s desires.
“There is always a temptation to move faster because, oh yes, we are selling. Our clients are honoring their debt and are quite technology savvy. This is not a surprise to us because we are selling to early-evangelists, who by definition are early adopters.
“It is sometimes difficult to slow down things and focus on learning rather than on P&L and operational issues. We could streamline operations with fancy equipment, like tablets instead of pen and paper, but that would not speed up our learning.
“The most important challenge for us is understanding our customers. One can imagine the gulf between us, the founders, typically middle-class first-world producers, and our clients, who are subsistence farmers. We are not even Kenyan, and know nothing about farming.
“Test-selling to early-evangelists is helping, but we are barely scratching the surface of how life in villages is organized. What is the decision process inside a family? What level of risk are these low-income families able to take? Why do they even buy from us?”

They want to understand the role of community in a person’s purchasing power, which is crucial to their business model.  
“One of our key problem hypotheses is the lack of credit available to an average rural family. They don't have stable incomes, they don't have bank accounts, and they are barely consumers. If one does not make these technology goods affordable, very few will ever buy them.
“So we decided to offer payment plans. But will clients pay on time given their low-income status?
“Our bet is that life in a village depends heavily on others and that the social network is intrinsic to it. We also believe that any head of family, no matter how poor they are, will always try to find ways to improve the lives of their dear ones.
“To test these hypotheses we created a way to sell on credit to a group of people rather than to individuals. The members can help each other if someone has problems with the repayments.
“This experiment is crucial for us and we hope that we will learn from our initial groups how influence works in practice in villages, [as well as] who are the leaders and the followers. And to what extent is social cohesion really responsible for our current zero default rate — or is it pure luck?”
Next steps for Bidhaa Sasa: depth of customer knowledge over geographic expansion
“For now we don't have any plans for expansion. I am much more inclined to go for depth rather than spread. There are literally hundreds of thousands of potential family clients in our region in Western Kenya.
“We don't look at expansion for the sake of it because of what we have seen many times in this part of the world: companies with new products or services have a tendency to spread themselves very thin. I think [that’s] because they are chasing the early adopters from one region to the next, even across countries.

“That is all good if you have the resources, but I don't think you can have a long lasting business if only early adopters ever buy your product or service. All you are doing is postponing the tough problem of crossing the famous chasm.”

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The 2015 Lean Startup Conference is the Biggest Yet

Guest post by Jennifer Maerz, Contributing Editor of Lean Startup Co.

The Lean Startup Conference is a one-of-a-kind conference and community of 2,000 thought leaders who meet annually in San Francisco to discuss the ways everyone from big government agencies, multinational conglomerates, scrappy startups, religious organizations, and mission-driven initiatives puts continuous innovation into practice, empowering employees and fostering radical success along the way. It’s a big deal that only gets bigger with every year.

We aren’t gathering together to simply talk at you, either. That would be so boring. Our interactive, multidisciplinary conference will spark new ideas, help you face your workplace challenges from fresh perspectives, and connect you with other entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs, regardless of whether you’re new on the payroll or have been running things for years. Really, there’s no better way to recharge and return to work inspired than spending a few days with the Lean Startup’s global network.

Join us Nov. 16-19 at Fort Mason, where we’ll exchange stories of radical thinking from leading edge and enterprise companies alike with lightning talks, hands-on workshops, Office Hours, interactive breakout sessions, meetups, Master Classes, Startup Tours, industry dinners, and of course the big keynotes. Yes, we're going to keep you busy — and make sure you get your bang for the buck. This is an investment in your professional development, after all. We're not just another networking event.

Check the full schedule here — and keep these six big incentives to join us in mind:

New speakers for 2015
Half of this year’s 100+ speakers and mentors are new to our conference. We’re talking about people who’ve led groundbreaking initiatives at influential organizations: Kickstarter’s Yancey Strickler, HotelTonight’s Amanda Richardson, Harvard Business Review’s Eric Hellwig, Strategyzer’s Alexander Osterwalder, Product Hunt’s Ryan Hoover, Adobe’s Tom Nguyen, altMBA’s Winnie J. Kao, and a triple bill from GE: culture leader Janice Semper, GM & CTO of Hybrid Fuel Cells Johanna Wellington, and Mark Little of GE Global Research.

Sessions with the Lean Startup alums you know and love
We’ll have unique insights from Lean Startup favorites Solve for Interesting’s Alistair Croll, Hunch Analytics’ Aneesh Chopra, Microsoft’s Cindy Alvarez, Dinadesa’s David Binetti, 18F’s Hillary Hartley, Pivotal Lab’s Janice Fraser, Users Know’s Laura Klein, and Techstars’ Zach Nies.

But wait — there’s more. We’ll also be hearing about leading Lean Startup strategies from folks at Google, Dropbox, Wells Fargo, American Express, and the Internal Revenue Service, among others.

Get smart, fast
Our Ignite talks are back! Leaders who’ve instigated radical changes in their fields and their organizations offer five-minute bursts of inspiration from the trenches of tech, labor organizing, sustainable agriculture, and education.
Choose your own track adventure
With nine different options during the afternoon breakout sessions (we know, we’re turbo-charging this thing with ideas), you can narrow down the selections by focusing on the tracks most useful to you and the methods by which you learn best. Are you more of a roundtable discussion kind of gal? A Lean Startup training kinda guy? Other options for cramming your brain with new ideas, depending on your price point for badge level, include motivational presentations and case studies, interviews with corporate innovators, interactive workshops, and Q&As with Eric.

Personalized training and feedback
From our Coaches Corner to one-on-one speed mentoring, we’ll equip Platinum and Gold badge holders with specific tactics for your workplace. Bring your toughest problems, and we'll work on solutions with you. Get personal advice from the likes of Intuit's Eileen Fagan, Kiva’s Akash Trivedi, Twilio’s Arthur Johnson, Google’s Tanya Koshy and Jawbone’s Lou Moore.

Back by popular demand: the return of networking dinners
Because our community loves chewing on food and ideas at the same time, we’re organizing group dinners for the third year in a row. On Nov. 17 & 18, choose your socializing track based on your interests, and for $55 a pop you can continue the conversations provoked in our daytime sessions over dinner with your peers in your industry.

And hey, because we’d love to have you join us, we’re happy to help nudge your manager into sending you to the conference. Here’s three very good reasons why your boss should send you to the Lean Startup Conference.

In order to be inclusive to all you innovators out there, we’re offering three different price points, from the scrappy to the down-for-everything.

The Lean Startup Conference. Nov. 16-19, 2015 in San Francisco, CA. Time is running out. Register here today.

Monday, August 31, 2015

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

The following is a guest post by Kirsten Cluthe and Ritika Puri from The Lean Startup Conference team
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.

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 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!

Monday, July 6, 2015

The dog ate my homework

A quick update for those of you following the Kickstarter campaign to launch my new book The Leader's Guide (and good news for those of you who missed out):

For those of you who backed the campaign:

Keep an eye out for an email which includes a link to a very short survey where you can confirm your shipping information and purchase additional items. (It will only take about a minute of your time -- and filling it out will help us ship your books and bonuses as soon as they're ready.)

For those of you who wanted to back the campaign but had problems making a pledge:

If this happened to you, I have some good news. Thanks to our fulfillment partner BackerKit, you can still be part of the campaign and receive a copy of the book and other rewards for two more weeks. Please note: the deadline is Monday, July 20.  Here’s a link to our store.

For everyone:

A reminder: this really is your last chance to get The Leader's Guide, be part of the backer-only community we've set up as part of the campaign, and upgrade your pledge. Because of my agreement with my publisher, The Leader’s Guide will never be sold in stores. We’re very excited that BackerKit has made it possible for us to extend our deadline to July 20 for those of you who missed out or who want additional copies or other rewards.

Thanks so much for your support!


Friday, June 26, 2015

Intuit Labs Takeover

This week, the Lean Startup took over the blog on Intuit Labs with original stories centered around experimentation as a method for investigating all parts of a business or product idea. The week’s posts included case studies, tips, Q&As, startup stories, and more.

We started on Monday with a conversation between me and Intuit’s own Ben Blank. Ben and I talk about spotting next-generation leaders, how there are no tricks or tools for innovators, and giving corporate innovation teams permission to experiment. We also posted Lean Startup 101, in case you’re looking for a refresher or an explainer to send to friends or colleagues.

On Tuesday, we interviewed Amanda Krantz of Dohje, an early-stage startup, to talk about experimenting with product development. Krantz is in the middle of the swirling, changing truth about Dohje’s value to customers, and we get real some real boots-on-the-ground insight into what experimentation looks like at a young company. Alongside that case study is Daina Burnes Linton’s story about her startup, Fashion Metric, and running multiple tests without building a single thing—even when they really wanted to.

Wednesday’s theme was testing an idea through marketing experiments, and experts Anita Newton, Alistair Croll, and Cindy Alvarez gave us their best tips on how to do that. All three emphasize the need for creating a solid, constrained hypothesis, so we also put together a short piece on writing one.

Thursday brought stories from three startups—PayrollHero, Munchery, and Tough Mudder—about how they’ve experimented with their business models to get to where they are today. And there’s a Q&A with me exploring a startup at an impasse, where I talk about usability testing and two-sided markets.

Today, we’ve got an edited Q&A with Back To The Roots, who have experimented with all parts of their business—from distribution channels to community engagement, product to retail sales. Posted with that is Dan Milstein’s talk about identifying your biggest risk, and being scared of working on the wrong thing when you’re in a startup—since good luck and hard work are actually not the keys to success.

I wanted to share these Lean Startup stories with you to hopefully inspire you and give you some ideas for experimenting with your own business or product idea. Head over to Intuit Labs to see all the posts.

For more stories like these, come join us at The Lean Startup Conference 2015.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Speak at The Lean Startup Conference 2015

What follows is a guest post by Kirsten Cluthe, the new Editorial Director of The Lean Startup Conference. Kirsten is leading our program development and speaker selection -- curating a four day, multi-tracked, 2000-person event. With a career that’s spanned from the music industry to General Electric to the Olympics, Kirsten brings deep event programming experience to the Lean Startup team.

As the editorial director for this year’s conference, I look forward to bringing the latest thinking on Lean Startup practices to the global community. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the chance to speak directly with advisors, faculty, team members, and customers to learn about key challenges in applying Lean Startup, as well as opportunities to educate and provide practical advice where it's needed most.

We want this year’s conference to be more valuable than ever, but we also aim to make it simpler to navigate, the content more exceptional, and more straightforward. Sessions will balance between hard hitting keynotes and interactive workshops. Yes, you’ll be inspired, but you’ll also have a chance to work through your business challenges while you’re with us. Topics like how to scale, how to create a culture of innovation, how to inspire leadership, finding the right product/market fit and more, delivered from people who are actually doing the work. We want you to learn, solve, and return to work with ideas and tools that you can apply immediately.
Last week we announced the first round of entrepreneurs and practitioners confirmed to speak at the 2015 Lean Startup Conference. Now, we turn to you. We’re reaching into the Lean Startup community to find hidden gems--the stories we don't know (yet).
Lean Startup methods are being applied by people around the globe, in startups and established companies, non-profit and civic organizations, and there are many stories to be told. We’re passionate about bringing fresh 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.