Thursday, September 18, 2014

Learn Online This Fall

Guest post by Lisa Regan, writer for The Lean Startup Conference.

Boost your entrepreneurship skills without getting out of the building this fall. With an online course from Stanford and a series of webcasts from the Lean Startup Conference team, you can learn a lot from your desk in the coming months.  

First up: We’re excited to announce that Bob Sutton is joining as a speaker at this year’s Lean Startup Conference. Perhaps best known for his book, The No Asshole Rule, Bob was a terrifically popular speaker at Office Optional, and he’s written a number of best-selling business books. His latest, Scaling Up Excellence, addresses a theme of this year’s conference: How do successful companies grow?

Bob and his co-author, Huggy Rao, are hosting a free online class this fall, Scaling Up Your Venture Without Screwing Up. The course lasts five weeks, and the first session was a few days ago—but it was designed for viewing any time, and you can register for the class through this week. In addition to featuring entrepreneurs like Clara Shih and Michael Dearing, the course also includes a session with Ben Horowitz, another speaker we’re pleased to host at this year’s Lean Startup Conference.

In this preview of their course, Huggy talks about the anatomy, psychology, and physiology of scaling your company without screwing it up. An excerpt:

The anatomy of a scaling organization: Achieve the right level of flatness.
Most of us have a love-hate relationship with hierarchies. On the one hand, they can stifle innovation and make people feel powerless. On the other hand, power and status differences within an organization enhance collective effectiveness in many ways. Consider a failed experiment by Google's Larry Page, who got rid of all the company's middle managers and then had to reinstate the old system after trouble erupted. One hundred frustrated engineers were reporting to one overwhelmed senior executive.

The challenge is to weave complexity into a system in a way that does as much good and as little harm as possible. You could take a lesson from an innovative system adopted by Salesforce that struck a balance between placing too much accountability on the shoulders of a few senior executives and spreading accountability too thinly and evenly, as if it were peanut butter. Each of Salesforce's software teams was expected to complete a new software demo every 30 days, but every engineer was free to move to a new team without getting permission, which encouraged leaders to treat people well.

Where else can you learn online this fall? A consistent bit of feedback you gave us last year was that you wanted more webcasts. Heard. We’re lining up a series for entrepreneurs this fall, going in-depth on Lean Startup methods and applications. The first three webcasts start rolling out next week, and we’re keeping our popular format, featuring a meaty conversation between experts, followed by substantial live Q&A with attendees.

The webcasts are free, and you can register for them individually. Here's the initial lineup: 

Next week’s webcast, Lean Startup 101, is a chance for people new to the ideas to get a leg up. Sarah and Janice will explain the terminology of Lean Startup (What’s an MVP? What’s customer development?) and how it translates into practices (Who should use innovation accounting? What’s the story with pivots?).

Sarah is Lean Startup Conference co-host and CEO of Lean Startup Productions. Janice is a leading expert in new product development with Lean Startup techniques. She’s advised hundreds of startups, including founders at companies like Task Rabbit and Lyft, and she’s trained members of the presidential administration in innovation practices. (At this year’s Lean Startup Conference, Janice will give a full-day workshop on Lean Startup 101, with hands-on exercises.)

As a preview of the webcast, here’s Janice giving a basic intro to Lean Startup, including an analogy between creating a startup and choosing a wedding cake:

We also invite you—or your coworkers who’ve wondered what all the fuss is about—to take a look at “Lean Startup 101: The Essential Ideas" an article by Sarah answering a few basic questions about Lean Startup. (As a reminder, we’ve talked before about how you can get buy-in from an organization to implement Lean Startup.)

To catch Janice and Bob in person, join us at The Lean Startup Conference, December 8 – 12 in San Francisco. Our fall sale for conference tickets is the last price break for this year, and it ends on October 31st. Now is a great time to buy, before you loose track and miss the sale price. Register today.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Last Chance for Summer Sale Prices

Post by Sarah Milstein & Eric Ries, co-hosts for The Lean Startup Conference

At this year’s Lean Startup Conference, we seek to answer the difficult questions you face as an entrepreneur. To give you a sense of how we’ll do that, we’re introducing you to three of our speakers—all of whom are appearing for the first time at The Lean Startup Conference, and all of whom have advice you can put to work today. Note that summer sale pricing for the conference ends on Monday night, so register now for the best deal possible.

Herewith, our introductions.

Ben Horowitz, Andreessen Horowitz. Frankly, Ben doesn’t need a ton of introduction. A well-known startup innovator, he’s co-founder of the leading VC firm Andreessen Horowitz and author of a new book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building A Business When There Are No Easy Answers, which brims with unusually direct, useful advice for new and seasoned entrepreneurs alike.

Among the questions we’re seeking to address at this year’s conference is: What does the culture of a high-performance, high-growth team look like? In his book and on his blog, Ben tackles that question. We particularly like this post, Hiring Executives: If You’ve Never Done the Job, How Do You Hire Somebody Good?, in which he guides new entrepreneurs of growing companies through one of the more vexing challenges you’ll face, what he calls making “the lonely decision.” He starts with sharply observed pitfalls and offers specific steps you can take to avoid them, staring with a process for defining what you need in a new hire and then moving on to this step:

Write down the strengths you want and the weaknesses that you are willing to tolerate. The firs step is to write down what you want. In order to ensure completeness, I find it useful to include criteria from the following sub-divisions when hiring executives:
  • Will the executive be world class at running the function?
  • Is the executive outstanding operationally? 
  • Will the executive make a major contribution to the strategic direction of the company This is the “are they smart enough?” criteria. 
  • Will the executive be an effective member of the team? Effective is the key word. It’s possible for an executive to be well liked and totally ineffective with respect to the other members of the team. It’s also possible for an executive to be highly effective and profoundly influential while being totally despised. The latter is far better. 
  • These functions do not carry equal weight for all positions. Make sure that you balance them appropriately. Generally, operational excellence is far more important for a VP of Engineering or a VP of Sales than for a VP of Marketing or CFO.
Ben then gives more detail on how to turn the criteria into a real hire. At the conference, Eric will dive deep in an interview with Ben, asking him hard questions about hiring during growth and other shoals of entrepreneurship.  

Melissa Bell, We’re really pleased to have Melissa join us. has been one of the most closely watched media launches of the year, and as its Senior Product Manager and Executive Editor, Melissa was responsible for leading a lot of its success. One of our questions for this year’s conference is: How can we get products to market faster? So we were particularly intrigued when we learned that Melissa and her team took just nine weeks to develop the high-profile site; other Vox Media properties had taken eight months to roll out.  

As explained in this post from Michael Lovitt, Vox’s VP of Engineering, Melissa and her team expedited their launch by sacrificing perfection and focusing their goals narrowly. Instead of spending months fine-tuning the website before presenting it to the world, they chose to “fail fast and iterate.” That phrase gets tossed around a lot these days, putting it in danger of losing its meaning. But Melissa backed it up with real processes, and rather than calling the unveiling of the site a “launch,” she instead wound up referring to it as a “deploy, the first of many.”

The team also worked with an ethos that would trust their MVP, which had two foundational pieces. Michael explains:

In order to meet our expectations for what a new Vox Media site must be, we would focus on two big things: the important early and foundational branding and visual design work; and a new, still-to-be-figured-out product feature for helping readers understand the news. By limiting the new big things to only those two, we could free ourselves to throw all of our creative energy into them, and do them well, and rely on the work done by our past selves to carry the rest of the site.
Once everyone agreed to this plan, in every conversation about scope and the prioritization of site features, we were able to stay grounded by our shared sense of what was important to get right for launch, and what could wait for now.
At The Lean Startup Conference, we’ll learn more from Melissa about how her team hewed to its early goals, what worked in developing the site, what she’d do differently next time, and how they’re tackling the site’s current growth and new challenges.

Seppo Helava, Nonsense Industry. We’re proud that The Lean Startup Conference brings you not only high-profile speakers and leaders from high-growth companies you already know about, but also excellent presenters you aren’t yet aware of. Indeed, we consider it our job to find relatively unknown people with great advice and experience to share. Seppo is one such speaker.

An accomplished game developer and company founder, Seppo has worked hard to figure out how to keep employees invested and productive—particularly in an environment where you’re running lots of experiments that don’t lead to profitable products. His application to speak at this year’s conference addressed this question: How can we keep up team morale when experiments invalidate a lot of our ideas? and he hooked up with his deep understanding of the problem and tangible ways to maintain co-workers’ enthusiasm.

Seppo laid out clearly something we all see pretty often: when you constantly test your ideas, you find that a lot of them don’t fly, and so you have to throw out work all the time. He went to talk about the natural attachment that employees feel to their projects, particularly those they’ve polished carefully, and the resulting struggle to move on, even when those projects aren’t proving out. That dynamic generates a fear of experimentation—the opposite of what you want on your team.

At the conference, Seppo will talk about how his company now works to answer a question, rather than develop a product for presentation. He’ll discuss not only their approach in terms of training, teamwork and communication, but how’s it’s played out over a period of refinement.

To see these speakers and a slew of other entrepreneurs with incredible lesson to share, register today for The Lean Startup Conference. Prices go up on Monday night!

PS. The second and final round of our call for proposals closes on Wednesday night. If you have advice or experience to share, consider applying!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

New Call for Speakers and Top Three Reasons to Bring Your Child to The Lean Startup Conference

Post by Sarah Milstein & Eric Ries, co-hosts for The Lean Startup Conference

We’ve found more than half the speakers for The Lean Startup Conference, and we’re pretty excited about them. Ranging from Ben Horowitz, Mitch Kapor, Laura Klein and Cheryl Contee to entrepreneurs you probably don’t know but who have valuable stories to share, this year’s speakersand mentors like Tim O'Reilly and Erin McKeanwill help you become a more successful entrepreneur. 

We’re now seeking a few more speakers for the conference, December 8 – 12 in San Francisco, and we’ve opened a new round of our call for proposals. As we’ve laid out in the application form, we’re looking for talks that answer questions our attendees ask frequently, and we’re actively interested in people who aren’t regulars on the speaking circuit but who do have relevant experiences and advice to share. If you think that might be you, we encourage you to click over and consider applying. The deadline is September 3.

In other news, we’re pleased to announce that we’re now making the conference accessible to more people by offering onsite childcare. For years, The Lean Startup Conference has provided not only unique talks and opportunities to meet mutually useful entrepreneurs, we’ve also made a point of creating a respectful, energetic and professional environment for you. Offering onsite childcare is a way of leveling up that commitment. If you’re a parent, that means you can join us in San Francisco this December, and you can:

  1. Focus on learning. Instead of worrying that you’ll be late to pick up your kids from daycare, you can concentrate on the conference speakers and opportunities to meet other relevant (adult) attendees. 
  2. Turn the conference into a family vacation. Develop your professional life and nurture your family life at the same time. You won’t miss sessions to coordinate childcare or if you have a co-parent who needs to work while in town.
  3. Know your kids are safe, entertained and nearby. We’re contracting with reputable childcare providers who know how show kids a great time.

We're not the first conference do offer onsite childcare. The AERO Conference, BlogHer and Mozilla Festival have been out ahead on this option. But it’s not yet common at conferences, and we want to help change that. Here's the FAQ for childcare at The Lean Startup Conference:

How does onsite childcare work? You can choose half-day or full-day childcare on the main conference days of December 10 and 11, for children 3 months and up. We’re designating space at The Fairmont San Francisco for this. Of course, The Fairmont is the conference venue, too, so you can stop in to say hi during breaks or at lunch. We’ll also provide a quiet space for nursing moms.

Who will care for my kids? We've contracted experienced childcare professionals who are recommended, screened to work with children, certified in CPR and First Aid, and uniformed. Your children will participate in kid-tested activities that are age-appropriate, stimulating, and of course, fun. Lunch and snacks are part of the deal.

How much does it cost? 5 hours or less: $100 per child. 5-9 hours: $180 per child.

How do I register for childcare? When you sign up for the conference, our registration page also gives you childcare options. To arrange for both days of childcare, select two tickets for the half- or full-day option. After you register, we'll follow up with you for additional information regarding your child.

Questions, including more than one kiddo or how to register for childcare on the workshop days of December 9 or 12? Email Executive Producer Melissa Tinitigan.

We hope to see you—and your family—in December!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Few Surprising Facts about the 2014 Lean Startup Call for Speakers

Post written by Sarah Milstein & Eric Ries, co-hosts for The Lean Startup Conference

We’re seeking speakers we don’t already know for this year’s Lean Startup Conference, December 10 -11 in San Francisco. Our call for proposals is open now, and if you know already that you want to apply, jump to it (but read the directions first!).

If you’ve never applied to speak at The Lean Startup Conference before—or never even considered it before—here are a few things to keep in mind, some of them surprising:

You don’t have to be on the speaking circuit already. In fact, we’re psyched if you’re not a seasoned speaker. What we care about is the business experience you have to share, not the speaking experience. In other words, if you’ve applied Lean Startup techniques at your company, and you have advice or a story about your work that will help other entrepreneurs, we want to hear from you. While we’ll have a few speakers who are long-time Lean Startup experts, we’re primarily interested in case studies from people we don’t already know.

We don’t favor speakers we know personally. We aim to use the most meritocratic processes we can to find and evaluate speakers. That is to say: We don’t pick our speakers because they’re our friends or because they’re big names; we pick them because they have absolutely useful advice to share. In addition, we assess 95% of them via our call for proposals, which helps guide and standardize the submissions so that we’re comparing apples to apples (and not, for example, evaluating one proposal based on the recommendation of a mutual friend and another based on a video of the speaker from another conference).

Since we started focusing on fairness, a welcome though not surprising result is that we’ve regularly fielded a roster of excellent speakers that comprises more than 50% women and/or people of color. (In the past, the roster was nearly all white men, as those were the entrepreneurs Eric knew personally; they were very good speakers, too. But we now go much deeper into startup communities, finding speakers you won’t necessarily have heard elsewhere.)

Actually, we pre-select a very few. What about that other 5%? Full transparency: We do invite back particularly strong speakers from year to year, and we very occasionally invite entrepreneurs we meet out in the wild who strike us an unusually good fit for The Lean Startup Conference. We readily acknowledge that one of our best speakers in 2012 and 2013 was Sarah’s brother. We keep inviting him back because other entrepreneurs tell us they learn so much from him, not because he’s related to one of us.

We offer free speaker training. We do a lot of hands-on work with speakers to help ensure that your presentation really resonates with our audience. That includes, but is not limited to, both group and individual speaker training. If you’re a new speaker, this is a great opportunity to get some very good guidance (it’s also a great opportunity if you’re an experienced speaker; last year, some of our most avid trainees were our most accomplished presenters).

We’ll cover your travel costs. This year for the first time, we’re offering travel assistance for any speaker whose companies can’t cover it. We are ourselves a startup, and this represents a significant chunk of our budget, but we want to bring in speakers regardless of their own companies’ finances. (We also give all speakers a full Platinum Pass to the conference, but that ought to go without saying. If you register now to get the best price, and we subsequently pick you as a speaker, we’ll refund your ticket.)  

Our call for proposals has a lot of directions—but the form itself is short. Don’t be daunted by the first page of the call, which has a lot of information that we ask you to take in. Those directions will help you submit a successful proposal, and they include links to some of our favorite talks from last year, for inspiration.

This year, we’ve come up with the questions our attendees most want answered—so you don’t have to do that part. All you need to do is figure out where you can offer relevant advice or a case study, and fill out the application form accordingly.

The call for proposals is open until 11:59p PT on June 12, and we encourage you to apply today. If you’re not interested in speaking but you know you want to attend the conference, register now for the best prices.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A New Approach to The Lean Startup Conference

Post by Lean Startup Conference co-hosts Sarah Milstein & Eric Ries

We’re excited to announce this year’s Lean Startup Conference, December 8 – 12 in San Francisco. Tickets are on sale now, at the best price we’re offering this year, so we recommend registering today. But that’s not really what we’re here to talk about. Instead, we want to focus on the themes of the conference.

This year, we’re defining the conference program as a series of hard questions entrepreneurs commonly face, and we’ll address them in our talks and workshops. Below is our initial list of questions. We’d welcome your input on which of these challenges feel most vital to you, along with additional questions you and your team are facing. You can leave ideas in the comments or email Sarah Milstein, co-host for the conference and CEO of Lean Startups Productions.

Very soon, after we’ve refined this list, we’ll post our call for proposals from potential speakers, seeking talks that can answer the questions we’ve collected. [UPDATE: The call for proposals is now open.] If you’d like to learn when we open the call, follow us on Twitter, subscribe to this blog, or sign up for the newsletter on our site.

Questions we’re aiming to address at this year’s conference, by category:

Experiments and Process

  • How can I ensure that meaningful customer feedback is included in our evaluation of new initiatives?
  • How can I get new products, services, and internal initiatives to market more quickly?
  • How can I design a good experiment--a minimum viable product--for services or internal customers?
  • How can I create a sandbox for innovation with my organization without putting my core business in jeopardy?
  • What can I do when a team proposes an experiment that might undermine our existing brand?
  • How can I experiment and iterate quickly on mission-critical products and systems?
  • How can I keep up team morale when experiments invalidate a lot of our ideas?
  • What can I do when I have a handful of customers who absolutely love our new product, but not enough to meet our revenue or impact goals?
Metrics and Accountability
  • How can I measure a new initiative before it has large numbers of customers or revenue?
  • How can I measure a value hypothesis and a growth hypothesis at the same time?
  • What metrics I can use to hold people accountable on projects that include extreme uncertainty?
  • How can I measure impact when financial metrics are not the bottom line (or not the sole bottom), such as in NGOs, non-profits and governments?
Teams and People
  • How can I convince my leaders and managers to support entrepreneurial methods? 
  • How can I convince my co-workers and direct reports to use entrepreneurial methods? 
  • How can I set up teams to ensure cross-functional collaboration?
  • How can I get internal services like IT, finance, legal, and HR to act like startups and serve entrepreneurial teams throughout my organization?
  • What does the culture of a high-performance, high-growth team look like?
  • How can I build a culture that serves existing customers and unlocks new sources of growth?
  • How can I best hire and train people who haven’t used Lean Startup methods before?
We look forward to your input on these questions in the comments or in email to Sarah—and we look forward to seeing you at the conference (register now for an honestly amazing deal).

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Two New Experiments from The Lean Startup Conference Team

Guest post by Sarah Milstein, CEO of Lean Startup Productions

The 2013 Lean Startup Conference was a hit on several levels, with many people telling us it was the most valuable business conference they’d ever attended. To extend what we learned and help more people build and scale successful companies, we’re testing out two brand new events this spring:

* Office Optional, a one-day conference on April 22 in San Francisco. One of our most popular talks at The Lean Startup Conference was my interview with Matt Mullenweg, in which he talked about Automattic’s unusual setup: They have no true central office, and everyone works from home. With partially and fully distributed teams on the rise—but few established standards for running them well—we see an opportunity to bring people together for a rich exchange. This conference hits close to home for us, as Lean Startup Productions has two desks at WeWork Soma, a coworking space, but no office of our own and team members scattered around a range of cities and time zones.

* Quick Consulting, an evening event on March 27 in San Francisco. Inspired by the popularity of our experimental office-hours sessions at the 2013 Lean Startup Conference, we’re gathering more than 25 accomplished experts to bring you consultations for your business in a series of 15-minute, one-on-one conversations. This will be an intimate event designed to make it easy to meet other people and have high-quality, targeted discussions.

Below is more information on each event and some of the hypotheses we’re testing.

Office Optional. Although Yahoo famously recalled its remote workers last year, there’s no question that the workplace trend is toward more distributed teams. Driven by mandates for lower carbon emissions through reduced commuting, increased employee productivity and greater quality of life, paired with flexible technology, as much as 30% of the U.S. workforce now telecommutes. And yet, there’s still confusion over what to even call this kind of setup and who qualifies as a participant—let alone how to do it effectively. Our primary hypothesis is that with a growing number of remote workers in a variety of arrangements, innovative businesspeople—our core community—will find it valuable to come together to focus on solutions for successfully collaborating and managing from a distance.

(An in-person conference about remote work?! Is Henry Ford keynoting?! We get it. But we’ve found that certain discussions thrive in a live environment, and we believe this will be one of them. In fact, using face-to-face time really well is a topic for the conference—and we’ll help you make this event a highly useful place to meet with coworkers you don’t see often. For instance, we offer group packages that include meeting space for your team on the day before or after the conference. And, of course, we’ll provide a livestream of the talks; look for details on our site soon.)

How will we know we’ve succeeded? We measure event success in a number of ways including: whether attendees, speakers and sponsors say they would return again; whether our speakers get requests to talk at other conferences based on their presentations at ours; whether we’re able to cover our costs; and more qualitative feedback that we collect through interviews after the event.

We’ve just begun to announce speakers for Office Optional, with about a third of them now on our site and the rest to be revealed over the next couple of weeks. As you’ll see, we’ve got people from companies like Automattic and Yammer that are leading the way on distributed work, along with people from forward-looking service firms and non-profits that have terrific ideas we can all learn from. At the conference, which will have lots of Q&A with speakers, we’ll explore issues that include:
  • Building trust at a distance
  • Hiring, onboarding and training remote employees   
  • Managing across time zones 
  • Systems for communicating more and emailing less 
  • Convincing colleagues to experiment with new tools 
  • Tips and tricks for video calls, group chat, brainstorming software and more 
  • Making in-person meetings very useful 
  • Setting up satellite offices  
  • The mechanics of successfully working from home 
You can expect to leave with several big ideas for thinking about distributed teams, plus 20 or 30 concrete pieces of advice you can implement tomorrow. Early-bird tickets are available through this week, and they’re priced to let the biggest range of people attend.

Quick Consulting. At the 2013 Lean Startup Conference, we were amazed by how energizing and valuable mentors and attendees alike found the office-hours sessions. Our primary hypothesis is that a structured format with short, focused, one-on-one conversation will help eliminate awkward introductions and the distance between experts and attendees. Because it’s a bit tricky to ensure that all of the attendees have enough conversations to make the evening worthwhile, our secondary hypothesis is that we can create a format that meets everyone’s needs. That “everyone” includes Rackspace, which is hosting this event at their cool Soma space.

How will we know we’ve succeeded? The event is small—just over 25 mentors and 45 attendees—so in addition to a baseline survey in which we’ll ask whether people would join Quick Consulting again, we’ll be able to have follow-up conversations with a big percentage of participants after the event. Incidentally, we’re concierging the expert-attendee matchups, doing it by hand, which is no small task (the software we used for scheduling matchups at The Lean Startup Conference doesn’t have enough flexibility for the approach we’re taking here). If the overall format is a hit, we’ll look at automating this aspect of the event.

Our stellar list of experts have deep expertise in Lean Startup methods, entrepreneurship, user research, design, analytics, engineering management, PR, social media, startup law, corporate innovation, social-sector innovation, venture capital and more. Tickets for Quick Consulting cost $99, and there are just a few left. (If you can’t swing the standard $99 ticket price, we’ve set aside $30 scholarship tickets. Apply here to be considered.)

 For both Quick Consulting and Office Hours, we’re continuing our work to ensure that we chose speakers by the most meritocratic processes possible and that we foster an atmosphere of lively learning. We hope to see you at one or both events, and we look forward to getting your feedback on whether our experiments are on target.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Join the Conversation at The Lean Startup Conference – Three Ways To Participate

Guest post by Lisa Regan, writer for The Lean Startup Conference.

With five days remaining before The Lean Startup Conference, we wanted to lay out what we’re offering that’s unlike any other entrepreneurship conference and explain the different levels of participation available to you. From livestream simulcast to a six-day, high-intensity immersion experience, it’s possible to join the conference to whatever degree suits your interest and your schedule. And we hope that when you join, you'll come ready to share your experiences and advice with other participants.

What you’ll see at all of our events—whether on the stage, in the workshops, at a mentoring session, or in the site visits—is something other than conference regulars pitching presentations on the usual themes. Instead, we’ve assembled a diverse, energetic roster of experts prepared to talk about advanced entrepreneurship topics like maintaining a culture of experimentation at a growing company, bringing an analytical and iterative model to non-profits (including mission-driven and educational organizations), or converting enterprise teams to a cross-functional structure. And that’s not to mention the advice for very early-stage companies on topics like getting your first users, or choosing metrics. If you already know the topics that interest you, you can browse all the talks and events on that theme—whether it’s MVPs, Analytics, or Education—on our “sessions by theme” page.

We chose our speakers for the expertise they have to share, not their familiarity on the conference circuit, and as a result, we offer an exceptionally diverse group. We’re committed to opening up not just the stage, but participation in the conference itself, too. For anyone not able to attend in person, we offer free a livestream to any community group in the world that has at least 10 people gathered together at a single location. There are already over 100 confirmed livestream hosts worldwide; join one near you, or apply to add a new group. The livestream site will include a chat area for all of the livestream hosts, an opportunity to connect and network around the world.

The livestream will let you see all of the events in the Masonic Theater in San Francisco on Monday and Tues. That includes Monday talks like Eric Ries on the state of the startup; Kimberly Bryant of Black Girls Code on accomplishing a lot with limited resources; Dan Milstein on balancing risk, information, time and money; Kent Beck on Jazz Engineering; plus meaty interviews with Mutt Mullenweg and Reid Hoffman. You’ll also see the afternoon breakout sessions in the Masonic Theater, including Laura Klein on testing ideas. Tuesday’s Masonic Theater talks include Kathryn Minshew on acquiring early users; the Intuit team talking about lessons of Lean Startup leadership; and Steve Blank on evidence-based entrepreneurship. You’ll also see afternoon breakouts on advanced A/B testing from Wyatt Jenkins and Microsoft’s Cindy Alvarez and Ethan Gur-esh on transitioning teams to Lean. And you'll get Tuesday's closing session with entrepreneurship experts Marc Andreessen and Chris Dixon.

Of course, there are some major perks to attending in person. Anyone with a conference pass (including scholarship recipients) can join us on Sunday, December 8 for Ignite, a high-energy, rapid-fire event, in which our brave presenters get five minutes and 20 slides, with each slide advancing on an automatic 15-second timer. Anything can and will happen. On December 9 and 10, you’ll have in-person access not only to everything in the Masonic Theater, but also to breakout sessions held next door at the Fairmont Hotel, such as, on Monday, Summit Public Schools’ Diane Tavenner on institutionalizing innovation, or, on Tuesday, Optum’s Maureen Allen discussing Lean Startup at regulated companies, and Beth Kolko on working closely with global customers.

On both days, in-person attendees can sign up for office hours, in which you sit down face-to-face, individually, with a mentor or conference presenters and talk about what’s on your mind. For example, you can ask Diana Kander of the Kauffman Foundation about pitfalls to avoid when launching a new product, or Joe Dunn of Cloudbreak about how to get buy-in for Lean Startup within your organization. All conference attendees are also invited to two workshops on December 11: one, sponsored by Modus Create, teaches you five Lean Startup planning exercises you can immediately use to add mobile to your enterprise app portfolio; the other, sponsored by Rackspace, focuses on using cloud infrastructure to experiment and innovate rapidly.

In response to feedback from last year requesting more ways to meet and learn from fellow attendees, we’ve created an online attendee network, among other things, so that you can connect with others who share your professional interests. Of course, you’re also invited to our December 9 evening reception, an event sponsored by Pivotal Labs and designed to foster productive networking in a professional, alcohol-limited environment. During lunch, you can sample some of San Francisco’s famous food truck culture from trucks we’ve invited especially for the conference. And in the evenings, we’ve organized small-group dinners around San Francisco that attendees can join. Conference registrants will also get some very nice freebies via access to the sponsor tables and giveaways. Our sponsors include companies like Intuit, O’Reilly Media and Amazon Web Services.

For those who want a deeper Lean Startup experience, we offer the Gold pass, which includes access to our exclusive workshops and site visits on December 11. These workshops include hands-on, intense instruction in techniques like continuous delivery; innovation accounting; Lean Analytics; and Lean Startup for HR, IT, and finance teams. These aren’t just talks, they’re interactive entrepreneurship training sessions. You can also join site visits to Square, Kiva, Pivotal Labs, and WeWork Soma, where you’ll learn what each of these successful companies is doing to build and keep its edge.

Our VIP pass is for folks who are serious about building a deep understanding of entrepreneurship, and a corresponding professional network, in one intense week. You can begin the conference early with a one-day Leancamp on December 8, an unconference to help you meet other people, get feedback on your current challenges and actionable advice on applying Lean Startup in your work. On December 12 and 13, after the conclusion of the main conference, the workshops, and the site visits, VIP pass holders can our partner program with UPGlobal (formerly Startup Weekend): a Lean Startup immersion program. You’ll launch a startup in 54 hours, creating mobile, web and software innovations with a team of fellow participants. This includes developing and pitching a concept, customer development, idea validation, and creation of an MVP under guidance from an experienced mentor. You’ll put Lean Startup ideas into practice, getting expert feedback the entire time, and end the week with the sense that Lean Startup has left the realm of theory and become a true practice. 

At whatever level you can join us, we are proud to welcome you to an event that we’ve organized to be a different kind of tech conference—certainly because of our speakers’ diversity and range of experience, but also thanks to the commitment, interest, and variety of our attendees. Please join us at whatever level you can, and be prepared to participate in the conversation. We’re looking forward to hearing from you.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Nine Webcasts to Learn From

Guest post by Lisa Regan, writer for The Lean Startup Conference.

Our fall webcast series concluded on a high note with three extraordinary conversations about the origins and implications of Lean Startup. If you missed these when they went out live, we encourage you to watch them now, as they lay a strong foundation for The Lean Startup Conference, December 9 -11 in San Francisco—less than two weeks from today. You can also listen to any of the webcasts, which, at the suggestion of a webcast attendee, we’ve turned into podcasts you can stream or download (from iTunes or SoundCloud). None of the webcasts included slides, so the audio versions work really well.

Below are just a few highlights from our final three webcasts: 1) Eric Ries’s one-on-one conversation with Kent Beck about influencing other people; 2) Eric’s conversation with John Shook about the origins of Lean, and 3) a conversation between Diane Tavenner and Steven Hodas, moderated by Sarah Milstein, on applying Lean Startup ideas in education.

Eric’s chat with Kent Beck was among our most entertaining webcasts (video; iTunes; SoundCloud). Kent, a veteran programmer, a founder of the Agile method and the creator of Extreme Programming, came armed with anecdotes and lessons from his own experience, as well as a few questions for Eric. For example, at 12:56 in the video Kent describes how he made the move from programming to a role that he at one point describes as “Full Metal Guru”:

“It turns out you can be a bad enough programmer to sink a project, but you can't be a good enough programmer to make a project successful. So I quickly ran out of gas on projects being more successful, and I was forced to take a bigger, broader view of the context in which programming happens. I started to pay attention to things that worked, and to things that didn’t seem to make a difference or actively harmed development. I’ve always been a contrarian, and so if someone says, ‘X is always true, I always think, then what are the implications of not-X?’ As a reflex, I always think that. So if someone says, ‘You need comprehensive documentation for software documentation,’ I think, ‘Well, what if you didn’t have any documentation at all? Would that really be a disaster?’ And I looked around at projects, and it wasn’t a disaster. So I thought, well, maybe a commitment to communication is good enough and the actual form of the communication is something we could be a little bit flexible on.”

The result of that kind of contrarian thinking was Extreme Programming, a method for running programming through feedback loops, testing and iterating on it as quickly as humanly possible. Nowadays Kent is programming again, this time at Facebook, which he describes: “It's a laboratory. It's really smart people working on unprecedented problems at ridiculous speed. So I get to see this hothouse of software design. I get to see generations of technology that last six months instead of lasting for six years. And so I can see many more cycles through the loop of how software evolves, how innovation disperses in a community, and so on."

The enjoyment Eric and Kent shared in talking to one another comes through clearly in their conversation and led to an interesting exchange when Kent asked Eric how he had made the move from building things (programming) to an interest in influence in a broader sense. At 32:30, Eric offers this candid explanation:

"When I was younger I was convinced that programming was the most fun thing I would ever do and I'd be very happy to program increasingly large systems myself. And I think basically what happened was I kept doing that, and not having the impact I wanted to have. Because in my fantasy I could produce a massive program that's used by billions of people and has enormous complexity and is incredibly innovative, by myself. Just, you know, with my bare hands. But the truth of any program is, it requires teams, and customers, and it's this complicated ecosystem…. So the person who's considered the 'founder' or the person who created the complicated system, it doesn't matter if it's Linux or Facebook or anything, somebody had to plant that initial seed, and that's very satisfying.

“But in order for us to remember it and to care about the fact that they are the founder of that thing, they had to do an incredible amount of management of people to get them to grow that seed into something that is significant. And what's frustrating to me--it was then and it still is--is that as soon as I became a manager and a team leader and an architect and really thinking out how to do that stuff, I was doing human systems engineering and I was no longer making things with my bare hands. And so I've also had that frustration. Now, that's frustrating but also very satisfying, in that I'm very proud of the things that teams that I've worked with have built. But for me anyway, that transition from being a team leader to whatever it is that I do now, to try to cultivate this community and try to share these ideas on a wider scale--that was actually a much easier transition than going from an individual contributor to a team leader. Because to me, it's like, as soon as I was not making things myself, with my bare hands, it's all about, ok, then what activities will give me the greatest influence to have the impact I want to see in the world?"

The conversation also turned to a subject on everyone’s mind the last month or so--the website. Kent’s analysis, which is largely political-process-driven, begins at 41:30. Eric offers a different account, seen through a Lean Startup lens:

“To me the great irony of is that the current that people are complaining about is actually the second version of that was built. The first one was built right after the Obamacare law was passed…. And you couldn't sign up for insurance in those days, it simply gave you information about the insurance options in your jurisdiction. But it was still pretty complicated, and it still required a lot of cooperation from the insurance companies--there was a lot to it. And they did it exactly opposite of this current in the three dimensions I think of as key: they put a small team on it--a cross-functional small team, I think there was no more than 10 people; they gave them 90 days to deliver; and I think their total budget was so small as to be close enough to zero. Classic minimum viable product. They did it all open-source, so from an ethos point of view it was opposite, and from an infrastructure point of view it was all cloud and modern like you would expect. And they were able from that point to do the build-measure-learn thing and to iterate and get feedback from the insurance companies and from the public. And they turned that from a tiny little seed into a quite useful, complicated project by gradually increasing its complexity in a highly polarizing political environment where everybody wanted Obamacare to fail. Which is what to me is deeply frustrating--thanks to the president's creation of the CIO and the CTO, he has really great people from Silicon Valley, from our communities, that could have been instrumental in creating this website, but those people were bypassed because of the IT procurement process in the federal government, which is a nightmare.”

For further highlights see Kent at 57:10 and Eric at 59:00 on the importance of measuring team members on impact rather than effort. Eric: “It's a fundamental waste of human energy and talent to have people working on things that nobody wants and that have no impact. That's actually morally wrong to have a system that does that. Couldn't we expand our horizons and see that there's actually another way? I find that very motivating."

Eric’s conversation with John Shook, CEO of the Lean Enterprise Institute, covered the origins and applications of Lean principles (video; iTunes; SoundCloud). John moved to Japan in the 1980s to work at Toyota, which at that point had the most advanced manufacturing practices in the world. He took what he learned there back to the US, first to work with American auto plants as part of the GM-Toyota partnership, and then as the founder and president of the Lean Enterprise Institute.

Here’s John at 12:20 describing the turnaround Lean Manufacturing methods were able to make at Nummi, a GM plant that was, as he describes is, “the certified worst plant in the world,” both in terms of product quality and the attitude of the workforce:

“So I joined Toyota really exactly 30 years ago, it was late 1983. We built our first car there at Nummi in the old General Motors plant, in December 1984--so just one year. And with the same workforce--a lot of people don’t realize it was actually the same workforce, the old ‘troublemakers’ were offered their jobs back, and I worked alongside them--and in one year we built our first car. When GM did their first quality audit, it set the record for the very best quality score any GM plant had ever gotten. With the same workforce. And the same employees who were so disgruntled before became powerful advocates for the system, for this way of working. So the turnaround was powerful and in my mind at the time, this just proved that this could work, and this could work anywhere.”

To Eric, the scope of the turnaround is so unbelievable that it can be difficult to draw lessons for it for other companies. So he asked John how he had effected this incredible change in the culture at Nummi. John’s reply has the force of a new adage (at 16:44):

“We changed the way we behaved. That then changed the attitudes of the people that worked there, that brought forth a whole new culture…. Rather than think your way to a new way of acting, try to act your way to a new way of thinking. So how is it we want to think, ‘What’s the culture we want? Let’s try to draw a picture of that, and what do we need to do to get there?’ So we started working on the behaviors, what do we actually need to do? We changed the work.”

In response to a participant question about what you do if the problem isn’t the workers, rather the management, John said (at 26:48):

“It’s always the managers and not the workers, and we have to realize that. So if we are the managers, if we are the leaders, then we have to look in the mirror. That’s where it starts, that’s not where it ends. People often ask where do you start, do you start at the top, do you start at the middle, do you start at the front lines? And honestly, wherever you start, it’s going to be the other areas that are the problem, that have to be somehow brought along. And if you’re working with someone that’s a frontline manager or supervisor, they’ll often say, ‘Well, I could do this if I were one level higher up, because my bosses, those managers, they don’t get it, I get it.’ You go to them and they’ll say, ‘I get it, it’s one level higher up.’ You go all the way up to the CEO and the most frustrated person in the company is the CEO because he or she can’t get anything done that he or she wants done.”

Take a listen to John at 35:00 on what the company of the future will look like, and Eric’s closing question and anecdote at 39:43, a poignant narrative of waste centered around a visit he made to a factory floor and a revelation about his microwave.

Our final webcast of the season was organized in response to intense interest from our community around Lean Startup in education. We brought together Diane Tavenner, founder and president of Summit Public Schools, a network of charter schools in the San Francisco area, and Steven Hodas, who heads the markets initiative for NYC Department of Education, with Sarah Milstein, co-host of the Lean Startup Conference, for a webcast on Testing Lean Startup in Education (audio on iTunes and SoundCloud; we do not yet have the video for this webcast). The conversation centered around a few key topics: customers, bureaucracy, and MVP.

Diane at 5:13 describes her customers as students, but notes that their parents, the post-secondary education system (colleges and universities), employers, and even society at large are invested in students’ public education. Steven at 6:45 describes a useful distinction between customers, users and audiences, where these may be competing as well as overlapping interests. As he puts it, “Teasing out who is the customer is part of the work itself.” In response to a question about the bureaucratic and regulatory barriers to action--barriers that, given the intensity of personal and public interest in education one would expect to be quite high--both Diane and Steven surprisingly agreed that there was more excuse-making than actual obstacles to action (start at 12:18 for this portion of the conversation).

The practical how-tos of running experiments on actual students in an education environment was a major feature of this webcast. Here’s Diane (at 18:30) on the relationship between getting buy-in and creating an MVP, where the two can serve each other:

“Really the key concept here is that to win people over, you have to identify a problem that is particularly challenging for them, or even a small problem for that matter, and then demonstrate that using these processes actually solves that and gets them to a place that's much more desirable. And one very exciting example for us, an early example and an easy win, was our teachers really needed a way to differentiate and personalize instruction for students, because when you've got 25 students and they're all in different places, how do you meet their individual needs? It's humanly impossible. And so they came to this idea if we had a playlist for kids that was really intuitive for them, that we could curate all these different resources so that kids could actually choose how they learn best. And if we could collaborate as teachers across different schools and across  subject areas in courses, it would be helpful. So taking that wish and seeing that it doesn't exist out there, we partnered with a software company, shared this wish and ultimately ended up co-developing, co-designing and building an MVP, testing it, involving our teachers and students all along the way, and ultimately this fall launching it as a free product that's available to every teacher in the world, where they can collaborate and share and use it with their students."

 As a counterpart to the question of how to create and test an MVP, Steven and Diane discussed how to use metrics to measure progress. Steven at this point (34;28) launched a defense of vanity metrics-- not to measure student progress, but to help create, again, buy-in from stakeholders:

“Given the public nature of public schooling, and the tremendous political pressure, and this fear of failure that Diane mentioned, which is really ubiquitous and the higher up in the organization you go the worse it gets--in order to get collaborators to come along with you, you need to make them feel good. By focusing on things that matter to them. Not only do you need to identify problems that are important to them, but they're looking for certain indicators of success that may not overlap with your indicators of success. And so depending on the situation and what it is you're trying to accomplish, for example, a certain number of newspaper headlines that speak positively about the work can be far more important, for better or for worse, in getting you the buy-in to take you to the next step than some increase in student achievement on a formative assessment. Because those particular people who [are] your audience, who you're trying to impress at the central level, their concerns are not immediately about student achievement at that moment. It's about what does this mean for me, and my career, and what is the potential downside, how is my boss going to feel about it. So when I think of vanity metrics I think of things that can be bad because they can be deceiving when you apply them to yourself.

“But I think things that demonstrate popularity--again, in a politicized context--are really important, so we do rely on them. When we do software challenges, for example, participation in those challenges is a really important metric, in fact it's one of the things we optimize for. And I'm not embarrassed to say that sometimes we'll optimize more for participation than for the quality of the software that comes out the other end. Because at that stage in our MVP what we're trying to demonstrate is not that our software challenge produces the silver bullet that's going to solve all our middle school math problems, but that if we have an open, embracing process, new partners will want to come participate with us.”

All of our webcast speakers will be at The Lean Startup Conference, December 9 – 11. Register today to join them and dozens of other speakers, as we explore advanced topics in entrepreneurship.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Courting Content, Not Controversy

This post co-written by Sarah Milstein and Eric Ries, co-hosts of The Lean Startup Conference.

Our goal in hosting The Lean Startup Conference—which starts in just over two weeks—is to help entrepreneurs learn absolutely useful things from each other. For our participants to stay open to the unique ideas we’re presenting and to share the advice they each have, we need an environment that’s dynamic, professional and respectful. We believe most conference hosts aim to create a great atmosphere for learning.

But as an endless number of conference episodes have shown, you can’t leave that to chance. Among the dozens of recent examples we’re aware of, here are just a few from 2013 alone that make the point:
  • TechCrunch Disrupt kicked off with hackathon demos that included an app called “Titstare” and, separately, a guy on stage simulating masturbation. Whether intended as jokes, plenty of people saw them as far from funny.
  • CES—the giant Consumer Electronics Show—was most noted for a booth in which four women were hired to appear in nothing but thongs, pasties and blue body paint. Thousands of attendees, men and women, tweeted and talked about why this and other, similar displays, made them uncomfortable.
  • Rape jokes were directed at a woman on stage at a Microsoft’s E3 press conference.
  • A woman was sexually assaulted by her boss during the drinking scene at CodeMash. (She detailed the event on her blog, and it was corroborated in posts by at least two witnesses. After receiving hundreds of rape and death threats in the comments on her post, she took it down. A small piece of the original post is quoted here.)
  • We probably don’t need to remind you about Adria Richards’s experience at PyCon, where two men behind her during a keynote talk made sexual jokes. After reporting the incident via Twitter, she was subject not only to a tsunami of rape and death threats, but she was also fired and doxxed, which had additional ramifications. (We’re proud to have had hosted her as a speaker last year and a mentor this year.)

This isn’t a new phenomenon. Here’s a list from Courtney Stanton of other, similar episodes over the past few years. And here’s a “timeline of incidents” on the GeekFeminism Wiki dating back to 1973, plus a list of sexually objectifying presentations from the past decade. If you follow news around business conferences and those affiliated with the tech sector, you’ll know these examples are just the very tip of the iceberg.

We don’t want to be the conference hosts who have to write an apology after our event. We do want to do our best to actively support productive dialog among all conference participants. In line with our efforts toward transparency, and in hopes of encouraging other conference hosts to take pro-active measures to foster awesome professional spaces, here’s what we’re doing this year.

We’ve published our code of conduct, which lays out the conditions for participating in the conference for all us: speakers, sponsors, attendees, staff and volunteers. We invite you to take a look. As you’ll see, our code of conduct insists that conference participants think of ours as a professional event, and that everyone conducts themselves accordingly. That might mean that some of us have to think carefully before joking around, flirting with coworkers, taking pictures, etc. and err on the side of caution. We’re comfortable with that mild restriction. For the good of the community, we’re looking to create the most vibrant and thorough possible exchange of ideas, one in which a range of people are able to fully talk and listen.

Teresa Nielsen-Hayden—who is not only the foremost expert on managing online comments, but who also runs a blog with the best discussions perhaps on the whole internet—has pointed out that if you create an atmosphere in which anyone can say anything, you will necessarily give prominence to offensive comments and hateful behavior, because people who don't like or can't tolerate that sort of thing won't participate. In other words, there's a tradeoff when you have no rules. If there's a tradeoff in having rules, and it's that some of us will have to speak thoughtfully when in the public areas of events and, perhaps, apologize if we offend people, we’re all in favor of that exchange.

We train our staff, and we invite you to speak up. As far as we know, The Lean Startup Conference does not have a history of participants’ behaving in ways that would violate our code. But, frankly, we can’t be sure, because a common effect of harassment is that people feel they can’t or shouldn’t report it. We’re hoping to make it as easy as possible to speak up if you experience or see a problem. The code of conduct includes phone and email for our executive producer, who will contact the two of us immediately if she receives a report. In addition, we’re training our staff and volunteers on a straightforward procedure for responding to reports.

We review all speaker and sponsor materials for inappropriate imagery. The professional environment of the conference is established in no small part on the stage. To take in the material of the conference, attendees need to be able to feel open to what’s coming from the podium, not braced for potential shocks. So we’re aiming to ensure that any visual materials displayed on stage, or associated with the conference via sponsorship, fall within the range of what anyone would consider professionally appropriate. Lolcats: yes. Rape jokes: no.

Our speaker roster is diverse, setting a tone for the event. We’ve talked about this at some length recently, but to reiterate here, we have, through extensive outreach and a meritocratic application process, created a roster of speakers that is more than half women and people of color. We’ve also sought out new attendees by posting to a variety of mailing lists, and through partnerships with a number of organizations. We did not reach out to 4chan.

We’re limiting alcohol at onsite events. We want attendees to have fun, but this thing is not a frat party. And is should come as no surprise that many harassing, offensive actions at conferences take place at receptions and other events where alcohol has, by tradition, flowed freely. The Lean Startup Conference is addressing issues important to professionals, and that’s the tone we want to foster, including during social events. We’re thankful in particular to Pivotal Labs, which is sponsoring our reception on Monday, December 9 and is working with us to create networking opportunities that are effective, inviting, and work beautifully when you aren’t three drinks in.

By talking about our intentions, we hope to draw those of you who are eager to help us create a very lively scene at The Lean Startup Conference—one where you really can learn from each other and have an amazing time as your brain lights up. If you haven’t registered yet, please do so now. We want you to be part of this great event.