Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Lean Startup Conference 2015

A massive rain storm blew through San Francisco in the middle of last year’s Lean Startup Conference. We woke up to a city-wide power outage, and Day Two of the conference had stopped before it started. No lights, no wifi, and no A/V.

What could have been a disaster evolved into a valuable, unplanned MVP: attendees embraced the three hours of darkness, while we organized unconference sessions and Q&A discussions, and gathered people in windowed rooms for impromptu meetings.

These community-led experiences were so much fun -- and became a source of such serendipitous, fruitful connections -- that we’ve decided to iterate on the idea for the 2015 conference and make it a core part of our program.

Why You Should Join Us in 2015

Since 2011, The Lean Startup has helped countless ventures transform ideas into thriving businesses. The movement has inspired a powerful community that includes leaders from enterprise organizations, government agencies, nonprofits, and early stage startups.

Like previous years, the 2015 conference will feature 100+ expert speakers on topics ranging from corporate entrepreneurship to analytics, product development, engineering, sales, marketing, and design. Our ‘power outage MVP’ has inspired us to offer five new reasons why you should attend the conference (again) this year:

  1. We’re hosting more meetups, peer discussions, and expert Q&A sessions.
  2. We’ll be delivering more in-depth case studies and advanced lessons in experimentation, measurement, team enablement, MVPs, and innovation accounting than ever before.
  3. We’re creating hands-on sessions with leaders who are tackling the same challenges as you. Share your toughest problems, and we’ll help you solve them.
  4. We’re creating opportunities for startup and corporate leaders to collaborate and connect with each other.
  5. We’re hosting the conference one month earlier this year to avoid a big storm (lesson learned) and well before your holiday travels.

Whether you’re attending for the first time or the sixth, we’ll make sure you meet great people, tackle your biggest business challenges, learn, and have a blast. You’ll go home with actionable takeaways to implement—immediately—with your team.

Get Involved

The 2015 conference will be held from November 16th-19th at historic Fort Mason in San Francisco. Register today to take advantage of our Spring sale prices. Prices increase on June 30th.

Follow us on Twitter or join our mailing list for updates on our speaker lineup, upcoming webcasts, and community initiatives.

Attendee Stories

Check out some of our favorite attendee stories from 2014:

“I went to the Lean Startup Conference because we were having challenges figuring out how to apply the principles in practice and were getting sidetracked with many different ideas and various ‘shiny objects’ that distracted us from engaging with customers. During the conference I took lots of notes on customer conversations through the sessions, asked tons of questions during the after-hours 1-on-1 sessions with experts, and received direct feedback from Eric Ries on the final day of the conference. Since then we've been able to have hour-long conversations with more than 20 of our customers, have designed scripts that allow any member of our team to have a quality conversation, and have designed three new products that came directly from customer feedback and are proving popular in initial testing.”

-Emmanuel Eleyae, co-founder at Satin Lined Caps (SLAPS)

“The Lean Startup Conference has been instrumental to helping my team, one unit within a large organization, stay innovative. I’ve had my team attend the past three years, and we plan to attend again in 2015. There were two big lessons that we learned in 2014. The first was to remember the real reason that our customers come to us—and to add tools for our internal teams to build upon our core product faster. The second was to remember that we’ll never really innovate if we don’t keep trying new things and its my job to protect the new by creating a culture of experimentation.”

- Darin Foster, director of product at Disney

“Our firm specializes in product development. We are also on staff at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business as project coaches for the Product Development and Market Research Course. We work in the medical device and industrial sectors, and our clients have expressed dissatisfaction with the traditional phased and gated approach. My business partner, Kathy Morrissey, and I went on a search for a more flexible and lean approach to getting product to market quicker. Specific challenges for our firm is the cultural piece of implementing these types of practices in a large company. We attended in 2013, and we enjoyed it so much that we attended again in 2014.  Our favorite sessions in 2014 included a session on leading by asking questions, in addition to a panel discussion on the challenge of implementing Lean Startup within large, complex organizations like GE. We’ll be back in 2015!”

- Mary Drotar, co-founder at Strategy 2 Market

Monday, April 13, 2015

Getting feedback from customers when security is an issue

This is the second of several early excerpts I'll be sharing from The Leader's Guide, a 4-color, 250-page, hardcover and digital book which will be offered exclusively through Kickstarter--according to my agreement with my publisher, Crown, the book can never be sold in stores. As usual, I'm leaving out important details like company names in order to respect their privacy while the book is still in early draft form.

The campaign ends on Wednesday, April 15--learn more about it here.

In its early days, REDACTED faced a challenge that will be familiar to many entrepreneurs: They wanted to build a product that the world has never seen before. But nothing like this product existed: just an idea. 

They knew the enterprise customers they were seeking would be highly interested in security and would never log onto a test site that was still in Beta and give up their data. The founders needed to find a different way to gather early feedback.


The importance of running experiments to learn more about customer behavior is one of the core principles of the Lean Startup. 

But what happens when you’re working in an industry where security and secrecy are vital—and customers aren’t exactly knocking on your door to participate in your tests?

I coached one team from REDACTED working on building a complex new technology for a market that is generally very secretive. Because they assumed customers would be unwilling to talk with them, the company was building their technology around market research.

Though the team was initially reluctant to set up meetings before they had a true understanding of what the final product would look like, eventually they agreed that talking to customers was important.

“Going out to sell the first MVP was daunting,” said one of the project leads, REDACTED.

“But once they got the hang of floating their MVPs with customers, these conversations were no longer daunting, they were really a lot of fun,” REDACTED said of his team. “The customer was really opening up and engaged in the process... It was really surprising the number of customers that opened up in a market that’s technically very secretive and very closemouthed.”

The team learned from their meetings was that their initial plan to invest millions of dollars and several years into developing REDACTED would have been a complete failure. Not because their idea wasn’t any good, but because they were engaging the customer much too late in their sales process.

“Ultimately, [our initial strategy] would have been a disaster,” said REDACTED, the team’s engineering leader.  “We would have had this great new product with all this development effort and... we wouldn’t have been able to sell [it].”

“It’s really a big deal,” he said. “In many cases, we’ve got people that are putting together product specifications for us that have 20-25 years of experience in the industry. Inherently, you develop leap of faith assumptions in that time period based on your knowledge of the market, your interactions with customers. But things can change and before you know it, you’ll be displaced, or customers will gravitate towards the next shiny object without ever telling you.

“Being able to challenge ourselves and look at that and ask ourselves ‘What can I do differently to validate our own assumptions, our own hypotheses?’ is really critical for us to become more open, more agile, and more innovative.”

Unlike many tech companies who can easily gather information about users who come to their websites, the company I mentioned earlier in this section had a journey that probably looked more like that of companies building hardware. 

Customers often would not be able to talk much about their work, so founder REDACTED had to get creative. He’d meet with potential partners who often wouldn't even tell him their exact roles. He’d present a demo of the prototype and ask customers if it would be useful. They’d tell him no, and so he’d ask them how they worked. 

They’d give him what information they could, he’d “code furiously” for two weeks, then share the prototype. He'd usually discover that while 95% of what he’d created was still useless, perhaps 5% was usable. 

Today, REDACTED is one of the most successful startups in the REDACTED space.

When you’re in those early stages of launching a product the world has never seen, REDACTED explained, all that matters is feedback. It doesn’t matter how you get feedback, it doesn’t matter if the people you seek don’t end up customers. 

“You need something to put constraints on what you’re building,” he said.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Excerpt from the Introduction to The Leader's Guide

This is the first of several early excerpts I'll be sharing from The Leader's Guide, a 4-color, 250-page, hardcover and digital book which will be offered exclusively through Kickstarter--according to my agreement with my publisher, Crown, the book can never be sold in stores. As usual, I'm leaving out important details like company names in order to respect their privacy while the book is still in early draft form. 

The campaign ends on Wednesday, April 15--learn more about it here.

MVP's help you discover "what really matters"

The technology research and development team of REDACTED faced a challenge that will be familiar to anyone whose products are subject to rigorous reliability and safety testing.

They were charged with discovering and developing state-of-the-art technology for their REDACTED line--and yet, during the research process, the team has historically had no contact with the customer whatsoever. 

Instead, they would rely on focus groups and market research before handing off their findings to a separate design team. As a result, the team would not get feedback on their new technology until their REDACTED hit the market--a full three years after their work began.

“This is a big concern for us,” said REDACTED. They suspected that if they could do customer development throughout the development process, they could come up with a much better product. “This is what led us initially to the Lean Startup,” he added.

“We were like, ‘Yes, this is awesome,” said another team member. “We should do Lean Startup and it will solve all our problems.”

Of course, as they soon discovered, it was a little more complicated that that.


What became clear was that if they wanted to create better technological solutions, they would need to provide a real service to customers by reaching out to customers with a MVP.

The idea, at first, seemed crazy. The team’s role, after all, was research and development. They had backgrounds in REDACTED. They weren’t salespeople. They didn’t even talk to customers.

But creating technology in a vacuum and waiting three or four years was not a sustainable strategy, so we put our heads together to figure out an MVP that would allow them to understand how customers interacted with their technology. 

Rather than spend years building a new product line that included the new technology they crafted a de-featured version using a tablet computer that could be rigged up to a preexisting product for testing purposes.

Once they had built the prototype, they needed customers to test out the MVP. Because they were an R&D group, they had no experience with this kind of engagement. And so, when they ran a Craigslist ad to invite people to come in and complain about their current driving experience, they didn’t expect many people would respond.

Within an hour, 300 people signed up. 

They brought 30 people in for interviews--an exciting experience that dispelled many misconceptions about “what truly mattered.”

The learning didn’t stop there. Because they couldn’t sell directly to customers they said to five of the 30 participants: Take the prototype, and at the end of a month we’ll give you a choice. If you like using it, you can keep it. If not, we’ll give you $100 dollars. 

Fast-forward a month: 60% of those who tried it wanted to keep it; 40% of those people said they’d refer it to someone else. 

The team felt good about the results and were hoping that their metrics would convince upper management to apply Lean Startup principles throughout the organization. Instead, they realized their journey was just beginning.

The top managers all wanted to know: “Why does this matter for us?” They didn’t yet understand how these learnings could be applied to the mainstream product development process. 

They could see the potential, however. They were impressed with the way the R&D team had improved user experience when it came to individual features, and so they charged the team with figuring out how to connect the learnings and the process to the mainstream product group.

After they began running experiments came the hardest part of their journey thus far: staying focused. They’d frequently fall into the old innovator’s habit: building whatever felt good without testing our their ideas. Documenting their experiments was boring, but it kept them focused and on track.

They also kept in touch with other members of the Lean Startup community, finding that other entrepreneurs were eager to share cheaper ways to learn and test. Thanks to that guidance, their team began mapping out different kinds of low-cost experiments and customer interviews. They came up with a wide variety of tests based on the following criteria:

“What was the maximum amount of learning we could get in the shortest amount of time?"

Running the Lean Startup at their large organization has not been easy. But by testing new technology long before the entire new product is build, they’ve been able to increase their certainty that they’re building something customers will want and use, and they’ve demonstrated to senior management that there are ways to test out new ideas long before millions of dollars have been invested on research and development.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Last week to get The Leader's Guide

You may have heard, I'm writing a new book. And I'm doing it in an unorthodox way, by offering an MVP via Kickstarter. It's called The Leader's Guide, and this week is your last chance to get it (no, really).

The Kickstarter campaign has been in full-gear for the last three weeks, and we're heading into the last week. I’m grateful and excited for the support and the positive feedback so far. Although it's fun to look at the vanity metrics of how much money we've raised and how many backers have joined the community, the real purpose of this campaign is to share ideas.

I’ve tried to keep blog posts about the campaign to a minimum. If you want to follow the week-by-week progress, you can do so over at our Updates page. One thing I do want to address, for those who haven’t been paying close attention: The Leader’s Guide will only be available via Kickstarter, and only for 7 more days.

I’ve had a lot of questions about this, so I want to clear up a few things. First of all, I know that “limited time offers” are often used as a gimmick to get people to buy things. This is not one of those times. We will literally be making one print run of The Leader’s Guide and then won’t print any more. This campaign is an experiment designed to collaborate with all of you as part of the research process for my next book. I want to capture the experiences, stories, and learnings of those who support this campaign as you put these ideas to use.

I am doing this experiment with the support of my publisher, Crown. As part of my publishing contract, I’ve agreed that The Leader’s Guide cannot be sold in stores or any other retail channel. So I’m not joking around with this: if you want to be a part of this experiment and receive a copy of The Leader’s Guide, this is the only chance to do it.

This week, I’ll be posting a series of early excerpts from The Leader’s Guide to give you a taste of what to expect. Since these excerpts are early and not-fully-baked you’ll parts of them “REDACTED” leaving out key details of companies, names and products that I'm not yet comfortable sharing. These details will be revealed by the time the book is published--and, rest assured, many more examples, exercises and tools will be included. But I wanted to give you a first look, even though this material is rough.

Thanks again for coming on this journey with me.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Kickstarter news -- and a Reddit AMA

Thank you - thank you - thank you! 

You've helped make the first week of my Kickstarter campaign a success—we've blown through our funding goal and are scrambling to add new backer rewards to replace the ones you've all sold out. (Read the detailed update here).

I wanted to share some news and updates about stretch goals, bonus rewards, and you can Ask Me Anything at 5:30 EST today (Wednesday, March 25th) on Reddit.

New rewards

Our rewards are running out! Since many have already sold out, we’ve added a few new ones: a special reward for Kickstarter creators including a mini digital book and a call with our campaign team, as well as a package called “I want everything” which includes many of the most highly-requested rewards in one package.

Stretch goals

We hit our first stretch goal of 3000 backers last Friday! Thanks to our corporate sponsor, Pivotal Software, everyone who backed the campaign is eligible to attend one of 11 LG workshops in cities around the world. Workshop content will be developed by Pivotal’s Janice and Jason Fraser, based on the The Leaders’ Guide, with input from me.

And we added a new stretch goal today. When we hit 4000 backers, every backer of the campaign will receive access to the Lean Content course, created by award-winning filmmaker Ondi Timoner and me. 

The Leader’s Guide in the News

We’ve received some excellent press, including pieces on Vox, The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, and Inc. Our vanity metrics are strong. I especially liked Vox's "Lean Startup explained" approach:
It's become a cliché for an executive at a large company to promise to run it like a startup. Yet in his influential 2011 book The Lean Startup, startup founder and business guru Eric Ries argued that businesses of any size and age — and perhaps even nonprofit organizations and governments — can still learn a lot from management methods pioneered in Silicon Valley.
On Monday, Ries began work on his next book project. Fittingly, he started it off with a Kickstarter campaign. The campaign achieved its $135,000 fundraising goal on Tuesday, and by Thursday morning Ries had more than $170,000 in pledges.
"I'm a believer that this is the future of publishing," Ries told me on Monday shortly after the campaign began. For Ries, the Kickstarter campaign isn't just about raising money; it's also a way to solicit feedback from his future readers. Pledgers will be able to participate in a closed online community for aspiring entrepreneurs. Ries wants to learn what they want from the book and — more important — gather examples of real-world business successes and failures that he can incorporate into the book.
Ries' big idea is that the key to success for a startup — or any organization trying to innovate — is to learn quickly and act on the knowledge gained. While that might sound obvious, doing it often requires people to do many things that are counterintuitive.

Reddit AMA

Ask me anything! Check out my Reddit AMA tomorrow at 5:30 EST tomorrow (Wednesday, March 25th) here.

I’m updating the campaign page several times a week with news and rewards as well as behind-the-scenes looks into the campaign itself. You can check it out here.

Monday, March 16, 2015

My Kickstarter campaign is live -- I hope you'll be a part of it.

Since I published The Lean Startup, I have been compiling stories about the challenges and rewards of adopting the methodology. Sometimes I would interview people and take notes, and they’d ask me what I was writing and where the story might appear.

“I don’t know,” I’d say.

I really didn’t. Writing a book is painful, and I wasn't sure I ever would do it again. Plus the details about day-to-day implementation I was asking people to share were unlikely to ever end up in a business book aimed at a general audience. 

But I knew these stories and details were valuable--both for hardcore practitioners and people new to the methodology. Over time, whenever an old friend or new client would describe a roadblock they were facing, I’d be able to share a story about how someone else had used the Lean Startup principles to overcome a similar challenge. As I’d watch heads nod in recognition or agreement, it became clear how universal these techniques are—as well as how universal the challenges of working amidst uncertainty can be, no matter what kinds of products or companies we’re building.

The Lean Startup methodology is grounded in the scientific method, but it’s the stories behind the science that have helped so many people grasp why it can be so life-altering to work in this way.

The stories started to pile up. And then, through my work with both growing startups and large organizations I had begun to develop workshops, tools and a detailed curriculum to help founders and leaders set up these new systems and teach this new way of working.

Five years after I began collecting these stories and developing these tools, I’m thrilled that I can finally answer the question “What are you writing?” 

I have just begun writing the successor to The Lean Startup. The working title for that book is The Startup Way, and it will be published by Crown and Penguin UK in 2016 or 2017.

But I also wanted to do something special with the stories, tools and curriculum that are usually only available to my clients. So I've decided to do a Kickstarter campaign to launch an experiment--a book called The Leader's Guide, which will be offered only to Kickstarter backers for the length of the campaign. It's my way of sharing this material with those of you who want to put these ideas into practice now, who don’t want to wait until The Startup Way is published to learn more.

The material in The Leader’s Guide has been battle-tested in my own work, but this campaign is an experiment to see what happens to these ideas without me standing right there. For that reason, I’m also setting up a private community just for this campaign, where backers can talk with each other, and with me and members of my team, about their real-life startup challenges. What I learn from you will inform my writing of my next book: I want to continue capturing your experiences, your stories, and your learnings as part of my research process.

This is a new kind of publishing process for me, and one I'm really excited about

If you’d like to know more, below are links with more information, including a blog post I wrote for the site Medium, tickets to our campaign kickoff party at SXSW, and the campaign itself:

Here's a link to the official Kickstarter campaign for The Leader’s Guide.

You can find my Medium post, "Can a book be a startup?" here.

And for those of you in Austin, please join us at the Official Lean Startup SXSW Party as we celebrate the kickoff of our campaign. The festivities will be held that Monday evening from 6:00pm - 9:00pm at Old School Bar & Grill.

Thanks so much for your ongoing support of my work and your participation in the Lean Startup community. I hope you’ll check out the details of the campaign and become a backer.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Top Ten Lies of Entrepreneurs - from Guy Kawasaki

We live today in a golden age of writing and resources for entrepreneurs. There are books on most (but not yet all) of the critical topics about startups, and of course a massive amount of information on blogs and Twitter. Elite VCs - from Brad Feld to Reid Hoffman to Peter Thiel - write books and tweet constantly (or at least one does). As the ecosystem develops, this information is getting more and more specialized, which is awesome. But it was not always this way! Even 10 or 15 years ago, when I first cut my teeth as an entrepreneur, there were very few things to read. Mostly we read business books designed for established enterprise and tried to read through the lines to find ways to apply their wisdom to startups. 

But there was one exception, Guy Kawasaki's The Art of the Start. It was part aphorisms, part wisdom, part general life advice. It was part Silicon Valley insider and part marketing huckster. It wasn't meant to be an encyclopedia or a work of theory, but it had one overriding virtue: it was useful to actual practicing entrepreneurs like me. 

So I'm glad to see Guy has published a new edition of The Art of the Start, and I'm actually grinning that I get to share one of my favorite funny excerpts with you, about the lies so many entrepreneurs tell.

PS. If you're going to be at SXSW, catch Guy's talk and book signing.


The following is an excerpt from Guy Kawasaki's The Art of the Start 2:0.

In a typical day an investor meets with two or three startups and sees an­other four or five executive summaries. Each company claims to represent a unique and earth-shattering opportunity with a proven team, proven tech­nology, and proven market. No company claims to be a bunch of losers who don't know what they're doing.

For the sake of investors who are tired of hearing the same old lies and for the sake of entrepreneurs who hurt their cases by telling them, here are the top ten lies of entrepreneurs. Study them so you can at least tell new lies.

1. "Our projection is conservative." Your projection is conservative, but you claim you'll be doing $100 million by year three. In fact, the com­pany is going to be the fastest-growing company in the history of mankind.

The truth is, you have no clue what your sales will be, and I fantasize about the day an entrepreneur tells me, "Our projection is a number we're picking out of the air. We're trying to make them high enough to interest you, but low enough so that we don't look like idiots. We really will have no clue until we ship the product and see how it's accepted." At least that entre­preneur is honest.

2.  "Experts say our market will be fifty billion dollars in five years."

Don't cite numbers like this and expect to impress investors. No one ever comes in and says, "We 're in a crappy little market." Everyone says the same thing. It's much better to catalyze fantasy.

3.  "Amazon is signing our contract next week." Traction is good. It makes you fundable. But until a contract is signed, it's not signed. If the in­vestor asks about the contract the following week, and it still isn't signed, you've got a credibility problem. In five years I've never seen a contract signed on time. Talk about Amazon and your big deals after they're done.

4.  "Key employees will join us as soon as we get funded." Let me get this straight: You're two guys in a garage, you're trying to raise a few hun­dred thousand dollars, your product is twelve months from completion, and you're telling me that these well-known people are going to resign their $250,000-per-year, plus bonus, plus stock-option jobs to join your company?

When investors contact these key employees who are supposedly set to join a company, the response is often, "I vaguely remember meeting the CEO at a cocktail party." If you're going to tell this lie, make sure that these potential employees are locked and loaded and ready to join.

5.  "Several investors are already in due diligence." That is, "If you don't hurry, someone else will invest in us, and you won't have the chance." This works well in times of irrational exuberance, but during other times it is a laughable tactic. The reality, and what the listener is thinking, is, You've pitched a few other investors, and they haven't gotten around to rejecting you yet.

The odds are that the investors know one another better than you know them. They can call up their buddies and find out how interested another firm is in your deal. To pull this lie off, you'd better be either a great bluffer or smokin' hot, or you won't have a chance against the investor network.

6.  "Microsoft is too old, big, dumb, and slow to be a threat." Micro­soft, Oracle, Apple, Facebook... Pick a successful company. Many entre­preneurs think that by making such a statement, they are (a) convincing the investor of their moxie, (b) proving that they can defeat an entrenched com­petitor, and (c) establishing a competitive advantage.

In reality all they are showing is how naive they are about what it takes to build a successful business. There's a reason why people such as Larry Ellison can keep the San Jose airport open late for his private jet while you and I are munching peanuts on Southwest Airlines. And it's not because his company is old, big, dumb, and slow.

It's scary enough to investors that you are competing with an estab­lished company. Don't seal your coffin by showing how clueless you are by denigrating such competition. Instead, explain how you can avoid the com­petition by serving different segments or fly under the competition's radar. If nothing else, acknowledge that you're undertaking a high-risk and diffi­cult venture, to at least indicate that you're aware of the magnitude of the challenge.

7.  "Patents make our business defensible." Patents do not make a busi­ness defensible. They might provide a temporary competitive advantage­ particularly in material science, medical devices, and biotech companies--but that's about it.

By all means, file for patents if you can, but don't depend on them for much more than impressing your parents unless you have the time (years) and money (millions) to go to court.

When talking to investors, the optimal number of times to mention that your technology is patentable is one. Zero is bad because it implies you don't have anything proprietary. More than one mention means that you're inexpe­rienced.

8.  "All we have to do is get one percent of the market." This is what venture capitalists call the Chinese Soda Lie. That is, "If just one percent of the people in China drink our soda, we will be more successful than any com­pany in the history of mankind."

There are problems with this line of reasoning: First, it's not that easy to get even 1 percent of the people in China to drink your soda. Second, few entrepreneurs are truly going after a market as large as all the people in China. Third, the company that came in before you said something similar about another market, and so will the company after you. Fourth, a com­pany that is shooting for only 1 percent market share isn't that interesting.

9.  "We have first-mover advantage." There are at least two problems with this lie: First, it may not be true. How can you know that no one else is doing what you're doing? As a rule of thumb, if you're doing something good, five other startups are doing the same thing. If you're doing something great, ten are.

Second, first-mover advantage isn't all that it's cracked up to be. Being a fast second might be better--let someone else pioneer the concept and learn from their mistakes--then leapfrog them.

10."We have a world-class, proven team." The acceptable definition of "world-class" and "proven" in this context is that the founders created enormous wealth for investors in a previous company, or they held positions in highly respected, large companies. Riding the tornado of a successful company in a minor role, working for McKinsey as a consultant, or putting in a couple of years at an investment bank doesn't count as a proven entrepreneurial background.

Excerpted from The Art Of The Start 2.0: The Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything, in agreement with Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Guy Kawasaki, 2004, 2015.

Monday, March 9, 2015

SXSW 2015

I'm excited to be speaking at SXSW for the first time in two years. On March 16, I've promised to talk about "Everything Eric Ries Has Learned Since 2011" - the ways the Lean Startup movement has grown and transformed since I published The Lean Startup. I'll also be officially announcing the launch of the Kickstarter campaign that I teased a few weeks ago.

Here's the official blurb:
In The Lean Startup, I argued that entrepreneurship is the management discipline that deals with situations of extreme uncertainty. I claimed that the entrepreneurial mindset could be used in companies of all sizes to pursue continuous innovation. And I claimed that companies could build an entrepreneurial culture by changing their processes and systems of accountability. I didn’t know if anyone would take me seriously. I certainly wasn’t prepared for what came next.
Over the past five years, I have had the chance to travel all over the world, working with companies of just about every size you can imagine. Three guys working on a garage on a new app? Check. Small business? Check. Religious nonprofits? Check. Medium sized manufacturing companies? Check. Hypergrowth pre-IPO tech startups? Check. Massive government bureaucracies? Check. Some of the largest and slowest multinational companies in the world? You bet.
What have I learned? Come hear the whole story...
On Monday, March 16th at 12:30, I'll be sharing what I've learned from five years of working with organizations of all shapes and sizes who are embracing the Lean Startup methodology.

Afterwards, we're having a party. Although this is mostly for friends and family, we've set aside a handful of tickets for members of the public. If you're in Austin, I hope you'll join the Official Lean Startup SXSW Party as we celebrate the kickoff of my Kickstarter campaign. The festivities will be held that Monday evening from 6:00pm - 9:00pm at Old School Bar & Grill.

Lastly, if you want to be the absolute first to hear about the Kickstarter campaign when it goes live, you can sign up on the sneak preview page here.

Monday, February 2, 2015

I'm launching a Kickstarter campaign

I have some news I'm excited to share: I'm launching a Kickstarter campaign in March. I can't wait to tell you more about it. But before I do, I'm conducting a very short survey. It's been a while, but long time readers know I always try to collect data before any kind of launch.

Please click here if you're interested in participating. I'll have more details to share soon.

(If your company makes a product for entrepreneurs that you'd like to donate as a backer reward for the campaign, please get in touch.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

MVPs and Excellence

Lately, I’ve been hearing from a lot of entrepreneurs experiencing pushback to the concept of minimum viable product. Their teams may disagree about what a product should look like, who the customer is, and which distributors to work with, but one thing they can all agree upon is: “We build high-quality products in this company. We wouldn’t even know how to go about building something ‘minimally viable.’”

How can we assure our teams that they won’t be penalized for adapting an iterative approach—even if the first version bombs? How can we make it clear that our goal is nothing less than delighting the customer? In fact, with an MVP we are not asking our teams to deliver low-quality work, we’re adopting a strategy for driving excellence throughout the organization.

An MVP is an experiment on the way to excellence.

When people hear the phrase “Minimum Viable Product” they sometimes forget to ask: minimum in regard to what? They worry they’ll need to do the same amount of work in less time by cutting corners. They fear they’re being asked to create a low-quality product that will put their reputation—or even people’s lives—at risk. 

This is a misconception. “Minimally viable” does not mean operating in a sloppy or undisciplined way, building bad code that’s going to result in a lot of technical debt, or ignoring safety or health concerns. An MVP is not an excuse to throw our beliefs about quality out the window; it’s simply an experiment on the way to excellence. 

Instead of taking one big swing with the launch of a new product—devoting months to the design of one technical feature or spending years in stealth mode developing a product without evidence that customers want it—it is an iterative approach to learn who the customer actually is, and what’s honestly required to delight them. 

Why do we think that spending more time developing a product before sharing it with customers will get us closer to discovering what they really want? Or that mistakes are something to be swept under the rug? Who is familiar with a team that produced excellent work because they got less feedback and moved slower? Where is the evidence to support that belief?

An MVP approach can help us learn about what the customer truly values before we’ve invested too much time and money into building something they don’t need or want. Our work is not done until the customer is, in fact, delighted.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. But there are concrete steps we can take to create cultures of excellence in our organizations using an MVP approach.

1. Clarify what MVPs are and why they’re important. Remember, MVPs are just one part of an iterative Build-Measure-Learn process.

We use the term “Minimum Viable Product” as a reminder to people with product development backgrounds that we’re going to build something. We are going to take something to the customer that is as real as we can make it, but we’re not going to overdo it by trying to do something too elaborate. This is a built-in cure for the human tendency to over-engineer solutions. 

It’s impossible to think about MVPs without remembering how they fit into the Build-Measure-Learn cycle:
  • Enter the Build phase as quickly as possible with an MVP that will allow us to test a clear hypothesis we have about our product or strategy.
  • Measure its impact in the marketplace using actionable metrics that help us analyze customer behavior.
  • Learn whether our original assumptions about the product, process, and customer needs were correct or whether we need to change strategies to better meet our vision.
The Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop does not end once we’ve put our first product into the market. Every new launch of an MVP is an opportunity to gain valuable information about how well we’re meeting customer needs--and whether we need to adjust our strategy with a pivot.

2. Building a culture of excellence is our job as leaders.

I’ve long since lost track of the number of people who have given me excuses about  about why the MVP approach “won’t work in our business.” Almost all of them have gone on to discover that it can, in fact, be made to work – in businesses as diverse as software, education, high-tech healthcare equipment and gas turbine manufacturing.

While every industry has unique challenges that make an iterative approach difficult, what teams are really saying when they balk at an MVP approach is they’re not willing to do the work required to run experiments. Creating hypotheses and then putting them to the test is never an impossible feat, but it is one that will require teams to work differently.

And that means nothing less than full support from leadership. That’s true in the tiniest startup and the world’s largest companies. New thinking requires a act of leadership.

As leaders, we’re responsible for creating and supporting the platforms that will allow for experimentation. We have to make sure that our teams have the right tools and insist the work be done iteratively. And we have to hold them accountable for a high standard of success: “Show me progress along the way, but remember that you’re not done until you’ve delighted the customer.”

Sometimes this means building infrastructure that makes experimentation possible: One way of doing this is creating an innovation sandbox to protect the rest of the organization from the experiment. For example, pick a few customers to experiment with and promise to pay them penalties for any kind of fault during the experimentation period. Or select a subset of your web traffic and divert those customers to a new experience. If customers are unhappy at any time during the experiment, the startup team has to promise to make it right. That often means engineers taking support calls and sales people working with existing customers. That’s a good thing, because it enhances the learning your team will get. It also gives your team the cover to work quickly; while you may lose money in these early days, you’ll have learned a great deal about what the customer really wants. 

Often, it requires thinking creatively about what shape an MVP can take. One thing to keep in mind is that while every MVP provides some "quantum of utility" (to borrow Paul Graham's phrase) to the customer, there’s a wide range of MVPs. When your sales process is long and complicated, models and brochures can act as products. Even though they’re not “products” in the traditional sense of the word, they still offer us a chance to gauge customer interest by asking for some exchange of value, even if that exchange is not monetary. For example, we can ask customers to spend more time talking to us about the product, take part in a training program, or agree to recommend the product to other decision-makers in the buying process.

3. Cross-functional teams are key to delighting the customer.

Once we’ve set up the right conditions for experimentation, it’s important to create cross-functional teams who, together, can assess which features truly deliver value.

Say you wanted to run an experiment to test which aspects of a new appliance drive the most value. You couldn’t just send a salesperson because they would not know which features drove the most cost. Nor could you send a design team without knowledge of the supply chain or the current market landscape. This experiment requires a collaboration between the product designer, a salesperson, and someone on the manufacturing side. By working together, they can identify what drives cost and what drives value--when, prior to running such an experiment, you couldn’t really know what drives either. 

It can be challenging to make the case that all functions should be represented at both large organizations where it’s difficult to get people assigned to any project full-time and at small startups where resources are scarce. But remember that the goal of Lean Startup methodology isn’t just to build a product, but to learn how to build a sustainable business: a cross-functional approach is key to this kind of learning.

Building a culture of excellence will also require rethinking the way you measure and evaluate performance. When evaluations are tied to functional performance, a good day is one in which everyone did their job well: Did engineers strive to create the “highest-quality” product or service? Did legal limit the company’s liability? Did marketing anticipate external trends accurately enough?

But if we build products we can’t sell or processes no one uses, it doesn’t matter if we executed on time and on budget. Entrepreneurs and general managers should not simply be content with functional excellence but strive for products, processes, and systems that delight our customers. 

4. If a customer doesn’t like what you’ve made, that’s a discovery, not a failure.

Even after teams have grasped the concept of the MVP on an intellectual level, they often find it hard to pull the trigger on those first iterations; it takes them a while to set up those initial meetings with customers or launch their first MVP.

They can be held back by any number of worries: What if we show the customer something they don’t like? What if going in with a minimum viable product makes it seem as if we don’t know what we’re talking about?

As counterintuitive as it sounds, finding out that our minimum viable product is too “minimal” is good news. We can simply apologize, and use the customer feedback to build a new version that does meet their needs.

The good news about MVPs is that we can always make them more complicated as we go, so we might as well start simple and let the project grow in complexity until we have delighted the customer. If we do something we believe is too simple and customers agree, we can consider that a major win. It doesn’t mean the end of the project; it means we can use what we’ve learned to build the next iteration.

We don’t want to wait around for some mythical moment of perfection nor do we want to run around with no process. We use MVPs to test our strategy— if it’s not helping us achieve our visions, we need to make an adjustment.

If your team is concerned that creating an MVP will mean skimping on quality, it can be a good indication that they care about what they’re building. They recognize the importance of excellence and they strive to produce high-quality work —it’s why you hired them. This approach is not about asking people to ignore their skills, values and gut instincts about quality; it’s about making sure that they don’t waste their time and talent over-designing features that are not actually important to the customer. It’s about empowering your team to leave dead-end projects and activities behind so that they can invest their time into work that truly matters.

Monday, December 1, 2014

See More than 120 Speakers and Mentors at The Lean Startup Conference

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

The Lean Startup Conference is next week--and now that we can step back and see all the speakers and mentors, we have to say: Wow. When you look through the list, you’ll see big names that we’re very pleased we landed, epic companies we really want to hear from, and people we’re particularly excited to present because they have incredible stories to share--and you won’t hear them anyplace else.
Here are a few speakers to look out for--though with more than 80 speakers and 40+ mentors, there are far too many standouts for us to mention individually here. Another way to learn more about who’s speaking is to sort the conference program by category and find people addressing specific topics.
Experienced entrepreneurs

We’ve got speakers who are justifiably respected by a lot of entrepreneurs. For example:

  • Mitch Kapor was a founder of Lotus. Now he’s a leader in social impact investing and equality in education. He’ll talk about making a profit and making a difference in a conversation with New Media Ventures’ Christie George.
  • Todd Park convened the team that saved Obamacare. As the emeritus Chief Technology Officer of the United States, he still connects government and Silicon Valley. He and some of his key team members will share advice for working in large (very large) organizations.
  • Ben Horowitz’s book The Hard Thing About Hard Things is driving the conversation around startup management this year. He’s a founder of Andreessen Horowitz, which has backed Facebook, Skype, Jawbone, and dozens of other companies whose products you use. Eric Ries will interview him.
  • Bob Sutton is a Stanford professor and the author of several best-selling books on standout management, including Scaling Up Excellence, an investigation of high-growth companies. He’ll talk with Eric Ries about how companies successfully scale.
  • Bill Gross founded Idealab in 1996, making it the longest-running technology incubator alive today. He’ll use his experience starting 100 companies to talk about what makes a successful MVP.
Companies of note

Learn from companies that have been through the fire--and have lessons to share.
  • Aditya Agarwal has lived through startup hypergrowth--twice. He was a very early employee of Facebook, and engineering director there through the moment it blew up. Now he’s VP of engineering at Dropbox, where he’s seeing similar growth. He’ll bring us real-world advice.

  • Melissa Bell co-founded, which opened for business earlier this year and immediately became one of the most important site launches in a year of big launches. And the whole site was developed in just 9 weeks. Melissa will talk with Lean Startup Productions CEO and co-founder Sarah Milstein about how experimentation continues on the site even with millions of eyes on it every day.

  • Blair Beverly from Google’s AdSense group will describe a stealthy method for convincing colleagues to get on board with Lean Startup.

  • Jocelyn Goldfein was most recently Engineering Director at Facebook and will talk about how different types of software allow for different types of experimentation.
  • Bill Grundfest is not what you usually expect from a startup conference. A comedian who founded NYC’s Comedy Cellar--an enduring business--Bill has written for TV sitcoms and media companies. He’ll be running a hands-on session on how to make a compelling business video. We gave him a night session so he’d feel in his element.

  • Dan McKinley will show the math he used to test new ideas as an engineer during the early days at Etsy.

  • Hugh Molotsi, an accomplished innovator at Intuit, will talk about recognizing good ideas in big organizations.

  • Cory Nelson will talk with Eric about how GE has applied the MVP method to its development of very large diesel engines.
  • Max Ventilla took Aardvark from startup to Google acquisition, a case study Eric described in The Lean Startup. Now Max is reinventing education through AltSchool, which creates local microschools.

Unique lessons

We go to great lengths to find stories you won’t hear elsewhere, and then we train those speakers so that they can tell their stories with impact. Some of the best lessons you’ll learn this year will come from people you’ve likely never heard of before: Sheena Allen, Tiffany Bell, Kevin Ellsworth, Seppo Halava, Margo Wright and many, many more.
Many Lean Startup experts under one roof

The conference features core Lean Startup experts helping you learn the most important ideas. That includes:
  • Hiten Shah, co-founder of KISSmetrics and Crazy Egg, talking about A/B testing

Great advice

Office Hours is your opportunity to sit down one-on-one with an expert and hash out the problems you’re facing. You can get direct advice from many of our speakers and from people like:
  • Farrah Bostic, founder of The Difference Engine and an expert in customer research
  • David Charron, serial entrepreneur and professor of entrepreneurship at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business
  • Kevin Dewalt, a pioneer in bringing Lean Startup ideas to Asia
  • Ame Elliott, a senior team leader at IDEO, where she brings products from design to production
  • Sharethrough co-founder and CTO Rob Fan
  • Learie Hercules, technical lead for a number of successful Lean Startup implementations
  • Jini Kim, key member of the team that saved and a healthcare startup entrepreneur
  • UX designer for Toyota ITC Matt Kresse
  • Alicia Liu, engineer at mobile startup
  • Erin McKean, founder of content personalization platform Reverb Technologies
  • Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media
  • Nicole Sanchez, founder of Vaya Consulting and a leader in improving hiring and diversity
A program highly relevant to you

We’ve tagged all the conference sessions by category, so you don’t have to guess which will be of interest to you. Here are just a few things you might look for:
All conference passes are on sale right now, and you can compare them here. The conference is just a week away, so look over the entire program on our site, and then register today!