Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Future of Corporate Agility

Guest post by by Jennifer Maerz, contributing editor of Lean Startup Co. 

The solution to long-term innovation in companies obviously isn’t having one person come up with all the bright ideas and then translating those ideas to teams that execute them. We’re looking at huge shifts in workplace structures that involve reimagining things like who holds the power to make decisions and how we judge performance, all the way down to how we run meetings to encourage constructive disagreement and a diversity of ideas.

A big part of adopting Lean Startup in an established company involves fundamentally shifting the way organizations manage people and ideas. Mark Raheja, founding partner at August, a consultancy focused on organizational development, will be speaking as part of the enterprise learning track at Lean Startup Week about agility at scale. Mark has created transformational programs for GE, PepsiCo, and American Express while working as a partner at Undercurrent, and he currently works with enterprise and fast-growing companies to crack the riddle of how to organize and operate quickly without breaking.

This interview is part of our “Future of….” series that includes interviews with experts out in the field on the Future of Workspaces, Government, Skill-Sharing, and more in the weeks leading up to Lean Startup Week.

In thinking about the future of corporate agility and management, what modern practices are most vital to today’s leaders? 

There are a few big shifts taking place. We tend to describe the industrial era model as being closed, efficient, and controlled. Those aren’t necessarily bad principles of operation; they were very well-suited to the time. Generally, though, we’re talking about shifts from being closed to being open. That can apply to the technologies you use and how you collaborate—whether you’re using cloud-based tools that everyone can be inside of and see all the time, or whether you’re using tools like Slack that have the biases of openness. It also has to do with the way you’re doing work. So do you work out loud with each other? Do you share work in progress or wait until it’s completed? There are a set of practices around each of these principals.

There’s another general stream of our work that has to do with decentralization of authority on some level. It used to be that because everything moved slowly you’d have all the decision-making authority nested at the top of an organization. A very big area of emphasis for us is working with leaders and introducing practices or tools that help make it safe for authority to move from the center to the edge of the hierarchy. There isn’t one thing that does that. There are a whole bunch of different things that do that.

One of those things is getting explicit about decision rights. Actually writing down who has the ability to make what decision. In most organizations that’s not even clear. In the absence of that clarity it just kind of floats to the top. So there’s a lot of work around trying to set teams up with the authority to do whatever work they need to do to accomplish a mission without having to ask for permission.

We actually spend a good amount of time focused on meetings—which can sound boring, but they’re the gateway drug to new ways of working. They’re one of the primary vessels of work that fills up everyone’s time, so how meetings work is a high leverage point to change work habits. We work to make meetings more structured, bring the role of facilitation into them, clarify the purpose of the meeting—are they about decision making? Prioritizing? Setting strategies? We bring structure in a way that tends to be liberating.

When you think about leaders transitioning into different roles, one of the scary things for some of these people has to be the fact that they’re used to having a lot of control, as well as the boost they get from having so much authority. 

Definitely. In all the literature around change, often the middle layer gets called out as being this big barrier. While technically it’s true that this is where we can run into challenges, though, I tend to sympathize with people in those roles. They’re in the hardest spot. They’re the ones who some senior leader is making all sorts of promises for about what is going to get done. You also have these people who spend 10-25 years moving up the corporate ladder and they have a lot on the line. They haven’t had the huge payoff that comes at the end of that climb in a large organization, and the systems and processes inside these large organizations are still incentivizing the wrong behaviors or pushing the wrong principles. So you have these leaders who have a lot to lose just by letting go and letting their teams go without their control. Basically we’re asking them to accomplish huge amounts of work and take on a certain amount of risk in transitioning to this new way of working while the reward is unclear. The other thing is they’ve gotten good at traditional management. They’ve been trained to lead in a way that’s starting to go away. So it’s really destabilizing from a psychological perspective; there’s no guarantee that they’re great at the kind of leadership companies need from them today.

So how do you weigh the decision of how much this leader or employee can learn and adjust to the new way of doing things and how much is this a situation where this person is now never going to be a fit? 

There will always be people who fall into that latter category, where the motivation just is not there. Or they’re motivated in a separate direction. But our experience is that it’s a relatively small group blocking change.

There’s a tremendous amount of unlocked potential and capacity inside existing teams and leaders. If you can make it safe and you can create the conditions for them to practice and try these new ways of working, they tend to flourish. They embrace it for the most part and everybody wins. You get a more productive organization that is able to work and shift faster and you get more engaged people who love their work.

You said a lot about creating a safe environment. How do you rethink performance reviews in the context of encouraging new practices? 

Performance management is one of dozens of systemic barriers to new ways of organizing and working inside big legacy organizations. The biases are kind of insidious. But it’s not just that. It’s how they budget. It’s how they do strategic planning. It's how they recruit people. If you’re really going to do this transition, all of those things need to be revisited with a fresh pair of eyes.

If you’re diving into performance management specifically, though, you see a lot of situations where it’s optimized for the few or the individual rather than the organization. You actually see people behaving in ways that aren’t for the benefit of the organization because they’re optimizing for themselves. You’ll have two teams that need to collaborate but they’re actually incentivized to do conflicting things. So you have to revisit structure. One thing we tend to emphasize is a general shift towards rewarding teams over rewarding individuals. That way you're trying to avoid this rogue hero behavior and trying to optimize teams to achieve together.

I’m curious how you see diversity fitting into the future of management. What does it mean for modern teams to reflect diversity when it comes to hiring people of color, people along the gender spectrum, etc. in shaping the company’s POV? 

We are very strong advocates for diverse and inclusive work. There’s plenty of data out there about why this is a good idea. Especially because it is right and it feels better but also because it builds more successful organizations. You need a diversity of perspectives and opinions; it’s like a generative force to have more of those present.

The more diverse your organization gets, the harder it will be to come to a consensus as a group. You’ve built in a systematic tendency to disagree, because you come from different perspectives. And that’s partly why we spend so much time with organizations trying to get them to stop trying to agree with each other. It might feel good to agree, but you don’t need that. What you need to agree on is how can we make this a place where new ideas are safe to try and keep moving.

One other thing we tend to emphasize with clients is something we call “rounds,” where you’re going one by one and you’re surfacing questions and reactions from an individual level instead of just letting everybody talk at each other, which biases us. Often in meetings there are a couple of voices that tend to dominate. So some of our work is about creating environments where all perspectives are represented and heard. That’s why structure in a meeting is a good thing. Typically the junior people and the introverts don’t say anything, and these days they tend to have some of the most valuable perspectives.

August is also a lab in and of itself. As you’re trying to promote better management practices for other companies, what have you come up with within August that you’ve found interesting?

We tend to be out on the proverbial edge of the work we’re doing and so we are motivated to push the envelope on these principles. It’s been just over a year [since August was founded] and we’re a radically transparent organization—our Google drive is public. A pocket of it has confidential client information but otherwise every other document we create we host publicly.

We don’t know many organizations operating with this level of transparency. It translates to our documents but also to our salaries and our equity models. We’re constantly learning the nuances of this transparency. So, for example, what’s it like to have our salaries public? Generally we believe there’s a huge systemic plus in us being open about them, but not all team members will be comfortable with that on an individual level. And so it’s interesting, reconciling our ambitions for having an impact on a system level with what is comfortable internally.

Both inside clients and internally we’re finding that there are bigger errors to these changes and you have to creatively find the solutions. We’re trying to stick to the principles and let the future emerge. So far the wheels haven’t fallen off.

Hear more from Mark and other leaders pondering the effects of long-term innovation on the way we do business at Lean Startup Week Oct. 31-Nov. 6 in San Francisco. Take advantage of our special fall pricing and save up to $350 before October 15th.

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Future of Government: Hayward & the Lean Startup

Guest post by Jennifer Maerz, contributing editor of Lean Startup Co. 

It’s been exciting to watch the Lean Startup movement grow from a practice utilized in the tech world to one implemented in a wide variety of sectors ranging from enterprise to education, religious organizations, nonprofits, and government groups. When we talk about government, we mean both the macro outfits whose work affects the entire country (perhaps you’ve heard of the IRS) and regionally-focused groups alike.

Kelly McAdoo is the City Manager & CEO of the City of Hayward in Alameda County, California. She’ll be speaking during Lean Startup Week at our Ignite Opening Reception on Tuesday, Nov. 1 about how she uses Lean Startup principles to empower government employees and to improve resident satisfaction. As part of Lean Startup Week’s “Future of…” series, we asked Kelly to tell us more about the future of how city governments work with and relate to their communities, what a civic MVP looks like, and why she so badly wants to disrupt how we think about local government.

This interview is part of a “Future of….” series that also includes the Future of Work, the Future of Corporate Agility, Skill-Sharing, and more in the weeks leading up to Lean Startup Week. 

Kelly, your Twitter handle asks, "Can we please disrupt the conversation about local government?" Pretty funny, but I'm also curious what you mean by that statement. 

I’ve been working in local government for almost 20 years now, and I think it’s probably the same situation that exists in most industries. You tend to get stuck in a rut—people get very insular and think that the best ideas may only come from others in your field who appear to be doing unique and creative things. You also can’t just take private sector ideas and overlay them on local government. How do we enable conversations that move us beyond where our organizations have been for the last 50 years?

I’m also tired of the rhetoric about bureaucrats working for government who stand in the way of progress. There are some amazing and committed public servants who work in local government, but many are stymied by an organizational infrastructure that rewards safety and security. My challenge to other local government CEOs is to have conversations about how to create organizational environments that facilitate disruptive change and are more responsive to the changing nature of our communities.

How did you first get interested in bringing Lean Startup into city government?

At our core, local governments are public service agencies, which means that we should be focused on maximizing value for our “customers” (AKA residents). I’ve always been intrigued by the concepts of design thinking and customer empathy and how those concepts might intersect with local government. However, I’ve never quite seen how we could operationalize this in our organization. To me, Lean Startup provides a framework and a methodology for taking customer empathy work and translating that into real and measurable outcomes for our community. It also adds the customer empathy piece that was missing for me from agile or Lean methods.

What kind of reception did you get when you tried to get other government employees on board with practicing Lean Startup? What were the biggest stumbling blocks? 

It’s ironic, but as I’ve talked with others who have been engaged in these types of initiatives in private enterprise, there are many of the same challenges. At the core, we are attempting to change the organizational culture of a large enterprise with all of the associated obstacles and heartburn. For example, we’ve had to deal with getting executive buy-in, creating time and space for people to try working in a different way, and generating a critical mass of people in the organization with the skill sets necessary to move the change forward.

The unique lens applicable to local government is the political and public scrutiny that comes with any new or risky project. This is the beauty of this methodology for me and why it has the potential to be so impactful in local government. Instead of spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on major initiatives and failing very publicly, we can spend $5,000-$10,000 on experiments to determine whether we are even on the right track in the first place.

How are you incorporating the methodology now? What does an MVP look like when you're talking about the City of Hayward? 

Right now, we are really working on building capacity and skill sets around using the methodology. We are also having a lot of conversations about when it makes sense to use the methodology in our organization. For example, we aren’t going to run an experiment on how a firefighter starts an I.V. on a patient during a 911 medical call. We are looking to use the Lean Startup methodology on the more systemic problems that need a different perspective and viewpoint to help us get to the root cause.

We are also talking about how we can use the methodology to help us prioritize really scarce resources. Two great examples come to mind that demonstrate how this process has been helpful to our team. The first was one of our teams that was evaluating the need for an online business license application program. Every business that opens in the City of Hayward must register for a business license and pay the associated taxes. Our team had been heading down the path to spend $90k or more acquiring a software solution and spending probably a year implementing the program. The team used Lean Startup principles to evaluate the issue. When they actually talked to customers, they discovered that being able to complete their application online was not the biggest issue as many customers still had to come to City Hall for other reasons. The bigger issue was not understanding what the license requirements were before they got to City Hall or not being able to download an application, complete it, and bring it with them. Within a couple weeks, the team redesigned the website and allowed customers to print out the application forms which can now either be brought to City Hall or emailed directly to staff for processing. While an online application system might be more technically savvy, our team was able to solve a customer problem with a relatively quick and cheap fix.

The second example comes from a team that was attempting to address the issue of people who hoard items in their homes and create public safety concerns. The team had looked at implementing a program from a neighboring community that was touted as a very successful solution to this issue. However, as they started doing their customer empathy work, they quickly discovered that the program was not as successful as they had anticipated, primarily due to a key training and staffing deficiency within the County Adult Protective Services Department. The team estimated that they saved over $200,000 in staff resources by determining within a month that implementing the program would not have had the outcomes that they were originally anticipating and deciding against pursuing an ineffective solution. Instead, they refocused the discussion on how to work with the county to push for the necessary training.

In addition, they made changes to the city’s online reporting systems so that first responders could check a box to identify a property that had hoarding issues. In the future, once the county training resources are available, this change will allow the city to quickly run a report and identify households where hoarding is an issue.

For me, this is a prime example of using Lean Startup to prioritize scarce resources and to focus on the right problems at the right time. Do we want to solve the hoarding issue in our community? Absolutely. Do we want to spend lots of resources developing a program that won’t be successful because a key element is missing? Absolutely not. The Lean Startup methodology helped our team very quickly identify flaws in their assumptions and adjust accordingly.

How does showing that you're approaching your work with an entrepreneurial mind change your relationship with your community in Hayward? 

The number one value add I’ve seen from this process is simply the connection that happens during the customer empathy work. A lot of employees in local government are fearful about the reactions they might get when they go out and talk to the community. So instead our typical solution development process goes something like this: 1) staff convenes an internal work group or task force; 2) task force/work group spends 6-9 months brainstorming solutions, researching best practices, and then developing one idea into the final solution; 3) work group holds token community meeting to present nearly final solution and get “feedback”; 4) solution presented to city council for adoption/funding; and 5) solution implemented with limited success.

What our team has found is that 99% of our community is truly appreciative when you ask them for their input in the process, early and in a meaningful way. And community engagement doesn’t have to take a lot of extra work. That is a big fear in local government—you host a huge neighborhood meeting with lots of targeted outreach and staff work to set up and either no one shows up or you get a large contingent on one side of the issue that may or may not be representative of broader sentiments in the community. When we were looking at changes to our neighborhood preservation/code enforcement ordinance, our 8 Code Enforcement Officers took a part of a day when they were out doing their normal inspections and knocked on people’s doors to ask them a series of questions about the issues in their neighborhoods. They talked to over 300 residents from all over the community and got more direct and impactful insights than if we had held a community meeting at City Hall to share the proposed ordinance changes. It also changed the direction we headed with those ordinance changes.

We need to be thinking about how we can call ourselves a “public service” agency if the employees are scared or nervous to talk to the public. How do we give our employees tools to have productive conversations with the community? Lean Startup methodology helps frame the issues in different ways so that employees can ask more targeted and direct questions about the way in which customers are experiencing a problem in our communities.

In thinking about other city governments across the country, what advice would you give them about getting started, and why they should use these kinds of modern business practices?

In our organization, we started from the bottom up and trained a core group of employees in these methodologies. These were employees who had previously demonstrated a willingness to try new things, came from all levels in the organization, and who volunteered for the initial training workshop. I think it is also crucial to have an executive sponsor who can support the initial teams in their efforts to work differently. It will be frustrating and challenging as you push against the bureaucratic systems and old ways of doing things. Having someone at the top levels in the organization who is committed to the effort is key. I served this role in my prior position as Assistant City Manager. I attended the training with the initial team and hosted monthly lunches to support them in their efforts to work differently.

I have seen a pattern in the way city governments approach problem solving. Someone in an organization will come up with a creative idea and have the wherewithal and stamina to see it through to implementation and will then see some successful outcomes. Other local governments will then hear about this organization’s idea and then we will tend to try and replicate it in our organizations. However, we haven’t really taken the time to understand whether the root causes of the problem we are facing in our community are the same root causes of the problem the original successful community faced. It is critical to create organizations with the skill sets and mindsets to look at and evaluate each issue as it comes up and to design a solution that, while it may be influenced by what other cities have done, is tailored to the needs of our constituents.

What is the biggest stumbling block generally to city governments modernizing their approaches?

One of the interesting dynamics I have seen in local government is that innovation is often driven out of or by IT departments or by the implementation of new technologies. While the IT team is a crucial partner in the innovation process, if you don’t create an organizational culture that understands how and is receptive to partnering with IT on change efforts, you won’t see the impact you are hoping for. It’s similar with private sector or non-profit partners. There are so many startups and companies out there who are talking about making life better in cities but they may be attempting to partner with cities that don’t have an organizational culture to support and maximize the impact of the effort.

I also think politics can derail these efforts by city governments. Many city councils may see any dollars spent on these types of training efforts as frivolous. This is where it is crucial for the project teams to be tracking metrics. What has been helpful with our city council is identifying how many residents or business owners we have talked to during our empathy work. We have also tried to demonstrate a data driven approach to implementing solutions. We spend a small amount of money on an experiment, collect data, and then determine whether to scale efforts accordingly. Talking with our residents also helps us determine whether or not we should pursue certain initiatives, saving the city money in the short and long term. It is also harder for the council to refute feedback from several hundred residents. It gives them evidence so that they can go back to the one or three really loud voices in the community and explain why the city won’t be pursuing a certain effort at that time.

What do you see as the future of how city governments work with and relate to their communities?

We in local government have to adapt to the changing nature of our communities— people are working longer hours, are more digitally connected, and have less time to engage with their government. We have to be careful that the squeaky wheels in our communities don’t drive the conversations and the community priorities. This requires those of us who work in local government to think and act differently. Our methods of “engagement” really haven’t changed much over the last 50 years. It would be interesting to see how we could apply Lean Startup principles to the problem of community engagement.

I also think that for many years, local governments have really driven the agenda in communities. I equate it to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs—when a community is still looking to have its basic needs met, the role of local government (or any government) is relatively simple. Provide food, shelter, and security. As community members have more of their basic needs met and they are on a path to self-actualization, what is the role of local government then? We become a quality of life provider. However, understanding what that means to your community without effective and robust dialogues is impossible. Our challenge as local government leaders will be to help frame these conversations and also to help shape organizations that can be responsive to this changing nature of our communities.

Are there any cities you model your approach on, either in the US or globally, that are particularly innovative?

There are lots of big cities experimenting with innovation labs and the like. New York City’s partnership with Sidewalk Labs, San Francisco’s Entrepreneurship In Residence Program, and Singapore’s experiments with the sharing economy come to mind. However, the challenge with using these big cities as models is that cities like Hayward don’t have the resources, either staffing or financial, to pull off these larger scale efforts. There are only a handful of cities on the scale of a New York or San Francisco but tens of thousands more like Hayward that have the potential to touch even more lives. It is important for smaller agencies to understand how they can implement this type of culture change without a big city budget. For me, the most important step is for local government to start somewhere, try the principles out, and see how they can be adapted for their community. It doesn’t matter if you are strictly rigid to the methodology. If our government simply increases the level of interaction and empathy our employees have for community members, I would say both our organization and our community is winning.

Hear more from Kelly and join the larger long-term conversation at hand by attending Lean Startup Week Oct. 31-Nov. 6 in San Francisco. Register now and take advantage of fall pricing.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Announcing the 2016 Lean Startup Week Program

Guest post by Jennifer Maerz, contributing editor of Lean Startup Co. 

The Lean Startup team has been hard at work finalizing the details of this year’s Lean Startup Week. Each year, we bring you new case studies from Silicon Valley startups (and beyond), government agencies, and global enterprise companies, along with expert advice from seasoned entrepreneurs and newcomers alike.

If you’re thinking about joining us at the conference for your annual innovation training on Oct. 31-Nov. 6 in San Francisco, we’ve got a pass for everyone.

Welcome to Lean Startup Week 2016 

TL;DR: Before you dive into the details, here’s a quick look at what you can expect during your week with us:
  • On Oct. 31, kick off the week with a choice of Startup Tours, a Lean UnConference, or an Enterprise Training session. 
  • On Nov. 1, join our morning activities, including a live Q&A breakfast with Eric Ries, a half day of master classes (i.e., hands-on workshops), and our evening Ignite reception. 
  • Our core main conference days are on Nov. 2 & 3. You’ll hear powerful keynotes on the big stage and get practical lessons during our breakout sessions. 
  • On Nov. 4, join a day of coworking at WeWork or attend WMD, a growth and marketing conference hosted by our friends at 500 Startups. 
  • Finally, close the week out by applying everything you learned at Lean Startup Week at Startup Weekend on Nov. 4-6

There are four ways to attend the conference: grab a Gold Pass for the full seven-day experience; a Silver Pass gives you access to the two-day main conference on Nov 2 & 3; a Bootstrapper Pass, which is reserved for very early-stage startups and small non-profits (it’s the equivalent of a Silver Pass, but you’ll need to apply for it); and if you can’t travel to the Bay Area, you can join one of our free livestream meetups and see our main-stage talks live on November 2 & 3.

And now, on to the details…

Monday, October 31: Startup Tours, Enterprise Training, Unconference 

We’ll welcome all Gold Passholders with a mix of Startup Tours, an enterprise-focused training session, and an attendee-led Unconference (in partnership with Lean Startup Circle).

Gold Passholders can head off on the track of their choice: either tours of groundbreaking startups like Pivotal and the non-profit Defy Ventures, among other offerings, or enterprise training with Lean Startup Co. at Breather.

The enterprise training session is a new offering this year that we’re especially excited about: our expert faculty will host five hours of customized master classes for corporate intrapreneurs in a limited-capacity, intimate classroom setting.

In the evening, we’ll have a Halloween-themed Lean Startup Night happy hour. It’ll be held at Runway from 5–6:30 pm with special guests (including Eric Ries) to be announced soon.

Tuesday, November 1: Healthy Performance Practices, Master Classes, Ignite Opening Reception 

We’ll start with icebreakers that’ll energize your mind and body. Choose from running a 5K with ultrarunner Zoe Romano (who ran the Tour de France route), performance breathing with Stanford’s Robert Lee, or meditation and yoga classes with our awesome Lean Startup team members Stacy Conlon and Dave Cunningham.

At the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center, Eric will join serial entrepreneur Jason Calacanis (LAUNCH Media) for a Q&A session with attendees. 

Once we’ve helped you get into the right mental space, we’re diving into a half-day of master classes. These workshops will be led by Lean Startup’s rock star expert network and are dedicated to the issues our community regularly tackles.

These sessions, which range from the basics of the methodology to more advanced topics, are excellent opportunities for your team to get hands-on Lean Startup training together while interacting with mentors who’ve been with Lean Startup for years.

In the evening, we’ll host our popular Ignite talks, where select members from our international community have the chance to entertain us with five-minute talks about an aspect of Lean Startup pertinent to the work they’re doing. The Ignite Opening Reception is the official kickoff of Lean Startup Week for all levels of badgeholders. It’s also a great way to learn about all the various ways people are using Lean Startup in a format favoring short attention spans. We pulled from a diverse group of Ignite applicants: folks doing great work in city government, global non-profits, parenting & pregnancy support, and other areas where innovative practices have had a huge impact.

Wednesday, November 2 (Main Conference Day 1, All Pass Holders): Keynote Sessions, Speed Mentoring, Networking Dinners 

Because we have a full week together this year, we decided to kick off the main conference with a single track of activities broken up into four keynote blocks. Now everyone has a chance to hear and absorb a variety of stories and case studies. We have a fantastic lineup of keynote speakers, including industry vets Guy Kawasaki, IBM’s Phil Gilbert, GV’s Jake Knapp, and Microsoft’s Tren Griffin, and rising star founders such as Hint Water’s Kara Goldin, General Assembly’s Matt Brimer, and Breather’s Caterina Rizzi.

Whether these entrepreneurs are speaking about a relatively young business or an internationally established company, the overarching theme here is growing and scaling innovation techniques. It’s no longer enough to have an idea and put a product together. These experts from across industries and around the world will share how they’ve built long-term strategies for innovation into the core and culture of what they do, from tech to telecommunications to government to morning dance parties(!). 

Talks by these prophetic leaders will be broken up into the following four sessions: the definition of and practical issues facing the modern startup, the application of Lean Startup with other methodologies, scaling Lean Startup practices, and Lean Startup put into practice, from corporate to government and non-profit.

We’ll also be offering Speed Mentoring on Nov. 2. All attendees will have the chance to work through specific issues with one of 40 amazing experts from a variety of industries in 20-minute sessions (advance registration will be required, we’ll release the list of mentors over the next few weeks).

And we’ll close the day with a conversation between Eric and Lean Startup Co. faculty member Phil Dillard about the current state of Lean Startup.

We’ll have plenty of co-working opportunities throughout the conference, but if you’d like to concentrate your networking skills over dinner and drinks, you can sign up for one of our Lean Startup Week networking dinners on Nov. 2.

Thursday, November 3 (Main Conference Day 2, All Pass Holders): keynote talks from Airbnb & GE; breakout sessions on startup, enterprise & DIY tracks; mini-intensive sessions; The Startup Chat live; closing sessions 

Nov. 3 will be a day of breakout sessions—discussions, presentations, and fireside chats—themed along specific tracks so you can choose the topics most applicable to your organization. We’ve labeled these sessions as startup, enterprise, or DIY.

DIY is meant to cover a number of different topics, from design to government to funding, as well as the future of work, social good, and government. (Kelvin Kwong of Jawbone will discuss how to design behavior changes in your customers, for example.)

The startup track will feature founders from places like Kit (acquired by Shopify) and 18F sharing how they’ve built their organizations so you can learn how they’ve achieved their level of success. 

For enterprise sessions, we have some great case studies from pros inside Pearson, Telefonica, and Cisco who’ll also discuss team collaboration and leadership development.

Although we’ve focused these groupings for easier scheduling, we highly recommend crossing the hall between startup, enterprise, and DIY chats to get a little of everything—or send your team members to different sessions and compare what you’ve learned at the end of the day.

In the late afternoon, we’ll host intensive sessions at Breather. These four 45-minute interactive discussions will take small groups through such specific topics such as Lean marketing, Lean government orgs, and the founding of Breather.

Also on Nov. 3, we’ll have two special keynotes: from Joe Zadeh, VP of product at Airbnb, and Viv Goldstein from GE’s FastWorks program who will also engage in a joint conversation about intrapreneurship in their organizations.

Throughout the day, we’ll also have some quickie sessions on offer, where you can learn about, say, best practices for live blogging or take a stab at meditation during your lunch hour. And speaking of eating, we’ve invited some of San Francisco’s tastiest food trucks to park on the Pier 27 lot, so there’s no way you’ll go hungry.

We’ll close out the day with AOL co-founder Steve Case, Eric, and MIT Sloan Management Review editor-in-chief Paul Michelman in a sure to be fascinating conversation about the future of entrepreneurship (and, if you’ve been following Eric’s work this year, you know the future of the Long Term Stock Exchange will be involved in that discussion, too).

Friday, November 4-Sunday, November 6: 500 Startups’ WMD conference, Techstars’ Startup Weekend bootcamp 

A Gold Pass gives you access to 500 Startups’ Weapons of Mass Distribution, a one-day conference focused on specific tactics for growing and scaling your startup.

Or if you’d like some team time to collaborate on ideas cooked up during Lean Startup Week, we’re offering coworking options at WeWork and RocketSpace for the day.

Finally, put everything you’ve learned with us into action during a Techstars’ Startup Weekend to cap off Lean Startup Week. This is an excellent opportunity for Gold Pass teams to put ideas into motion and test out those new Lean Startup tools in an environment that fully supports trial, error, and rapid experimentation.

And if you can’t make it to San Francisco this year, we’ll bring Lean Startup Week to you. Sign up to host a livestream meetup or join one that our friends at General Assembly is hosting at their 11 campuses around the world, including New York, Los Angeles, Sydney, Singapore, and London. 

Hope to see you in SF this fall, 
The Lean Startup Week Team

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Spark Inspiration with Ignite Talks at Lean Startup Week

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

Lean Startup Week has it all: keynote talks, hands-on workshops, networking opportunities and lively flashes of inspiration from our extended community in the form of Ignite Talks.

Yup, our Ignite Talks are back because you all love filling your heads with new ideas over cocktails—and apparently dozens of savvy founders, intrapreneurs, city planners, retailers, and consultants are just dying to become performers with five minutes in the spotlight. Our brave Ignite presenters use their stage time to deliver lightning talks (and, occasionally, witty musicals) on the theme of innovation.

So we’ll spend happy hour on November 1st watching them breeze through 20 slides (that automatically advance every 15 seconds) while extolling their wisdom in an entertaining fashion about topics ranging from:

  • Barry O’Reilly from ExecCamp throwing down the challenge to reinvent your business to beat the average company lifespan 
  • Nicole Shephard from Travelport Labs describing the fail shots that led to wins at a $2 billion travel tech company 
  • Kelly McAdoo from the City of Hayward outlining the importance of using Lean Startup methodology to empower government employees and improve resident satisfaction 
  • Beth Sordi of BabyCenter comparing raising children with creating space for new ideas 
  • Peter Szanto of SpringTab detailing how to connect with your most loyal customers through personalization 
  • Consultant Ranjit Das mapping out how companies can develop a collaborative ethos by overcoming existing cultural baggage 
  • Bhavin Parikh of Magoosh offering his company as a case study in successfully bringing Lean Startup principles to life 
  • Consultant Tami Reiss revealing the secrets behind Gmail plug-in Just Not Sorry getting $100k in 30 days using the core tenets of Lean Startup 

We don’t want to give away the whole program just yet, but as a hint, our Ignite Talks presenters also include Monty Campbell (Lean Mobile Apps), Lynn Johnson (Spotlight:Girls), Janet Bumpas (InnoLeaps), Cindy Peterson & Janel Wellborn (Macy’s), and consultant Charu Nair. 

Ignite Talks are the perfect way for attendees to experience the breadth of Lean Startup in one session. It’s your chance to hear from founders in all industries talking about how they applied Lean Startup in short dynamic presentations. It’s also one of many group activities at Lean Startup Week—from the Ignite Talks to a 5k run, yoga classes, and our networking dinners, we’re offering plenty of opportunities to break from the typical conference status quo and have some fun while you learn.

Join us Oct. 31-Nov. 6, 2016 in San Francisco for Lean Startup Week. Register before August 31 and save up to $700.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Introducing The Long-Term Stock Exchange (LTSE)

Can you believe it's almost five years since The Lean Startup was published? As I've traveled the globe these past five years, a very common question I get asked is: when are you doing another startup? Now, I'm finally ready to answer it.

I'm the CEO of a new company with a mission to fix the root cause of one of the worst problems plaguing our whole business ecosystem: the malign philosophy of short-termism that emanates from our public markets. We call this new company The Long-Term Stock Exchange (LTSE). Our goal is to create a new venue for great public companies to list on, one that uses its regulatory power to incentivize long-term thinking on the part of both managers and investors.

Although I've been working on this project for several years (I even wrote about in The Lean Startup). But I haven't wanted to become part of Silicon Valley's hype machine, and so our testing and experimentation have for the most part been quiet and behind the scenes. It's only now that so many people are involved that I felt it was time to be a little more public about it.

If you'd like to learn more, I've shared some details in a post on Medium. There's also an in-depth profile in the new issue of Bloomberg BusinessWeek (if anyone sees it in print, please send me a pic) as well as coverage on Quartz.

And, for a little blast from the past, here's the original passage in The Lean Startup that got this whole thing started:

As always, I want to thank all of you for your support. As the Lean Startup movement grows and spreads, I hope we continue to tackle bigger and more difficult problems. Let's solve them from first principles, at the root cause. I'll see you there.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Read This Excerpt From Steve Case (AOL)’s New Book

Guest post by Melissa Moore, co-founder of Lean Startup Co.

The Lean Startup movement brings together the brightest minds in Silicon Valley to share the best advice for entrepreneurs, from entrepreneurs. AOL co-founder Steve Case, who just released his new book, The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future, is one of the big thinkers we’re excited to team up with. Steve has a lot of insight into the ways innovative leaders can transform “real world” sectors (such as health, education, transportation, energy, and food), and their ability to change the way we all live and work.

You can catch Steve in an interview with our own Eric Ries this Wednesday, April 27th at the Commonwealth Club in Santa Clara. See event details here.

And if you haven’t devoured his new book yet, here’s a sneak peek of The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future by Steve Case:

My brother Dan was just thirteen months older than me, and a year ahead in school. We shared a room growing up and, like most brothers, were fairly competitive. We hated to lose. That was especially hard for me, since Dan seemed to be good at just about everything he tried. He was the more natural athlete, and always at the top of his class. When I realized I couldn’t compete with him head-to-head, I tried to find interests apart from his. If he was going to play tennis, I decided, I was going to play basketball. But there was one interest we both shared that never felt like a competition. I wanted to be an entrepreneur, I was sure of it, before I even really knew what that meant. And Dan genuinely wanted to help. I got immense satisfaction from coming up with an idea, and he would revel in trying to help me turn it into something real. 

We started our first business when I was ten years old. Dan was eleven, and brought to bear all of the wisdom of that extra year in our operation. We called ourselves Case Enterprises, and hoped that no one would notice that neither of us was old enough to drive. We billed ourselves as an international mail-order company. At one point we became the exclusive distributor in Hawaii for a Swiss watchmaker, though I can’t recall actually selling any watches. Most of our efforts involved knocking on doors trying to sell greeting cards to our neighbors. Most of our customers were buying what we were selling just to be nice. But Dan didn’t care. He called it our comparative advantage. Said it was part of our brand. We actually talked like this; our parents, a lawyer and a teacher, had no idea where we got it from. They used to joke that when I went to my room, I was going to my office. 

Our early ventures may not have provided much in the way of cash, but they did provide a wealth of experience. And the process of coming up with new business ideas, or new ways to sell, left a deep impression on me. When I left Hawaii to attend Williams College in Massachusetts in 1976, I kept looking for new business opportunities. I started six little businesses while at school, including delivering fruit baskets to students during exam week (paid for by parents, of course). I had a growing interest in the music business, and spent a lot of time in New York clubs like CBGB, trying to find new talent to bring to college campuses. 

I was diligent about going to class and doing my homework, but these side businesses were my real passion. That didn’t go over so well at Williams. At one point my advisor pulled me aside and suggested I was spending too much time on my entrepreneurial efforts, and would regret it. “Look at all the educational opportunities in front of you,” I remember him saying. “You should immerse yourself in them. Your business pursuits are distracting, and, frankly, they are ill-suited for campus life.” He wasn’t alone in thinking that. I remember one of my fellow students attacking me in a school newspaper editorial. “I swore I would never go to a Steve Case party or buy a Steve Case record album,” the article began. “It’s nothing personal, it’s just that I despise rampant laissez-faire capitalism on the college campus.” 

In my final year at Williams, I took an introductory computer class. I hated it—and almost flunked it. This was still the era of punch cards, where you had to write a program and then take your cards to someone to run them. Several hours later, you’d get the results—which usually (at least for me) meant finding a mistake and starting the process all over again. The tedium, and the resulting low grade, almost prevented me from graduating. And yet the experience stuck with me. The punch cards were a nuisance, but if used the right way, they could be powerful. We were building very basic computational programs, rudimentary by contemporary standards. And yet even then, the potential was obvious. Computers were solving problems in seconds that would otherwise take days, even weeks. Frustrating as it was, in retrospect, I think it was formative. It was the first time I really began to grasp the potential of computers. Still, if I hadn’t stumbled upon Toffler’s book that year, I’m not sure I ever would have pursued the path I did. 

With graduation approaching in the spring of 1980, all I could think about was breaking into the fledgling digital industry. I applied for a lot of jobs, always including, with my résumé, a cover letter breathlessly predicting the dawn of a digital age. 

There were few takers. Most of my letters went unanswered. On a few occasions I did get interviews, but I rarely got past the first one. People seemed put off by my musings, worried that they were getting a nutty young kid who’d never be satisfied in a normal job. As the rejections piled up, I realized that my future would require my keeping my mouth shut—at least for a time. There was not much of a startup culture then, and of course no Internet, either. If I was going to get a job and learn any useful skills, I concluded, I’d have to join a big company. I eventually accepted a job at Procter & Gamble in the brand management department. It was a great place to land, all things considered. I could learn useful skills during the day while continuing to dream about the digital world at night. 

If Procter & Gamble knew one thing, it was how to make a product understandable to everyday people. When radio serials were first introduced to the public, P&G saw an opportunity to advertise its home cleaning products to its key audience. So they began sponsoring programs, starting with Oxydol’s Own Ma Perkins back in 1933. They were known as soap operas. When the public jumped from radio to television in the 1950s, so did P&G. 

The people I worked with were experts in understanding consumer preferences, doggedly pursuing R&D, and seeking breakthroughs that could give their products an edge against the competition. And they were world-class marketers, often ahead of their time. P&G was also responsible for pioneering the concept of giving away free samples to encourage trial use. (I later borrowed that idea when we launched AOL’s trial program and blanketed the nation with free trial discs.) 

After a couple years of working at P&G in Cincinnati, I moved to Kansas to join Pizza Hut as Director of New Pizza Development. To this day, I’ve never had a better title. 

My motivation was twofold: First, I was offered a healthy increase in salary and responsibility, and second, I thought it would be helpful to understand how a more entrepreneurial company worked. Pizza Hut was founded in 1958 by two brothers, Dan and Frank Carney, while they were still students at Wichita State University. It had grown from a single location at the corner of Kellogg and Bluff to become the nation’s largest pizza chain, which it accomplished largely by enabling franchisees to innovate. This bottom-up approach to innovation differed from P&G’s top-down style, and I wanted to understand it. 

Originally, the job involved my working in the test kitchens in Wichita. But I advocated that we hit the road to find out what was happening throughout the country. My view was that, though innovation was possible within our walls, most of the innovation was happening beyond them. I created and led an advance team, and we started roaming the U.S., looking for a great idea to incorporate into the new menu. The company would send me to places like Washington, DC, put me up in the Four Seasons in Georgetown, and then task me with eating the city’s best pizza. There are worse ways to live. I did learn rather quickly how difficult it was to take something out of a test kitchen and then execute it across five thousand restaurants where the chefs were teenagers with limited skills. A lot of our ideas that made sense in theory flopped in practice. 

At the time, one of the concepts we were testing was home delivery. This was 1982, and though pizza was popular, delivery wasn’t yet universal. We were also working on ways to make pizza more convenient and more portable. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out if calzones or pocket pizzas could work as a carry-out option for people on the run. It’s funny to think, looking back on that year, that the things we were focused on—convenience and portability—would become such crucial parts of the company I would later help build. So would our desire to keep things simple and focus on the basics. 

I only lasted at Pizza Hut for a year. My obsession with Toffler hadn’t subsided; it had intensified. I wanted to be part of his vision. I needed to find a way in.


Liked what you just read? You can still grab a ticket to see Steve Case with Eric Ries: An Entrepreneur's Vision of the Future this Wednesday, April 27th. See you there!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Lean Startup Week 2016: Call for Speakers

Guest post by Kirsten Cluthe, editorial director of Lean Startup Co.

Speaking at Lean Startup Week offers renowned and emerging industry leaders the opportunity to share their stories with our global community. And by renowned and emerging, we mean you, person who deserves recognition from our community of 2,000 attendees for the awesome work you’re doing! If you’re interested in presenting at our flagship conference during Lean Startup Week Oct. 31 - Nov. 6 in San Francisco — alongside folks from Google, General Assembly, Hint Water, Sama Group, GE, Salesforce, and IBM, among others — we’d love to hear from you.

Don’t worry about having some kind of conference track record. Our speakers hail from scrappy startups, global enterprise companies, government agencies, faith-based organizations, and the education and social sectors. We highly value diversity in our lineups, and we encourage people of all genders, races, ages, and ethnicities to apply.

If you have Lean Startup experience to share, we encourage you to propose a talk via our Call For Proposals form, regardless of whether you have public speaking experience. Submit your idea as a short video, ideally under three minutes. iPhone videos are totally acceptable, just make sure the sound quality is high enough that we can hear you. Here’s an example of a speaker application that we loved.

There are a limited number of spots available to speak. Below, you’ll find a few helpful tips on how to submit a proposal:

  • You don’t have to be a Lean Startup all-star to apply. You just need a good story, useful tips, compelling advice, or practical applications to share.
  • The core of your proposal should be simple. Focus on answering one of the questions posed in the Call For Proposals form. (you’ll find them on page 2)
  • Deliver the pitch in your application as though you’re speaking from a stage. Although there’s still time to practice, stage presence matters.
  • Presentations in 2016 will be shorter but no less dynamic. Design your pitch as if you were giving an Ignite talk. Here’s more information on how to create an Ignite style talk. 

A few reasons why our speakers decided to participate in the 2015 conference:

“I really got a lot out of Lean Startup [Conference] 2014. ... It has been a great tool for me and my team to make real transformation.” - Freyja Balmer, Director of Product Management, Food.com at Scripps Networks Interactive Inc.

“[I realized] that my experience was valuable for others to hear...[It was] nice to be needed. I [felt] compelled to ‘give back’ as others have done for me.” - David Telleen-Lawton, Career Development Manager, UC Santa Barbara

“I wanted to get more connected to a strong startup community, share my perspective and experiences, and also continue to establish myself and my company among other thought leaders, influencers and doers.” - James Warren, founder, Share More Stories

Ready to apply? We want to hear from you! Applications are due by Friday, May 20, 2016.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Lean Startup Week: Seven Days of Focused Innovation Training

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

We’re excited to announce that we’re doing something radically different with our flagship event this year. Gone is the Lean Startup Conference as you know it. Welcome instead Lean Startup Week, October 31 - November 6, 2016.

And what is this Lean Startup Week? It is seven days of thought-provoking programming around the things you love — Lean Startup training, specific case studies, hands-on workshops, industry networking dinners, inspiring speakers, and speed mentoring sessions — plus brand new partner events. That’s right. We’re inviting the big names in entrepreneurship to help curate workshops and activities. For example, Techstars is leading a two-day MVP bootcamp, a.k.a Startup Weekend, designed to amp your rapidfire build-measure-learn process as part of Lean Startup Week. (If you’re interested in producing a session or small event related to entrepreneurship during Lean Startup Week, pitch us your ideas at editorial@leanstartup.co.)

We’re bringing in a new mix of speakers and mentors from the Fortune 500, startup, and mission-based org worlds. These are industry leaders you haven’t heard at our conferences before and who you won’t hear anywhere else. We have lots of exciting announcements about Lean Startup Week speakers that we’re bursting to tell you about — like General Stanley McChrystal, the retired four-star general who has a remarkable record of achievements. He’ll share what he’s learned from his time in the military about how to improve organizational performance, cultivate an adaptable team, and scale management to meet the biggest challenges facing an organization.

You’ll also hear from IBM’s head of design Phil Gilbert, who was recently profiled in the New York Times Magazine for introducing the world’s largest information technology company to the concept of design thinking. Design thinking is a philosophy so complementary to Lean Startup we’re excited to include more programming dedicated to it as part of Lean Startup Week.

And we’re thrilled to welcome Matt Brimer, who co-founded General Assembly as a community for entrepreneurs and has grown it into a global education company. He also happens to be the founder of the super hot pre-work dance party, Daybreaker.

Plus we’ll hear from Michael Perry, CEO of virtual marketing assistant Kit, who gave an amazing impromptu presentation at 2015’s Startup Tours, and Tatyana Mamut, Head of Design & UX at Salesforce (and ex-IDEO), who will lead an interactive conversation on driving product innovation.

We’re also offering strategic learning tracks so you can focus on programming built to match your skill set, objectives, type of business (startup versus enterprise), and level of experience more closely than ever before. Those of you who’ve been with us for years say you want more concrete sessions dedicated to long term strategies and advanced practice discussions, while you newbies are anxious for hands-on classes and fresh case studies to get you started. For those looking to mix-and-match between levels and develop new skills, we’ll also have a DIY track that allows you to schedule your sessions accordingly.

Lean Startup Week will be centrally located at San Francisco’s new, state of the art Pier 27. Workshop classrooms are big enough to fit everyone who’s eager to learn from our esteemed mentors. And we’ll have dedicated areas for catching up on work and networking — because we know how important those IRL alliances with other members of the global Lean Startup community have become to you. This is your chance for a solid week of Lean Startup training that matches your needs and skill level. It’s your opportunity to stay current with all the leading business tools that foster innovation. And it’s your chance to come together with a tight knit community dedicated to cracking the toughest challenges around rapid risk-taking. You’ll leave ready to apply the principles you’ve learned with us in your workplace, introduce the concepts to your team, and build successful products for the long term.

And hey, don’t just take our word for it. Below are a few testimonials from previous Lean Startup Conference attendees about their experience learning with us:

“Prior to attending the conference we were trying to balance doing customer discovery and working on new problems while also serving our existing customers. Innovation accounting helped us understand the need to dedicate folks to these types of initiatives. As a result we’ve been able to iterate much more quickly, and overcome some of the executive fear of releasing something into the wild in an MVP state.” — Andrea Hill, product strategist and UX consultant at ReadyTalk  

“During the conference I 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. Since then we've 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) Stockton, CA 

“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.” — Darin Foster, director of product at Disney 

So what do you think? Wanna join us this Oct. 31-Nov. 6? Check out more information about Lean Startup Week here. We’ll have lots more big announcements in the weeks to come.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

How Lean Startup Helped Serve Communities in Kenya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The 2015 Lean Startup Conference is the Biggest Yet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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