Monday, March 29, 2010

New conference website, speakers, agenda

The Startup Lessons Learned Conference on April 23 is fast approaching. Earlybird Admission pricing ends in just two days. We have a brand new website up at We've got a new scholarship program up and running. Most importantly, we've announced a big chunk of the agenda for the day (go take a look).

I want to say a few words about why I am so excited about this event. Traveling the past year, I have heard loud and clear that it's time for the Lean Startup movement to enter its next phase. We've gone from total obscurity to something people are beginning to misunderstand and even co-opt. People are starting to argue about who should get credit for coining the term. Congratulations. Being misunderstood is a big step up from being ignored. I believe it means we're achieving product/market fit for a set of ideas. And it's time to completely ignore the nonsense and start focusing on: how do we take this movement to the next level?

Here's what you had to say about it. Almost a thousand of your weighed in on the last Lessons Learned reader survey (thank you!). When asked, you were pretty clear in your answers. Here's a tiny sample:
"Case studies, case studies, case studies presented by real people. Lot's of opportunity for personal interaction with people that have or are adopting the methodology."

"Detailed case studies of how it was done. Practical advice on how to do it in companies at all stages."

"Case studies
Serious entrepreneurs not wannabes
actual nuts and bolts, I'm sold ont he phiilosophy
debates of contentious issues - not just yes men"

"Some of the core personalities of the group, a number of startups (who have already achieved fit etc and have success) who can talk from experience."

I know one thing for sure: I don't have all the answers. The way forward requires getting everyone together in a room, and having a conversation about where we're headed. That's what this conference is for. The focus is on case studies and real entrepreneurs. Our goal is to create the most coherent startup conference ever. When I was a practicing entrepreneur, startup events usually made me crazy. You had a lot of conflicting advice and success theater. Tactics were discussed out of context, and there wasn't an overarching framework for figuring out what works for what kinds of companies, industries, and stages of growth. My aspiration with the Lean Startup methodology has always been to provide such a framework, so that we have more intelligent conversations about what works and what doesn't for startups. This event will be a chance to put that idea to the test.

Each part of the program is organized around one phase of the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop and begins with a keynote address from a heavy hitter: Steve Blank on Customer Development, Randy Komisar on "Getting to Plan B" and - a third person, not-yet-announced-but-extremely-cool-trust-me. Then, we'll talk case studies in each area, presented by practicing entrepreneurs who have actually grappled with the topic at hand. I've asked each presenter not to pull any punches and to, whenever possible, share real data: what worked, what didn't. We're in pursuit of the truth, not orthodoxy. These case studies range in size and scope: from pre-product/market fit to already exited, bootstrapped to venture-backed, solo practitioner to large organization.

Each part of the agenda also features a difficult question. These are the big questions I've heard over and over again as I've traveled presenting the lean startup methodology:
  • "Sure, sounds great for a five-person team, but how can such a fast-paced development process scale? Doesn't the communication overhead of a large team lead to chaos of overlapping experiments and continuously-deployed bugs?"

  • "If you just throw a minimum viable product out the door to see what sticks, won't that necessarily be ugly and badly designed? Is design important to lean startups? What does viable mean, anyway?"

  • "Sure, everyone knows that getting customer feedback is important. But can't I outsource that to a market researcher? And do I still need to get out of the building if I've got great metrics and surveys?"
We'll tackle these questions head-on with a combination of practitioners and theorists. At the end of the day, you'll have the data and have heard the theories - it'll be up to you to make your own decisions and test them out for yourself.

Well, not entirely by yourself, actually. I've mentioned before that this event is designed to be best-experienced by teams, not just individuals. So we've made a limited number of team tickets available, which give teams of up to four people the opportunity to experience the day together. We'll have special seating for teams combined with exclusive access to a set of mentors who have agreed to be part of the conference as well. Mentors will sit with the teams throughout the day, and be available to answer questions and help put what you're hearing in context. Most important, they can help you make a plan for how to translate the insights from the stage into action back at the office. Like the speakers, mentors are a mix of theorists and practitioners. We've just started to list the mentors on our new website, and will add more as we get closer to the event itself.

This conference has been one of the most stressful things I've ever done. It feels surprisingly personal and surprisingly vulnerable. As an entrepreneur, I am used to having people attack my product or complain about my decisions (you can see the evidence here). But, in the past, being in a company gave me something to hide behind. Not anymore. For the conference, the most common criticism has been that it is too expensive, and therefore "not very lean." Here's an example from a recent Hacker News discussion:
"how can you be a lean startup if you have to pay $699 to know how to be lean? $699 buys you months of server infrastructure."
I think this is a fair question. Of course, readers of this blog know that the lean in "lean startup" doesn't refer to cost, but - rather - to Lean Thinking. Or, as Steve Blank put it, Lean Startups Aren't Cheap Startups. My fundamental belief is that by changing the way that we approach building startups, we can dramatically change our odds of success - and the magnitude of that eventual success as well. I think that's worth the price of admission and a better investment than marginally more infrastructure. Am I right? The verdict is in your hands. Maybe we won't get a huge crowd. If a relatively small number of highly-motivated entrepreneurs attend, then we'll have an intense and intimate conversation. Either way, I'm going to be satisfied.

For those who cannot afford the ticket price, who don't think it's worth the price, or who cannot travel to San Francisco, there are other ways to participate. We have scholarship programs available to help with ticket prices. We're offering a live stream to event organizers around the world. Meetup groups, universities, incubators, and anyone else who wants to get together to watch is welcome to do so. We'll be listing these viewing parties on our website as we confirm them. If you'd like to host an event, please let us know using this form. If you have questions, please contact our simulcast organizer, Erin Turner

The Lean Startup movement is already global (see the map). That's as it should be, as the new era of entrepreneurship that is now dawning is intrinsically global. Ideas, products, and capital flow easily across borders. People, not as much. Startups may be intellectually global but they are physically local, which explains the increasing importance of startup hubs around the world. My hope for this conference is that it will benefit the global community of entrepreneurs. For those who can travel to be part of the conversation in San Francisco, I thank you. I hope you'll take back what you've learned and share it in your own cities. For those who can host a local simulcast, I thank you. By creating a space for your startup community to congregate and share new ideas, you're enabling a new kind of economic growth. And most importantly, to everyone who contributes to this movement - by writing, asking hard questions, joining meetups and mailing lists, and above all creating companies - I thank you. See you in April.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Two new scholarship programs for lean startups

Thanks to the generosity of sponsors, I'm pleased to be able to announce two scholarship programs for upcoming lean startup events.

The first, sponsored by IMVU, will provide free tickets to deserving companies who want to attend the  Startup Lessons Learned conference on April 23. I'm especially grateful to IMVU which is, after all, where I first experimented with many lean startup practices. Now the company is growing, profitable, and proving that lean startups can scale. Oh, and did I mention that they're hiring? It's an exciting time to join, as IMVU is poised for a year of explosive growth. What better way to learn how to build a lean startup than to see one up close and personal? Right. Scholarship: you can apply here until April 12.

I'm hopeful that other companies will step up and become scholarship sponsors, too. This conference will be the first of its kind: an opportunity to have a conversation about the future of the lean startup movement. We want everyone who can contribute to that conversation to be there, regardless of their ability to pay. To ensure that those who are regular contributors to the movement to be able to attend as well, I've given each Lean Startup Meetup leader a set of discount codes and a few half-price tickets to distribute to their members. Please get in touch with your local meetup if you'd like to learn more.

The second scholarship, sponsored by TechWeb, will provide free passes to the entire Web 2.0 Expo, including the Lean Startup Intensive on May 3. When I agreed to setup the Lean Startup Intensive this year, I required that it include a scholarship program for deserving startups who couldn't otherwise afford the price of admission. TechWeb has decided to expand this program to provide scholarships for the whole Web 2.0 Expo. You can apply here until April 15 or until they receive 100 submissions--whichever comes first.
I look forward to seeing many of you at these events. If you have any questions or are interested in becoming a sponsor, please get in touch.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Speed up or slow down? (for Harvard Business Review)

Over at Harvard Business Review, I've been building up a series designed to introduce the Lean Startup methodology to a business-focused audience. This is the first post that moves into making specific process recommendations for product development. Here's an excerpt:
The Startup's Rules of Speed - The Conversation - Harvard Business Review

Every startup that achieves success eventually faces a critical moment — whether to speed up or slow down. It usually looks like this: the can-do attitude and high-bandwidth communication that characterized the first few iterations have produced magic. Everyone was in the flow; the team was hyper-productive. In many cases, they did the impossible, building a new product faster, cheaper, and better than anyone could have predicted. In the early days, chaos stayed under control. Duplicating efforts and stepping on toes was quickly resolved by short all-hands meetings. Firefighting was part of the fun of living on the edge. Defective prototype code was as often thrown out (because customers didn't want it) as it was fixed (when customers did). Hence, cutting corners often paid huge dividends. And with success came growth: in resources, staff and attention. And a certain amount of chaos reigned too.

But as the team gets bigger, early mistakes become more costly. Pretty soon, a soul-searching meeting ensues. 'Are we going too fast?' 'Will the addition of process kill our innovative culture?' 'Well-functioning teams just don't make these kinds of mistakes, right?'

This is the speed-up-or-slow-down moment.
Read the rest of The Startup's Rules of Speed - The Conversation - Harvard Business Review ...

You can view previous essays in this series here:

Monday, March 22, 2010

The new startup arms race (for Huffington Post)

The Huffington Post published an op-ed on the Startup Visa movement that I've been working on for some time. I've quoted from the article extensively below, but I hope you'll take a moment and read the whole thing. I believe we have a unique opportunity to pass the Startup Visa Act this year - if we continue to stay focused on delivering the message to lawmakers that this is something their constituents want. So, as a reminder, if this is something you support, please get involved. You can literally make a difference with as little as a tweet, by using 2gov at Once you've done that, let us know if you want to do more. You can find a list of ways to get involved at Thanks!

The New Startup Arms Race
America's future prosperity depends on our ability to maintain this lead. But today, it is getting harder and harder to maintain. A quick glance is the rear-view mirror reveals that other countries are catching up and at an alarming rate. Part of this is due to their determination to overtake us, but part is due to structural changes in the nature of entrepreneurship.

Startups are the lifeblood of our economy. In the past two decades, they have accounted for nearly all the net job growth in our country. Many of these companies are started by entrepreneurs, and are now household names: Google, Yahoo, eBay and Intel. But many more are true American success stories, out of the limelight, quietly creating jobs and securing our future.

Take the example of Indiana's Passageways. Paroon Chadha came to the US for his graduate education, and was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug immediately after school. He started Passageways Inc. immediately upon graduating, and has spent the last 8 years struggling to work around visa restrictions. Luckily for the rest of us, he was able to find his path to a green card, and now employs 24 Americans in West Lafayette, Indiana. For every success story like Paroon's, there are dozens -- hundreds -- of similar cases that end in failure.

Like other industries -- from publishing to automobiles -- entrepreneurship is in the process of being disrupted by globalization. The cost of creating new companies is falling rapidly, and access to markets, distribution, and information is within the reach of anyone with an Internet connection. The result is a profound democratization of the digital means of production.


If the next Facebook, Google, or Amazon begins in another country, the economic growth that it sparks will benefit us, too. But the jobs will be created over there.

The United States is locked in a new arms race for that most precious resource -- the future entrepreneurs upon whom economic growth depends. Substantial research shows that immigrants play a key role in American job creation. For example, over 25% of the technology companies founded between 1995-2005 had a key immigrant founder. These companies produced over $52 billion dollars in sales in 2005, and employed 450,000 workers that year. Similarly, 24% of all the patents filed in the US in 2006 had a foreign resident as inventor or co-inventor.

If we allow other countries to welcome these immigrants, support them and nurture them, we will lose out in this race. We will not lose on their products -- after all, most of them are global. We will not necessarily harm investors, either: as capital is increasingly global, they will be able to invest wherever good ideas are born. The cost will be felt in jobs -- thousands of new jobs that could have been created here, but weren't.

Read the rest of The New Startup Arms Race at Huffington Post. Special thanks to everyone who's helped advance this movement, especially Brad Feld, Shervin Pishevar, Dave McClure, Dave Binetti and Abheek Anand. And an extra special thanks to the volunteer copyeditors who reached out via twitter to help improve this piece.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

For Startups, How Much Process Is Too Much? (for Harvard Business Review)

In the latest article for my series in HBR, I discuss the problem of how to figure out how much process startups should have. I often hear that what makes startups effective is their complete lack of process, but I don't think this is correct. Process is not the same as bureaucracy. In fact, I believe process is a form of discipline. When done right, it can help startups accelerate even as they scale.

You can view previous entries:

I'm a little late on the cross-post, but hope you'll enjoy it nonetheless.

For Startups, How Much Process Is Too Much? - The Conversation - Harvard Business Review:
Still, startups develop some kind of process — whether it's disciplined, haphazard, bureaucratic or empowering — because building a great product depends on it.

They just need to balance process with innovation. Companies that insist on building a world-class infrastructure before shipping a product are doomed to 'achieve failure,' because they're starved of feedback for too long. I learned this lesson first hand in a previous company (read the sad story here). On the other hand, companies that take a 'just do it' attitude without any process at all are also taking a major gamble. High-profile startup Friendster had first-mover advantage in the social networking space, but created openings for competitors when it could not scale to meet demand.

Finding the right balance requires an understanding of the fundamental feedback loop that powers all startups.

Read the rest: For Startups, How Much Process Is Too Much? - The Conversation - Harvard Business Review

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Startup Lessons Learned - the Conference (April 23, 2010 in SF)

Today we are opening up registration for the first ever Startup Lessons Learned Conference on April 23, 2010 in San Francisco. I'm incredibly excited. The event is being produced in partnership with Charles Hudson, who puts on many of Silicon Valley's top events, including the forthcoming Freemium Summit.

The Startup Lessons Learned Conference is by-and-for entrepreneurs, and only entrepreneurs. We have a lineup of speakers who are primarily active practitioners of the lean startup methodology. They'll be speaking about their real-life experiences trying to put these ideas into practice. You'll also have a chance to hear from the leading lights of the lean startup movement, including Steve Blank, Sean Ellis, Dave McClure, and many more.

I have spent a lot of time over the past few years experimenting with what helps startup teams adopt new practices. One pattern has been overwhelmingly clear: it works best when a cross-functional team hears about new ideas all at the same time. As a result, we've built this event to be best experienced by teams, not just individuals. We have special team tickets; these teams will have special seating at the event and special access to mentors, who can answer questions and suggest ways to incorporate ideas from the speakers into each team's company.

This event is for present and future entrepreneurs only - not service vendors or investors. If you are working on new product development in any sized company, you are welcome to attend. Remember, a startup is "a human institution designed to create something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty." If that describes your job, you're welcome to attend. (We will reserve a limited number of spots for sponsors to attend; if you'd like to become a sponsor, please get in touch.)

For those that are able to make the trip to San Francisco, I hope you'll make the effort. I think this is going to be a one of a kind event, and you'll be glad you came. That said, for those who cannot make the trip, we're working to provide simulcast venues in cities around the world. We'll have more details shortly. In the meantime, if you'd like to attend remotely, or volunteer to host a viewing, please sign up as part of this survey. And for those of you who have already volunteered, please stay tuned for details.

A partial list of speakers and mentors is posted on the registration page. More will be posted as we're able to confirm them. If you'd like to nominate someone to be a speaker or mentor, please feel free to leave a comment on this post. We'll consider all nominees; when possible, please include a link to a video of them speaking or to a relevant blog post.

Last, I always try to have a scholarship program for paid events, and this one is no exception. If you'd like to sponsor a scholarship for a deserving startup that can't afford to make the trip, please let me know. At past events, the generosity of these scholarships has been amazing, and has meant a whole host of interesting people were able to benefit who would not have been able to otherwise. To those who can make a donation, you have my thanks. We'll post details of how to apply for scholarships after we get a sense for how many we will be able to award.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Startup Visa update

As I write this, I am traveling at 30,000 feet on Virgin America's excellent IAD->SFO nonstop, following an intense few days of conversations in Washington, DC about the Startup Visa. This trip was designed to build momentum following last week's announcement that Senators Kerry and Lugar have introduced a Senate bill to make the Startup Visa a reality: the Startup Visa Act of 2010. This follows Congressman Jared Polis, who has introduced a similar bill as part of comprehensive immigration reform in the House.

Our trip was bipartisan, bicameral, and bi-branches-of-government. Everywhere we went, the Startup Visa received a fair hearing, despite the fact that we have no lobbyists, no PAC, and no organized presence in Washington. On the flight to DC, we had over 5000 registered voters join our "tweet hall" and generate a huge stack of paper which we delivered to members of Congress, courtesy of 2gov.

Grt Startup Visa team mtg with Senator Udall from Colorado. @... on TwitpicShare photos on twitter with Twitpic

Founders #startupvisa talking at the SBA!! on TwitpicWe are here!! #startupvisa on Twitpic

Your support has been critical to everything that's happened with Startup Visa. After so many of you stepped forward to show your support in last year's 2gov campaign, I got a call out of the blue from a member of Senator Lugar's staff. He gave me the opportunity to answer questions about our proposal, and share the stories of immigrant entrepreneurs who are creating job all over America, including the Senator's home state of Indiana. I firmly believe that without your grassroots organizing, this meeting would never have taken place, and who knows if, months later, the Startup Visa Act would have been introduced?
Having bills introduced in both chambers of Congress is a huge accomplishment. But it's still just the very beginning of the marathon required to get a bill to become law. For those who want to continue to press the case for the Startup Visa, here are five ways you can help today:
  1. Go to our campaign page and voice your support
  2. Write to your local newspapers, and let them know that you support the Startup Visa Bill
  3. Call your senators, and let them know about why you support the Startup Visa legislation
  4. Add the Startup Visa Widget to your blog or website
  5. Contribute to Startup Visa so that we can continue to spread the word!

And, on an unrelated note, we also had an entertaining night at the DC Lean Startup Meetup featuring me and Dave McClure, in what was billed as a "Lean Geek SMACKdown." You can judge for yourself if we lived up to that promise:

Lean Startup SmackDown from Frank Gruber on Vimeo.