Monday, April 25, 2011

Beyond the garage

It’s been just over a year since the inaugural Startup Lessons Learned conference, and it’s time to do it again. Steve Blank called last year’s conference “Woodstock for entrepreneurs” and my goal is do even better this year.

(If you somehow missed SLLCONF 2010, you can get caught up with a complete video recording here.)

The Lean Startup movement has made tremendous progress in the past year. If you recall, around this time last year we were still fighting various myths, such as “lean means cheap” or that we don’t support having a big, world-changing vision. SLLCONF featured incredible entrepreneurs on stage to put those ideas to rest (watch, for example: Aardvark, Grockit, Dropbox, PBworks). It may be hard to remember that there was a time when people in the agile software development community thought Lean Startup was incompatible with agile practices. Kent Beck himself helped us explain that “quality work” means something different when we’re facing the extreme uncertainty of a startup. And, of course, Steve Blank electrified the crowd with “Accountants don’t run startups.

All year long, these ideas have trickled further and further out into the world. Last year, we were just starting to explain the concept of “the pivot” (we even had Getting to Plan B author Randy Komisar onstage). This year, the word pivot has become over-hyped (even on TechCrunch). The number of Lean Startup meetup groups has crossed 100, spreading out from traditional startup hubs like San Francisco and New York to a wide variety of places. And, most importantly, the Lean Startup idea is starting to take root in industries and contexts very different from it’s Silicon Valley roots.

That’s why I’ve decided that the theme of this year’s conference will be to explore the impact of Lean Startup “beyond the garage” – from new hypergrowth companies, like Groupon, to Fortune 1000 companies who see entrepreneurship as key to their future, like Intuit. And this year, we’re going to talk not just about business and product development, but we’ll be exploring one of the Lean Starutp movements next big frontiers: the role of design. As usual, we’ll get deep in to the details: how to measure progress, how and when to pivot, and how to accelerate as we grow.

Like last year, we’ll have three huge keynote speakers. First up, Mitch Kapor, founder of Lotus (and designer of its famous spreadsheet Lotus 1-2-3), the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Level Playing Field Institute (and more). He’s one of the most successful entrepreneurs of the past few decades, and has continued to support the startup ecosystem as an investor and mentor. Mitch knows a thing or two about building a hypergrowth startup: Lotus sold $54 million of 1-2-3 in its very first year. Mitch brings a unique perspective to our entrepreneurial renaissance, and I’m honored to be interviewing him on stage.

Second, we’re presenting something unusual for an entrepreneurship conference: the CEO of a Fortune 1000 company. Brad Smith is the CEO of Intuit, one of the most successful software companies in Silicon Valley. Brad doesn’t meet your typical image of a scrappy entrepreneur. But along with Intuit founder Scott Cook, Brad is a leader that recognizes that entrepreneurship is critical to his company’s success. One of the most surprising outcomes of the Lean Startup movement so far has been the recognition that entrepreneurs of all kinds – VC-backed, bootstrappers, and intraprenreurs – have much in common. We all struggle with similar questions and can use similar techniques to enhance our chances of success. Intuit has been a pioneer in recognizing this fact and bringing support to its internal entrepreneurs. I know this sounds foreign to many of you, and that we’ll have a few skeptics in the audience. Bring your tough questions – Brad and I will be having a conversation on stage and you’re invited to join us.

And last but never least, our third keynote is Steve Blank. For readers of this blog, Steve needs no introduction. For those of you who were lucky to see his new talk at SXSW, you know that Steve’s talks have a unique blend of insight, humor, and straight talk. I’ve heard him dozens of times, and he never fails to teach me something new. If you’re still kicking yourself for missing him last year, do yourself a favor and don’t make the same mistake again.

And those are just our keynotes! We also have an awesome lineup of case studies. As always, our rule is by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs. No BS, no vanity metrics, no launches, no PR. Only real stories of startups that have tried to make Lean Startup work – and the true story of what happened.

My original intention was to have a completely new lineup this year, but the popular demand for a few of our top speakers was overwhelming. So I’m honored to have back not just Steve Blank, but also two of our case studies: Drew Houston, CEO of Dropbox and Manuel Rosso, CEO of Food on the Table. We’ll get to hear what they’ve learned this past year, as both companies have grown and scaled.

A few other highlights from this year’s lineup:

We’re just getting started. Many of last year’s speakers will be at the conference as mentors, available to help you and your team make sense of the day. Hope to see you there.

SLLCONF 2011 is happening on May 23 in San Francisco. Tickets, our full program, and much more info is available here:

Just like last year, we’ll be simulcasting the program into cities around the world. If you’d like to host a simulcast, you can apply here: (In a few days, you’ll be able to get tickets to nearby simulcast on that same page.)

PS. SLLCONF is on a Monday this year (May 23). There’s a number of cool events going on the weekend before, too. Perhaps you’d like to apply to Lean Startup Machine SF or to be a speaker at Ignite: Lean Startup. Both are going to be awesome.
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