Monday, April 11, 2011

The real entrepreneurs of New York City

The Lean Startup Machine looks a lot like reality television for startups. It's intense, the teams go head-to-head, the protagonists live and learn, and it's all very entertaining. But there is something serious at work, too. I have written previously about how powerful the these events are as a teaching tool for Lean Startup principles. While I was in New York, I had another opportunity to witness this firsthand, and I wanted to share the results with you.

Below you will find the final presentations of each of the Lean Startup Machine NYC teams, including SnappSchool, who was judged to be the winner. To give a little context, I asked two of the other judges - Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits (co-authors of the excellent Entrepreneur's Guide to Customer Development) - to add a bit of commentary. You'll find their comments below each presentation.

The thing to keep in mind as you peruse these teams is that they all had the exact same amount of time: 48 hours. All of the teams worked incredibly hard. But only a few made significant progress. Only a few really treated their work as experiments - and adjusted immediately, based on what they learned, to something that worked better. Take a look...

The Winner
Patrick: The winners showed discipline in demolishing their initially very strongly held assumptions about teachers and lesson plans -- tremendous learning and creative way to define a "currency" for MVP.

Brant: Two things elevated Snappschool: 1) MVP was a functioning product -- as long as you searched for the correct subject! 2) They put it all on the line: if teachers don't click submit, the product is dead. That's optimal learning.

Patrick: "This was a very strong and analytically-minded team which executed very well -- did a great job with their MVP ---- still up here:"

Brant: "Love Your Layover" won the "Best MVP" award. They actually built and tested several MVPs, the last of which was a web-based prototype of their mobile app that used real airport data.

Patrick: "One of those ideas that is relatively easy to CustDev given the analogs present in the market -- this team should have actually consummated a party over the weekend."

Brant: Interesting idea that would only work in a limited number of cities. Email thread in presentation demonstrates potential market. Risk that hosts wouldn't let group of strangers into their apartment was never tested. Great use of airbnb for their source of customer development won them 'Best #CustDev Award."

Patrick: "Great job with MVP and Demo. Smart team that did very well. See their MVP here:

Brant: It's not often we get to see a demo in the final presentation. Make that never. Until Unbrokered. That was pretty awesome.

Patrick: "Generally speaking, good execution -- however, move to Android app appeared a bit gratuitous. Could have gone even further with this one with a bit more effort."

Brant: Gotta wonder if the Vision was louder than the Market on this one. They had a great MVP using SMS the 1st night and a little traction, but then moved to Android App without market indication to do so. Seems like they could have crushed it with the SMS app. Co-winner of Best MVP.

Patrick: "Reviewing this preso, still chuckling to myself as I recall Nate Berkopec's frenetic and hilarious narration. Their "leap" into LardSpotting app is interesting as similar app appeared a few days later in App Store -"

Brant: Best Presentation and unannounced winner of the Old Yeller Award. They were forced by the market to take their idea out back and put a cap in it. Leaped to a new idea and accomplished an incredible amount of market validation, as well as overcoming technical risk, in the last few hours of the competition.

Patrick: "IMO a genuine problem worth solving - this team went from having very little knowledge of how professional domainers operate to having a strong knowledge understanding of the economics of domaining."

Brant: This team won the "lean learning" award for the amazing amount of learning they did. There product lives in a huge, messy ecosystem facing genuine problems, but also populated with questionable characters. They successfully used lean startup processes to learn their way toward manageable problems. They still have a ways to go, but a clear(er) path forward.


Patrick: "Did a good job with, very literally, "getting out of the building" ---- however, showed that sometimes it is very difficult to obtain actionable data from CustDev interactions."

Brant: I think this team represents a great demonstration of the "pivot," where one foot is grounded in learning. In this case, the fulcrum is not product, but the pain point that people end up in the wrong jobs. "Best Pivot."

Patrick: "Thought the initial idea was big --- didn't quite understand the pivot to subscription e-commerce handbags."

Brant: Stylestalkr won the "Apply to TechStars Award" because several judges this idea actually might be the one with legs. Pun intended.

Patrick: "Liked this team a lot but unfortunately demonstrated a severe misunderstanding of what an "early adopter" is in the context of Lean Startups. "

Brant: Best MVP would have been to (manually) find pools of users for all the startups inside the same building and charge them for it. You don't need a landing page or an app or a platform to prove some markets.

Patrick: "They built an MVP but didn't show it to their customers -- had to ding them for that."

Brant: There actually might be something there, there. But I'm note sure how close they got to finding out.

Patrick: "I loved that this team had strong ideas and strong validation -- but then quickly uncovered the paramount challenges in terms of marketing their solution."

Brant: Interesting example of a particular #CustDev dilemma: pain with which customers quickly identify, yet for which, customers are generally unwilling to put up with, let alone pay for a solution. Why? Because no one watches the old videos anyway, and soon the footage will be their children's problem. ; )

Thanks to all of the teams - you're showing the world what entrepreneurship really looks like. And a special thanks to all of the Lean Startup Machine organizers, mentors, and judges.

The next Lean Startup Machine will be an extra special SLLCONF edition. It will take place the weekend before the Startup Lessons Learned conference on May 23 in San Francisco. Stay tuned for details.
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