Thursday, September 13, 2012

Workshop: Lean Analytics with Alistair Croll and Ben Yoskovitz

 This post was co-written by Eric Ries and Sarah Milstein, co-hosts of The Lean Startup Conference.

If you’ve been following along at home, we hope you’ve noticed that this year The Lean Startup Conference will be a two-day affair, with top-quality workshops on December 4. Gold and Platinum Passes get you into the workshops, and we’ve conducted a series of short interviews with the workshop leaders to give them a chance to share their insights with the broader community.

Lean Analytics: Using Data to Build a Better Startup Faster” will be led by Alistair Croll, a serial entrepreneur and the author of three books on web performance, analytics, and IT operations, and Ben Yoskovitz, author of the Instigator Blog and VP Product at GoInstant. The two are co-authors of the forthcoming Lean Analytics book.

What aspect of Lean Startup methods most inspires you?

Alistair: The one advantage of a disruptor is they have nothing to lose—no rules to follow, no risks to consider—compared to the big, incumbent organizations they're trying to replace. So what I like is that it focuses on fast iteration and learning, which provides an asymmetric advantage to the underdog. It levels the playing field. Lean favors the entrepreneur who can ask the right question, rather than guess the best answer.

Ben: For me, it's the idea that you can be diligent and disciplined in your approach to building a company (as opposed to wandering around aimlessly, hoping you'll hit the mark) without losing your big vision and the dreaming that you have to do as an entrepreneur. Lean startup isn't intended to "suck the life" out of entrepreneurship; quite the opposite--it helps guide you through the process, and provides the foundation for achieving bigger goals, more quickly.

What makes it hard for companies to implement this process?

Alistair: All entrepreneurs need some amount of reality distortion just to get out of bed in the morning. But that also means they lie to themselves, and they develop an emotional attachment to the things they're building. They're necessarily proud of them, committed to them. Yet creating a startup is fundamentally a destructive act: killing a particular feature; stopping a clever campaign that isn't working; ignoring a market segment because it's too soon.

In many ways, Lean Startup isn't about building a product—it's about building a tool to show you what product to build. Along with creating the product itself, entrepreneurs have to create the instrumentation that makes the product a learning machine, and that requires a lot of focus. It's a lot easier, and certainly feels more heroic, to "wing it." But a methodical, persistent approach is the better choice if you care about building something people actually want.

Ben: For starters, it's hard. Discipline of any kind is hard. Any of us that have tried to get into an exercise routine post Thanksgiving or Christmas holidays can attest to that. It's also very early still--the ideas, concepts and principles of Lean Startup are still taking shape and being molded. Unfortunately, people look too quickly--like the next fad diet--for the perfect answer. Of course there isn't a perfect answer, there isn't an absolute formula. It just doesn't work that way.

What will people take away from your workshop?

Alistair: We'll share some basic business models that most startups will recognize, and look at what's "normal" for those models, so entrepreneurs have a baseline against which to compare themselves. And we'll spend time talking about the many case studies—and cautionary tales—we've learned from companies we've worked with and interviewed. Attendees will learn how to keep score, when to step on the gas, and when to rethink the fundamentals of their business.

Ben: I hope they'll gain a new appreciation for metrics and how to wrestle them into something meaningful and valuable. Almost everyone understands that metrics are important, but we want to provide some narrowly focused ideas around how to use metrics, and how to think about metrics in order to succeed. Ideas like The One Metric That Matters or the Penny Machine go a long way to making analytics approachable, and giving people the confidence to jump into their own numbers and tease out the value.

Here’s video of Alistair in action at a recent Ignite show, talking about why tomorrow, serendipity will be for the rich. Here’s Ben speaking about his life as an entrepreneur.

Here are two reasons to register today: 1) space for the workshops is limited; and 2) we have a block of early-bird tickets on sale right now. When this block sells out, the price goes up. Register now for a Gold or Platinum Pass to attend the workshops.

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