Monday, October 21, 2013

Speaker Lineup for the 2013 Lean Startup Conference

Guest post by Lisa Regan, writer for The Lean Startup Conference.

Between webcasts and interviews, we’ve been gradually introducing some of the speakers who are appearing at this year’s Lean Startup Conference. Now we’re ready to announce the full lineup, along with a special deal, explained below. There are some speakers on this year’s roster whom you've heard of before and who who deliver great talks every time out—people like Marc Andreessen, Steve Blank, Reid Hoffman, Chris Dixon and Kent Beck. But we’ve also put a big emphasis on finding terrific speakers who are new to the conference—people we’ve been posting about, like Steven Hodas, Mariya Yao, Khalid Smith and Nicole Tucker-Smith.

Also among the new speakers is Keya Dannenbaum, founder and CEO of ElectNext. She’ll talk in practical terms about how her organization is learning to be one that pivots. Pivoting means accepting hard truths—and to get a sense of Keya’s experience in that department, we asked her to give us an example of something she built that, in retrospect, she could have built more quickly to have learned the same thing. Here’s what she said:

It’s well-known that publishers, particularly those of the traditional news variety, are facing challenging financial times, and we always knew that our means of making money wouldn’t be to charge them. So we spent some time iterating--leanly, we thought--on the revenue model.

This past spring we stumbled on a genius idea – in order to make our publisher products work, we were scanning millions of articles and categorizing them by politicians, issues and popularity, among other dimensions. We could easily (easily! ha) take all that data and package it up for politicians, in a product to help them monitor their earned media.We visited political offices, and saw them painfully cutting articles out of physical newspapers and pasting them in binders.

We saw “sophisticated” operations using Google Alerts.  We asked why they weren’t using BGov or Meltwater, and we heard they were priced out of those markets. We pitched a product we hadn’t built yet and had 80% signup rates for a free trial. BOOM. Lean validation. So we spent a couple months building the thing. We put together a small salesforce to sell it…. And no one bought it.

There were a number of reasons: the users (from whom net promoter scores averaged 9.5! Irrelevant, it turns out) weren’t the buyers; the buyers wanted a feature set no one would have used; the buyers only made purchases once a year…the list goes on. But the real reason for that product’s failure was our mistake in not charging up front. We would have learned everything we needed to know in the third week of assessing the opportunity. And that’s why we now pre-sell all our paid products.

Now’s a good time to remind you that many of our 2013 speakers are participating in free webcasts this fall—which include live Q&A with participants. Past webcasts have featured returning Lean Startup experts, like Patrick Vlaskovits and Brant Cooper, who talked with Eric Ries about Lean Startup in enterprise companies. New webcasts include one on Friday, October 25, Lean Analytics for Non-tech Companies with popular speakers Alistair Croll and Ben Yoskovitz, and on one November 5, Lean Impact--Implementing Lean Startup in Mission-driven Organizations. Tomorrow, October 22, we’ve got a webcast on Lean Startup for Growing Companies with Wyatt Jenkins, VP of product at Shutterstock, Ari Gesher, senior engineer at Palantir, and Eric.

This is Wyatt’s first time speaking at the conference, and he’ll be looking at some truly advanced techniques for A/B testing. Meantime, we’ve asked him to talk about how Shutterstock has scaled Lean Startup techniques as the company has grown into one of the biggest two-sided marketplaces on the web. He gave us a quick rundown on two major growth challenges he’s faced:

Challenge #1: Vanity Metrics. The problem of vanity metrics seemed to exacerbate itself as we added more employees. Everyone wanted to be more accountable and measure their progress (a great problem to have), but there weren't enough meaningful metrics for everyone to rally around, so people latch onto other metrics that may or may not be helpful. Product team velocity is a great example. It's a helpful metric when trying to figure out the efficiency of a team, but at the end of the day, it has no bearing on whether what the team is building is effective or not. You can have a team with great velocity building crap that no one wants or vice versa.

Another Vanity metric I've seen is visits—a stat that I've rarely seen anyone take action on. Usage of a new feature was a useless stat for us until we changed it to repeat usage. Lastly, we used to track deploys to production because we were so proud of our continuous deployment practice, but past a certain threshold (we are somewhere north of 200 deploys a month) this is a vanity metric.

Challenge #2: Technical Debt. This might be one of our biggest challenges that we actively work on every day. As with most evolving systems that are over 10 years old, ours has increased complexity making it difficult to move quickly. There are some amazing efforts going on internally to simplify our system and modernize our stack, but hiring teams of developers for this effort is still something new to our organization. Oftentimes there are decisions made without understanding of the technical ramifications, not because someone is vindictive, but because they have a pre-conceived notion of how complex something is and they don't want to call a meeting about it (part of keeping our process streamlined). Working to keep systems simple is an important part of our product strategy. We try to delete less-used features often in order to have a simple, scalable system. Still, we have a ways to go.

Other new speakers this year include Kimberly Bryant of Black Girls Code, Robin Chase of Zipcar and Buzzcar, Matt Mullenweg of Automattic/WordPress, Mureen Allen of Optum, Alexis Ringwald of LearnUp, Catherine Bracy of Code for America, John Goulah of Etsy and many, many more.

Among the speakers we’re bringing back this year are those whose talks generated a lot of interest in the past and who have more we can learn from. So, for example, you’ll see Andres Glusman of Meetup, who last year talked engagingly about the myths he confronted in implementing Lean Startup methods at his company, Malkovich Bias among them:

Dan Milstein gave a popular 2012 talk on how to run a Five Whys and deal with failure in a profitable way. On a webcast this summer, he shared direct advice for the engineering crowd, and he’ll have more ideas-you-use-right-now for us in December.

Justin Wilcox, who joined us earlier this year for a lively webcast on applying Lean Startup ideas beyond Silicon Valley, will be returning to follow up on his surprising 2012 talk on pricing and MVPs. You’ll remember Justin for his helpful distinction between a business and a hobby, and the tendency of startups to accidentally wind up in the second category.

Steph Hay opened our eyes last year with a talk on testing content strategies. She’ll be back with deeper advice in December and previewed that in an interview earlier this year and. Here’s here 2012 talk.

You’ll also see Diane Tavenner with an update on Summit Charter Schools, where last year rapid iteration was both raising math scores and revealing the weakness of lecture as a knowledge delivery method. Her 2012 talk—which suggested the possibility of truly disruptive innovation to address entrenched issues in education--was a huge discussion starter.


Now that you know some of the people who’ll be speaking at the 2013 Lean Startup Conference, you’re probably wishing you already had tickets. The good news is that in a way, you can get them. Until tomorrow, October 22 at 11:59 PT, we’re rolling back prices to our mid-August level—that’s three price breaks back, and more than 40% off the standard rate. Register now, as this price won’t be available after tomorrow.
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