Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Different Kind of Entrepreneurship Conference

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

We’ve just published the program for this year’s Lean Startup Conference, December 9 to 11 in San Francisco, and we can say without hesitation that it’s completely unlike any other entrepreneurship conference in existence. The difference matters, because while there are more than enough conferences aimed at startups—more of them every year it seems—so many of them look the same: a succession of speakers who are on the conference circuit, and a series of fast pitches and demos from early-stage startups. But entrepreneurs who are leading fast-growing companies or who are working in environments beyond Silicon Valley need more. They need deeper information on advanced entrepreneurship topics. So we’re covering important issues no one else talks about, and we’ve found terrific speakers you won’t see at other entrepreneurship conferences. Below, we’ll talk about how we chose our speakers in ways that will make the composition of the event simply unlike any other tech or even business conference, and how you can get tickets at a great price.

When our event started four years ago, we focused on bringing entrepreneurs together to talk about getting started with the Lean Startup methodology, which creates a broad framework for reducing the uncertainty inherent in a startup. (The Lean Startup helps companies reduce risk by formulating and testing hypotheses rather than making massive up-front investments, and by constantly iterating based on evidence gained via testing.) We’ve always put the focus of the conference on people who are actually implementing this methodology and what they’re learning in the field. But as the community of Lean Startup practitioners has matured, so has our event.

The conference is still designed to help entrepreneurs learn from each other. But we now have a much bigger pool of experienced people to draw from—and we’ve taken the time to find folks from many kinds of companies, in a range of sectors, with new kinds of stories and advice that other entrepreneurs can benefit from. So now, in addition to helping people implement Lean Startup ideas for the first time, we also have sessions on the following topics, which we’ve highlighted with a few talk examples; the conference itself features many more speakers:

Leading hyper-growth. Ari Gesher of Palantir will talk about preserving a culture of learning and experimentation within a company that has had skyrocketing growth. Kent Beck of Facebook will give a talk and lead a discussion on how engineers in particular can simultaneously experiment and execute in companies that have enough success they now need to do both. Valerie Gofman will show you how Sharethrough has used Lean Startup methods throughout a growth process that has taken it well beyond an early-stage startup.

The fine art of experimentation. We’ll look hard at experimentation and how to do it better. Brian Frezza will talk about how Emerald Therapeutics is experimenting with a platform for scientific, well, experimentation. Diane Tavenner of Summit Public Schools will explain how she’s institutionalizing innovation after having early successes with experimentation (in an usual setting, to boot). Matt Mullenweg, founder of Automattic/WordPress, will talk about the way his company experiments constantly—even though his teams are fully distributed, with nearly everyone working from home.

Seriously leveling up tactics like A/B testing. Wyatt Jenkins will reveal the next-level approach Shutterstock takes to A/B testing. Mariya Yao has thoroughly practical advice for rapidly iterating mobile designs. Laura Klein will take you beyond landing pages and show you other key methods for testing ideas.

Understanding and applying the economic theories that make Lean Startup truly work. If you’ve already taken your Lean Startup practice to the level where understanding the economic theory behind it will give you an edge, we’ve got speakers like Don Reinertsen on understanding and using cost of delay; Dan Milstein on making better decisions by taking into account risk, information, time and money; and John Shook on the history of lean manufacturing and its implications for today’s companies.

The human factors that make Lean Startup actually work in practice at any company. A few examples among many: Matt Mullenweg, founder of Automattic/WordPress, will talk about his company runs experiments all the time—even though his teams are fully distributed, with nearly everyone working from home. John Goulah will show you how Etsy gets engineers on board with continuous deployment, an important technical environment that many resist. Cindy Alvarez and Ethan Gur-esh will discuss their process in helping Microsoft teams transition into using Lean Startup methods. Trevor Owens of Lean Startup Machine will talk about how you can overcome biases to make sure you’re experiments are valid.

How some of the largest companies in the world innovate. One of the fastest-growing segments of the Lean Startup community comprises large, established companies—many operating in regulated environments. Speakers from companies like Intuit, Comcast, Optum, Microsoft and Toyota will talk about making Lean Startup work in complex organizations.

Lean Startup for mission-driven organizations. Lean Impact—the movement bringing Lean Startup ideas to non-profit and mission-driven organizations—is burgeoning. Speakers from organizations like Kiva, LearnUp, Black Girls Code and the New York City Department of Education will talk about everything from funding risk to bureaucratic risk. Nearly all of their lessons will be useful to people working in the for-profit sector, too.

Getting started with Lean Startup.  Naturally, we’ll have a number of talks for early-stage companies, like The Muse’s Kathryn Minshew on acquiring your first users out of thin air, or Robin Chase’s story of how she started Zipcar—and how you can start the next company to rival it. But in many cases, we have parallel talks for advanced entrepreneurs. For instance, Usha Viswanathan will talk about keeping your senior executives close to your customers as you grow. And Catherine Bracy of Code for America will look at expanding Lean Startup methods from one project to a whole, established organization.

When it comes to speakers well-known in entrepreneurship communities, we’ve focused on bringing those with on-the-ground perspectives highly useful to businesspeople of all kinds: Marc Andreessen, Chris Dixon, Reid Hoffman, Steve Blank. Many of the best-known speakers in the Lean Startup community—experts like Janice Fraser, Ash Maurya, Brant Cooper and Alistair Croll—will be giving hands-on workshops on December 11. Those sessions are designed for attendees seeking an even greater level of practical advice that you can you put to work right away; they’re available to anyone who registers for a Gold or VIP pass. And, because we had so many good speaking candidates this year, we added a night of Ignite talks open to all conference attendees.

Last, and perhaps most important, we don’t follow the standard application process for conference presenters. Startup conferences are notoriously white and male, both in terms of speakers and attendees. In its first two years, The Lean Startup Conference was, too. But last year, when Sarah joined the conference as co-host, we decided to rethink how we were finding speakers. We began to create a more broadly merit-based approach, rather than employing the system that most conferences do, which relies on inviting people you already know or know of. We wrote last year about what we did and how our efforts took us from a conference with a speaker roster of almost entirely young, white, male speakers whom Eric knew personally to one featuring 40% women, 25% people of color, and many people we didn’t already know—while maintaining a very high level of attendee satisfaction. In other words, reaching out beyond our immediate networks helped us find great speakers we simply hadn’t been aware of previously. We’ve done the same this year, and that means we can bring you stories and advice from entrepreneurs who have incredible insights to share, whom you won’t hear from elsewhere.

Our speaker roster now better reflects our community. But what about our attendee base? To help ensure that people with a range of means can attend, we have two scholarship programs. To make sure that anyone who comes to the conference has a safe, respectful and professional experience among peers, we have a code of conduct that we enforce, and we’ll offer a number of ways for attendees and speakers to meet each other that don’t focus on drinking.

We think it’s pretty clear looking at all of this that Lean Startup is not like your average entrepreneurship conference at any level. Nor do we intend it to be. Register today to join us and get the best price possible. We sell tickets in blocks, and when one block sells out, the price goes up. The current block is already almost sold out, so register now. We’re looking forward to seeing everyone December 9 through 11 and hearing your feedback. Register today!
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