Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Lean Startup Conference 2015

A massive rain storm blew through San Francisco in the middle of last year’s Lean Startup Conference. We woke up to a city-wide power outage, and Day Two of the conference had stopped before it started. No lights, no wifi, and no A/V.

What could have been a disaster evolved into a valuable, unplanned MVP: attendees embraced the three hours of darkness, while we organized unconference sessions and Q&A discussions, and gathered people in windowed rooms for impromptu meetings.

These community-led experiences were so much fun -- and became a source of such serendipitous, fruitful connections -- that we’ve decided to iterate on the idea for the 2015 conference and make it a core part of our program.

Why You Should Join Us in 2015

Since 2011, The Lean Startup has helped countless ventures transform ideas into thriving businesses. The movement has inspired a powerful community that includes leaders from enterprise organizations, government agencies, nonprofits, and early stage startups.

Like previous years, the 2015 conference will feature 100+ expert speakers on topics ranging from corporate entrepreneurship to analytics, product development, engineering, sales, marketing, and design. Our ‘power outage MVP’ has inspired us to offer five new reasons why you should attend the conference (again) this year:

  1. We’re hosting more meetups, peer discussions, and expert Q&A sessions.
  2. We’ll be delivering more in-depth case studies and advanced lessons in experimentation, measurement, team enablement, MVPs, and innovation accounting than ever before.
  3. We’re creating hands-on sessions with leaders who are tackling the same challenges as you. Share your toughest problems, and we’ll help you solve them.
  4. We’re creating opportunities for startup and corporate leaders to collaborate and connect with each other.
  5. We’re hosting the conference one month earlier this year to avoid a big storm (lesson learned) and well before your holiday travels.

Whether you’re attending for the first time or the sixth, we’ll make sure you meet great people, tackle your biggest business challenges, learn, and have a blast. You’ll go home with actionable takeaways to implement—immediately—with your team.

Get Involved

The 2015 conference will be held from November 16th-19th at historic Fort Mason in San Francisco. Register today to take advantage of our Spring sale prices. Prices increase on June 30th.

Follow us on Twitter or join our mailing list for updates on our speaker lineup, upcoming webcasts, and community initiatives.

Attendee Stories

Check out some of our favorite attendee stories from 2014:

“I went to the Lean Startup Conference because we were having challenges figuring out how to apply the principles in practice and were getting sidetracked with many different ideas and various ‘shiny objects’ that distracted us from engaging with customers. During the conference I took lots of notes on customer conversations through the sessions, asked tons of questions during the after-hours 1-on-1 sessions with experts, and received direct feedback from Eric Ries on the final day of the conference. Since then we've been able to have hour-long conversations with more than 20 of our customers, have designed scripts that allow any member of our team to have a quality conversation, and have designed three new products that came directly from customer feedback and are proving popular in initial testing.”

-Emmanuel Eleyae, co-founder at Satin Lined Caps (SLAPS)

“The Lean Startup Conference has been instrumental to helping my team, one unit within a large organization, stay innovative. I’ve had my team attend the past three years, and we plan to attend again in 2015. There were two big lessons that we learned in 2014. The first was to remember the real reason that our customers come to us—and to add tools for our internal teams to build upon our core product faster. The second was to remember that we’ll never really innovate if we don’t keep trying new things and its my job to protect the new by creating a culture of experimentation.”

- Darin Foster, director of product at Disney

“Our firm specializes in product development. We are also on staff at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business as project coaches for the Product Development and Market Research Course. We work in the medical device and industrial sectors, and our clients have expressed dissatisfaction with the traditional phased and gated approach. My business partner, Kathy Morrissey, and I went on a search for a more flexible and lean approach to getting product to market quicker. Specific challenges for our firm is the cultural piece of implementing these types of practices in a large company. We attended in 2013, and we enjoyed it so much that we attended again in 2014.  Our favorite sessions in 2014 included a session on leading by asking questions, in addition to a panel discussion on the challenge of implementing Lean Startup within large, complex organizations like GE. We’ll be back in 2015!”

- Mary Drotar, co-founder at Strategy 2 Market

Monday, April 13, 2015

Getting feedback from customers when security is an issue

This is the second of several early excerpts I'll be sharing from The Leader's Guide, a 4-color, 250-page, hardcover and digital book which will be offered exclusively through Kickstarter--according to my agreement with my publisher, Crown, the book can never be sold in stores. As usual, I'm leaving out important details like company names in order to respect their privacy while the book is still in early draft form.

The campaign ends on Wednesday, April 15--learn more about it here.

In its early days, REDACTED faced a challenge that will be familiar to many entrepreneurs: They wanted to build a product that the world has never seen before. But nothing like this product existed: just an idea. 

They knew the enterprise customers they were seeking would be highly interested in security and would never log onto a test site that was still in Beta and give up their data. The founders needed to find a different way to gather early feedback.


The importance of running experiments to learn more about customer behavior is one of the core principles of the Lean Startup. 

But what happens when you’re working in an industry where security and secrecy are vital—and customers aren’t exactly knocking on your door to participate in your tests?

I coached one team from REDACTED working on building a complex new technology for a market that is generally very secretive. Because they assumed customers would be unwilling to talk with them, the company was building their technology around market research.

Though the team was initially reluctant to set up meetings before they had a true understanding of what the final product would look like, eventually they agreed that talking to customers was important.

“Going out to sell the first MVP was daunting,” said one of the project leads, REDACTED.

“But once they got the hang of floating their MVPs with customers, these conversations were no longer daunting, they were really a lot of fun,” REDACTED said of his team. “The customer was really opening up and engaged in the process... It was really surprising the number of customers that opened up in a market that’s technically very secretive and very closemouthed.”

The team learned from their meetings was that their initial plan to invest millions of dollars and several years into developing REDACTED would have been a complete failure. Not because their idea wasn’t any good, but because they were engaging the customer much too late in their sales process.

“Ultimately, [our initial strategy] would have been a disaster,” said REDACTED, the team’s engineering leader.  “We would have had this great new product with all this development effort and... we wouldn’t have been able to sell [it].”

“It’s really a big deal,” he said. “In many cases, we’ve got people that are putting together product specifications for us that have 20-25 years of experience in the industry. Inherently, you develop leap of faith assumptions in that time period based on your knowledge of the market, your interactions with customers. But things can change and before you know it, you’ll be displaced, or customers will gravitate towards the next shiny object without ever telling you.

“Being able to challenge ourselves and look at that and ask ourselves ‘What can I do differently to validate our own assumptions, our own hypotheses?’ is really critical for us to become more open, more agile, and more innovative.”

Unlike many tech companies who can easily gather information about users who come to their websites, the company I mentioned earlier in this section had a journey that probably looked more like that of companies building hardware. 

Customers often would not be able to talk much about their work, so founder REDACTED had to get creative. He’d meet with potential partners who often wouldn't even tell him their exact roles. He’d present a demo of the prototype and ask customers if it would be useful. They’d tell him no, and so he’d ask them how they worked. 

They’d give him what information they could, he’d “code furiously” for two weeks, then share the prototype. He'd usually discover that while 95% of what he’d created was still useless, perhaps 5% was usable. 

Today, REDACTED is one of the most successful startups in the REDACTED space.

When you’re in those early stages of launching a product the world has never seen, REDACTED explained, all that matters is feedback. It doesn’t matter how you get feedback, it doesn’t matter if the people you seek don’t end up customers. 

“You need something to put constraints on what you’re building,” he said.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Excerpt from the Introduction to The Leader's Guide

This is the first of several early excerpts I'll be sharing from The Leader's Guide, a 4-color, 250-page, hardcover and digital book which will be offered exclusively through Kickstarter--according to my agreement with my publisher, Crown, the book can never be sold in stores. As usual, I'm leaving out important details like company names in order to respect their privacy while the book is still in early draft form. 

The campaign ends on Wednesday, April 15--learn more about it here.

MVP's help you discover "what really matters"

The technology research and development team of REDACTED faced a challenge that will be familiar to anyone whose products are subject to rigorous reliability and safety testing.

They were charged with discovering and developing state-of-the-art technology for their REDACTED line--and yet, during the research process, the team has historically had no contact with the customer whatsoever. 

Instead, they would rely on focus groups and market research before handing off their findings to a separate design team. As a result, the team would not get feedback on their new technology until their REDACTED hit the market--a full three years after their work began.

“This is a big concern for us,” said REDACTED. They suspected that if they could do customer development throughout the development process, they could come up with a much better product. “This is what led us initially to the Lean Startup,” he added.

“We were like, ‘Yes, this is awesome,” said another team member. “We should do Lean Startup and it will solve all our problems.”

Of course, as they soon discovered, it was a little more complicated that that.


What became clear was that if they wanted to create better technological solutions, they would need to provide a real service to customers by reaching out to customers with a MVP.

The idea, at first, seemed crazy. The team’s role, after all, was research and development. They had backgrounds in REDACTED. They weren’t salespeople. They didn’t even talk to customers.

But creating technology in a vacuum and waiting three or four years was not a sustainable strategy, so we put our heads together to figure out an MVP that would allow them to understand how customers interacted with their technology. 

Rather than spend years building a new product line that included the new technology they crafted a de-featured version using a tablet computer that could be rigged up to a preexisting product for testing purposes.

Once they had built the prototype, they needed customers to test out the MVP. Because they were an R&D group, they had no experience with this kind of engagement. And so, when they ran a Craigslist ad to invite people to come in and complain about their current driving experience, they didn’t expect many people would respond.

Within an hour, 300 people signed up. 

They brought 30 people in for interviews--an exciting experience that dispelled many misconceptions about “what truly mattered.”

The learning didn’t stop there. Because they couldn’t sell directly to customers they said to five of the 30 participants: Take the prototype, and at the end of a month we’ll give you a choice. If you like using it, you can keep it. If not, we’ll give you $100 dollars. 

Fast-forward a month: 60% of those who tried it wanted to keep it; 40% of those people said they’d refer it to someone else. 

The team felt good about the results and were hoping that their metrics would convince upper management to apply Lean Startup principles throughout the organization. Instead, they realized their journey was just beginning.

The top managers all wanted to know: “Why does this matter for us?” They didn’t yet understand how these learnings could be applied to the mainstream product development process. 

They could see the potential, however. They were impressed with the way the R&D team had improved user experience when it came to individual features, and so they charged the team with figuring out how to connect the learnings and the process to the mainstream product group.

After they began running experiments came the hardest part of their journey thus far: staying focused. They’d frequently fall into the old innovator’s habit: building whatever felt good without testing our their ideas. Documenting their experiments was boring, but it kept them focused and on track.

They also kept in touch with other members of the Lean Startup community, finding that other entrepreneurs were eager to share cheaper ways to learn and test. Thanks to that guidance, their team began mapping out different kinds of low-cost experiments and customer interviews. They came up with a wide variety of tests based on the following criteria:

“What was the maximum amount of learning we could get in the shortest amount of time?"

Running the Lean Startup at their large organization has not been easy. But by testing new technology long before the entire new product is build, they’ve been able to increase their certainty that they’re building something customers will want and use, and they’ve demonstrated to senior management that there are ways to test out new ideas long before millions of dollars have been invested on research and development.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Last week to get The Leader's Guide

You may have heard, I'm writing a new book. And I'm doing it in an unorthodox way, by offering an MVP via Kickstarter. It's called The Leader's Guide, and this week is your last chance to get it (no, really).

The Kickstarter campaign has been in full-gear for the last three weeks, and we're heading into the last week. I’m grateful and excited for the support and the positive feedback so far. Although it's fun to look at the vanity metrics of how much money we've raised and how many backers have joined the community, the real purpose of this campaign is to share ideas.

I’ve tried to keep blog posts about the campaign to a minimum. If you want to follow the week-by-week progress, you can do so over at our Updates page. One thing I do want to address, for those who haven’t been paying close attention: The Leader’s Guide will only be available via Kickstarter, and only for 7 more days.

I’ve had a lot of questions about this, so I want to clear up a few things. First of all, I know that “limited time offers” are often used as a gimmick to get people to buy things. This is not one of those times. We will literally be making one print run of The Leader’s Guide and then won’t print any more. This campaign is an experiment designed to collaborate with all of you as part of the research process for my next book. I want to capture the experiences, stories, and learnings of those who support this campaign as you put these ideas to use.

I am doing this experiment with the support of my publisher, Crown. As part of my publishing contract, I’ve agreed that The Leader’s Guide cannot be sold in stores or any other retail channel. So I’m not joking around with this: if you want to be a part of this experiment and receive a copy of The Leader’s Guide, this is the only chance to do it.

This week, I’ll be posting a series of early excerpts from The Leader’s Guide to give you a taste of what to expect. Since these excerpts are early and not-fully-baked you’ll parts of them “REDACTED” leaving out key details of companies, names and products that I'm not yet comfortable sharing. These details will be revealed by the time the book is published--and, rest assured, many more examples, exercises and tools will be included. But I wanted to give you a first look, even though this material is rough.

Thanks again for coming on this journey with me.