Monday, March 29, 2010

New conference website, speakers, agenda

The Startup Lessons Learned Conference on April 23 is fast approaching. Earlybird Admission pricing ends in just two days. We have a brand new website up at We've got a new scholarship program up and running. Most importantly, we've announced a big chunk of the agenda for the day (go take a look).

I want to say a few words about why I am so excited about this event. Traveling the past year, I have heard loud and clear that it's time for the Lean Startup movement to enter its next phase. We've gone from total obscurity to something people are beginning to misunderstand and even co-opt. People are starting to argue about who should get credit for coining the term. Congratulations. Being misunderstood is a big step up from being ignored. I believe it means we're achieving product/market fit for a set of ideas. And it's time to completely ignore the nonsense and start focusing on: how do we take this movement to the next level?

Here's what you had to say about it. Almost a thousand of your weighed in on the last Lessons Learned reader survey (thank you!). When asked, you were pretty clear in your answers. Here's a tiny sample:
"Case studies, case studies, case studies presented by real people. Lot's of opportunity for personal interaction with people that have or are adopting the methodology."

"Detailed case studies of how it was done. Practical advice on how to do it in companies at all stages."

"Case studies
Serious entrepreneurs not wannabes
actual nuts and bolts, I'm sold ont he phiilosophy
debates of contentious issues - not just yes men"

"Some of the core personalities of the group, a number of startups (who have already achieved fit etc and have success) who can talk from experience."

I know one thing for sure: I don't have all the answers. The way forward requires getting everyone together in a room, and having a conversation about where we're headed. That's what this conference is for. The focus is on case studies and real entrepreneurs. Our goal is to create the most coherent startup conference ever. When I was a practicing entrepreneur, startup events usually made me crazy. You had a lot of conflicting advice and success theater. Tactics were discussed out of context, and there wasn't an overarching framework for figuring out what works for what kinds of companies, industries, and stages of growth. My aspiration with the Lean Startup methodology has always been to provide such a framework, so that we have more intelligent conversations about what works and what doesn't for startups. This event will be a chance to put that idea to the test.

Each part of the program is organized around one phase of the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop and begins with a keynote address from a heavy hitter: Steve Blank on Customer Development, Randy Komisar on "Getting to Plan B" and - a third person, not-yet-announced-but-extremely-cool-trust-me. Then, we'll talk case studies in each area, presented by practicing entrepreneurs who have actually grappled with the topic at hand. I've asked each presenter not to pull any punches and to, whenever possible, share real data: what worked, what didn't. We're in pursuit of the truth, not orthodoxy. These case studies range in size and scope: from pre-product/market fit to already exited, bootstrapped to venture-backed, solo practitioner to large organization.

Each part of the agenda also features a difficult question. These are the big questions I've heard over and over again as I've traveled presenting the lean startup methodology:
  • "Sure, sounds great for a five-person team, but how can such a fast-paced development process scale? Doesn't the communication overhead of a large team lead to chaos of overlapping experiments and continuously-deployed bugs?"

  • "If you just throw a minimum viable product out the door to see what sticks, won't that necessarily be ugly and badly designed? Is design important to lean startups? What does viable mean, anyway?"

  • "Sure, everyone knows that getting customer feedback is important. But can't I outsource that to a market researcher? And do I still need to get out of the building if I've got great metrics and surveys?"
We'll tackle these questions head-on with a combination of practitioners and theorists. At the end of the day, you'll have the data and have heard the theories - it'll be up to you to make your own decisions and test them out for yourself.

Well, not entirely by yourself, actually. I've mentioned before that this event is designed to be best-experienced by teams, not just individuals. So we've made a limited number of team tickets available, which give teams of up to four people the opportunity to experience the day together. We'll have special seating for teams combined with exclusive access to a set of mentors who have agreed to be part of the conference as well. Mentors will sit with the teams throughout the day, and be available to answer questions and help put what you're hearing in context. Most important, they can help you make a plan for how to translate the insights from the stage into action back at the office. Like the speakers, mentors are a mix of theorists and practitioners. We've just started to list the mentors on our new website, and will add more as we get closer to the event itself.

This conference has been one of the most stressful things I've ever done. It feels surprisingly personal and surprisingly vulnerable. As an entrepreneur, I am used to having people attack my product or complain about my decisions (you can see the evidence here). But, in the past, being in a company gave me something to hide behind. Not anymore. For the conference, the most common criticism has been that it is too expensive, and therefore "not very lean." Here's an example from a recent Hacker News discussion:
"how can you be a lean startup if you have to pay $699 to know how to be lean? $699 buys you months of server infrastructure."
I think this is a fair question. Of course, readers of this blog know that the lean in "lean startup" doesn't refer to cost, but - rather - to Lean Thinking. Or, as Steve Blank put it, Lean Startups Aren't Cheap Startups. My fundamental belief is that by changing the way that we approach building startups, we can dramatically change our odds of success - and the magnitude of that eventual success as well. I think that's worth the price of admission and a better investment than marginally more infrastructure. Am I right? The verdict is in your hands. Maybe we won't get a huge crowd. If a relatively small number of highly-motivated entrepreneurs attend, then we'll have an intense and intimate conversation. Either way, I'm going to be satisfied.

For those who cannot afford the ticket price, who don't think it's worth the price, or who cannot travel to San Francisco, there are other ways to participate. We have scholarship programs available to help with ticket prices. We're offering a live stream to event organizers around the world. Meetup groups, universities, incubators, and anyone else who wants to get together to watch is welcome to do so. We'll be listing these viewing parties on our website as we confirm them. If you'd like to host an event, please let us know using this form. If you have questions, please contact our simulcast organizer, Erin Turner

The Lean Startup movement is already global (see the map). That's as it should be, as the new era of entrepreneurship that is now dawning is intrinsically global. Ideas, products, and capital flow easily across borders. People, not as much. Startups may be intellectually global but they are physically local, which explains the increasing importance of startup hubs around the world. My hope for this conference is that it will benefit the global community of entrepreneurs. For those who can travel to be part of the conversation in San Francisco, I thank you. I hope you'll take back what you've learned and share it in your own cities. For those who can host a local simulcast, I thank you. By creating a space for your startup community to congregate and share new ideas, you're enabling a new kind of economic growth. And most importantly, to everyone who contributes to this movement - by writing, asking hard questions, joining meetups and mailing lists, and above all creating companies - I thank you. See you in April.
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