Monday, April 25, 2011

Beyond the garage

It’s been just over a year since the inaugural Startup Lessons Learned conference, and it’s time to do it again. Steve Blank called last year’s conference “Woodstock for entrepreneurs” and my goal is do even better this year.

(If you somehow missed SLLCONF 2010, you can get caught up with a complete video recording here.)

The Lean Startup movement has made tremendous progress in the past year. If you recall, around this time last year we were still fighting various myths, such as “lean means cheap” or that we don’t support having a big, world-changing vision. SLLCONF featured incredible entrepreneurs on stage to put those ideas to rest (watch, for example: Aardvark, Grockit, Dropbox, PBworks). It may be hard to remember that there was a time when people in the agile software development community thought Lean Startup was incompatible with agile practices. Kent Beck himself helped us explain that “quality work” means something different when we’re facing the extreme uncertainty of a startup. And, of course, Steve Blank electrified the crowd with “Accountants don’t run startups.

All year long, these ideas have trickled further and further out into the world. Last year, we were just starting to explain the concept of “the pivot” (we even had Getting to Plan B author Randy Komisar onstage). This year, the word pivot has become over-hyped (even on TechCrunch). The number of Lean Startup meetup groups has crossed 100, spreading out from traditional startup hubs like San Francisco and New York to a wide variety of places. And, most importantly, the Lean Startup idea is starting to take root in industries and contexts very different from it’s Silicon Valley roots.

That’s why I’ve decided that the theme of this year’s conference will be to explore the impact of Lean Startup “beyond the garage” – from new hypergrowth companies, like Groupon, to Fortune 1000 companies who see entrepreneurship as key to their future, like Intuit. And this year, we’re going to talk not just about business and product development, but we’ll be exploring one of the Lean Starutp movements next big frontiers: the role of design. As usual, we’ll get deep in to the details: how to measure progress, how and when to pivot, and how to accelerate as we grow.

Like last year, we’ll have three huge keynote speakers. First up, Mitch Kapor, founder of Lotus (and designer of its famous spreadsheet Lotus 1-2-3), the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Level Playing Field Institute (and more). He’s one of the most successful entrepreneurs of the past few decades, and has continued to support the startup ecosystem as an investor and mentor. Mitch knows a thing or two about building a hypergrowth startup: Lotus sold $54 million of 1-2-3 in its very first year. Mitch brings a unique perspective to our entrepreneurial renaissance, and I’m honored to be interviewing him on stage.

Second, we’re presenting something unusual for an entrepreneurship conference: the CEO of a Fortune 1000 company. Brad Smith is the CEO of Intuit, one of the most successful software companies in Silicon Valley. Brad doesn’t meet your typical image of a scrappy entrepreneur. But along with Intuit founder Scott Cook, Brad is a leader that recognizes that entrepreneurship is critical to his company’s success. One of the most surprising outcomes of the Lean Startup movement so far has been the recognition that entrepreneurs of all kinds – VC-backed, bootstrappers, and intraprenreurs – have much in common. We all struggle with similar questions and can use similar techniques to enhance our chances of success. Intuit has been a pioneer in recognizing this fact and bringing support to its internal entrepreneurs. I know this sounds foreign to many of you, and that we’ll have a few skeptics in the audience. Bring your tough questions – Brad and I will be having a conversation on stage and you’re invited to join us.

And last but never least, our third keynote is Steve Blank. For readers of this blog, Steve needs no introduction. For those of you who were lucky to see his new talk at SXSW, you know that Steve’s talks have a unique blend of insight, humor, and straight talk. I’ve heard him dozens of times, and he never fails to teach me something new. If you’re still kicking yourself for missing him last year, do yourself a favor and don’t make the same mistake again.

And those are just our keynotes! We also have an awesome lineup of case studies. As always, our rule is by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs. No BS, no vanity metrics, no launches, no PR. Only real stories of startups that have tried to make Lean Startup work – and the true story of what happened.

My original intention was to have a completely new lineup this year, but the popular demand for a few of our top speakers was overwhelming. So I’m honored to have back not just Steve Blank, but also two of our case studies: Drew Houston, CEO of Dropbox and Manuel Rosso, CEO of Food on the Table. We’ll get to hear what they’ve learned this past year, as both companies have grown and scaled.

A few other highlights from this year’s lineup:

We’re just getting started. Many of last year’s speakers will be at the conference as mentors, available to help you and your team make sense of the day. Hope to see you there.

SLLCONF 2011 is happening on May 23 in San Francisco. Tickets, our full program, and much more info is available here:

Just like last year, we’ll be simulcasting the program into cities around the world. If you’d like to host a simulcast, you can apply here: (In a few days, you’ll be able to get tickets to nearby simulcast on that same page.)

PS. SLLCONF is on a Monday this year (May 23). There’s a number of cool events going on the weekend before, too. Perhaps you’d like to apply to Lean Startup Machine SF or to be a speaker at Ignite: Lean Startup. Both are going to be awesome.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The real entrepreneurs of New York City

The Lean Startup Machine looks a lot like reality television for startups. It's intense, the teams go head-to-head, the protagonists live and learn, and it's all very entertaining. But there is something serious at work, too. I have written previously about how powerful the these events are as a teaching tool for Lean Startup principles. While I was in New York, I had another opportunity to witness this firsthand, and I wanted to share the results with you.

Below you will find the final presentations of each of the Lean Startup Machine NYC teams, including SnappSchool, who was judged to be the winner. To give a little context, I asked two of the other judges - Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits (co-authors of the excellent Entrepreneur's Guide to Customer Development) - to add a bit of commentary. You'll find their comments below each presentation.

The thing to keep in mind as you peruse these teams is that they all had the exact same amount of time: 48 hours. All of the teams worked incredibly hard. But only a few made significant progress. Only a few really treated their work as experiments - and adjusted immediately, based on what they learned, to something that worked better. Take a look...

The Winner
Patrick: The winners showed discipline in demolishing their initially very strongly held assumptions about teachers and lesson plans -- tremendous learning and creative way to define a "currency" for MVP.

Brant: Two things elevated Snappschool: 1) MVP was a functioning product -- as long as you searched for the correct subject! 2) They put it all on the line: if teachers don't click submit, the product is dead. That's optimal learning.

Patrick: "This was a very strong and analytically-minded team which executed very well -- did a great job with their MVP ---- still up here:"

Brant: "Love Your Layover" won the "Best MVP" award. They actually built and tested several MVPs, the last of which was a web-based prototype of their mobile app that used real airport data.

Patrick: "One of those ideas that is relatively easy to CustDev given the analogs present in the market -- this team should have actually consummated a party over the weekend."

Brant: Interesting idea that would only work in a limited number of cities. Email thread in presentation demonstrates potential market. Risk that hosts wouldn't let group of strangers into their apartment was never tested. Great use of airbnb for their source of customer development won them 'Best #CustDev Award."

Patrick: "Great job with MVP and Demo. Smart team that did very well. See their MVP here:

Brant: It's not often we get to see a demo in the final presentation. Make that never. Until Unbrokered. That was pretty awesome.

Patrick: "Generally speaking, good execution -- however, move to Android app appeared a bit gratuitous. Could have gone even further with this one with a bit more effort."

Brant: Gotta wonder if the Vision was louder than the Market on this one. They had a great MVP using SMS the 1st night and a little traction, but then moved to Android App without market indication to do so. Seems like they could have crushed it with the SMS app. Co-winner of Best MVP.

Patrick: "Reviewing this preso, still chuckling to myself as I recall Nate Berkopec's frenetic and hilarious narration. Their "leap" into LardSpotting app is interesting as similar app appeared a few days later in App Store -"

Brant: Best Presentation and unannounced winner of the Old Yeller Award. They were forced by the market to take their idea out back and put a cap in it. Leaped to a new idea and accomplished an incredible amount of market validation, as well as overcoming technical risk, in the last few hours of the competition.

Patrick: "IMO a genuine problem worth solving - this team went from having very little knowledge of how professional domainers operate to having a strong knowledge understanding of the economics of domaining."

Brant: This team won the "lean learning" award for the amazing amount of learning they did. There product lives in a huge, messy ecosystem facing genuine problems, but also populated with questionable characters. They successfully used lean startup processes to learn their way toward manageable problems. They still have a ways to go, but a clear(er) path forward.


Patrick: "Did a good job with, very literally, "getting out of the building" ---- however, showed that sometimes it is very difficult to obtain actionable data from CustDev interactions."

Brant: I think this team represents a great demonstration of the "pivot," where one foot is grounded in learning. In this case, the fulcrum is not product, but the pain point that people end up in the wrong jobs. "Best Pivot."

Patrick: "Thought the initial idea was big --- didn't quite understand the pivot to subscription e-commerce handbags."

Brant: Stylestalkr won the "Apply to TechStars Award" because several judges this idea actually might be the one with legs. Pun intended.

Patrick: "Liked this team a lot but unfortunately demonstrated a severe misunderstanding of what an "early adopter" is in the context of Lean Startups. "

Brant: Best MVP would have been to (manually) find pools of users for all the startups inside the same building and charge them for it. You don't need a landing page or an app or a platform to prove some markets.

Patrick: "They built an MVP but didn't show it to their customers -- had to ding them for that."

Brant: There actually might be something there, there. But I'm note sure how close they got to finding out.

Patrick: "I loved that this team had strong ideas and strong validation -- but then quickly uncovered the paramount challenges in terms of marketing their solution."

Brant: Interesting example of a particular #CustDev dilemma: pain with which customers quickly identify, yet for which, customers are generally unwilling to put up with, let alone pay for a solution. Why? Because no one watches the old videos anyway, and soon the footage will be their children's problem. ; )

Thanks to all of the teams - you're showing the world what entrepreneurship really looks like. And a special thanks to all of the Lean Startup Machine organizers, mentors, and judges.

The next Lean Startup Machine will be an extra special SLLCONF edition. It will take place the weekend before the Startup Lessons Learned conference on May 23 in San Francisco. Stay tuned for details.