Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Join the Conversation at The Lean Startup Conference – Three Ways To Participate

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

With five days remaining before The Lean Startup Conference, we wanted to lay out what we’re offering that’s unlike any other entrepreneurship conference and explain the different levels of participation available to you. From livestream simulcast to a six-day, high-intensity immersion experience, it’s possible to join the conference to whatever degree suits your interest and your schedule. And we hope that when you join, you'll come ready to share your experiences and advice with other participants.

What you’ll see at all of our events—whether on the stage, in the workshops, at a mentoring session, or in the site visits—is something other than conference regulars pitching presentations on the usual themes. Instead, we’ve assembled a diverse, energetic roster of experts prepared to talk about advanced entrepreneurship topics like maintaining a culture of experimentation at a growing company, bringing an analytical and iterative model to non-profits (including mission-driven and educational organizations), or converting enterprise teams to a cross-functional structure. And that’s not to mention the advice for very early-stage companies on topics like getting your first users, or choosing metrics. If you already know the topics that interest you, you can browse all the talks and events on that theme—whether it’s MVPs, Analytics, or Education—on our “sessions by theme” page.

We chose our speakers for the expertise they have to share, not their familiarity on the conference circuit, and as a result, we offer an exceptionally diverse group. We’re committed to opening up not just the stage, but participation in the conference itself, too. For anyone not able to attend in person, we offer free a livestream to any community group in the world that has at least 10 people gathered together at a single location. There are already over 100 confirmed livestream hosts worldwide; join one near you, or apply to add a new group. The livestream site will include a chat area for all of the livestream hosts, an opportunity to connect and network around the world.

The livestream will let you see all of the events in the Masonic Theater in San Francisco on Monday and Tues. That includes Monday talks like Eric Ries on the state of the startup; Kimberly Bryant of Black Girls Code on accomplishing a lot with limited resources; Dan Milstein on balancing risk, information, time and money; Kent Beck on Jazz Engineering; plus meaty interviews with Mutt Mullenweg and Reid Hoffman. You’ll also see the afternoon breakout sessions in the Masonic Theater, including Laura Klein on testing ideas. Tuesday’s Masonic Theater talks include Kathryn Minshew on acquiring early users; the Intuit team talking about lessons of Lean Startup leadership; and Steve Blank on evidence-based entrepreneurship. You’ll also see afternoon breakouts on advanced A/B testing from Wyatt Jenkins and Microsoft’s Cindy Alvarez and Ethan Gur-esh on transitioning teams to Lean. And you'll get Tuesday's closing session with entrepreneurship experts Marc Andreessen and Chris Dixon.

Of course, there are some major perks to attending in person. Anyone with a conference pass (including scholarship recipients) can join us on Sunday, December 8 for Ignite, a high-energy, rapid-fire event, in which our brave presenters get five minutes and 20 slides, with each slide advancing on an automatic 15-second timer. Anything can and will happen. On December 9 and 10, you’ll have in-person access not only to everything in the Masonic Theater, but also to breakout sessions held next door at the Fairmont Hotel, such as, on Monday, Summit Public Schools’ Diane Tavenner on institutionalizing innovation, or, on Tuesday, Optum’s Maureen Allen discussing Lean Startup at regulated companies, and Beth Kolko on working closely with global customers.

On both days, in-person attendees can sign up for office hours, in which you sit down face-to-face, individually, with a mentor or conference presenters and talk about what’s on your mind. For example, you can ask Diana Kander of the Kauffman Foundation about pitfalls to avoid when launching a new product, or Joe Dunn of Cloudbreak about how to get buy-in for Lean Startup within your organization. All conference attendees are also invited to two workshops on December 11: one, sponsored by Modus Create, teaches you five Lean Startup planning exercises you can immediately use to add mobile to your enterprise app portfolio; the other, sponsored by Rackspace, focuses on using cloud infrastructure to experiment and innovate rapidly.

In response to feedback from last year requesting more ways to meet and learn from fellow attendees, we’ve created an online attendee network, among other things, so that you can connect with others who share your professional interests. Of course, you’re also invited to our December 9 evening reception, an event sponsored by Pivotal Labs and designed to foster productive networking in a professional, alcohol-limited environment. During lunch, you can sample some of San Francisco’s famous food truck culture from trucks we’ve invited especially for the conference. And in the evenings, we’ve organized small-group dinners around San Francisco that attendees can join. Conference registrants will also get some very nice freebies via access to the sponsor tables and giveaways. Our sponsors include companies like Intuit, O’Reilly Media and Amazon Web Services.

For those who want a deeper Lean Startup experience, we offer the Gold pass, which includes access to our exclusive workshops and site visits on December 11. These workshops include hands-on, intense instruction in techniques like continuous delivery; innovation accounting; Lean Analytics; and Lean Startup for HR, IT, and finance teams. These aren’t just talks, they’re interactive entrepreneurship training sessions. You can also join site visits to Square, Kiva, Pivotal Labs, and WeWork Soma, where you’ll learn what each of these successful companies is doing to build and keep its edge.

Our VIP pass is for folks who are serious about building a deep understanding of entrepreneurship, and a corresponding professional network, in one intense week. You can begin the conference early with a one-day Leancamp on December 8, an unconference to help you meet other people, get feedback on your current challenges and actionable advice on applying Lean Startup in your work. On December 12 and 13, after the conclusion of the main conference, the workshops, and the site visits, VIP pass holders can our partner program with UPGlobal (formerly Startup Weekend): a Lean Startup immersion program. You’ll launch a startup in 54 hours, creating mobile, web and software innovations with a team of fellow participants. This includes developing and pitching a concept, customer development, idea validation, and creation of an MVP under guidance from an experienced mentor. You’ll put Lean Startup ideas into practice, getting expert feedback the entire time, and end the week with the sense that Lean Startup has left the realm of theory and become a true practice. 

At whatever level you can join us, we are proud to welcome you to an event that we’ve organized to be a different kind of tech conference—certainly because of our speakers’ diversity and range of experience, but also thanks to the commitment, interest, and variety of our attendees. Please join us at whatever level you can, and be prepared to participate in the conversation. We’re looking forward to hearing from you.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Nine Webcasts to Learn From

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

Our fall webcast series concluded on a high note with three extraordinary conversations about the origins and implications of Lean Startup. If you missed these when they went out live, we encourage you to watch them now, as they lay a strong foundation for The Lean Startup Conference, December 9 -11 in San Francisco—less than two weeks from today. You can also listen to any of the webcasts, which, at the suggestion of a webcast attendee, we’ve turned into podcasts you can stream or download (from iTunes or SoundCloud). None of the webcasts included slides, so the audio versions work really well.

Below are just a few highlights from our final three webcasts: 1) Eric Ries’s one-on-one conversation with Kent Beck about influencing other people; 2) Eric’s conversation with John Shook about the origins of Lean, and 3) a conversation between Diane Tavenner and Steven Hodas, moderated by Sarah Milstein, on applying Lean Startup ideas in education.

Eric’s chat with Kent Beck was among our most entertaining webcasts (video; iTunes; SoundCloud). Kent, a veteran programmer, a founder of the Agile method and the creator of Extreme Programming, came armed with anecdotes and lessons from his own experience, as well as a few questions for Eric. For example, at 12:56 in the video Kent describes how he made the move from programming to a role that he at one point describes as “Full Metal Guru”:

“It turns out you can be a bad enough programmer to sink a project, but you can't be a good enough programmer to make a project successful. So I quickly ran out of gas on projects being more successful, and I was forced to take a bigger, broader view of the context in which programming happens. I started to pay attention to things that worked, and to things that didn’t seem to make a difference or actively harmed development. I’ve always been a contrarian, and so if someone says, ‘X is always true, I always think, then what are the implications of not-X?’ As a reflex, I always think that. So if someone says, ‘You need comprehensive documentation for software documentation,’ I think, ‘Well, what if you didn’t have any documentation at all? Would that really be a disaster?’ And I looked around at projects, and it wasn’t a disaster. So I thought, well, maybe a commitment to communication is good enough and the actual form of the communication is something we could be a little bit flexible on.”

The result of that kind of contrarian thinking was Extreme Programming, a method for running programming through feedback loops, testing and iterating on it as quickly as humanly possible. Nowadays Kent is programming again, this time at Facebook, which he describes: “It's a laboratory. It's really smart people working on unprecedented problems at ridiculous speed. So I get to see this hothouse of software design. I get to see generations of technology that last six months instead of lasting for six years. And so I can see many more cycles through the loop of how software evolves, how innovation disperses in a community, and so on."

The enjoyment Eric and Kent shared in talking to one another comes through clearly in their conversation and led to an interesting exchange when Kent asked Eric how he had made the move from building things (programming) to an interest in influence in a broader sense. At 32:30, Eric offers this candid explanation:

"When I was younger I was convinced that programming was the most fun thing I would ever do and I'd be very happy to program increasingly large systems myself. And I think basically what happened was I kept doing that, and not having the impact I wanted to have. Because in my fantasy I could produce a massive program that's used by billions of people and has enormous complexity and is incredibly innovative, by myself. Just, you know, with my bare hands. But the truth of any program is, it requires teams, and customers, and it's this complicated ecosystem…. So the person who's considered the 'founder' or the person who created the complicated system, it doesn't matter if it's Linux or Facebook or anything, somebody had to plant that initial seed, and that's very satisfying.

“But in order for us to remember it and to care about the fact that they are the founder of that thing, they had to do an incredible amount of management of people to get them to grow that seed into something that is significant. And what's frustrating to me--it was then and it still is--is that as soon as I became a manager and a team leader and an architect and really thinking out how to do that stuff, I was doing human systems engineering and I was no longer making things with my bare hands. And so I've also had that frustration. Now, that's frustrating but also very satisfying, in that I'm very proud of the things that teams that I've worked with have built. But for me anyway, that transition from being a team leader to whatever it is that I do now, to try to cultivate this community and try to share these ideas on a wider scale--that was actually a much easier transition than going from an individual contributor to a team leader. Because to me, it's like, as soon as I was not making things myself, with my bare hands, it's all about, ok, then what activities will give me the greatest influence to have the impact I want to see in the world?"

The conversation also turned to a subject on everyone’s mind the last month or so--the website. Kent’s analysis, which is largely political-process-driven, begins at 41:30. Eric offers a different account, seen through a Lean Startup lens:

“To me the great irony of is that the current that people are complaining about is actually the second version of that was built. The first one was built right after the Obamacare law was passed…. And you couldn't sign up for insurance in those days, it simply gave you information about the insurance options in your jurisdiction. But it was still pretty complicated, and it still required a lot of cooperation from the insurance companies--there was a lot to it. And they did it exactly opposite of this current in the three dimensions I think of as key: they put a small team on it--a cross-functional small team, I think there was no more than 10 people; they gave them 90 days to deliver; and I think their total budget was so small as to be close enough to zero. Classic minimum viable product. They did it all open-source, so from an ethos point of view it was opposite, and from an infrastructure point of view it was all cloud and modern like you would expect. And they were able from that point to do the build-measure-learn thing and to iterate and get feedback from the insurance companies and from the public. And they turned that from a tiny little seed into a quite useful, complicated project by gradually increasing its complexity in a highly polarizing political environment where everybody wanted Obamacare to fail. Which is what to me is deeply frustrating--thanks to the president's creation of the CIO and the CTO, he has really great people from Silicon Valley, from our communities, that could have been instrumental in creating this website, but those people were bypassed because of the IT procurement process in the federal government, which is a nightmare.”

For further highlights see Kent at 57:10 and Eric at 59:00 on the importance of measuring team members on impact rather than effort. Eric: “It's a fundamental waste of human energy and talent to have people working on things that nobody wants and that have no impact. That's actually morally wrong to have a system that does that. Couldn't we expand our horizons and see that there's actually another way? I find that very motivating."

Eric’s conversation with John Shook, CEO of the Lean Enterprise Institute, covered the origins and applications of Lean principles (video; iTunes; SoundCloud). John moved to Japan in the 1980s to work at Toyota, which at that point had the most advanced manufacturing practices in the world. He took what he learned there back to the US, first to work with American auto plants as part of the GM-Toyota partnership, and then as the founder and president of the Lean Enterprise Institute.

Here’s John at 12:20 describing the turnaround Lean Manufacturing methods were able to make at Nummi, a GM plant that was, as he describes is, “the certified worst plant in the world,” both in terms of product quality and the attitude of the workforce:

“So I joined Toyota really exactly 30 years ago, it was late 1983. We built our first car there at Nummi in the old General Motors plant, in December 1984--so just one year. And with the same workforce--a lot of people don’t realize it was actually the same workforce, the old ‘troublemakers’ were offered their jobs back, and I worked alongside them--and in one year we built our first car. When GM did their first quality audit, it set the record for the very best quality score any GM plant had ever gotten. With the same workforce. And the same employees who were so disgruntled before became powerful advocates for the system, for this way of working. So the turnaround was powerful and in my mind at the time, this just proved that this could work, and this could work anywhere.”

To Eric, the scope of the turnaround is so unbelievable that it can be difficult to draw lessons for it for other companies. So he asked John how he had effected this incredible change in the culture at Nummi. John’s reply has the force of a new adage (at 16:44):

“We changed the way we behaved. That then changed the attitudes of the people that worked there, that brought forth a whole new culture…. Rather than think your way to a new way of acting, try to act your way to a new way of thinking. So how is it we want to think, ‘What’s the culture we want? Let’s try to draw a picture of that, and what do we need to do to get there?’ So we started working on the behaviors, what do we actually need to do? We changed the work.”

In response to a participant question about what you do if the problem isn’t the workers, rather the management, John said (at 26:48):

“It’s always the managers and not the workers, and we have to realize that. So if we are the managers, if we are the leaders, then we have to look in the mirror. That’s where it starts, that’s not where it ends. People often ask where do you start, do you start at the top, do you start at the middle, do you start at the front lines? And honestly, wherever you start, it’s going to be the other areas that are the problem, that have to be somehow brought along. And if you’re working with someone that’s a frontline manager or supervisor, they’ll often say, ‘Well, I could do this if I were one level higher up, because my bosses, those managers, they don’t get it, I get it.’ You go to them and they’ll say, ‘I get it, it’s one level higher up.’ You go all the way up to the CEO and the most frustrated person in the company is the CEO because he or she can’t get anything done that he or she wants done.”

Take a listen to John at 35:00 on what the company of the future will look like, and Eric’s closing question and anecdote at 39:43, a poignant narrative of waste centered around a visit he made to a factory floor and a revelation about his microwave.

Our final webcast of the season was organized in response to intense interest from our community around Lean Startup in education. We brought together Diane Tavenner, founder and president of Summit Public Schools, a network of charter schools in the San Francisco area, and Steven Hodas, who heads the markets initiative for NYC Department of Education, with Sarah Milstein, co-host of the Lean Startup Conference, for a webcast on Testing Lean Startup in Education (audio on iTunes and SoundCloud; we do not yet have the video for this webcast). The conversation centered around a few key topics: customers, bureaucracy, and MVP.

Diane at 5:13 describes her customers as students, but notes that their parents, the post-secondary education system (colleges and universities), employers, and even society at large are invested in students’ public education. Steven at 6:45 describes a useful distinction between customers, users and audiences, where these may be competing as well as overlapping interests. As he puts it, “Teasing out who is the customer is part of the work itself.” In response to a question about the bureaucratic and regulatory barriers to action--barriers that, given the intensity of personal and public interest in education one would expect to be quite high--both Diane and Steven surprisingly agreed that there was more excuse-making than actual obstacles to action (start at 12:18 for this portion of the conversation).

The practical how-tos of running experiments on actual students in an education environment was a major feature of this webcast. Here’s Diane (at 18:30) on the relationship between getting buy-in and creating an MVP, where the two can serve each other:

“Really the key concept here is that to win people over, you have to identify a problem that is particularly challenging for them, or even a small problem for that matter, and then demonstrate that using these processes actually solves that and gets them to a place that's much more desirable. And one very exciting example for us, an early example and an easy win, was our teachers really needed a way to differentiate and personalize instruction for students, because when you've got 25 students and they're all in different places, how do you meet their individual needs? It's humanly impossible. And so they came to this idea if we had a playlist for kids that was really intuitive for them, that we could curate all these different resources so that kids could actually choose how they learn best. And if we could collaborate as teachers across different schools and across  subject areas in courses, it would be helpful. So taking that wish and seeing that it doesn't exist out there, we partnered with a software company, shared this wish and ultimately ended up co-developing, co-designing and building an MVP, testing it, involving our teachers and students all along the way, and ultimately this fall launching it as a free product that's available to every teacher in the world, where they can collaborate and share and use it with their students."

 As a counterpart to the question of how to create and test an MVP, Steven and Diane discussed how to use metrics to measure progress. Steven at this point (34;28) launched a defense of vanity metrics-- not to measure student progress, but to help create, again, buy-in from stakeholders:

“Given the public nature of public schooling, and the tremendous political pressure, and this fear of failure that Diane mentioned, which is really ubiquitous and the higher up in the organization you go the worse it gets--in order to get collaborators to come along with you, you need to make them feel good. By focusing on things that matter to them. Not only do you need to identify problems that are important to them, but they're looking for certain indicators of success that may not overlap with your indicators of success. And so depending on the situation and what it is you're trying to accomplish, for example, a certain number of newspaper headlines that speak positively about the work can be far more important, for better or for worse, in getting you the buy-in to take you to the next step than some increase in student achievement on a formative assessment. Because those particular people who [are] your audience, who you're trying to impress at the central level, their concerns are not immediately about student achievement at that moment. It's about what does this mean for me, and my career, and what is the potential downside, how is my boss going to feel about it. So when I think of vanity metrics I think of things that can be bad because they can be deceiving when you apply them to yourself.

“But I think things that demonstrate popularity--again, in a politicized context--are really important, so we do rely on them. When we do software challenges, for example, participation in those challenges is a really important metric, in fact it's one of the things we optimize for. And I'm not embarrassed to say that sometimes we'll optimize more for participation than for the quality of the software that comes out the other end. Because at that stage in our MVP what we're trying to demonstrate is not that our software challenge produces the silver bullet that's going to solve all our middle school math problems, but that if we have an open, embracing process, new partners will want to come participate with us.”

All of our webcast speakers will be at The Lean Startup Conference, December 9 – 11. Register today to join them and dozens of other speakers, as we explore advanced topics in entrepreneurship.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Courting Content, Not Controversy

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

Our goal in hosting The Lean Startup Conference—which starts in just over two weeks—is to help entrepreneurs learn absolutely useful things from each other. For our participants to stay open to the unique ideas we’re presenting and to share the advice they each have, we need an environment that’s dynamic, professional and respectful. We believe most conference hosts aim to create a great atmosphere for learning.

But as an endless number of conference episodes have shown, you can’t leave that to chance. Among the dozens of recent examples we’re aware of, here are just a few from 2013 alone that make the point:
  • TechCrunch Disrupt kicked off with hackathon demos that included an app called “Titstare” and, separately, a guy on stage simulating masturbation. Whether intended as jokes, plenty of people saw them as far from funny.
  • CES—the giant Consumer Electronics Show—was most noted for a booth in which four women were hired to appear in nothing but thongs, pasties and blue body paint. Thousands of attendees, men and women, tweeted and talked about why this and other, similar displays, made them uncomfortable.
  • Rape jokes were directed at a woman on stage at a Microsoft’s E3 press conference.
  • A woman was sexually assaulted by her boss during the drinking scene at CodeMash. (She detailed the event on her blog, and it was corroborated in posts by at least two witnesses. After receiving hundreds of rape and death threats in the comments on her post, she took it down. A small piece of the original post is quoted here.)
  • We probably don’t need to remind you about Adria Richards’s experience at PyCon, where two men behind her during a keynote talk made sexual jokes. After reporting the incident via Twitter, she was subject not only to a tsunami of rape and death threats, but she was also fired and doxxed, which had additional ramifications. (We’re proud to have had hosted her as a speaker last year and a mentor this year.)

This isn’t a new phenomenon. Here’s a list from Courtney Stanton of other, similar episodes over the past few years. And here’s a “timeline of incidents” on the GeekFeminism Wiki dating back to 1973, plus a list of sexually objectifying presentations from the past decade. If you follow news around business conferences and those affiliated with the tech sector, you’ll know these examples are just the very tip of the iceberg.

We don’t want to be the conference hosts who have to write an apology after our event. We do want to do our best to actively support productive dialog among all conference participants. In line with our efforts toward transparency, and in hopes of encouraging other conference hosts to take pro-active measures to foster awesome professional spaces, here’s what we’re doing this year.

We’ve published our code of conduct, which lays out the conditions for participating in the conference for all us: speakers, sponsors, attendees, staff and volunteers. We invite you to take a look. As you’ll see, our code of conduct insists that conference participants think of ours as a professional event, and that everyone conducts themselves accordingly. That might mean that some of us have to think carefully before joking around, flirting with coworkers, taking pictures, etc. and err on the side of caution. We’re comfortable with that mild restriction. For the good of the community, we’re looking to create the most vibrant and thorough possible exchange of ideas, one in which a range of people are able to fully talk and listen.

Teresa Nielsen-Hayden—who is not only the foremost expert on managing online comments, but who also runs a blog with the best discussions perhaps on the whole internet—has pointed out that if you create an atmosphere in which anyone can say anything, you will necessarily give prominence to offensive comments and hateful behavior, because people who don't like or can't tolerate that sort of thing won't participate. In other words, there's a tradeoff when you have no rules. If there's a tradeoff in having rules, and it's that some of us will have to speak thoughtfully when in the public areas of events and, perhaps, apologize if we offend people, we’re all in favor of that exchange.

We train our staff, and we invite you to speak up. As far as we know, The Lean Startup Conference does not have a history of participants’ behaving in ways that would violate our code. But, frankly, we can’t be sure, because a common effect of harassment is that people feel they can’t or shouldn’t report it. We’re hoping to make it as easy as possible to speak up if you experience or see a problem. The code of conduct includes phone and email for our executive producer, who will contact the two of us immediately if she receives a report. In addition, we’re training our staff and volunteers on a straightforward procedure for responding to reports.

We review all speaker and sponsor materials for inappropriate imagery. The professional environment of the conference is established in no small part on the stage. To take in the material of the conference, attendees need to be able to feel open to what’s coming from the podium, not braced for potential shocks. So we’re aiming to ensure that any visual materials displayed on stage, or associated with the conference via sponsorship, fall within the range of what anyone would consider professionally appropriate. Lolcats: yes. Rape jokes: no.

Our speaker roster is diverse, setting a tone for the event. We’ve talked about this at some length recently, but to reiterate here, we have, through extensive outreach and a meritocratic application process, created a roster of speakers that is more than half women and people of color. We’ve also sought out new attendees by posting to a variety of mailing lists, and through partnerships with a number of organizations. We did not reach out to 4chan.

We’re limiting alcohol at onsite events. We want attendees to have fun, but this thing is not a frat party. And is should come as no surprise that many harassing, offensive actions at conferences take place at receptions and other events where alcohol has, by tradition, flowed freely. The Lean Startup Conference is addressing issues important to professionals, and that’s the tone we want to foster, including during social events. We’re thankful in particular to Pivotal Labs, which is sponsoring our reception on Monday, December 9 and is working with us to create networking opportunities that are effective, inviting, and work beautifully when you aren’t three drinks in.

By talking about our intentions, we hope to draw those of you who are eager to help us create a very lively scene at The Lean Startup Conference—one where you really can learn from each other and have an amazing time as your brain lights up. If you haven’t registered yet, please do so now. We want you to be part of this great event.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Lean Startup Where You’d Least Expect It

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

We were excited by the response at last year’s Lean Startup Conference to Diane Tavenner’s eye-opening talk on her experience implementing Lean Startup methods at Summit Public Schools, the California charter for which she is CEO and co-founder. Diane’s work suggests that even educational organizations—notoriously bureaucratic and slow—can effectively implement Lean Startup methods. As part of our expanded program this year, we’re looking more deeply at the role Lean Startup methods can play in transforming education and other mission-driven organizations (more on the latter below). To introduce the themes of Lean Startup in education, we’ve invited Diane and Steven Hodas of the New York City Department of Education’s iZone, to a webcast conversation, Testing Lean Startup in Education; both will also be speakers at this year’s conference. Join them on November 21 at 9a PT, along with conference co-host Sarah Milstein. As always, the webcast is free with registration, and we’ll be holding live Q&A, so come with your questions.

For background, we invite you to watch Diane’s talk from last year’s Lean Startup Conference, where she discussed devising an ongoing, iterative development cycle for Summit’s math curriculum, which she reorganized around the principle of student self-designed learning. She and her staff have set a goal of 100% graduation rates from 4-year colleges for Summit students (only 24% of California students even finish high school with the necessary qualifications to attend college at all, let alone complete a degree). At this year’s conference, she’ll provide an update on that initiative.

Steven will be speaking at the conference for the first time this year. He heads the Markets initiative for the New York City Department of Education’s iZone, where he fosters demand for innovative solutions to challenges in education. We asked Steven to talk about his biggest success in implementing Lean Startup methods in the largest school district in the nation, operating with a $25 billion budget. Here’s what he had to say about the importance of community buy-in:

One of the things we’ve had consistent success with is a structured process for collecting and distilling the experience of those who live with the problem on which we’re working. They’re the target lead users of whatever product or process we develop.

We work with firms like IDEO, the Parsons DESIS Lab, and the Public Policy Lab to conduct what is basically ethnographic or field research. It’s not rocket science, but it is a particular skill-set and methodology for drawing out stories and then analyzing them for common threads and deeper or unstated implications.

We then formulate what we’ve learned into a problem definition, which we issue to our communities as a provocation, rather than specification. Depending on the specifics of the process we’re employing, we make the underlying research available to them as well, and bring the stakeholders in for user testing of the work as it’s being developed. This was key in both our GapApp Challenge and School Choice Design Charette. In the first, the target users were middle school math teachers and curriculum coaches. In the second, the audience was 8th-grade students and parents.

Clearly, this process helps put the ‘V’ in our MVP. But perhaps more important, it forces us (and by extension the solution providers) into an empathetic posture. It’s anecdotal in the best sense—small data that’s very rich—and because we took the time to ask and listen, increases the likelihood that they’ll invest more depth and persistence in trying what we offer, and provide more valuable feedback for the next iteration.

And about those failures…?

We haven't had any failures yet, but we've fallen most short (so far) in finding ways to get people—particularly in the central bureaucracy—to accept, let alone embrace, velocity. When you take the “quick” out of quick-and-dirty you just have “dirty.”

Steven and Diane will discuss their most successful, not to mention dirtiest, strategies on November 21 at 9a PT. Register to join us.

Our recent webcast, Lean Impact: Bringing Lean to Mission-Driven Orgs, touched on similar themes. Featuring 2013 Lean Startup Conference speakers Akash Trivedi of KivaZip and Christie George of New Media Ventures, it's a very good starting point for anyone in an organization dealing with potentially competing interests, limited resources, long development cycles, and a desire to create measurable change. Here are a few highlights of that conversation:

Christie, on identifying and knowing your customer: One of the biggest challenges in the social sector in general is around who the customer is. Customer development is such an important part of Lean methodology, and in the social sector there is a real difference between, say, the beneficiary of a service and the traditional customer, who may be paying, who's the donor. I feel passionately about us, as a sector, figuring out how to navigate this distinction. I don't have any easy answers. At root, most social entrepreneurs I know are in the social sector to create change in the world, and so who they care about and who they are really oriented toward is the beneficiary of the service or the product. There is a kind of complicated dynamic when the person that's paying for the service may actually care about a different thing. So the real starting point for me is the introduction of [Lean Startup] principles into the social sector, but into the philanthropic sector as well, so that folks who are considering contributions in this space actually understand that this methodology can yield better, more impactful solutions.

Akash, on the importance of not doing what doesn’t work: [Not] proving your hypothesis is not a failure. Not getting data is a failure. There have been plenty of examples that I've seen where I was really excited about an idea but where the data just proved otherwise. And actually if you put me on the spot, the things I'm most excited about on Zip are the things we decided not to do versus the things that we did to, because to me, as Christie said, when you're tackling some of these abstract fundamental problems that so many people are depending on, you don't have the luxury of getting it wrong. You need to come up with the most optimal, relevant solution, and I think the best way to do that is to cut out what doesn't work.

Christie, on getting buy-in in a hierarchical organizational structure: I've seen organizations do this really with examples. Everyone is susceptible to what other people are doing, and I've often found that if you're in a hierarchical institution the best way to do that is to kind of say, “Hey, look at this experiment that these guys ran over here.” In the social sector we're increasingly seeing more people be vocal about the things that worked and that didn't, and that's like any buy-in process, giving people examples of its working in other places is one way of actually getting buy in when you're otherwise just being stonewalled on the issue.

Akash, on metrics that help organizational learning:
This might be kind of controversial, but one of the metrics we're using is a proxy for impact, believe it or not, is Net Promoter Score. Net Promoter Score is a tool that for-profit companies like Apple, Google, will use to measure their brand strength. And while it's certainly not directly related to impact in some senses, when we think about impact as a nonprofit traditionally and as it pertains to Kiva, you think about the delta in income created, employment opportunities created, are you sending kids to school, all those sorts of things. But I think in a world where, as Christie mentioned, feedback loops are quite long, and in the world that we're navigating, which is quite abstract, and there are no comparables, knowing that our customers, both our trustees and our borrowers, are happy is actually a pretty good proxy for letting us know whether we're moving in the right direction.

Register to join Steven and Diane for our free webcast on November 21. Join all four speakers at The Lean Startup Conference, December 9 – 11 in San Francisco. We sell tickets in blocks, and when one block sells out, the price goes up. Register today for the best price possible.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Hands-on Lessons for Advanced Topics in Entrepreneurship

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

We’ve posted the full program for The Lean Startup Conference, and it includes more than three days of events for Gold pass holders and six days of events for VIP pass holders. We wanted to give you a rundown of what’s in store, along with particular insight into two of the workshops we’re most excited to have lined up for Gold and VIP attendees—one session with Jez Humble on implementing continuous delivery and one with Alistair Croll on Lean analytics for corporate entrepreneurs.

Here’s an overview of all the goodies:
  • During the day on December 8, VIP pass holders can attend Leancamp, a full-day unconference rich with chances to meet other people and talk through ideas.
  • On the evening of December 8, Ignite Lean Startup kicks off the conference. Each brave presenter gets five minutes and 20 slides—which advance automatically every 15 seconds. This event is open to everyone, but the venue is small, and VIP pass holders get guaranteed seating.
  • On December 9 and 10, dozens of talks, mentoring opportunities and new networking events comprise the main days of The Lean Startup Conference. VIP pass holders get priority seating for keynotes and invitations to private lunches.
  • On December 11—for VIP and Gold pass holders only—we’re holding a day of hands-on workshops with top Lean Startup experts and private startup site visits around San Francisco. The site visits include stops at Square (the payments startup founded by Twitter co-creator Jack Dorsey), WeWork Soma (an amazing co-working space) and Pivotal Labs (leaders in Lean and Agile consulting), along with one more super-interesting location we’ll announce shortly.
  • Starting on the evening of December 11 and running through December 13—for VIP pass holders only—we’re partnering with UP Global’s Startup Weekend to offer a two-day Lean Startup immersion program, specially designed to teach you how to put Lean Startup theory directly into practice. 
The December 11 workshops, open to all Gold and VIP pass holders, give you a special chance for hands-on learning with Lean Startup experts. These advanced entrepreneurship practice sessions are for people who want to dig in deep, and as part of our conference ticket, they’re an incredible deal.

We’ve structured the workshops around last year’s feedback, in which you suggested that you wanted more information about specific practices and contexts. Many workshops thus teach you to apply specific Lean Startup methods: creating experiments, interviewing customers, optimizing pricing, and innovation accounting. For example, Janice Fraser will run a workshop on Build, Measure, Learn in which she teaches experimentation, taking you through the entire process of designing an experiment, and then letting you learn in the field what actually works. Jonathan Irwin will lead a workshop on advanced interview skills, including the different kinds of customer interviews, how to develop questions, and how to apply the answers to an actual decision around a product. Justin Wilcox will teach you how to find the optimum price for a product without sacrificing conversions with methods like A/B testing, crowdfunding, “real customers,” and actual transactions. Ash Maurya will break down one of the most frequently asked-about and misunderstood elements of Lean Startup--innovation accounting. By the end of his workshop, you will know how to apply innovation accounting to truly track the progress of your product. And Don Reinertsen will teach you how to calculate and weigh the implications of Cost of Delay—the monetary value of a week of cycle time for experiments—information that will change the way your organization runs experiments.

We’ve also had many questions about the how-to of implementing Lean Startup at companies that are either mid-sized or large—not startups, but organizations that would like to harness startup energy to create a culture of experimentation. So, we’ve put together a set of workshops for teaching methods to bring Lean Startup to big companies. For instance, Brant Cooper will lead you through applying  Lean Startup in HR, IT and finance teams. Alistair Croll will lead a session on Lean analytics for intrapreneurs—from introducing never-before-seen case studies to tracking a product through its entire development and demonstrating which data and metrics are useful in what kinds of situations. Patrick Sheridan will lead a workshop on bringing mobile development to established companies, especially for execs and team leaders.

We want these workshops to be true hands-on laboratories, in which you (and your team) can get a complete training in a Lean Startup method, and leave feeling confident putting it into practice immediately. To demonstrate the kind of thing we have in mind, we spoke to Jez Humble, who will lead a workshop, Continuous Delivery: Deploy Safer, Learn Faster. Jez, who is a principal at ThoughtWorks, co-author of the Jolt Award-winning Continuous Delivery and the forthcoming Lean Enterprise, will address one of the thorniest areas of Lean Startup: how to reduce cycle times by constantly releasing updated software to customers and quickly responding to their feedback.  We asked him a few questions to learn about continuous delivery, why it’s useful, and what engineers and management need to do to implement it.

LSC: One of the biggest fears people have about a continuous deployment environment is that it introduces more risk to engineering. How do you address that?

People imagine that continuous deployment means taking the nasty, painful, risky deployment process that they are familiar with and doing it more frequently. That would indeed be madness, but fortunately, that’s not what’s being proposed.

Teams who practice continuous delivery do four things very differently. First, we design the software so that it’s easy to deploy it in an automated, push-button fashion (this can be done even with very complex systems, given sufficient thought). Second, we make sure it’s easy to detect and reject bad changes before they go live, using a deployment pipeline. Third, we make sure it’s easy to remediate any problems that do make it into production, using techniques such as dark launching, feature toggles, blue-green deployments, and canary releases. Thus we reduce the risk of deployments.

All this enables the fourth element—working in small batches. Continuous deployment means more frequent releases, but crucially, these are of much smaller changesets. This means it’s easier to find the change that caused the problem and easier to remediate it. Continuous deployment doesn’t mean doing a multi-hour release of several weeks’ worth of code multiple times a day. It means doing an automated, push-button release of a tiny amount of change multiple times a day.

LSC: Continuous delivery involves a set of frameworks that you can put in place over time. Which are the most important pieces, and which can you delay? Or, how would a company decide in what order to introduce them?

Which to implement and the order you choose depends on where you’re starting. For example, in an enterprise context, moving to continuous delivery can mean making significant architectural changes and changing the culture of development, testing, and operations teams. Needless to say, this is a slow and complex process.

The key is to find ways to achieve measurable improvement quickly and then iterate. Working towards a smoother, lower-risk and more frequent deployment process is part of continuous improvement. You’re never “done,” because as systems grow and change you’ll need to continue to ensure that your test and deployment framework stays fast and maintainable, that architectural decisions support the testability and deployability of your systems, and that the people growing and running these systems collaborate effectively.

Often the biggest problem is building up trust between the developers and the people who deploy and operate the systems. This requires that developers take responsibility for the deployability and operability of the systems they build, seeking out and acting on feedback by—for example—going on rotation for pager duty. It’s incumbent on devs to make sure their code is well-tested and easy to deploy before asking ops to deploy it more frequently. Equally, ops needs to support dev by making sure they have sufficient access to production-like testing environments.

In many cases the best place to start is having devs work off mainline in version control and practice continuous integration—working in small batches off trunk and ensuring all changes pass automated tests—to make sure their code is always in a known good state.

LSC: What kind of team structure do you recommend for companies using continuous delivery? And what, if anything, should managers do differently to get the most out of this approach?

As Mike Rother points out in Toyota Kata, what’s decisive is not the organizational structure but the mindset of the people in the organization. For continuous delivery to work, everybody has to take responsibility for the customer experience. It can’t work if developers have the attitude that they’re done once their code works on their machine and it’s checked into version control. If there’s a problem in production, developers need to own it.

Admittedly, organizational silos contribute to a lack of ownership, because they abstract people away from the consequences of their actions. Thus it’s important to create and establish fast feedback loops so we can measure the effects of our changes. We need to be able to answer questions like: “Did the change I made degrade performance?” or “Did the feature I just built actually increase revenue?” Continuous deployment makes a huge difference because when you work in small batches it becomes much easier to discern cause and effect. Fortunately, that is enormously empowering—nobody who’s actually experienced continuous deployment wants to go back to the old way of doing things.

Managers—like everyone in the organization—need to do a lot of things differently. We need to stop talking about requirements and start thinking in terms of running experiments to test our hypotheses about what users might find valuable. That’s a huge—and often challenging—change for product people. On the engineering side, we need to stop optimizing for cost and utilization and start focusing on cycle time instead. In operations, we need to think about stability in terms of time to restore service rather than time between failures.

Most important, we need to understand that it’s OK to fail. Instead of trying to find out who to blame when things go wrong, we need to understand that complex systems inevitably drift into failure. Trying to remove risk inevitably kills innovation, and creates an environment in which nobody is interested in trying to improve things in case they get blamed when something goes wrong. That is one of the biggest problems in enterprises.

During our recent webcast on Lean analytics with Alistair Croll and Ben Yoskovitz, co-authors of Lean Analytics, they discussed some of the topics Alistair will cover in his December 11 conference workshop. Here are a couple of highlights:

Alistair, on the fact that every company can experiment and measure results: I’ll give you two examples, a big one and one very small. I have a coffee shop down the street that has tip jars out, and they put out a question, and they look at which one got the most tips. And it is great for their tips, and they can ask people, which of these two products would you like us to serve? That’s a survey, right? And then at the other end of the spectrum you have Walmart, and Walmart has this campaign called Get On the Shelf, where people nominate products, and then Walmart has votes and tests them and it’s essentially a Kickstarter for shelf space at Walmart. Both of those are forms of experimentation. Once upon a time in the 1950s, the average lifespan of a company on the S&P 500 was 58 years, I think, and in 2013, it’s down to about 13 years. People say startups have nothing to lose, but big companies have everything to lose. So I think there is a recognition that we need to start disrupting more and running more experiments, taking more risks, focusing on learning and framing new products as a way of finding things out, chasing the data instead of just accepting it.

Alistair, on the difference between a chase-that-data method and a cover-your-ass approach to analytics: We talked to Jana Eggers, who helped set up the innovation lab at Intuit and also was at Spreadshirt and Blackbaud. And she told us that at Spreadshirt, they use the Net Promoter score as a measurement of satisfaction, and they track it by country and region. One day, they saw that Norway just fell off the map. So most companies would go: “Oh, I guess Norwegians just don’t like T-shirts,” and they leave it at that. Jana’s whole thing was, “We’re going to chase that down and find what the story is.” So they called the Norwegian customs office, and they found that Norway a week before had consolidated all of its post offices. And as a result of that, customs support had gone down. By contacting customs in Norway, they were able to work out how to label things to actually get them delivered a little faster. So one of the problems that a lot of people mention is that companies are data-obsessed—but they are not chasing the data. They look at the data as a way of covering their butts, you know, “We’re tracking that data,’ so it’s more of a cover-your-ass methodology, and the reality is you need to chase data.

Ben, on introducing Lean analytics to a big company: The example I think about is Comcast. I was asking how they got Lean into the company, and the answer was: “We just started.” If somebody comes to you with a project, you have to do the project, and you have to budget the project. But instead of saying: “Let’s plan this whole thing out and build the whole thing before we realize if anyone wants it or not,” step one is: “Let’s go talk to customers.” And it wasn’t making a big deal out of it, it wasn’t saying, “We need to change everything in our company.” It wasn’t looking at what these cool startups are doing so we’re going to go apply that into our business, it wasn’t anything along those lines. It was simply: “Oh, we can’t fail if we just talk to customers. Let’s just see what happens.” And then everyone said: “I guess this is the process we’re applying to this project,” and they were set to go. You can sneak Lean Startup or sneak Lean analytics or a combination of both by just starting as simply as possible.

Our December 11 workshops will give you deep, practical advice. Gold and VIP pass holders can attend workshops, and there are a limited number available. Register today to get yours. If you're already registered and would like to upgrade to the VIP or Gold Pass, email by November 22 and we'll send you a link to upgrade.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Eric Ries and Kent Beck Discuss Product Development

Guest post by Lisa Regan, writer for The Lean Startup Conference.
We’ve made some cool additions to our pre-conference webcast lineup, including two conversations with founding figures for methods that underlie Lean Startup. On November 14 (that’s this Thursday) at 1p PT, Eric Ries will speak with Kent Beck, a creator of Agile software development, about facilitating the work of engineers and product teams. And, on November 18 at 10a PT, Eric will speak with John Shook, CEO of the Lean Enterprise Institute, on the origins of the term “lean” and its implications for entrepreneurship. Each talk will be followed by questions from webcast attendees, and both are free (register here for the webcast with Kent and here for the webcast with John).

This Thursday’s webcast will get to the heart of how product groups work—and how they can work better. Engineers need little introduction to Kent Beck, but this webcast will be relevant to civilians, too, so we wanted to share some background on Kent (if you’re a programmer, skip the next paragraph).

Currently at Facebook, Kent has pioneered effective software development, co-authoring the Agile Manifesto, which modernized product development, and writing a slew of books with practical advice for engineering teams. Extreme Programming (XP), a method that Kent created, is based on the idea that some methods familiar to Lean Startup practitioners—like test-based development and technical collaboration—lead to more successful software, such that teams should pursue them, as Kent has put it, “as intensely as possible.” Indeed, rapid cycles lead to very short release times and low costs of change. But it’s not easy to implement this kind of approach, and product groups using fast iteration will need different structures and practices than those working in long-release cycles.

We asked Kent to describe how he thinks about change, specifically the difficulty of asking people to move from one set of beliefs about what works to another. In response, he gave us the following introduction to his own thought process:

A: You have an idea.
B: Millions of people are using your idea.
How do you get from A to B?

I have a bared-teeth, eyes-squinched-shut, shoulders-hunched shameful memory from the early days of Extreme Programming. At a conference I overheard a couple of programmers make a snarky comment about Test-Driven Development. I interrupted them and gave them “the spiel: about TDD. They pretty clearly didn't care, but I didn't let that stop me. Eventually they just turned and walked away.

While I'm still uncomfortable remembering that incident, it serves to remind me of the single most important question to ask myself when I want to get from A to B: what is my motivation right now? To be brutally honest about accosting those poor geeks, my motivation was to get validation from them, to get them to say, “Yes, TDD is a good idea and you, Kent, are a genius for rediscovering it.” Crazy, huh?

An underlying belief that explains my behavior in this story is that I believe that if I don't get external validation, I will cease to exist. Nothing less squares with the desperation of what I did. It's a false belief, but that doesn't keep me from acting on it.

An alternative approach for getting from A to B is to share something I have experienced, something cool, or effective, or satisfying. I talk about my idea just to have my story heard. My self-worth is not on the line. Listeners seem to sense the difference, and respond more openly to stories. The belief underlying sharing is that my experiences have value.

Just because I can intellectually understand the difference between these two motivations doesn't mean I always act as I would like to (and as I know is more effective). Indeed, during talks you will occasionally hear me say, “This is my experience. I'm not trying to tell you what to do.” Usually when I say this, of course, I have just caught myself trying to tell listeners what to do.

When I deliberately turned to sharing, I worried that I would no longer be able to speak with passion. What I had been interpreting as passion, though, was really desperation, and came across as desperation. When I share, I can be genuinely enthusiastic (and I can get pretty enthusiastic). When I shouted I was actually holding something back, because I had to protect myself against the possibility that validation wouldn't be forthcoming. Now I can bring my whole geeky self.

I can't tell you how to move from demanding validation to sharing, but I can tell you what I did. First, I learned to recognize the difference. When I say things just to get laughs or I start using “you,” I'm slipping. Second, I accepted what I was doing. It's easier to say, “I'm not the guy who demands attention,” than to say, “I'm a recovering validation demander. I believe crazy things but I try to act on the sane things I believe.” Third, I needed to take small steps—one conversation where I really shared, one part of a presentation. As I mentioned above, I'm still in recovery, but it feels good to be making progress.

I didn't turn towards sharing to get better at moving from A to B, I did it because the cost of leaving my self-esteem in other people's hands had gotten too high. However, having deeper, more lasting influence is certainly a nice side effect.

In their conversation on Thursday, Eric and Kent will share lessons not only for engineering leaders, but for anyone attempting to introduce Lean Startup to their company. What strategies succeed or fail in altering entrenched patterns? Join us to learn more; register today for Thursday’s webcast. For even deeper learning, register for The Lean Startup Conference, December 9 – 11 in San Francisco, where Kent will be a speaker.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Open to All: Scholarships for The Lean Startup Conference

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

We’re dedicated to making The Lean Startup Conference unlike other entrepreneurship conferences. That includes not only selecting terrific speakers you don’t already know, but also making registration broadly accessible. So we’ve got scholarships for people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend—early-stage entrepreneurs, particularly those from beyond Silicon Valley; staff from small non-profits; and students. Here are the details for each group.

Early-stage entrepreneurs; people participating in startrup incubator or accelerator programs; and bootstrappers. As Lean Startup takes root around the world, we’d like to learn from and help people working in geographically diverse areas connect with each other. But travel, particularly for early-stage and bootstrapped entrepreneurs who are physically far away, can be hard to swing. To ease the financial load, we’ve got a scholarship program that strips away luxuries and offers you a ticket that’s under-cost for us.

We’re interested not only in bringing folks to San Francisco, but also in helping Lean Startup communities take root beyond Silicon Valley. So on the partially-validated theory that Lean Startup methodologies will thrive most readily in areas where people can support each other, we’re giving priority to groups. Individuals can apply, but the scholarship application form is designed for a community leader to bring in a group from a geographic area or from an incubator/accelerator program. There’s no group size requirement per se, but we’ll look for a bigger group from say, New York City, than from a region with a smaller existing Lean Startup community. There’s also no deadline for applicants, but we’ll let people in on a rolling basis, and we anticipate running out of spots well before the conference, so apply now.

If you live outside the San Francisco Bay Area, and you’re simply unable to consider travel, you can apply to host a free livestream of the conference in your town. Last year, we had 300 livestream groups worldwide.

Non-profit staff and volunteers. This year’s Lean Startup Conference has a number of talks on Lean Impact—the movement to apply Lean Startup ideas in mission-driven organizations. For small and minimally funded non-profit organizations who could benefit greatly from participating in these sessions but can’t afford the conference fee, we have a special scholarship program.

Students. Students, particularly undergraduates, are some of the most open-minded and avidly interested people in our orbit. They’re also some of the least able to afford registration. The good news is that The Lean Startup Conference relies on top-notch volunteers to keep our events running smoothly, and we’ve found that students often make the best volunteers. We take the volunteering commitment very seriously, so please apply only if you’re able to offer us both time and friendly dedication. The deadline for applying to volunteer is this Friday, November 8 (that's three days from now!).

This is the first year we’ve offered the scholarship program, which means we can’t yet tell you what the experience of coming to the conference on scholarship is like. But we did have volunteers last year, one of whom, Sourabh Chakraborty, is returning this year as a scholarship program participant. Sourabh is a college student deeply engaged with entrepreneurship issues, but located outside the usual tech geographic nexus. We wrote to him to ask him about his experience at last year’s Lean Startup Conference, and what he hopes to learn this year.

LSC: You were a volunteer last year at the Lean Startup Conference. Can you give a little intro to how you came to Lean Startup—what you do, what interested you about the conference, and how those two things are connected?

Sourabh: I'm a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and part of the local community of entrepreneurs and startup folks in Lincoln and Nebraska. I've tried a few ideas of my own in the past, and tried to help my friends with their ideas. I was under this impression that because I could code and build something, I could solve a problem. But every time we started, whether it was my idea or my friends' ideas, we would keep getting struck with this intangible smack at the beginning — What is or isn't our solution? Does anybody really want it? How will we decide pricing? Didn't Steve Jobs say that customers don't know what they want...? So I guess we should build what we as entrepreneurs and ideators think is right. Why is it taking so long to get something out of the door? Oh, right, we have an impossible list of features that will take months to build.” And that’s all not to mention the hours and hours we spent at the coffee shop discussing equity. Boy, did we all put up a hard fight in our heads for those dreamy millions!

This repeated frustration forced me to look at other processes, and I came across some material from Steve Blank's book The Startup Owner’s Manual, and his Udacity course, How to Build a Startup. Very soon I was doing Business Model Canvases for everything (of course, I hadn’t even read the entire book yet). That process lasted a few months before I got frustrated that it also wasn't helping. After reading the first few chapters of Eric's book, The Lean Startup, and investigating some other blogs and listening to other people's processes, it slowly dawned on me what Lean meant and what Steve Blank and Eric Ries were talking about—and how common-sensical it was.

Following Lean Startup stuff online, I came across the Lean Startup Conference. Because I'm a student, I emailed the organizers to see if there was any way I could attend by volunteering. I learn best through osmosis and asking questions, so putting myself amidst other Lean Startup entrepreneurs would, I thought, be an incredible opportunity for me to get better at my process.

LSC: What role does Lean Startup play in your work now, post-conference—both in terms of approach and practice?

I’m exploring concepts like starting with the riskiest assumption, rapid prototyping and testing our assumptions by getting feedback, and then iterating our solution. Through our university's student group we built software products for a couple of startups in the summer, and we advised our clients based on these principles. We've also been adopting this with our other creative clients, like, for example, the advertising campaign we are working on.

Personally this process has been a relief, because the focus has turned from, “How successful was our solution?” to “How much did we learn from the last iteration?”—and getting that pressure off our shoulders has been incredible. Now we can fearlessly go back to square one if we have to, even if much work has been invested, because nobody is to blame. We just move on as quickly as we can to the next iteration/experiment.

I should say that I still feel I understand only some principles of Lean Startup—I haven't gotten into Lean Analytics and Build-Measure-Learn yet, which is part of why I’m so glad to be coming to the conference again this year. I'm still in the beginning stages.
LSC: What do you think was the most valuable thing you learned at last year's conference?  Did you have an experience with particular impact at the conference, or meet someone you otherwise would not have?

I learned how widespread the Lean Startup concept was among the entrepreneurs who were at the conference, and what I needed to bring these principles to my friends back in Lincoln and at my university. After attending the conference the first time, my answer to most things in life has become "I don't know, but I've got a hypothesis, and let’s find out if its right.”

In terms of the talks, the most eye-opening experience was right towards the end when the winner of the Lean Startup Machine [Mark Abramson] talked about their team's process of pivoting two or three times over a weekend as they discovered new insights. Another very memorable talk came from Barath Kadaba, speaking as part of Scott Cook’s Intuit Panel, who described conducting an experiment in India to try and help Indian farmers judge the market for their goods by sending them a daily SMS with personalized agricultural information. As an Indian student, I was happy to see problem-solvers using Lean Startup principles in my country and getting amazing results. This is especially impressive since it’s so hard to understand the context of the customer in India, because of the differences in social structure, class and culture between the problem-solvers and the customers.

Of course, meeting people was the biggest thing, and the serendipitous meetings were the best. The volunteer staff, some local startup folks, old friends, a random startup guy in my dorm room who's in his eighties—all that was just amazing.

LSC: Anything else you'd like to say about Lean Startup, its value for your work, or the experience of going to the conference?

The only thing I can think of for any student or entrepreneur who is trying out different strategies to start a startup and is struggling at the ideation stage is—give these principles a shot. And The Lean Startup Conference really is the best place to get started, because you'll meet hundreds of people who've done it before, and tens of people who are taking the first steps, just like you. The Lean Startup Conference is the safest place to fail.

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!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Lean Impact Webcast on Tuesday

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

Lean Startup techniques have been taking off in the social-mission sector, helping people solve problems more effectively, and earning the name Lean Impact. To explore what’s working on the ground, we’re hosting a webcast, Lean Impact: Implementing Lean Startup in Mission-driven Organizations, next Tuesday, November 5 at 10a PT. It will feature a conversation that gets into the details of how non-profit and mission-driven organizations are making use of Lean Startup methods to get closer to their goals, faster. This webcast is free with registration, and our speakers will answer questions live from attendees. One other note—we’re introducing a special scholarship program to bring non-profit organizations’ staff and volunteers to the conference in December. More details on that at the end of this post.

Few people are better positioned to talk about bringing Lean Startup techniques to mission-driven organizations than Akash Trivedi and Christie George, both speakers at The Lean Startup Conference in December. Akash is a business lead for Kiva’s pilot program Kiva Zip, which seeks to make microlending even more direct—for example, by facilitating payment via mobile. Christie is director of New Media Ventures, the first national network of angel investors supporting media and tech startups that disrupt politics and catalyze progressive change.

We asked Christie to give a sense of how she sees the relationship between Lean Impact and Lean Startup.

LSC: Do you see Lean Impact as a direct application of Lean Startup ideas in non-profit and mission-driven organizations, or is there another element to it that's not so obvious?

Christie: There are huge opportunities to build better mission-driven organizations using Lean Startup principles. And "Lean Impact" offers a reference point for people to start that conversation—there is real power in naming. I think of Lean Impact more generally as the conversation about the challenges in addition to the opportunities of applying Lean Startup ideas in mission-driven organizations and businesses. 

There are some specific challenges that I’m looking forward to discussing, both with Akash and at the conference: 

1) Measuring Impact: For organizations that are in the "business" of social change, questions of measurement are notoriously tricky. How do you measure a movement for social justice? How do you measure that it's actually your work that's moving the needle on an issue? The clear focus on users and revenue is hugely useful for measurement, but for organizations serving a population and not building a 'product', the language and culture of Lean Startup is still finding its focus. 

2) Vanity Metrics: Especially for those working to increase awareness, social change groups often report member numbers, Facebook likes, and news hits as proxies for impact (which may in turn generate further revenue). Metrics around petition signatures or Facebook likes are relatively easy to track, but of course, they don't tell you whether you're winning. How can we come up with impact metrics that go further than vanity and get to the core outcomes we're working to achieve?

3) Customer Development: In the social change space, the customer who "pays" (e.g. a foundation) is often not the beneficiary of the service. In some cases, this is a standard three-sided market problem, but it often goes deeper than this. Mission-driven entrepreneurs are disrupting more than markets, and are therefore choosing to address issues of power and culture that may not fit neatly into the customer framework.

4) Failing Real People: Entrepreneurs in the social sector are solving big, gnarly, complicated problems. The costs of experimentation (and failure) can be high. I've been reminded by social entrepreneurs, "When we fail, we fail real people." That is humbling, even daunting. But it’s important to remember that it is a privilege to be able to run experiments in order to fail fast

The most exciting thing for me is that a community of practice is starting to develop around Lean Impact, with best practices and actual case studies, to guide entrepreneurs navigating these issues. And we've got some great examples of people and organizations doing it well—from the data-driven culture of online advocacy groups to the relentless testing that Kiva Zip has done, something that Akash will speak to directly. [Editors’ note: The Ultimate Glossary of Lean for Social Good, from the folks at, has some great examples (PDF).]
LSC: One key element of Lean Startup is the idea of organizing a startup around multifunctional teams. In mission-driven organizations, how do you see teams reorganizing to apply Lean Impact ideas?

There is a pretty wide variety of organizations that fit into the social sector—from large, traditional non-profit organizations to nimble technology enterprises. Some of these organizations are just beginning to be exposed to Lean Startup thinking, while others have deep experience with experimentation. 

The space that I work in—online advocacy—has a long history of running controlled experiments and using A/B testing to measure and optimize campaigns. I've also observed that these groups—everyone from,, UltraViolet, Upworthy—have comparatively flat structures. 

But even more than reorganizing teams, the work of Lean Impact seems to be one of making a change in the organizational culture. Social entrepreneurs are working to get institutions to understand the value of taking risks. I see digital teams gaining influence within larger organizations, as well as a generation of entrepreneurs building new types of social businesses and organizations that are embedding Lean Startup principals from the start.

For a deeper dive into the challenges and opportunities facing Lean Impact organizations, register for our webcast on November 5 at 10a PT. And join us at the Lean Startup Conference, December 9 – 11 in San Francisco. If you’re part of a non-profit organization and are interested in Lean Impact ideas, we strongly encourage you to apply for our scholarship program. We are offering a dedicated group of scholarships specifically for non-profit organizations, their staff and volunteers. We are particularly interested in smaller organizations that otherwise would find the conference financially out of reach. So, the smaller your org and the tighter your budget, the more we want to hear from you. Just fill out an application, and we’ll follow up with you asap.