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A Weekend Experiment with The Lean Startup – Part 2: “We did more of a jumpstep than a pivot”

Written By: Bob 25 July 2010 Other Posts By: Bob

For those of you who haven’t read Part 1, here it is Part 1. For those of you who don’t want to read part 1, we’re taking part in a 54 hour lean startup contest that is similar to Startup Weekend called The Lean Startup Machine.

Now, let’s get more specific.

You might find my presentation video somewhere on the Lean Startup Machine Website over the next few days or weeks, but here were some of our key assumptions.

1.) Marketing students are highly motivated by money.

2.) Startups and Small Businesses need solutions to solve their problems.

Sidenote: Customer development is hard. In theory, it sounds easy. Find customers, ask what they want, stay in contact, work suggestions into your minimum viable products, test, talk more to customers, change as needed.

I’ve been reading about lean startups and customer development for the last eight months, and I assumed I was doing it. It wasn’t until this event that Brant Cooper and Eric Ries challenged us to do customer development and it has completely changed the way I view my own startups.

So, back to our project. Minimum Viabile Products are never minimum enough. I decided to create a quick website to capture data in our database as our MVP. I used ajax, php, and mysql because I’m familar with it.

Mistake!

Guess what, both our basic assumptions were wrong and we had to pivot. Based on talks and surveys, we found that students are just as motivated (if not more) by career advancement and learning than by making a few bucks. We also learned that startups aren’t looking for ideas to solve their problems, they are looking for their problems to be solved. (shouldn’t us lean startup people know that ideas are meaningless and execution is priceless?)

Pivoting is not easy, especially when you find that two of your most basic assumptions are wrong. We did more of a jumpstep than a pivot (we should have been called for traveling).

So, marketing students are highly motivated by learning and job opportunities and businesses are looking for people to solve their problems, not give them ideas. It took a few hours of arguing and critical thinking, but we ended up considering an idea I like to call “Solution Driven Internships.” A company that is looking for an intern could put a post on CrowdMarkUp. The post isn’t a normal job listing, but instead, they list a problem their business would like to solve. Potential interns apply for the internship submitting a writeup proposing possible solutions and implementations of the business problem. Companies then pay us a fee to read the potential solutions (if they choose) and potential interns practice real world critical thinking while applying for internships. It also helps create valuable internship experience where an intern is trying to solve problems instead of trying to get coffee orders correct.

Were we able to validate our jumpstep? Not 100%. We decided to go this route after our initial conversations with potential customers, but still need to have discussions to validate there is interest in this type of service.

Either way, we accomplished a lot in 54 hours and have our old landing page up at CrowdMarkUp.com with poorly coded php (we did it fast!) and are ready to build the company we jumpstepped to with a new name and a new logo over the next week or so – after getting more validation from customers, of course.

And a note for anyone that’s considering customer development. A minimum Viable Product should be extremely minimum. Imagine something that embarrasses you to show to customers, then show customers that. Draw sketches (even ugly sketches) of what you want the product to do and explain it to customers. Before you build anything, test out the most basic ideas and assumptions on your target consumers. I wish I would have built screenshots or used wufoo or google forms on our initial prototype. Instead, it took a long time to tweak it into a viable MVP for our second round of assumption tests.

Reading about customer development doesn’t scratch the surface. You need to do it. Customer validation sounds easy, but it’s really hard. You need to be forced into it. If The Lean Startup Machine decides to branch out to a town near you, make sure you attend. It only cost me $50, but the lessons I learned were priceless.

Here are three key takeaways from customer development that I learned this weekend.

  1. Reading about customer development doesn’t scratch the surface. You need to practice it. You need to be forced into it. I’ve read about CD for months now, but the lessons don’t really stick until you’re forced into it.
  2. You don’t even realized what half of your assumptions are. Challenge everything you think is a fact.
  3. Get someone to pay you. If someone says, “Yes, I would definitely buy that.” Ask him for a check and tell him the product will be ready tomorrow.

And Finally… If The Lean Startup Machine decides to branch out to a town near you, make sure you attend. It only cost me $50, but the lessons I learned were priceless.

Related posts:

  1. A Weekend Experiment with the Lean Startup – Part 1
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  • http://foundersblock.com/anecdotes/a-weekend-experiement-with-the-lean-startup-part-1/ Founders Block » Blog Archive » A Weekend Experiment with the Lean Startup – Part 1

    [...] Continue on to Part 2 [...]

  • http://twitter.com/vlaskovits Patrick Vlaskovits

    “Get someone to pay you. If someone says, “Yes, I would definitely buy that.” Ask him for a check and tell him the product will be ready tomorrow.”

    Bingo.

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