Authored originally as a dialog to be given at a closing HackPSU workshop.

I’m going to talk about the keystone of the Lean Startup Method, the build measure, learn loop. Who here’s heard of the book “The Lean Startup”? Who’s read it already? The core concept of the book, the method and the movement is to approach your startup properly as a scientific endeavor. Your hypothesis, in a very simple way of stating it, is that your solution/product that you’ve built or plan to build will be bought and used by people.

We’ll who are those people exactly? Maybe you know exactly your target market but that doesn’t guarantee success alone either. The core-concept of the Lean Startup really is just to get your product (or any form of it that you can muster) in-front of what you hypothesize as your target audience, ASAP to start collecting feedback. This can be done many different, simple and cost-effective ways, a smoke-test, concierge experience or MVP to name a few. A smoke test is simply throwing up some a focused marketing message in a focused strategic channel to gauge response. For example StartupWeekend did a smoke-test just a couple days ago on April 1st to see how many people would sign up their email to a HolyShip!+StartupWeekend on a launchrock landing page website. They got a couple hundred signups, which starts to validate the idea and gives them some good feedback data as readers thought they were really signing up for a HolyShip!+StartupWeekend.

Concierge is when you have a product or solution, but you start only with a handful of paying customers. These customers get the “concierge’s treatment”, where the founders are manually acting in place of their application. The example in the book is of a startup that did shopping, recipe making and deal finding for local moms. It’s now a thriving national business.

MVP stands for minimum viable product and it’s really what you guys hacked together this weekend. These apps, if they can make it through a user-flow without exploding, that’s a proper MVP by Eric Ries’ definition in his book, The Lean Startup. Doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Cool thing about testing your startup hypothesis with a MVP is that you can collect, real true honest behavioral data with how users interface with your app. Similar to a website’s analytics, you can see what pages users “bounce” or leave the app, what parts of the app are getting the most usage and if people really want to like your app, they might even leave some feedback that may sound negative or like a complaint, but when you’re starting up, users taking the time to give any sort of feedback is worlds better than crickets.

You can also go about collecting feedback from just an idea or some mockups, but this is the least ideal form of feedback and I’ll explain why now. I was at demo day for StartupWeekend New Jersey last Sunday and one team was presenting to the judges. They presented the fact that they’d been going out and asking people in person what they thought of the app concept. They said that 100% of everyone they talked to said it was a good app idea. I’m pretty sure they didn’t collect the emails of these people and I’m for sure that they didn’t collect any money from them.

See, it’s one thing to ask someone, point blank, in their face, some random person on the street, if they think your app idea or design mockup looks good, versus them actually using it by themselves when your not over their shoulder or better yet providing their email or best collecting a advanced payment for the product. Asking someone if you have a nice app idea is like asking if you look fat in the dress you’re wearing. 100% Everyone’s going to tell you that “you look great honey, keep rockin it!”. This kind of feedback is less than a paper weight. I mentioned doing this street survey but collecting emails which is better than nothing and every now and then someone will give you slightly better feedback than “oh yeah I’d use that for sure”. I also mentioned going so far as to swiping someone credit-card on Square to collect an advance payment. For that to work you’d need some pretty solid presentation, but if so, this is the strongest signal of feedback. I’m using the context of roaming the streets asking to swipe people credit cards for your startup concept, but this is far from ideal and can come off as sketchy. Really street surveys are best if they’re at an event where your target audience is present. Targeting user segments online and charging $5 for your MVP is a much more practical and common scenario, but what I’m really getting at is the different types of feedback you can collect from people.

Why collect this feedback at all? Because, as entrepreneur’s we face together the stone cold hard killing fact that still 9 out of 10 startup businesses fail. But if we can be customer-based and collect good feedback early in our startup we can have the leverage to decide on preforming what’s called a “pivot” into a product that customers actually want. Another important point to note is that customers can’t usually plainly articulate what they want exactly and this is where we come in to methodically build and test our product hypothesis’ with them to pivot into something that speaks for itself with customer referred, repeat sales, showing tracking and moving closer to what’s known as “product/market fit”. Also important to note here that the “just do it” mentality in startups can tend to miss this crucial step of feedback data collection, analysis & reflection. The “just get it done” culture in many startups leaves them without any metrics from which they can reflect and then leverage towards an educated pivot or preserver decision.

I’m going to wrap up with a few resources and next steps. Startup Hack Weekends like this are one of the most fun things I’ve personally done before, but I’m a startup nerd, point being that when you’re in this environment, you jump right into executing your awesome ideas with usually not any time to do a more thorough competitor search. There is the phrase “There’s nothing new under the Sun.” Luckily this isn’t actually true. We all made new creations this weekend even if they end up being another take or iteration on an existing competitor’s product, but do not let this discourage you from starting your venture in the slightest. Even if you find someone doing the exact same thing in the exact same way for the exact same market, what you’ve built this weekend lends itself to being an open-source product or offering, which if your competitor doesn’t have a patent, this can be really effective and disruptive way to enter the same market if done with poise. Also as you look to the left and your right and all around, you’ll see there truly is no shortage of awesome product ideas to be had so if you’re not confident in your product taking on a competitors, then bring on the ideas. One competitive advantage any student of the Lean Startup Method has is being armed with the process to systematically out-learn competitors and pivot, grow and evolve into a superior offer than a competitor’s. And what I’m getting at with all that is that a usual first step in starting a business is research.

I’ll close with the resource that is the Lean Method’s version of the business plan, The Lean Canvas. Iterated from the Business Model Canvas, the Lean Canvas was a creation of Ash, author of “Running Lean”. The idea behind the Lean Canvas is that your entire business and organization IS the product and you define your business model on a single page divided into rectangle areas. The idea is that they are quick and you do more than one for the same startup or product idea, based off a concept called “ideation” in graphic/UI design where a designer out of wisdom creates three or so different mockups of the same knowing that if he or she designed just one, they’d fall in love with it as their baby and have nothing against it. This way the designer has three babies too choose from and can more easily see the differences. The Lean Canvas is ideation of your business model in the process of iterating towards a superior business definition. Closing on the visual of our organization as the product, think on Charlie and his Chocolate factory. Not only were the chocolate bars world class as standalone products on the store shelves, but they were born in an entire factory that matched their spirit and culture throughout every square foot of Charlie’s Factory. When someone downloads your app, they aren’t just getting the candy bar from the shelf, they are through that interaction, indirectly engaging the internals of your organization. They are experiencing the result of every hand that went into delivering that version. Considering Charlie’s Chocolate Factory and then contrasting with Google’s or Apple’s offices, we see the similarities. How that fun, awesome, sleek work environment and culture translates into products that are also fun, clean, sleek and awesome. Best of luck to all of you. Cheers!

Michael Duane Mooring