I heard about the Lean Startup Machine on my first day of work at HubSpot, the day before the event was to start. So of course, being me, I figured that rather than have a relaxing weekend and exploring Boston, I would jump right in and make this the first weekend in my new city. I also figured that this would be a). a good way to meet people, and b). my one chance to participate in such a workshop.
Initially I started this article with a description of what the Lean Startup Machine is, even what is the Lean Startup methodology, but I realized that this was pointless. There are tons of good resources that can describe them better than I, so if you’re curious you can check out the links at the bottom. I’ll only say that the Lean Startup Machine is a series of workshops and talks that take you through the entire process of building a business over the course of one weekend. I’m also including a sample schedule so that later references make sense.
The other thing that I started out to do was to simply describe my experience, but I realized that my blog is for other people not just me. I’ll write all about my experience in my journal. Rather, I’m going to discuss my key takeaways from the weekend so that hopefully someone will find some valuable insight for the future. I would also mention that these insights, while they came out of the one weekend, are really generalizable to any startup following the Lean Startup methodology.
- Find a great team
As I’ll mention later, the idea matters much less than the team. Your idea will continue to change over the weekend, but your team won’t. These are the people who are going to cause the success or failure of your weekend both in terms of your learning and succeeding at building your idea. After the opening talks, these are the people you will be spending all of your time with for the next two days, so you’d better like them.
One thing to think about is how you will use the available networking time at the beginning. In the schedule, there is 30 minutes allotted at the very beginning for dinner and networking. I highly recommend using this to scope out potential team members. If you really take the opportunity to meet people and talk, you can get a much better sense for who you might want to work with.
- Elect a team leader
This may seem obvious, but in retrospect, we should have thought much more carefully about our team’s organization. Since one of your teammates will be the person who originally pitched the idea, they can implicitly become the group leader since they have the clearest vision. I would warn against accepting this at face value rather than discussing group leadership directly, even if you end up electing that teammate as group leader.
By discussing out in the open who your group leader will be, you can clearly establish leadership in the group. As I have learned the hard way on multiple occasions, you simply cannot be as efficient without a clear group leader. It is so easy to become sidetracked, especially when you get together multiple people who are enthusiastic about an idea. By having a clearly defined group leader, you have someone who can take charge of keeping the group on track without any resentment from others, which will ultimately ensure your productivity.
- Know where to find your target customers
This can be a little tricky, as your target customer may change, but just remember that you have one weekend to interview as many people in this demographic as possible. We made the huge mistake of targeting teachers and parents of young children. While these people may be out in force during the week, it can be hard to find them on the weekend. When they do go out, young parents have kids in tow and are distracted enough without you trying to interview them. Because a key part of the Lean Startup Machine is interviewing people, you need to be able to find those people, so whether its through internet forums or parts of town where they congregate, know how to find your customers.
- Don’t be attached to your original idea
There isn’t too much to say about this because the Lean Startup methodology essentially requires it to be the case, but some people definitely struggled with this so its worth a mention. When you are going out and interviewing people, it becomes clear very quickly that not everyone likes your idea, which is somewhat disheartening. On the flipside, however, even a couple people saying it sounds interesting can be enough for you to convince yourself to persevere. This is where it becomes essential to create hypotheses and stick to them. It is so easy to rationalize undesirable responses in your interviews. You have to set your hypothesis (‘5/10 people will give us their email address’), and even if you’re slightly under (‘4/10 people gave us their email address’), you have to pivot. There’s no looking back. And one thing you should look for when picking a team is how willing people are to part with their ideas, because that can be really hard.
Overall, I would highly recommend the Lean Startup Machine to anyone who is interested in starting their own company. The Lean methodology really allows you to go from 0 to 60 in a matter of days, which is invaluable in the fast paced startup world. I also can say without hesitation that there were things that I struggled with before the workshops and continue to struggle with now, but having mentors available to teach you how to interview people or how to pivot your idea shows you how you can improve.
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The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
This is the book that coined the Lean Startup methodology. Definitely worth a read.
How to Build a Startup by Steve Blank
This course on Udacity is a great introduction to the Lean Startup methodology taught by one of the greats.