The Build Measure Learn-Loop Explained by a Four-year-old

As every parent knows, kids teach you everything about life.

One day, my daughter said she was hungry.

– “Do you want an apple?”, I asked.

– “Noooo!” She replied.

– “Do you want a pear?”, I asked.

– “Noooo!” She replied.

– “Do you want an orange?”, I asked.

– “Noooo!” She replied.

– “OK, do you want some fruit salad?”, I asked.

– “Yes!!!!” She replied with a huge grin on her face.

So I cut up some apple, some pear and some orange in a bowl and gave her what she wanted. Mission accomplished. A happy customer!

Notice what happened? I built a customer offer in the shape of a pitch: “an apple!”. I tested it on the market by asking her if she wanted the value proposition: “an apple?”. Then, I measured the result (“nooo!”). The market experiment was negative. So, I repeated it four times until I found product/market fit. I didn’t actually build the product (cut up the fruit) until customer demand was validated.

This is, in essence, the lean startup process of Build -> Measure -> Learn made famous by Eric Ries. Build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP, a minimal effort product with maximal potential to validate the assumptions behind the value proposition), test it against the market and measure the result.

In lean startup circles they often talk about three levels of MVPs:

  • Pitch — an offer like a landing page, an ad or a question.
  • Concierge — an implementation of the offer but delivered manually without actually building the product.
  • Product (a “real” MVP) — a product with the minimum feature set needed to validate the assumptions you have about the world that needs to be true in order for your product to succeed.

With this in mind, the process I followed was as follows.

1. BUILD: I assumed my daughter wanted a fruit so I pitched her an apple as a test to see if my assumption was right.
2. MEASURE: the result of the test was negative. No, she did not want an apple.
3. LEARN: having learned this I had to rethink my pitch and offer her another fruit.
4. This was repeated three more times with in total four different pitches.
5. Finally the result of the pitching test came back positive and luckily for me the product consisted of the sum of all the other products I had been pitching: fruit salad.

The alternative approach would have been to build the first product (cut up the apple) and offer it but that would have put me at risk of losing the investment in the product.

A different implementation of fruit salad. Photo by sweetonveg.

So, one happy customer after a lean startup test. All is good, right? The market size is pretty limited though. I doubt it’s possible to build a scalable sales process with such a small (barely 3ft 6in) market. That would be a key criteria for a startup project: the potential of the market.

On the other hand I’m happy to announce I now have two daughters, thus doubling the potential market size! Talk about up-and-to-the-right growth. Now, where’s the banana?

(Photo of an apple by Rob Bertholf and fruit salad by sweetonveg. This post was first published on the blog of Startup Studio Malmö. My eldest daughter is now five, she reminds me to tell you about.)