The Lean Startup Weekend Experience

Like most people in the startup world, I too read the Lean startup book. I understood in principle what it meant to be lean and what one can do in theory to be lean. However, putting this into practice is a whole different ball game. This is precisely why I signed up for lean startup weekend and I wanted to share my experiences.

What to expect:

LSW starts off on Friday night with folks making pitches of what they would like solved. We then vote on all the pitches that we feel strongly about as a problem that we’d like to solve. The top half of the voted ideas are the ones that will be worked on. Once the ideas are decided, we break off to talk with the idea pitchers and form teams. The problem that I joined up to find a solution to was a to make meeting people easy by removing the hassles of scheduling.

After forming teams, we had to go through the exercises. First, we all throw out ideas on who our potential customers could be. All the team members throw out the customer ideas within a fixed time limit. After the time limit, the team agrees on which customer we should focus on.

Writing out our potential target customers

Once we’ve identified the potential customer, we identify the problems that customer might have. Again, the same process follows where all the team members throw out ideas for potential problems that the customer might have, before deliberating over the problems and coming to a consensus.

Deciding on our customers’ problems

Once the problem is identified, we decide on where we can find the customers we want, and formulate the questions we want to ask to validate our hypothesis that the customer has the specific problem. It is important here to not formulate questions towards a solution to the problem but to identify the problem itself. In addition, it is important to set a reasonable success metric(eg., 8 in 10 people have this problem). With our customer, and their problem potentially identified, we split up into teams and got out of the building.

Teams!

Day 2 began with us meeting up at the location, and then going out to the decided upon spots to interview the potential customers. The entire day was spent in repeating this process by tweaking our customers and problems when our hypotheses was invalidated. In the course of the 2nd day we’d gone through customers like friends who meet up often, sport players who play often, gym personal trainers, and mothers managing their children’s schedules. To meet with our target customers, we ended up going to places like Chelsea Piers, Spin NYC, Equinox, NYSC, Macy’s Santa line, and Rockefeller Center. To get unbiased opinions from people we had to make cover stories to ask people questions. I apologize to all those folks that we talked to posing as NYU students, brother and sister, professor-student, etc. But I have to admit, NYC is awesome and this time of the year everyone is friendly and happy to help.

At the Santa line in Macy’s
Hey Santa!

At the end of Day 2 we had no customer, no problem, and consequently no solution. Morale was low. But we stil came out for Day 3 because it was part of what we had agreed upon when we signed up for Lean Startup Weekend. On Day 3, with morale low, we started throwing out ideas of who we can interview as a last ditch attempt. I have to mention that all along this process, there are amazing mentors around that helped us out by questioning our problems, potential customers, and giving us direction. Again, on day 3, we got a mentor’s advice and we targeted event planners who organize small group gatherings where everyone needs to be present. We quickly started making phone calls to people we knew in our own lives who manage events as such, while a team of us went out to the Statue of Liberty line in Bowling greens to talk to potential customers there. We set our success criterion at 6/10 and what we ended up with was actually 8/10. Perfect! So we began the process of building a quick landing page using QuickMVP.com and targeted ads towards folks who were looking for meetups. Additionally, we started tweeting at people who we thought might find use for the proposed solution. We ended up with getting 4 email signups in about 2 hours which might sound insignificant, but it was an achievement still.

Finally, we quickly prepared our slides, and presented our findings and our process. We were exhausted but we were overjoyed to see that we won second place!

How to get the most of the weekend:

  • Do not come with a solution, come with a problem and an open mind. Coming with a solution will essentially get you to interview people in attempts to get validation of your solution rather than figuring out what people might have a problem with and what people might be willing to use as a product.
  • Talk to the mentors, be open to their suggestions, and dont hesitate to pick their brains for help. The mentors are awesome people and have experience doing this for a while. It’s in your best interest to learn as much as you can from them.
  • Talk to the folks at the event. They all come from so many walks of life, and do so many interesting things that you never know who you just might meet.
  • Commit to the process. It is in our nature to try and avoid the sense of failure in the face of folks, but the point of this weekend is to learn the process. The end product is the icing on the cake in my opinion.
  • Try to get out of the building and talk to people. The more people you can talk to, the better your chances of validating your ideas. Also, dont be afraid. People are friendly, but most people, at least in NYC, are very busy. If they feel like you will be wasting their time, then they wont talk to you. So you should try to formulate your questions so that you dont take any more than 5 minutes of their time.
  • The process is exhausting, but persevere and I assure you the reward is well worth the effort.
  • Most of all, have fun!
Team FindTime!

Epilogue:

We are moving forward with building FindTime and are going to be taking the learnings from this experience and apply those learnings to understand our target customers better. For those of you interested in seeing our progress, please take a look at FindTime.us.

We use the Lean methodology when developing new features and functionalities at Crowdtap. Needless to say, this experience will very easily apply to my day-to-day work ☺

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