lean fishing

I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to be a mentor at the Lean Startup Machine workshop in NYC. This was my second time as a mentor, and what happens in the span of 48 hours is quite remarkable. I often think that I get more out of the workshop as a mentor than the participants do, but I know that’s not true. I have a front row seat to watch all the lightbulbs going off as the lean concepts and methodologies start to click with each team.

My most exciting takeaway from the event was that the participants truly recognize the need for validation and challenge their teammates to find it. Validation of the customer, validation of the problem, validation of the riskiest assumptions and validation of the solution. I heard two quotes that really stuck with me. Here is the first:

Wait. That is an assumption. We need to validate that.

Music to my ears.

It is so easy to get attached to a particular problem or customer and think that we know all of the answers. We think we have to perfect solution and want to rush to build it before someone else does. Until we actually validate that our customer exists and that they truly are looking for a solution to the problem, we are all just guessing. Sometimes we’re right and sometimes we’re wrong. That’s why it’s so important to validate everything, to take the guessing out of the equation.

The first question one particular team asked me the was “How are we going to build this and what technology should we be using?” My response to them was simple. “How do we even know that we have a customer for this and that this problem exists.” The team then spent the weekend validating the customer and problem. The best part about their customer discovery was that their customers told them exactly how they want the solution to be designed. A Lean Startup dream come true.

Another team was struggling a bit on Saturday morning. They received some data from the discovery process that totally invalidated their assumptions and they couldn’t figure out the next step — change the customer, change the problem, or completely pivot? As we looked at their Javelin Board, we realized that they had abandoned the Lean Startup Machine process when they got some data they didn’t like. An exact quote “We know we are supposed to be using the Javelin Board, but…”

We then recreated their first two experiments, their assumptions, their learnings and recreated their Javelin Board. Suddenly, all of the answers became clear. There was no more arguing. The next experiment was so completely obvious. One of the team members said:

Look at the board. Look at what we learned. You can’t argue with validation.

That realization is so powerful. It is the entire point of the Lean Startup Machine workshop. The idea that your team works on this weekend is much less important than learning the process of customer discovery and lean startup techniques. It turns out that their idea wasn’t so bad either as this team who was in disarray on Saturday morning ended up winning runner up for the entire event.

(Shout out to Fake Grimlock and his artwork for the Lean Entrepreneur that we used for the lovely fishing image)