The Lean Startup book, by Eric Ries has had a really big impact in the way I think about and approach various projects since the day I first read it. It’s applicable not just to work projects, but also for one of the many side projects, charitable causes and ideas I’m tinkering away at in my spare time.
At the crux, it is about focusing on getting things done quickly: shortening the development by doing clever experiments and pivoting (or exiting) early to avoid spending a very costly amount of time (and money) working on something that is likely to fail.
It’s not as much about failing –something I do think needs to be seen in a different light—but it is about failing faster.
There’s obviously more to it: good management & accounting, building, measuring, learning…just go ahead and read it (email me, I’ll lend you my Kindle copy). I can’t recommend it enough.
Lean Startup Machine
I was lucky to attend the very first Lean Startup Machine in South Africa here in Cape Town (and plan on doing so again in future, hopefully in other cities). LSM are weekend workshops, held all over the world, where you are taught how to build something people (other than you) actually want. You get to build (or break) an idea or business in three days.
The majority of new ventures fail because they build something that not enough people find valuable, followed by running out of money (but the one feeds into the other). There are 101 startup post-mortems, worth a glance, here.
For me it ties in nicely with any idea you might have (not just founding a tech startup).
I was part of a superb team and we worked hard all weekend on refining our idea on how to create a simple platform to help bridge the gap between the demand and supply of the superb art this city (and country) has.
I’m very proud to say that our team was chosen as the winner of the event, but I’m getting ahead of myself…
#leancapetown2014 #winners are … #drumroll … The Artery! pic.twitter.com/GhtpZuCJXJ
— Lean Startup Machine (@LeanCapeTown) June 1, 2014
This isn’t much about the actual event (one I highly recommend to anyone working in a fast-changing environment) or about us winning (the takeaways would be the same), but rather about what my thoughts are as an attendee.
Your team matters
Our team consisted of two people working for startups (myself and Nic, in e-commerce), a bright artist (Clara), a developer with a few small businesses (Nathan) and someone working in finance (Jason). There was a lot of synergy in getting to our mutual goal, but we were diverse enough to constantly challenge each other’s ideas and ensure that we didn’t fall into the groupthink trap.
The best thing you can do is to get out of the building
There are a lot of valuable lessons you can take from the weekend, but by far and beyond the best one is to get out of the building (and asking people the right questions). We learned an incredible amount by just talking to potential customers and artists. Knowing who your (potential) customer is something you should
I know that Steve Jobs said that “people don’t know what they want until you show them“, but that is only great advice if you are actually Steve Jobs. If you’re not, get out of the building and talk to people.
Timing, luck and hard work matters
Yes, once you have a winning idea (and a winning team) you have to work your ass off. It’s relatively easy to do so over a weekend of camping out at a central meeting point, so not really relevant for LSM, but new ideas and products take a lot of hard work. Something they also take is a large element of good timing and pure dumb luck. Sure, you might have worked hard your entire life and maybe have the accolades to show for it, but you were still born, by stroke of luck, into the circumstances that allowed you to get educated, work and meet the right people to carve your way to the top.
I was lucky to get into the right group, we were lucky to have a bunch of great, hardworking members and we were lucky that we could get the right idea and right advice from the right people.
I’m a firm believer of learning from those who have already learned the lessons (and bumped their heads a few times). Obviously at an event like this there will be mixed advice, since every person’s experience up to that point of time was unique to their story, but there were a lot of superb feedback and ideas from them.
This is something I’m definitely going to spend more time incorporating into my own career, but more on that later.
Winning at LSM doesn’t (really) matter
Again, I was absolutely stoked at our team winning the event (just look at our goofy grins), but the lessons would have been as relevant if we didn’t win.
We got great press out of the event, a couple of publications even reported on it (and there was a lot of interest from the art community), we won some cool prizes but in the end we still had to pull the plug on the entire thing. As much as we wanted to pursue our platform –The Artery– we all still had our day jobs and couldn’t contribute enough time to build it into what we all envisioned it to be.
But that’s OK! The incredible value from the team building, challenging your ideas, learning how to ask the right questions and just hanging out with a diverse group of attendees and mentors make it more than worth the admission price.
If there is ever a Lean Startup Machine in your city, go ahead and join it.