Lean Startup Michigan Conference Notes

There were a bunch of great speakers at Momentum’s Lean Startup Michigan Conference last week in Grand Rapids.

Here is a fairly random collection of the ideas I took away.

Eric Ries

Eric, one of the gurus of Lean Startup, kicked off the conference with a great talk.

  1. Entrepreneurship is management, where the unit of measure is validated learning.
  2. The cycle is: build-measure-learn (then rinse and repeat).  You want to minimize total time through this loop: ideas, build code, measure data, learn, repeat.
  3. A startup is a human institution designed to deliver a new product under conditions of extreme uncertainty.  A startup is an experiment
  4. Planning and forecasts (ala business plans) work only when you have a long and stable history to draw upon.
  5. All successful startups have in common that they have pivoted – changed strategy – without changing the vision of where they wanted to go.  Pivot = change direction but stay grounded in what we know.
  6. Reducing the time between pivots increases odds of a venture’s success, before it runs out of money.  Runway should be measured by the number of pivots that the funds allow to be performed, not just the payroll/expense time.
  7. The waterfall method of design doesn’t work becasue – you can be on time, under budget, high quality, beautiful design – but still successfully be executing a fatally flawed plan.
  8. what is the minimum effort that can be expended to learn what the specification should be (what the customer wants) – NOT to execute the specification (that we don’t know yet is right).
  9. Eric suggests we do “innovation accounting”.  1. Establish the baseline, build mvp and measure how customers behave right now.   2. Tune the engine, experiment to see if we can improve metrics from the  baseline to the ideal.  3. Pivot or persevere.  When your experiments reach diminishing returns, it’s time to pivot.
  10. If you don’t know who the customer is, you don’t know what quality means.

Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits

My apologies to Brant and Patrick for boiling down a good talk into one priceless takeaway.

  1. The “Old Yeller Award”.   Who can kill their bad concept the fastest?  Take it out behind the barn and shoot that thing!

To make it up to them, let me urge you to go buy their book, The Entrepreneur´s Guide to Customer Development for Tech Startups – the Cliffs Notes for Four Steps to the Epiphany.

Rob Walling

Rob, the author of Start Small, Stay Small:  A Developer’s Guide to Launching a Startup, likes small, bootstrapped ventures.  He knows this because he has taken his own advice:

  1. Know yourself.

Rob likes Strengths Finder 2.0, a book that will help you find out how you are wired.

Dan Martel

  1. Tell your stories like this: feature x will affect metric y.
  2. Use metrics for weekly cohorts of users.  Metris have got to be getting better – or something is wrong.
  3. If users activate but don’t come back to your site and actually use, then something is wrong – you are not solving a problem worthy of their coming back.
  4. Traction = activation and retention.
  5. Use activity streams: log, time stamp, and color code (cool idea!) the actions users are using in your app.

William Pietri

  1. Three kinds of code:  1. temporary, 2. sustainable, 3. half-assed (temporary code shipped, etc.).
  2. Temporary code is hard to throw away, but you have to throw it out and go make something proper.
  3. Code for quality and maintainability – automate your tests
  4. Try pair programming – 2 people, 1 computer – it sounds weird, but it is very useful.  Hint – programming is more about thinking than typing.

Jeffrey Schox (patent attorney)

  1. Provisionals are not searchable – if you abandon it, it can’t be found.
  2. You can create a provisional patent application in a day for $110 – file early and file often.
  3. Too general a concept = not patentable.  Too specific a product = not valuable.   In the middle = the sweet spot.
  4. Minimum Viable Patent strategy:  1.  Before seed: ($10K) file a provisional application and conduct a preliminary freedom to operate analysis on your main competitors.  2.  Before Series A: file a full patent application and conduct a preliminary freedom to operate analysis on all relevant patents.

This is Customer Validation

Last week I had the pleasure to attend the Lean Startup Michigan conference in Grand Rapids.

At lunch the organizers set out box lunches.  We could choose from several different kinds of sandwiches.  I got out there late, and here is what I found.

Can you identify which meal was not popular (the value proposition hypothesis that failed) – and those that were popular (the hypotheses that were confirmed)?

p.s. for what it’s worth, ham didn’t cut it with the Lean Startup crowd.

TEDxFortWayne – Beyond My Expectations


I was involved with the fundraising side of TEDxFortWayne, so at event day I was not totally up to speed on who all of the speakers were or why they were selected.  Now, after the event, I have to say, “Wow – great job curation folks – what a marvelous set of speakers!”

For those of you who are regular TED.com video-ites, you know that feeling when  a speaker clicks with you.  You know that up to 18 minutes of fascination is starting, and you can’t tear yourself away from it.  Well, that happened multiple times here in Fort Wayne on May 14, 2011!

Here are some of my personal favorites.

Daniel Epstein of the Unreasonable Institute, who asked us to “Change The Fucking World!”, was inspiring.

The Voices of Unity Choir was rivaled perhaps only by Director Marshall White’s talk about the “6 R’s”.

Tony Hudson talked about second chances and the formation of Blue Jacket.

Mark Bly told a great story about how the New American Youth Ballet and Conservatory has taken a wonderfully fresh approach to education.

It was great to see Justin Sharpe of Nanolayer Technologies (and also with Incentive Studio from NIIC’s Student Venture Lab program) talk about nanotechnology applied to energy.

If you weren’t there, or even if you were, follow the conversation on Facebook or at TEDxFortwayne.com where you will eventually see links to all of the videos (once TED.com approves them).

So, what does this all mean (besides the fact that some great videos are being edited)?  Pretty soon, when you go to TED.com, you will find some amazing videos of some amazing folks right here in amazing Fort Wayne doing some amazing things.  And so will every TED.com devotee throughout the world!

Is that cool or what?


Who is This “Ted X” and Why is He Coming to Fort Wayne?

For those of you who haven’t heard yet, TEDxFortWayne is happening downtown on May 14 – just about a week from now.  For those of you who frequent TED.com to watch the superb “Ideas Worth Sharing” videos, you need no explanation.  For the rest of you, here goes.

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design.  The annual TED event is a private, exclusive, expensive event – but all of the wonderful speakers (18 minutes or less, please) are streamed to the web at TED.com.  The concept is to present “ideas worth sharing”, and they have succeeded beyond measure.  I’ve just started to create my own list of favorites, which you can see on my TED.com profile.  Start browsing through the TED.com site and you can easily lose track of time and wonder where the hours have gone.

The “X” in TEDx indicates a local TED (as opposed to the annual international event).  Craig Crook secured the license to hold Fort Wayne’s first TEDx conference – TEDxFortWayne.  On May 14, a great set of speakers and entertainers will descend upon One Summit Square (see TEDxFortWayne.com for the program).

Why do I write about this?  Well, first, the event will be very cool.  I like the idea of TEDxFortWayne enough that I have personally contributed some cash to help sponsor the event.  I invite you to visit TEDxFortWayne.com, check out the sponsorship opportunities yourself (the event is still bootstrapping and can use your help), purchase a ticket (only a very limited number are allowed), and get ready to watch the videos that will eventually be posted.  You can also join the TEDxFortWayne community on Facebook.

See you there!