Brant's Rant | Customer Development | Lean Startup

Lean Startup Machine – NYC

Now a couple of days away from the Lean Startup Machine startup weekend, I wanted to get down some initial thoughts on the event.  When approached about participating in the event, I was immediately intrigued by the idea, as long as it took the lean startup principles seriously.  Much to their credit, organizers Trevor Owens, Ben Fisher and Kyle Kelly were open to any and all ideas to make the event conform to Lean Startup and customer development principles.  And much to Eric Ries‘ credit, he threw his support behind the idea once such conformity was demonstrated.  Still, this was an experiment.
The more one adopts these principles, the more one can find ways to adopt them in all areas of life — they become “meta,” as Patrick Vlaskovits would say — and this event was no exception.  It was Lean Startup Machine’s Minimum Viable Product.
By all accounts (that I’ve heard), the event was a rousing success.  Here are some more or less random thoughts about the weekend, some of which I hope to cover in more depth soon:
1) I’m blown away by the people who attended: smart, opinionated, creative, dedicated team-players with some really interesting ideas.  And they all want to be startup founders.  Many will scoff at whether this is a good thing or not, but I think it’s great.
2) Customer Development is a great conflict resolution tool.  When you reach a loggerhead, formulate opposing opinions as hypotheses and go test them.
3) While there was reluctance among some and a few Engineers stayed inside completely, whole teams hit the streets of NYC to engage customers.  It was awesome to see!  I can’t wait for the video.
4) Clearly enterprise B2B ideas are at a disadvantage when it comes to weekend customer development.  But B2C rocked it and B2SMB took advantage of New York’s vast number of local businesses.
5) Good team balance was essential.  Those teams with naturally social members kicked customer development butt.  People were making phone calls to business owners across the country, setting up Craigslist ads, conducting surveys, interviewing by telephone and pounding the pavement for person-to-person discussions.  There was more combined customer development in one weekend than most startups do in a year!
6) Customer Development is hard.  Several assumptions were crushed over the weekend and for the more brutal failings, there were no easy follow on steps.  It’s one thing for a market segment to fail, it’s another when a core idea is roundly  rejected.  But it happened.   It’s easy to become demoralized by negative validation, but the teams pressed on.
7) We saw some amazing pivots, product mockups that reflected the changes, and then customer validation of the pivots!  That’s pretty amazing for a weekend’s work.
8 ) Some people had a tough time understanding the difference between seeking evidence for their idea and testing their assumptions.
9) This event has great potential.  There were some rough spots, but no major problems and the learning that went on was tremendous.
10) It will be interesting to hear more feedback, but my general impression is that this was the first real encounter with customer development for most of the participants and that the experience they gained was invaluable.  My belief is that to truly grok customer development, you must “get a win;” meaning you need to experience first hand the empowerment that comes from customer validated ideas.  I think we had a lot of that!
If there’s something in particular you’d like to hear more about the weekend, please let me know in comments.