Lean Startup Crash Course

Those of you who know me know that I am a fitness experimenter and product manager that works at Intuit (also a father of twins and a husband!). Well, I have to give a prominent shout out to Intuit, and Scott Cook specifically, for embracing the Lean Startup methodology and for putting innovation in front of everyone who works on products.

I recently had the opportunity to participate in an Intuit-wide Lean Startup competition where teams were selected to come to San Diego and pitch ideas to Eric Ries, get guidance from Brant Cooper, and get judged by a combined panel of innovators at Intuit. The competition started on Friday and ended Monday which meant working over the weekend.  Competitors were judged by how many times they passed through the customer feedback loop.  This means conducting experiments with customers in a time-compressed schedule multiple times.

I had heard about the lean startup methodology before and was familiar with many of the terms like “pivot” or “persevere”. However, I didn’t really know the Lean Startup method until it was “game on” time. I can tell you that going through this competition was fantastic!  Why?  Because my teammate and I made many mistakes and learned fast.

Here’s a quick run down of how it went (leaving the idea specifics out at the moment):

  1. We pitched our idea to Eric. Eric said do something else.
  2. We tested the problem space with real customers, and it was ho-hum.
  3. We ran a survey on Facebook, bought some ads, and didn’t get anywhere.
  4. We ran a survey on Ask Your Target Market and got fantastic results that told us how 50 customers rated the problem, solution, and if they would buy. 
  5. We had a new view of the problem and a rating of what customers wanted and that they would buy it if it existed. We were so excited we decided to build a prototype.
  6. The prototype got finished “enough” but took forever. Worse, it didn’t directly help us answer the question we needed it to answer. 
  7. We had to switch to a landing page mockup and test the problem, solution, and buy question there.
  8. We used up our ad money and found out how ad bids really worked. We wished we would have saved money earlier on the Facebook survey. 
  9. We got the ads dialed in and kicked off a parallel effort. 
  10. We only had a few hours left and ended up running around with our half-built prototype and our landing page printed out canvassing potential customers to see if the would buy it.
We ended up winning the competition, which was great, but what was much better was the experience of really nailing down the questions we needed to answer so we could decide how to move forward.  On top of that there was another huge learning…when you know the right question, you then have to ask the second most important question.  How fast can you answer the question you need to answer?  We really had a lot of barriers about even going to that question, but being time-pressed, the barrier broke. 
I can’t say enough about how crucial it is to ask that second question. Instead of running off into a corner building something we don’t know if customers want, we now have a very good picture of what customers want.  We did it with 4 days and about 200 bucks. Given what we know now, I think we could trim it to 2 days and 100 bucks next time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Let's all prevent spam. *