This article is first in a series of blog posts focused on using lean principles to build a startup.
How do you get beyond an idea and start a company? Build a product? Attain success? These questions are probably why you’re on the Live Free and Start site. You have an idea. You want to take that idea and run with it, but you don’t know where to start or go beyond that idea and create a product or solution.
If you’re thinking about a technology product or solution, a good place to start is Eric Reis’s book, The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. While the book wasn’t published when I built JitterJam (the product/company we built from idea to exit in 18 months), I have since used many of its principles in my current company, AlignMeeting.
According to Reis, “The Lean Startup method teaches you how to drive a startup —how to steer, when to turn, and when to persevere-and grow a business with maximum acceleration. It is a principled approach to new product development.” In practice, the lean methodology is a series of experiments — a build-measure-learn feedback loop. You figure out what problem you’re solving (or think you’re solving) and build the ‘leanest’ product you can with a minimum amount of effort/development (a minimum viable product or MVP) to begin that feedback loop. You then test, measure, learn, iterate and repeat this process, and you continue this cycle until you have figured out what people want and are willing to pay for. By using this methodology, you can get to that validation much more quickly vs. traditional build-beta-release cycle.
While this might sound straightforward, staring and running a business, raising capital, defining a product, testing it, marketing it, etc. is still a daunting process. When you’re faced with such a long and difficult road, using lean methodology is a great way to keep you focused and to thoughtfully get from concept to company. In the early stages, it’s critical to find out what people want before you lay down a line of code.
Let me illustrate how we used ‘lean’ to move our early product concept forward. The idea for our product, AlignMeeting, was born out of the frustrations that my business partner and I had in our previous roles — namely, the misalignment of sales and marketing to one another and to the customer. We talked about how we could solve this problem and quickly zeroed in on the one place where we could have the most impact on a business — customer-facing meetings. We asked ourselves how we could improve the meeting experience.
To develop our first MVP, we created a slide deck with prototypes of our product concept (build) and began a series of interviews with our target audiences (test). We took the feedback from each of our meetings (measure, learn) and began to iterate the product design, features and even the benefit statements and continued to test new versions of our MVP with subsequent subjects. In this manner, we got to our first list of product requirements without a single line of code.
If you’re thinking of creating a new product, how would you turn these lessons into your own MVP? I’d love to hear your thoughts!