Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Startup Founders Get Lean in Sydney

The past few months, I've had the pleasure of planning, organizing, and launching the second Lean Startup Machine Workshop in Sydney, Australia! The 3-day workshop was held 19-21 April at Fishburners, a local co-working and tech start-up space.

Now that I've recovered from my jet lag, I thought I'd share an inside perspective on what it can take to truly test your start-up or business idea BEFORE writing a line of code, or buying any inventory, or hiring your first person, or ... you get the idea. Here's a sample of what went down ... down under!

The Stats

  • 56 entrepreneurs
  • 20 mentors
  • 10 ideas
  • 5 speakers
  • 5 judges 
  • 2 winning teams who benefited from over $2,500 in prizes
The Story
We started on Friday evening with the high energy of ideas being pitched and teams being formed -- 20 app, product, and service ideas were culled down to 10 teams based on group voting. 
Natasha, Pascale & Coach Colette

Lessons from launching successful start-ups were shared in our Fireside Chat by Sydney entrepreneurs Pascale Helyar-Moray (founder StyleRocks) and Natasha Rawlings (co-founder StreetHawk App & Springboard Australia member).

Teams spent the remainder of Friday night beginning to define their problem and customer hypotheses, and initial customer assumptions using the Validation Board.

By Saturday morning, 10 teams had become 9 as one team of three people disbanded because a team member decided not to return to the workshop. Just like in the real world, when you think you've got everyone on board, someone jumps overboard; and then you have to either reiterate, pivot, or (in this case) abandon ship.

We encouraged teams to spend the majority of Saturday 'getting out of the building' to have real conversations with real potential customers. Teams begin to learn that their ideas are essentially useless until they're validated (or invalidated) by customers who are actually living/dealing with the problem. 

My 'Saturday-tough-love' coaching to any team who was resisting going out and yet still struggling to find "the 'right' answer" was: "You're not going to find it in here standing in front of the board, talking to yourselves. Get out there and ask some more people some more questions!"

Sebastien Eckserley-Maslin on Customer Dvpt
Hamish Barney on MVPs
Shihab Hamid on Landing Pages
Lean Sydney 2013 Mentors
In addition to hands-on coaching from me and our 20 mentors, teams heard relevant presentations on customer development, building MVPs, and launching landing pages to solidify their understanding of Lean methodology.

The Breakthrough
On Saturday night, the energy was much lower as many teams seemed frustrated by the feedback they were receiving from target customers. Perhaps their perceived problem wasn't really a problem at all, or maybe it wasn't an urgent problem that their proposed customers cared enough about to solve. These are not uncommon experiences for an entrepreneur -- it just doesn't often happen in a 24-hour period!

How an entrepreneur responds to this feedback is crucial: do you continue to hold onto your idea (e.g., it's such a great idea, and did I tell you how I came up with it) or do you listen to your customers? We witnessed this struggle through Sunday morning, until some of the teams had the breakthrough as described below:
".. we stopped trying to change the customer to fit [our] solution (wasting time), and started ACTUALLY looking for [their] pain points." 
The Finale
On Sunday, it was all about making last iterations and pivots; and collecting data from online MVPs and landing pages to find out how much validation (e.g., signups, pledges, and/or letters of intent) each team had gained.

We told the teams how they could win Lean Sydney 2013 -- by sharing their findings in a short, yet compelling presentation that demonstrated how they apply the methodology and validated (or invalidated) their key assumptions.
Tom Frazier on Pitching Tips

Our Lean Sydney 2013 judging panel included renowned Sydney entrepreneurs Jodie Fox (founder Shoes of Prey) and Matt Barrie (founder Freelancer.com), and Lean Sydney 2012 founder James Nathan (Food Orbit).

And, the winners were .... @pixcapp (helping online retailers create better images) and GoTix (helping business travelers find last-minute tickets to shows and sporting events). The grand prize included a cloud hosting package from Ninefold, marketing plan consultation, and free desk space at The Hive (co-working space at Pollenizer).

To practice what I'm preaching, here's feedback from one of the attendees to validate the value of the Lean Startup Machine workshop experience:
"It teaches you really good techniques for validating business ideas, so you can see if you have a valid business before wasting lots of money on it building a solution."
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Sydney -- getting to know the start-up ecosystem there, and seeing a bit of the city. I'll share more about my personal adventures in Oz soon!