I started blogging about Lean Startups a year and half ago because I had more questions than answers. While Eric Ries was evangelizing Lean Startups and sharing his retrospective lessons learned from working at IMVU, IMVU was no longer a startup. What you saw was a fully realized Lean Startup machine which was at times daunting.
So I set out to rigorously test these techniques on my own products. What I learned in the process was that while there was a lot of emphasis on speed and learning, there wasn’t enough emphasis on focus with respect to the stage of the startup (Right Action, Right Time) which I believe is the third leg for building an optimal validated learning loop and taking these principles to practice.
Through my testing, I was able to derive a repeatable and actionable workflow for my type of product – a SaaS Web Application. This workflow subsequently got turned into a book, Running Lean, which incidentally I wrote by applying the same meta-principles. While I believe these meta-principles apply universally across a range of products and business models, I also know that the specific tactics and workflow can and will vary. The only way to uncover other such workflows is through first hand experiential learning (Practice Trumps Theory).
To that end, I am launching a new experiment: RunningLeanHQ.com. The goal is to create a centralized repository of best practices, case studies, and other hacks from Lean Startup practitioners around the world.
As can be expected, I will be applying the same meta-principles to this experiment too.
Life’s too short to build something nobody wants.
Here’s how I defined and launched the MVP:
Document Plan A
The first step for me always starts with documenting hypotheses. My tool of choice is Lean Canvas. I normally recommend creating a canvas for each potential segment, but in this case, identifying the customer segment was straight forward. It’s Lean Startup practitioners and entrepreneurs interested in applying Lean Startup.
Here’s the Lean Canvas I created:
Validate Problem/Solution Fit
With my hypotheses documented, the next step was validating whether this was really a problem worth solving. After all, there are numerous alternatives already in the form of blogs, videos, meetups, events, other pre-existing communities like the Lean Startup Circle and the Lean Startup Wiki.
So I setup some interviews. Since this MVP would start as a natural extension to my book, I decided to start with my readers first. I blocked 2 hours a day for 3 days a week and invited them to setup a free 30 or 60 minute chat with me to talk about their startup and Running Lean. I wasn’t pitching anything. The best learning at this stage comes from listening.
I wanted to know how they were applying these techniques to their startups, where they were getting stuck, and in exchange I offered advice on how to formulate the next experiment for their startup.
Before you can really define a solution, you have to really understand the problem.
At the end of the call, I briefly mentioned the community initiative and asked if they’d be interested in being featured as a case-study.
My main objective here was trying to understand how and where people learned about Lean Startup today, what was missing, and why they themselves weren’t writing more tactical case-studies.
Here’s what I learned from the 20 entrepreneurs I’ve spoken to so far:
- There is a hunger for more vertically segmented tactical case-studies.
- While there are lots of resources available online, there is a high noise-to-signal ratio.
- The roadblock to more case-studies isn’t confidentiality (as I assumed) but time and ability to write.
Armed with this knowledge, I started asking what if I worked with them and helped write the case-study with them. Even better, what if I interviewed them, and wrote the case-study for them. Everyone said yes.
Achieve Product/Launch Fit
Now it was time to build the MVP and get it ready for launch which required defining the MVP, instrumenting it for learning, and qualitatively testing it before launch.
The interviews helped validate that building a community was worthwhile, but more importantly they helped refine the solution from being a collection of “user generated guest case-studies” to being a collection of “carefully curated case-studies”. This was fundamentally different from pre-existing alternatives like the Lean Startup Wiki or a personal blog where anyone could easily put up a case-study.
I knew this was something I could get started but couldn’t scale myself so I called up another entrepreneur I know for advice: Ed Roman. Ed built one of the largest Java communities (http://www.TheServerSide.com) a few years back and understands how to scale communities. Not only did he have great advice, but he wanted to be involved.
Together, we defined a handful of case-study templates in an attempt to productize the content generation process and started interviewing and creating the first set of case-studies.
While there are many possible “features” we could have built into the MVP, such as a Q&A section, we decided to the keep the MVP as small as possible and focussed solely on the Unique Value Proposition: curated case-studies.
An effective Q&A site requires high engagement which is further down the user lifecycle. Our first objective was providing a great user experience through actionable content (Activation) and have people come back for more (Retention).
We could also have easily spent a ton of effort trying to design the perfect aesthetic for this site. Ugly sites with great content out-win beautiful sites with poor content every time.
Content is king.
We found an off-the-shelf thesis WordPress skin, customized it just enough to match the color palette of the book cover and got to work writing and curating case-studies. Why thesis? Because Matt Cutts and others seem to think it’s good for SEO.
Instrument a Conversion Dashboard
We’re using off-the-self tools like Google Analytics, WordPress, TweetMeme, Disqus, to measure most of what we need to get started. In addition, we are also integrating our own lifecycle marketing tool USERcycle to track and segment users into buckets (or cohorts) which should make for an interesting meta case-study one day.
Test MVP Qualitatively
We showed the MVP to several people which helped refine the layout of the site. Since there was going to be some lag time between case-studies, we decided to add a News and Articles section.
3 2 1… Launch
The site is being soft-launched at SXSW. We have a backlog of 20 case-studies already and an aggressive content posting schedule and plan.