1 Workshop + 100 Students + 20 Mentors = A Life Changer

Posted by Boris Grinkot on

The Lean community in Toronto is strong, and the inaugural Lean Startup Machine Toronto workshop packed the house with around 100 attendees and 20 mentors. As is often the case, the attendees fell into one of three categories:
  1. Companies that bring their entire teams to work on a new or ongoing project,
  2. Entrepreneurs hatching an idea, looking for like-minded folks to help build it or kill it, and
  3. Intrapreneurs that want to practice Lean to put it to work for their employers.
Jason Little, whose team Hire Shark went on to win the competition, was in the last category. He came to LSM for the learning experience and to pick up skills he could apply at his day job. He knew he would learn a lot, but he had no idea that LSM would make a huge impact on his life. We asked Jason a few questions about his experience. LSM: How did you come up with the original concept? About 3/4 of the way through the pitches, I had an idea. I wasn't planning on pitching one. I thought about my experience as an Agile Coach and about how so many great people work for crappy companies. I wanted to create a service that would help great people find better jobs. Nikolai, Oleg and Lily approached me, asked some questions and decided to join the team. LSM: How did you approach product development in your job? I used what I thought was a Lean Startup model at the company I was working for. We were looking to figure out what our next generation of products looked like and Lean Startup seemed like a great fit. I realize now what I did wasn't really a Lean Startup model, it was kind of a safe attempt of doing “just enough” to bring a product to market. I'm an Agile guy so I get that building some big monstrosity without customer validation is nuts. So, I took a balanced approach by figuring out the “how” parts too early. I think it was a mistake to do that, but I had a gut feel the idea was going to take off. LSM: Right, we would want you to talk to the customers about their problem first, which can be painful. What was the most uncomfortable activity your team members had to go through? For me personally, it was overcoming my fear of talking to strangers (customers) and presenting my solution hypothesis. I'm an introvert so that was really scary. When I spoke to my first potential customer, he loved the idea and I chickened out asking him for money. I didn't make that mistake the second time. LSM: What were some of the major changes in your product during LSM? It felt like our product evolved naturally as we narrowed the focus on our customer segment. I would say a couple of major changes were when we moved from paper prototypes to Balsamiq mockups. As we got into (probably too much) detail, we realized we needed to un-clutter the UI mockup and focus on the main value Hire Shark was bringing, which was to let companies crowdsource their hires and cut through the sea of resumes and data they get. LSM: Why do you think your team won the competition? I think we provided the best evidence of customer validation. Our presentation wasn't the prettiest and I was a bit worried when I saw some of the teams present (Printify had shirts!). I was shocked we won. In retrospect, we executed on validating and invalidating our assumptions quickly and had real data to back it up. LSM: Future plans? This weekend changed my life. In fact, one week later I quit my job to pursue brining Lean Startup to my local tech community. I am grateful to the organizers, mentors and sponsors who helped me realize what I want out of life. LSM: We are looking forward to hearing from you about where this will take you, Jason! Anyone else have a life-changing experience at LSM? Please comment below!