An LSM Story: It’s a Dog-Eat-Your-Assumptions World

Posted by Michael Chiang on

A few Sundays ago, I lay in bed, sick as a puppy, staring at an email from Gary’s Guide about upcoming events for startups in the city. I confess that I hadn’t heard of Lean Startup Machine before, but this event featured the who’s who of the entrepreneurship world, so I figured that I had nothing to lose. When I arrived at the workshop, I began speaking to people around me, and it was refreshing to talk to people who were as passionate as I was about turning a vision into a viable business.  In the two and a half days that followed, I accomplished more for MatchPuppy than in the preceding 12 months. I had been conditioned in business school to plan ahead and foresee possible stumbling blocks, but this event made me realize, that their methodology didn’t fit my product idea. There was no competitive analysis that I could reference, no comparable business model to work off or write a business plan. I needed a different approach to innovation. Dating invalidated (get it?) The most valuable learning I took away from this experience was the importance of testing your riskiest assumptions. We had two:
  1. Dog owners want to breed their dogs here in NYC (dog dating)
  2. Single dog owners want to meet other single dog owners (human dating)
These assumptions felt right to me and my co-founders, but now we were forced to test them in the field. On Saturday, we talked to about 60 dog owners in Madison Square Park, Washington Square Park, and several pet stores. Only about 6 of them said they wanted to find a breeding mate for their dog. Another 7 (mainly twenty-something males) said they were interested in meeting other dog owners. Our ideas were failing. Pivoting to being “just friends” However, there was a huge upside to our customer interviews: around 40 people said that they would want to set up play dates for their dogs! This allowed us to re-formulate our hypothesis. With a few more hours left on Saturday, we headed out again, now asking dog owners if they were interested in finding a play date for their pet. Not just hypothetically, but the following day. Ten out of 20 said yes and gave us their email addresses. We validated that there was a real problem that we were solving. Letter of intent Since Friday night, Trevor kept telling us “if you really want to validate this for yourself, you need to go out and get formal evidence that someone wants to buy your service.” We thought of different ways of making it happen. Trevor introduced me to the LSM winner from London, who got LOI validation with small dog businesses. On Sunday morning, our hypothesis was that local dog stores would pay to sponsor these play dates. With little time left before Charlie O’Donnell’s presentation at LSM (we weren’t about to miss that one!), we ran to every possible luxury dog store and hotel, but they don’t usually open that early. Charlie O’Donnell was coming in, we were late for lunch, and we were late with our presentation slides… I only got to talk to three stores, but one of them (Fetch Club on South St.) happened to have the owner present. We got the currency we needed: a letter of intent to sponsor our first playdate to the tune of $300! Product-market “match” Since that action-packed workshop, the MatchPuppy team has evolved from a three-partner initiative to a living and growing organization that includes a seasoned Ruby developer and a marketing division. MatchPuppy is hosting a Doggie Party—our unofficial launch partyon February 11 to bring passionate dog owners together. Our new website will be entering public beta, with official launch coming in late spring.  As a final note, what I’ve learned from this experience is to never be afraid to ask for what you want, because you might be surprised with what you get.