Inside Miami’s first Lean Startup Machine

Posted by Kristen McLean on

The scene: UM Launchpad’s hip new downtown accelerator space The cast: 6 creative entrepreneur teams, 10 Lean Startup mentors, 5 engaging speakers, and a panel of 5 expert judges The flavor: IKEA meets Shark Tank with a generous dose of street-level reality The mission: Get out of the building and test your awesome ideas with real, live people. Use what you learn to prove the potential of your concept (and your ability to pivot) before a panel of judges.
Welcome to one of the most enjoyable pieces of education I’ve had in a long time—welcome to the Lean Startup Machine workshop. On August 17th to 19th, from 6pm Friday to 6pm Sunday, hardy entrepreneurs and mentors came together to take six promising startup ideas from pitch to validation. The core activity revolved around Lean Startup Machine’s super-efficient technique to help teams identify assumptions and validate them (or invalidate them) in a quick-moving process. It’s a Postit®-intensive cycle that emphasizes progress over perfection and the feedback of target customers over internal debate. The event was moderated by the extremely likeable Travis McCutcheon —a passionate Austin-based entrepreneur who loves—in the words of his LinkedIn profile— “Disruptively Innovating and Creatively Destroying.”
He and the other top-notch presenters, including Patrick Vlaskovitz, author of The Entrepreneur’s Guideto Customer Development and The Lean Entrepreneur, handed down the gospel of Lean with an awesome mix of hard-won wisdom, practical insight, and accessible delivery.
The core takeaway: why waste time when you can get out and test your ideas directly and cheaply just by talking to people?  In the best-case scenario you get real insight to define a real customer & a real problem to solve, so you can focus your precious startup resources without waste. Even more importantly, you might find out quickly that your idea isn’t as awesome as you thought before you’ve wasted precious time and money. That’s startup gold.
Other takeaways: Talking to strangers is easier than you think – Just do it. They will teach you a lot, and you get better and better as you go. Don’t be afraid of getting brushed off. The pain of a brush off now is nothing compared to the pain of shutting down your project later because you got it wrong. Listen more than you talk by a factor of 10 – If you’re talking too much you’re not really listening. Think service first, features second – If your core service isn’t important to people, your solution won’t be either. Test your assumptions using a Concierge MVP, and in depth. Test your assumptions as simply as possible, preferably face to face, and without too many props or distractions. You can accomplish a lot more in a day than you ever imagined – Just get busy, make clear decisions, and don’t stop (until you have to because you can’t stand up anymore). Don’t assume that the solution in your mind is right, even if you have the right problem – In other words, you may need to dig a hole, but you don’t yet know if you are digging with a teaspoon or a backhoe. Let your customers tell you. They will, if you ask the right kinds of questions.

“you may need to dig a hole, but you don’t yet know if you are digging with a teaspoon or a backhoe”

Don’t waste time with overly designed mock-ups, landing pages, or presentations – that’s time you could be learning something valuable to push the project forward. Give your customers credit. Less is more, and it’s also much easier to test and see what’s happening. -And finally- Sticky notes are awesome – messy, but nothing beats them for quick ideation. At the end of the event each team pitched their initial idea, their learning process, and the final outcome of their research including metrics on conversions, in-person discovery, and the results of some (very) creative experimentation. It was instructive to see several cases where the initial customer, initial problem, and proposed solution were found to be pretty much wrong. In the end, team Shpot—a new platform for connecting photographers and models who want to shoot in the same locations—took the prize: a mobile mini-app built in 2 days by a New Frontier Nomads as an MVP to enable Shpot to test and validate their idea further.  But it really wasn’t about winning. All participants will agree that the learning process was the prize everyone is walking away with. So in that spirit, a profound thanks to Lean Startup Machine, Miami Lean Startup Circle, UM Launchpad, event sponsors The Knight Foundation, .CO, and the many mentors for their generous ideas and time spent. You all rock. Now everybody get out of the building and do something great!
Story by Kristen McLean. Follow her on Twitter @BKGKristen.