The Lean Way to Know Thy Neighbour

Posted by Howard Kingston on

Last weekend saw a gathering of entrepreneurs for Lean Startup Machine en Français, for a weekend of pivots and pizza in Paris. The winners of Lean Startup Machine Paris was Voizin“a non-intrusive short-messaging social app that helps building residents get connected to one another, help each other, exchange tips & items.” The Voizin team – Gilbert Val, Olivier Jaouen, Alexandre Cipriani, Stephen Bauer and Philippe Duhamel  – met for the first time on Friday night, when all attendees had a 1 minute opportunity to pitch their “next big thing” idea. During the pitches, Stephane and Philippe’s ideas were almost identical – To solve the problem of neighbours not knowing each other & helping them share useful information and items - prompting the two jokingly to question who stole whose idea. They soon decided to join forces to solve a problem they were both passionate about. Team Voizin was formed. However, as with all Lean Startup Machine projects, their journey was not without its challenges. The team believed they had a strong idea but they needed to validate some of their core assumptions – the first of which was a seemingly straightforward one: Do people want to know their neighbours? The Voizin team only had to read the LSM battle cry printed on fellow attendees’ t-shirts to know what to do next: Get out of the Building! Getting out of the building can be one of the most nerve wrecking elements of any Lean Startup Machine team’s weekend, but Voizin and other LSM Paris teams were presented with an additional challenge: the Parisian culture does not lend itself to speaking to strangers on the street. Nevertheless, the Voizin team pushed through this challenge to speak to potential customers and gather feedback that would prove vital to their win. And it was while out of the building, conducting Cust Dev (speaking to target customers, for those un-initiated into the Lean Startup methodology), that the team arrived at one of its epiphany moments. This was: people do realise the value of their neighbour network, but dare not take the first step to knock on the door. Voizin’s Cust Dev had just uncovered a problem to get even the most hardened entrepreneurs salivating to solve, and is an example of just how powerful getting out of the building and speaking to customers can be! The challenge to the team was now – how do they break this hurdle? The team had some ideas, and the only way to find which of these was the correct one, was test them using the next cornerstone of Lean Startup: the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). An MVP is a way of testing problem and solution hypotheses in the shortest possible time. This test can take the form of a ‘smoke test,’ wireframes, a working prototype, or a manual solution, to name a few. Voizin went through three MVPs. The first two came back with negative results before they arrived at their winning idea: the concept for a platform for sending short messages between neighbours that helps connect, without being intrusive. The team built landing pages as their MVPs to explain the benefits to users and help them visualise the concept. And it was this last iteration, which proved the winning formula as target customers were immediately interested. This gave them the confidence to produce a winning pitch on Sunday night in front of the LSM judges. Alexandre said “the key to our success was that we iterated on our idea fast (3 MVPs) and Stephane’s final presentation was excellent.” Future Lean Startup Machiners, take note. They have been contacted by a number of potential customers they spoke to over the weekend, asking when the finished Voizin product will be ready. It’s a great sign that there is an exciting future for Voizin after Lean Startup Machine Paris.