Lean Startup Weekend – Nathan Bashaw

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How to put lean startup ideas into practice during Startup Weekend.

Here are a couple of tricks I’ve discovered in my adventures trying to figure out how this whole startup thing works. Hopefully they should help you build something awesome during the weekend and gain valuable experience putting lean startup techniques into practice. So without further ado, here are my top 3 tips for making your startup weekend experience a little leaner:

1) Build, but not too much – Just asking people if they like your idea isn’t enough. They will have a hard time conceptualizing what you’re trying to sell them, and they might say “yes” just because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. After all, if your product is just a dream, how can they objectively (or constructively) criticize it? You’ll need to show them something you’ve made before they’ll understand it. It doesn’t have to be the full product. In fact, it shouldn’t be. Everything you build is worthless until proven valuable. Sinking a lot of time and effort into an unproven concept is a recipe to achieve a failure.  Much better to build small things first, like a fake screenshot or landing page. Show them to people, learn from what they say, iterate, repeat. Plan on throwing away a lot of good ideas in order to get to the great ones.

2) Be a human – Have you ever noticed how the best conversations tend to wander away from the original talking point, and head towards interesting, uncharted territory? When you’re talking to potential customers, do everything you can to let these types of engaging discussions emerge. Don’t stop them when they’re leaning forward in their seat with their eyes wide, adrenaline surging, paying rapt attention to the conversation. I used to take a rigid, formal approach to customer development interviews until I realized that I never got many good ideas or feedback from those conversations. My scripted questions made people uneasy, and they weren’t willing to open up with what they *really* think. Now, I don’t think of these interviews as anything more than an opportunity to build a relationship and learn from an interesting person. I ask about their story, how they got started doing what they do, what they’ve been reading lately, where they want to be in five years. This gives me a holistic understanding that no survey will ever be able to replicate, because it takes a genuine human connection for people to feel comfortable opening up. Bonus tip – be vulnerable, and they’ll reciprocate.

3) Understand your corner – Startups are small, fragile creatures. You can only dominate the world if you start out by capturing a small corner. In order to do that, you’ve got to know it like the back of your hand. Talk, read, listen, ask, argue, and stumble your way towards figuring out what makes your niche tick. That means you have to figure out who all the players are, what they do, how they relate to each other, etc. Think of yourself as a zoologist studying an anthill. Watch the flows of resources and information, figure out the strong and weak points, who has power, who doesn’t, and who to *actually* be afraid of. Give each team member homework to do, and let them present their findings to the group. Do all this, and maybe you’ll begin to understand 1% of whats actually going on. It’s important to realize that blogs and newspapers are trying to tell stories for entertainment, not for truth value. The best info comes from discussions with real people. Don’t be afraid to email useful strangers with “random” questions for your research.

So those are my 3 ideas for how to be a little leaner during startup weekend. The most important thing to remember is that advice = limited life experience + over-generalizations.  Take all this with a cup of salt :)