Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Lean Life

With all the thinking I've been doing about the lean methodology, I had a very interesting thought about life.

Consider that the "runway" a startup has is now defined as the number of build-measure-learn cycles founders can iterate through before having to give up on the company. The faster the iterations, the longer a company's runway. Thus, we are no longer defining a company's runway as time-dependent, but instead as cycle-dependent. This means founders with little time can still have a decent runway. It also means that founders with a lot of time can have very short runways. It all depends on the way in which they address progression.

So what if we stop thinking about life as being defined by time? What if we start thinking in terms of act-assess-learn cycles? Age would no longer matter and what we really care about is the number of times we can accomplish something and learn from it. It seems reasonable to ask what happens to the long, ambitious life goals? Well, just as build-measure-learn doesn't replace a company's vision, act-assess-learn doesn't replace having short and long-term goals. In fact, it makes it more likely that we'll reach our grand goals since we are taking short, measurable steps that result in verifiable progress and help push a flywheel that builds momentum off our experience.

In the act-assess-learn model, maximizing the number of cycles maximizes the length of our lives. What exactly does this mean? It means we have more control over our lives than we did when we measured them purely in units of time. It means we have to focus more on value and less on a ticking clock. It means we maximize the satisfaction we get out of life, satisfaction of course depending on the individual's values.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Lean Startup Machine Day 3

Strap yourself in... this is a bumpy one.

Yesterday night, we deployed a website late in the evening to test our hypothesis that experienced developers would sign up for an event where they'd work with startups on weekend-long projects to give both parties a chance to better evaluate one another. We wanted to try to get 20 experienced developers to sign up for the event by 10 am. The site was up and running quickly and we sought ways to promote it. Then came a huge mistake that we won't ever repeat and which we will share with others so they don't repeat it. After a verbal sign-off from someone we thought was associated with a particular brand, we added that brand's logo to our site to entice potential participants to sign up based on brand recognition. Looking back, it's hard to say why didn't further checks our facts before pulling the trigger. We really got caught up in the moment and let it blind us.

As today morning came around, we ramped up our marketing effort. We promoted as much as we could with a goal of hitting our target. In the end, we didn't make the bar and went back to analyze our next move. At this point, we realized that we had skipped a step by not interviewing developers first and finding out what their needs were. So our next hypothesis to test was that developers wanted to learn about and work at startups. But that's not nearly as noteworthy as what happened next.

I believe around 10:30am, we received a cease and desist call from the legal counsel of the company whose logo we had used. We immediately took the site down and started working on an apology to the involved parties. We knew we had messed up and wanted to do our best to undo any potential harm we had done to a brand we love. The right thing to do was to be open, honest, and sincere.

The ironic thing is that we probably would have had success if we had reached out to the company or a similar one through official channels to request a partnership. The test was also invalid since the result was driven by something we didn't have proper authorization to use and that would be difficult to replicate.

Before doing something, ask yourself whether you have checked all the facts appropriately. Use your good judgement and don't let your excitement or eagerness allow you to jump the gun. It's really just common sense.

This was a major failure, but we certainly learned from it. One thing I can assure you is that we will never make this mistake again. Our future judgements will be much better and we will share this experience with others to make sure they can learn from our mistake and won't repeat it.

Our sincerest apologies to everyone involved.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Lean Startup Machine Day 2

Day 2 of Learn Startup Machine was another learning-packed day. Seriously, the mentorship is just outstanding. My team got an early start reviewing our learning hypothesis canvas (I really need to find a picture to link too...), our riskiest assumption, our validation metric, etc. After that, we immediately went to work making phone calls and doing a few in-person interviews with startups who hire software developers.

In our interviews, we tried to keep the conversations high-level so the interviewee could surface the issues that were really important to them. We generally started by asking whether they had ever made a hiring decision that they regretted later. It was really interesting to see the diversity of responses here. We really thought this would be a sure-fire "yes" all around. However, we got a lot of negative responses early on. A number of folks responded that they had never regretted a hire and demonstrated that they had extremely tight filters. Our criteria for passing validation was that 6 of 10 hiring managers had to indicate that culture was a top problem in hiring. We ended up with 11 interviews and 4 negatives, so the assumption was validated, but barely.

Although our assumption had been validated, we had to make adjustments to our hypothesis since we started with a very vague notion of what we were after and after our interviews, we had a ton of information. In the commonalities among the many interviews, we found that startups hiring technical talent have trouble ensuring that the candidates that fill their pipelines are high quality. We modified our canvas, got some feedback, and started on our next experiment. I can't share the next experiment yet because it would ruin it. However, I'll post more info later.

Before wrapping up, I have to say that I've been really pleased with the talks. Adam Berk is the lead on running everything and has been doing a stupendous job. He's given us a ton of feedback and kept the 9 teams on track. John Sechrest, who everybody loves, has also been around the entire time giving great advice at every opportunity. Patrick Vlaskovitz, Clint Nelson, Irina Menn, Bob Crimmins, and Charlie Kindel all gave really informative talks and spent time mentoring. All these folks supporting Lean Startup Machine are what makes Seattle an awesome place to start a company and they all have my deep appreciation for their commitment to the community.

Tomorrow is the last day and I'm eager to get to it! But first some much needed sleep...