In our last post we looked at various management approaches to reduce risks. One of them pertained to business experiments. In this post, we’ll dig a bit deeper to better understand this approach.
You have most likely heard of business experiments. The Harvard Business Review, as well as many other business management publications, published multiple articles on the topic in the last few years. They were mostly in the context of innovation.
What is a business experiment?
If you have not, a business experiment is simply testing a concept (idea, program, process, design, product, strategy, etc.) with stakeholders (customers, suppliers, distributors, employees, etc.). The experiment’s goal is to provide pertinent data to assist with decision making (usually with go/no go decisions or sometimes fine-tuning).
So yes, you do know what a business experiment is. It’s been around for, well, pretty much ever. Now you’re asking yourself; Why this article is drawing my attention to it?
The reason is that business experiments are no longer used as an occasional management tool, they are transforming into the way businesses are managed.
Why are companies experimenting at an increasing rate?
As we mentioned, business experiments are used to collect data that assists management with decision-making.
Decision-making in the business world is becoming a more demanding task (to say the least).
- Companies are significantly leaner (i.e. less resources and more work for everyone, including managers).
- The amount of information available, from secondary sources, is enough to make any manager’s head spin.
- There is a higher supply than demand for managers hence making bad decisions is a riskier proposition for your longevity in a given company than ever.
- In many sectors, markets are moving at a faster pace than ever before with competitors coming in from everywhere and customers’ choices exploding.
Hence managers are turning to ways to reduce the time and the risk involved to make the best possible decisions.
Running a business experiment to gather pertinent and timely data quickly answers the needs of over-burdened managers to reduce the risks of the decisions they make.
This explains, in part, why organisations are experimenting. What explains the increasing rate at which they are doing it, and transforming it into a management approach, has more to do with the following reasons:
- It’s cheaper and faster than ever to run business experiments (many can be done in minutes with free tools)
- An increasing number of employees or outside consultants have the skills to run experiments, analyse and interpret the collected data
- The costs to store, process and communicate the data/result are very low (compared to a decade ago) and falling constantly.
Business experiments and the Lean Startup framework
So how does an organisation go about implementing business experiments as a managerial approach? There is no one way to do so. There are however experimentation frameworks out there that can structure your approach.
One of these is the Lean Startup framework.
The base of Lean Startup is the experiment. The Lean Startup experiment is based on the scientific experiment model. It follows a build, measure, learn process.
Build (designing your experiment)
Building your experiment is a 3 step process
1. Identify the critical assumption associated with the concept to be tested
When you stop to think about it, there are thousands of assumptions we could test to assist with decision making when managing a business. If we tested all of our assumptions there would be no time or other resources left to run the business. Hence, you only want to test the critical assumptions. The ones that, if not validated, pose a business risk that you (or your organisation) are not willing to take.
2. Transform your critical assumption into a hypothesis statement
Your critical assumption was a thought you put into words. Your hypothesis statement is one sentence that can be validated (or invalidated).
3. Design the experiment that will validate (or invalidate) your hypothesis
Designing your experiment is only limited by your (and/or your team’s) imagination. The way you choose to render the concept of your hypothesis (how you present it or illustrate it) is called your Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
An important part of the MVP is the minimum part of it. In the design of your experiment, you will be aiming at spending the least amount of resources in order to obtain the maximum amount of learnings from your experiment.
This doesn’t necessarily mean bootstrapping your experiment. It simply means that you will make sure that whatever learnings you need to get from your experiment, you get by using the least amount of resources possible.
This can mean it will cost you nothing but a few minutes of the time of one person or tens of thousands of dollars, if that’s the only way to go about getting the information you need. Of course, the cost of your experiment must be proportionate to the financial risk associated with it.
The reason you are making the experiment is to get data that will help you with your decision making. Hence, you want that data to be reliable.
This is where you need a bit of knowledge about primary data gathering. You need to make sure the data you collect is not biased. You won’t be looking to get statistical quality data. That would take too long, cost too much and be an over kill for your purpose.
You’ll simply need the clear direction that your data in headed for.
In business experimentation instead of gathering a lot of data once, you gather a small amount of data repetitively. Although not as precise as statistical data it does provide you with a sufficient amount of information to de-risk, to a great extent, your decision. It is also a more suited approach to an environment that changes rapidly.
When deciding on the data you will be capturing in your experiment, remember these three important rules.
Your data should be:
If it doesn’t go in the direction you thought it would then you can change something in your business strategy or product or program that will make the data go in the direction you want.
You need to be able to re-produce the exact same experiment, in similar conditions and get similar results. For example, if you are testing the design of a snow shovel and are doing it during the storm of the century, the data you collect won’t be accountable.
The more people who interpret the data you collect, the deeper and richer your learnings will be. So make sure that the data captured during your business experiments is shared throughout your organisation. Ensure that everyone knows they are welcome to share their interpretations on the data. Making your experiments, the data collected and the results accessible throughout your organisation will also accelerate business experiments process as some parts/resources of one experiment can be used for others.
The more experience one has at conducting experiments, the faster and more accurately they are done.
This part of business experiments, although it may seem like the easiest, is the hardest. Learning means you are either
- absorbing completely new information (rarely the case) or
- you are changing in some way (sometimes drastically) already stored information in your brain
The second type of learning is the hardest. The more contradictory the data you have is to the one you previously had, the more difficult it is to learn from it.
This stored information in your brain will create a filter that will impact how you interpret new data.
Also, the more resources that has already been invested in a project, the more difficult it is to pivot on a previous course of action.
The benefits of using business experiments to manage
The main benefit, as mentioned previously, is to reduce the risk of your business decisions. This in turn will minimise your losses on various projects.
Another benefit, that is not obvious, is the improvement in work relationships. This happens for multiple reasons.
First, employees get a sense of empowerment. If they submit ideas to upper management with supporting empirical data, they know their idea will be considered.
Also, managers don’t need to spend as much time justifying their decisions. They let the data speak for itself. They do however need to include questioning the quality of the data into their process.
Finally, as mentioned, organisations that use business experiments on a daily basis to manage usually encourage employees to share the results of their experiments. This not only improves internal communication and efficiency it also creates an environment where mistakes, that bring new learnings, are valued.
This type of environment is essential to not only foster innovation but pro-activity.
Getting started with business experiments
If you think that using business experiments may be a profitable management approach for your business, start with one project (which will be a meta experiment) during which all higher risk decisions will be taken with supporting data. The project you select should be one that has high inherent risk within it (like launching a product in a new and different market). It should also be a type of project that is somewhat recurrent in your organisation. This will help you have a baseline scenario in order to compare the results of the meta experiment. Make sure to identify the metrics you’ll be evaluating before starting your meta experiment.
Some metrics (there are many others) you may want to look at would be:
- How long the project took from start to finish
- Overall budget
- What % of the initial planed output was achieved
- Variables pertaining to team cohesion
- Variables pertaining to employee (the ones who worked on the project directly and indirectly) satisfaction
- ROI projected vs achieved on a timeline (3, 6, 12, 24 months)
Implementing any new management approach takes a while. There is no one-size-fits-all recipe. You need to…yes you got it…experiment and find the approach best suited for your organisation.
If you need coaching or help getting started with your first experiment Baker Marketing can definitely help.
 Although MVP most often refers to a prototype of a product, it also means the representation of your hypothesis you will present to participants of your experience.
This is the last of an 8-post series on applying Lean Startup in the various phases of a start-up. In this post we’ll take a look at the tools that will accompany you in your efforts to maintain a lean startup practice in your company during the concierge phase.
Lean Startup Principles and fundamental tools
The tools suggested in this post are but the tip of the iceberg of the tools that exist to help you adhere to the principles of Lean Startup. They will vary according to the specifics of your business model. A great place to find apps to help you with your productivity is the Slack apps directory. Using thes tools doesn’t mean you are following a Lean Startup approach. You can only do this by putting into practice, on a daily basis, the various principles that underly Lean Startup.
Top Lean Startup Principles:
(Click on the theory to see an example of a book on the topic)
||Customer focus; Efficient use of resources; Just in time; small batches;
||Understand your customers’ needs then develop your product/service; Use continuous feedback from your markets to make decisions (feedback loop)
||Have a 360 view of needs, problems, issues; Empathize with your customers before you start designing your product; test multiple prototypes before going to market; transparency of information and process
||Develop in iteration; test your developments with users before going to the next step; use agile planning tools
There are also fundamental tools that come with the Lean Startup approach. These tools are:
- Management tools:
- Business model canvas or the Lean Canvas for planning.
- Experiment board to guide you with your first experiments.
- Kanban boards to ensure you are not creating bottlenecks in your production
- Metrics: Use data to make decisions whenever possible.
- Innovation accounting:
- Keeping a log of your experiments
- Innovation options to calculate the maximum value of your start-up and the associated level of risk.
Here are ideas of tools or types of tools to look for when applying the Lean Startup approach in the concierge phase (last phase) of your start-up.
Product development tools
If your product is an application or software
Continuous deployment (or delivery for certain markets) espouses most of the Lean Startup principles. It requires a slew of tools. Atlassian offers many of them with apps such as Bitbucket, JIRA and Bamboo.
If you’re creating a physical product
You may want to look at integrating your suppliers into your corporate Slack, if not already done. In order to do so, you should get the secure ($) version of Slack.
You’ll also want to establish processes that will ensure your marketing/product design and production teams communicate regularly in order to ensure market needs and trends are communicated asap throughout your value chain. Common work tools for these teams and spaces (physical or virtual) where they can easily meet on a daily basis should be available.
You will want to look into integrating as many of your data sources as possible (Analytics, CRM, Ticketing system, social media feeds, and manual data) into a robust business intelligence platform. One of the better and more agile one out there at this time is Tableau. Qlik and Microsoft BI are also good choices. IBM’s SAS and Watson are better, since they integrate AI elements, but highly likely out of your price range.
If you’re running an on-line business then you need to start looking into an agile and powerful real-time analytics solution. Google, aside from its free version, has a module approach that is neat since you can only get the packages you use. The entire 360 suite of 7 add-ons is very costly. You’ll need to make sure you get an ROI before investing in it. There are other options such as Clicky that also offers real-time analysis. Clicky integrates with Slack.
Whatever BI or analytics platform you get, the most important part is to ensure you have the resources and processes in place to maximise their returns for your company. Hence it must be part of most everyone’s job description to feed the BI databases on a regular, if not daily, basis. You’ll also need someone to ensure the data in your system is clean and the analyses are correctly interpreted.
Your experiment logs should be scraped for pertinent market information regularly. They should have their own Slack channel (or section in your intranet).
By the end of the concierge stage, you may be cranking out multiple new products in rapid fire in order to get a larger wallet share of existing customers or to satisfy the needs of new segments. Applications such as LaunchLeap that help you get quick feedback from a large number of users will help you accelerate your experiments.
HR tools and guidelines
If you aren’t outsourcing your recruiting and training then you’ll want to look for tools to make these processes more efficient.
Get a screening tool (with broad mesh) up on your website to reduce the time spent looking at non pertinent resumes. Make sure your corporate values and culture are also reflected on your website and all your social media content.
Use your FB and LinkedIn corporate pages to get referrals for potential top candidates.
Invest in training video s available 24/7. These online videos make the on boarding process more efficient and transparent.
Encourage inter-employee training and coaching. Having video, sound and recording capabilities on their computers or laptop will enable employees to share their knowledge with their peers either in real-time or asynchronously.
Have as few employee guidelines as possible. When they are absolutely necessary, keep them as broad as possible. Nothing kills creativity and initiative as well as guidelines. Just remember not to substitute good management with guidelines and you should be fine.
Finance is not my area of expertise so I won’t venture into suggesting accounting apps or platforms. What you will want to look for in your accounting system to support your Lean Startup approach are the following capabilities:
Integrating market information into your sales projections (by segment)
Enabling you to show only the financial data you want to specific categories of employees.
Although you want to remain as transparent as possible with your financial results, your growing staff and eco-system will require you to limit the financial information you share with some of them. If your system doesn’t allow you the flexibility to easily share some of the information with specific employees/partners/suppliers then you may be tempted to only share summarized data on a monthly or quarterly basis.
As you have now come to realise throughout this series of posts there is no one way to apply the Lean Startup approach. There are however wrong ways to go about it. If whatever you are doing goes against or disregards Lean Startup principles, then it’s obviously not Lean Startup. Throwing in buzzwords like MVP and pivots won’t change this.
We also saw a variety of tools used in the practice of Lean Startup. These don’t even represent the tip of the iceberg. They will also become obsolete very soon. Newer and better ones will become available. The important message is to keep looking for tools that will make you more efficient and help you achieve the minimum in MVP. These tools will also enable you to run experiments in a timeframe that was impossible only a few years ago.
These tools are the reason an iterative, experiment-based approach like Lean Startup is now viable.
Lean Startup is the essence of entrepreneurship. It’s about doing. It’s about taking only the risks you have to take in order to answer a market need with a product or a service. It’s about having some core competences but mostly about how fast you can learn what is pertinent and apply your learnings. Finally, it’s about discipline, rigor and lots of hard work.
Lean Startup is rarely sexy but then again neither is starting and growing a successful business.
It’s the end of the year already. It went by incredibly fast. This is the time to look back and identify what needs to be fixed. It’s also the time to be grateful for all that we were able to achieve.
One of the things I am always very grateful for is the knowledge I gain during the year. Important sources for the knowledge I pick up are the books and articles I read.
I have to admit that I didn’t have as much time to read this year as I got involved in many (maybe too many) projects. I did however manage to read some very good books on marketing, innovation and Lean Startup.
As I did last year, I am sharing with you some of the ones I especially liked.
Best Reads on Marketing
I didn’t keep up with all that is new in marketing this year. It’s nearly impossible to do so. I tuned in to a few webinars that helped me focus my readings.
I read mostly on mobile marketing (various aspects), influencer as well as community marketing. Community marketing is a strategy that isn’t as easy to implement as one might think. Here is a post I wrote on how to find a profitable community marketing partner.
Again this year, I found that my most interesting marketing reads came from blog posts on mainly two sites; eMarketer and HubSpot
Speaking of HubSpot it is one of the case study in Sean Ellis’s book; Growth Engines: Case Studies of How today’s Most Successful Startups Unlock Extraordinary Growth.
Through ten case studies, including Yelp, Uber, LinkedIn and HubSpot, Ellis explains the different types of growth engines and the contexts in which they worked best for those companies.
Although I read Growth Engines to better understand a concept that is integral to Lean Startup, this book offers some very valuable marketing lessons. It also touches on growth hacking, a term coined by Ellis. It inspired me to write a post on what growth hacking is and isn’t.
Another book that I thoroughly enjoyed was UX Strategy by Jamie Levy. Having been a Product Manager at a time where UX was but one part of the job description, it was great to delve into the depths of UX strategy.
Whether you are starting a new venture to create the killer app, or trying to innovate in an existing small, medium or large business, this book is a must read before you start. It can help you define a winning value proposition. It also guides yourr competitive analysis and helps you see which features you need to focus on.
The book is an easy read and doesn’t require any prior knowledge on UX design or app development.
Best Reads on Innovation
I was invited to a university workshop on blockchain earlier this year. Given I knew nothing on the topic I figured that it would be a great opportunity to learn. Montreal, where Baker Marketing is located, is a hotbed for blockchain research and development. The workshop did teach me the basics of blockchain but left me wanting to know more (a lot more, this is exciting stuff and definitely a game changer) about how this new technology could be used.
One of the researcher at the workshop suggested Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology behind Bitcoin is Changing Money, Business and the World, by Don and Alex Tapscott. It was exactly what this non scientific reader needed. The Tapscotts explain the concept in very simple terms. They also explore a large number of applications for blockchain. They clearly show how significant a game changer this technology could be.
In Spring I also contributed to the organisation of the Montreal edition of the Intrapreneurship Conference.
During the conference one of the keynote speakers was Guillaume Hervé. Hervé is a veteran practitioner of intrapreneurship. He contributed to several corporate spinoffs in the aeronautics and health sectors. In case you are not familiar with the term, intrapreneurship is entrepreneurship adapted to large enterprise.
Intrapreneurship is however not the same as entrepreneurship. These differences are the focus of Hervé’s book Winning at Intrapreneurship: 12 Labors to Overcome Corporate Culture and Achieve Startup Success.
Based on the 12 labors of Hercules, Winning at Intrapreneurship looks at the traps, pitfalls and myths of innovating in large businesses. Hervé saw them all in his career as an intrapreneur. He shares with us some tricks of the trade on how to avoid and debunk them. You can read more on this topic on the post I wrote titled Entrepreneurs as Corporate Innovators.
Best reads on Lean Startup
Continuing on the innovation in large business topic, Eric Ries published a second book this year. It’s titled the Leader’s Guide to Adopting Lean Startup at Scale.
First, Eric innovated in the way he published the book. He financed the book with a Kickstarter campaign. The backers were invited to join the Leader’s Guide community (managed by Mightybell). He used the community to test hypotheses about the content and cover of his book. Yep, he did it the Lean Startup way.
Unfortunately however, Eric only printed as many books as there were backers who pledged the sufficient amount. It isn’t available anywhere for purchase now that the Kickstarter campaign is over. You can however get a free digital copy if you know someone who invested in the campaign.
The Leader’s Guide is based on Eric’s experience (as well as that of some backers) on implementing Lean Startup in large corporations, like GE, and government organisations (like the White House).
I especially like the format of the book. Symbols are used in the margins throughout the chapters in order to quickly understand what the text pertains to. The coach’s Guide sections, for example, are about tips and subtleties in implementing the concepts.
It’s truly a guide that you will go to when implementing a Lean Startup approach to a large organisation.
Eric also announced that he will be publishing a third book next year. It’s tentative title is The Startup Way.
We were lucky to have another great Lean Startup practitioner write his second book this year. Ash Maurya penned Scaling Lean: Mastering the Key Metrics for Startup Growth.
As a follow up to his first book, Running Lean, Ash is now looking at how to use metrics to scale your business once you have found the elusive product/market fit.
His rigorous approach to using key metrics to track your progress and focus your efforts has shown great results in many successful startups.
Finally, I want to mention a website whose author consistently publishes great Lean Startup material. Tristan Kromer’s Grasshopper Herder is chalk full of Lean Startup ideas, tools and resources. Tristan was until recently one of the organisers of the San Francisco Lean Startup Circle.
If you are starting a new project and interested in putting Lean Startup into practice take a look at the series of posts on implementing Lean Startup. It is meant to guide you along your journey when you first start your project.
This concludes this year’s crop of my best reads on marketing, innovation and Lean Startup. Maybe some of them will become your favorites.
Thank you for taking the time to read Techno Marketing this year. I hope you take some time off during the holidays to rest and replenish, as we will.
Baker Marketing offers you its best wishes for the holidays. May 2017 be filled with health, serenity and lots of successful projects.
In this series of posts we have looked at how to use Lean Startup during the ideation and discovery phases. We also dove into the experimentation process and the tools to use in the discovery phase.
In this post, we’ll look at how to use Lean Startup in your pre-sell phase.
What is the pre-sell phase?
The pre-sell phase begins when you have sufficiently tested your leap-of-faith assumptions of your business model to be confident that you have a shot at a viable business. This not because you believe so (as you did in the ideation phase) but because most (or all) of your business’s stakeholders (potential customers, suppliers, distributors, etc.) have told you so.
Typically, during the pre-sell phase you will be:
- Finding a (or several) co-founder(s)
- On-boarding your first employees
- Developing your product/service
- Starting to put into place some key partnerships
This is also the phase at which you will start getting real feedback from paying customers (closer to the end of the pre-sell phase) and other stakeholders. It’s the reality test.
A test, unfortunately, many startup ideas fail. It’s when you will either:
- Make significant pivots,
- Change your mission entirely (go back to square one)
- Throw in the towel, or
- Confirm your business model
The end of this stage, when successful, is also often the time to go for seed funding.
Why continue experimenting?
So now that you have confirmed your business model, why should you continue experimenting? It would be so much faster to just go full steam ahead and develop.
Your ideation and discovery phases were mostly planning. As you know, plans usually don’t work out the way we think they will.
Also, during the time you take to put in place your business model, elements of your business’s eco-system as well as market realities will change. The higher the volatility of your business environment, the more important it is for you to test the elements of your business model while developing. Otherwise you may expand great efforts and resources to develop key partnerships, distribution networks, and develop your product/services for nothing.
This may not seem so bad from this end of the journey. Entrepreneurs who put every ounce of energy they had and every penny they owned (and some they don’t), for a few years, in a business that doesn’t lift off will tell you it’s as difficult as going through a death in the family. Some never fully recover.
Lean Startup experiments in the pre-sell stage
The mechanics of the experiments we saw in the discovery stage will be the same.
You will still start by asking yourself; Will the negative impact on my future business be significant if the assumption I am making (regarding whatever part of your startup you are currently working on) isn’t real? If the answer is yes, you turn it into a hypothesis you can test. You design your experiment using tools to minimize your efforts, chose your metric and standard and execute your experiment.
By this time, you will be getting very good at experimenting. Hence most of your experiments will take you less than a couple of days to run and often only a few hours or minutes.
Also, because you will have gotten out of the building often during your discovery phase experiments, you won’t need to talk to your stakeholder face to face as much. Many of your experiments will be done on the web or over the phone. You can also hire people to do them for you.
There will be times however when you aren’t sure of your next steps. This is usually the flag that means you need to go be around your potential customers. Talking or observing them. They will invariably show you the way.
At this stage, you will not only be testing elements of your product/service you will also be testing your distribution channels. The web will be your first one if you’re using it. Also, if you are thinking of launching in markets that are not physically close to you, now is the time to start testing with those markets.
Not only will you be familiarizing yourself with the tools to find those markets but also you will, hopefully, have developed the reflex to go to the Lean Startup community for assistance.
The tools of Lean Startup
Now that you will most likely have a, or several, co-founder(s) and employee(s), often not in the same city or working space, efficient communication will be a real need.
Slack, Trello and Dropbox may already be part of your daily routine. You may now want higher performance project management tools (such as Asana, Jira or Wrike) or to start taking notice of Slack management best practices.
If you’ve embraced the integrated multiplatform communication route of Slack, you may also want to look at some of its competitors such as Bitrix24 and HipChat.
If your product is IT application, you’ll want to use one of the thousands of productivity apps available, often for free, to help you develop and test it. Tools such as Balsamiq Mockups , Fluid UI or HotGloo for wireframing. GitHub, Zappier or LucidChart for developing your application. Test Fairy, Hiptest or SauceLabs for automated testing. Once your app is functional you can also put it up on Product Hunt and see what kind of reaction you get from a crowd of mostly innovators and early adopters.
If you are developing a non IT product, you can look for tools such as Ask Your Target Market (AYTM), Facebook or Survey Monkey and combine them with any potential customer email lists or profiles you have already collected.
You will also need to use your creativity to design experiments such as webinars or gatherings to have potential users interact with your product. Tools such as Meetup, Eventbrite, GotoMeeting will be very useful.
When you want to start testing packaging and pricing, A/B testing will be your friend. A/B testing is also very useful to test the conversion rates of different elements of your web pages. Tools such as Unbounce, Optimizely and LauchRock will be necessary unless you hold a degree in statistics.
If you are launching a new restaurant or brick and mortar business sites such as Potloc can help you find the best location and get feedback from potential customers.
Upping your game on metrics
Experimenting and collecting all this information is great. You’ll need however to store, crunch and make sense of all of this data.
You’ll also need to figure out what metrics will be the key ones for your business. If you haven’t read Lean Analytics (Croll & Yoskovitz) yet, you need to by now.
Analytics is one of the parts of Lean Startup that isn’t intuitive. There is knowledge involved here, quite a bit of it. The learning curve is steep. If you will be running an online business (fully online or parts of it) you definitely need some deep analytics knowledge in your company.
Zoho Reports, Segments and Tableau are all great options. Initially you may however simply use an Excel spreadsheet in conjunction with Google Analytics. By the end of this stage, you may find however that the home grown solution requires too much time to manage and you’ll see value in the previously mentioned apps.
As you can see applying the Lean Startup approach gets easier and easier as your startup grows.
The next and last post of this series will be on how to apply Lean Startup during the concierge phase of your startup.
 Although you may be selling at a discount or simply selling and reimbursing as your product is not yet ready.
 Doesn’t integrate with Slack
This post follows Lean Startup Experiment – Discovery Phase. It will help you find Lean Startup tools that will accelerate your experiments significantly. Many of these Lean Startup tools increase productivity and can also be used on a daily basis in your business.
None of these tools, aside from the Javelin board and the experiment log template were developped specifically to be used within the Lean Startup approach. They are simply productivity tools that enable fast and efficient Lean Startup experiments.
Lean Startup Tools
Lean Startup tools make continuous experimentation throughout your startup feasible. Many of those tools are free or cost very little. None of the tools presented in this post were developed specifically for Lean Startup. They are simply productivity tools that are used by the Lean Startup community to increase their productivity.
The following are some of the tools I find most useful and often recommend when entrepreneurs are in the discovery phase. Keep in mind there are hundreds if not thousands more of these tools out there. A bit of googling and asking around will yield you many options to accomplish the same task.
Lean Startup tools to organise
These applications are great as they often work as a checklist as well as organisers. The following Lean Startup tools are all free or have free parts to them. Click on the titles for links.
Ash Maurya has graciously made his Lean Canvas application, which is very well made, free for your first project. It will help you keep a record of the various iterations, enable you to share with other team members and print your canvas.
Free business model canvas application developed by Johan Steenkamp. It has some really great features such as various colours for your post-its, picture and sketching capabilities as well as communication features for your team.
This is a great tool to start figuring out your cost and revenue model. It will act as a check list of all the items you need to take into consideration in your revenue statement. As you progress in your startup, Budgeto will also take care of most of your accounting needs.
Lean Startup Tools to communicate/collaborate
If you don’t yet know about Slack, you must. It’s an instant messaging app, on stereoids, that allows you to connect just about any other popular productivity tool such as Dropbox, Google docs or Hangouts, Skype, Trello and hundreds more. It’s mobile friendly so it will enable you to keep in touch with your team wherever you are.
Trello is one of the many simple and intuitive project management tools out there. Trello is the only full application that still offers free access. It is very powerfull and still simple to use. Other project management platforms such as Asana and Basecamp are even more complete but don’t offer any free versions.
Definitely one of the best ways to share large files and documents. It’s as simple to use as can be and is entirely free unless you are a power user.
Lean Startup tools to run my first experiments
Javalin first developed the Experiment Board for the Lean Startup Machine a couple of years ago. They are now developing it in an app and are still in the testing phase. Until the app is out, you can get a Google docs version of it and print it out. Watch this great video tutorial, from Grace Ng, of how to use the Experiment board.
This book contains over a dozen techniques to help you conduct offline experiments. Each technique is well explained and illustrated with an example. If you’re not familiar with data gathering techniques, it’s the best place to start.
Powerful online survey creation and data analysis application. It’s free for basic forms and data crunching. It has more survey question options and data analysis capabilities than AYTM and GCS. You must provide your own participants list.
Google Forms enables you to create surveys that you can send to your own participants list. Google Consumer Surveys provides the participants and you only pay for completed questionnaires. Pricing starts at $0.10USD per completed survey.
Similar to Consumer Surveys AYTM offers highly targeted participants to answer your surveys.
Pricing starts at about $1USD per participant. AYTM boasts over 25 million survey or experts panel participants.
As of writing this post, I haven’t seen any experiment log templates or application to facilitate the keeping of a journal of your experiments.
Hence, I created one for my own use that I will share with you. It’s a simple Excel spreadsheet that you can modify as you see fit. The important part is to keep your rows constant over time so you can have a base to compare.
Keeping an experiment log is a pain and requires some time and effort. Hence, if you don’t plan on going to VCs for funding, it’s not a must to keep one.
An added benefit of the log is that of a training tool when you onboard other members. Careful reading of this journal will help your new recruits know about your young corporate history and learn from you previous mistakes and wrong turns.
Note: I will add the experiment log template to this post very soon.
Tapping into the Lean Startup community
Some of the most important resources found in Lean Startup are its local and international communities. It is by far the entrepreneurial community that is the most generous with its time and knowledge that I have encountered.
Locally, you have Lean Startup Circles members that meet periodically to learn, practice and exchange on Lean Startup experiments, tools and resources. Circles have experienced coaches that can help you with any part of your experiments.
You can locate the Lean Startup Circle nearest you by consulting the list on the Lean Startup wiki. Most of them, such as the Montreal LSC, have a Meetup page, Facebook page and/or website where you can register to become part of the community.
Once you are part of a Lean Startup Circle community you will gain access to the Lean Startup Slack channels by asking your local organisers. These channels encompass hundreds of members that form a help community.
If you are stuck somewhere in your experiment, are looking for a tool, experiment design ideas, want to know how to go about testing a foreign market, your local and virtual Lean Startup communities will be there to help.
The next phase
Once you have acquired sufficient knowledge on your various stakeholders and have attained a certain level of validation with your business model, you will want to put it to the test.
The next phase will be about validating your business model where it counts; in the market. It is the true acid test. This phase is also sometimes referred to as the Valley of Death. It is when most start-ups end up dying in the Lean Startup approach.
This phase will also be when you start developing your product/service. The good news is if you can’t find any way to have your product/service fly in the market, you will not have spent months or years working on it.
The next post will guide you through this phase using Lean Startup. It will show you how Lean Startup can help transform, some (no, not all) ideas that would have died, into lucrative ventures. We will also present tools and tactics that can help you survive these difficult times.
When I first heard the term growth hacking, about 5 years ago, I thought Great! Some unscrupulous marketer is at it again. In my head hacking meant doing something either illegal or unethical. Either way, it wasn’t going to be good for business in the long run and whoever was doing it would figure it out sooner or later. Hence I dismissed it.
During the following couple of years, I stumbled upon an increasing number of posts and web articles on growth hacking. The authors described tactics they had used and stated the impressive results they had achieved in attracting users to an application or a website while spending very little money. Many of these tactics were creative and the vast majority of them were neither illegal nor unethical. I had to know more, so I researched growth hacking thoroughly.
I started by going to Sean Ellis’s first post on the topic where he coined the term. That honestly didn’t give me much to go on. Since I’m a firm believer in the need to understand the context in order to truly understand the problem, my second step was to study who Sean Ellis was. What was the road that led him to create the growth hacking concept?
Sean’s professional journey led him first to a commission only sales job in Budapest, in a pretty cut-throat environment, selling advertising for publications. The guy did brilliantly. In order to do so however, he had to get very creative. Then he headed to Silicon Valley for short stints (less than a year) at Dropbox and Eventbrite where he was hired specifically to grow their user base. At that time he was also active in multiple technological start-ups in the valley, helping them not only with their marketing but also often acting as an angel investor. He went on to become a serial entrepreneur. Hence his business culture is soaked with the Silicon Valley culture where fast growth and big numbers (where the money comes from is secondary) are what counts most.
Understanding the creator’s journey and the environment in which it was created can help you understand where growth hacking shines and where it doesn’t.
Like any other business concept, growth hacking is not a panacea. It isn’t applicable in all situations, in all companies, at all times.
Growth hacking can be described as creative digital marketing tactics, aimed specifically at web user base growth, that are best suited for web based products/services during the start-up phase, immediately after product/market fit stage. This is when scaling the business goes from back burner to front of mind.owth hacking can be described as creative digital marketing tactics, aimed specifically at web user base growth, that are best suited for IT products/services during the start-up phase immediately after product/market fit stage.GG
Are you confused yet? I didn’t think so. When applied the way it was intended to, a good business concept usually isn’t confusing.
It gets confusing when the concept starts being applied when it shouldn’t or in situations it isn’t intended for. This isn’t to say that a concept shouldn’t evolve and be adapted to new situations and contexts. The message here is, when it is, it must be done carefully in order to preserve the concept’s value.
A good example of an evolved application of growth hacking is when it is used by large corporations to grow their user base of a new (or even an existing) product. Only a few years back an active social media presence, cross promotions, webinars, Facebook contests and selling their apps through the iStore or Google app store could all be have been considered growth hacks in large corporations. Today, these same marketers would need to be more creative in their tactics to be counted as growth hackers. The tactics, whatever form they take, are a part of an overall marketing plan and, when well executed, give fast and excellent results in growing the user/customer base.
Here are a couple of situations that I was exposed to in recent months which confused the heck out of me. They also show that comprehension and application of a good business concept can get distorted to the point of being harmful.
The first one was an 18 month old start-up that was a B2B reseller (of non IT products). It used the web as one of its distribution channel. When I asked the owner who was doing his marketing strategy he proudly said to me; We don’t waste time with marketing, we only do growth hacking and sales. I asked him what growth hacking entailed for his company. He went on to describe various digital marketing tactics, some aimed at finding new customers and others aimed at brand recognition (hence not growth hacking). The web developer who he had employed as his growth hacker did use analytics but wasn’t familiar with cohort analysis or the sales funnel. Aside from transferring email addresses, his growth hacking tactics would generate, to the person responsible for sales in non web channels, there was no other coordination between the two. When I asked the head of sales how useful these email addresses were he rolled his eyes and let out an exasperated sigh. In the end, growth hacking was costly and had little to no impact on revenues in this situation.
Growth hacking is NOT a replacement for marketing. It is one of the categories of digital marketing tactics that can be used in specific situations to generate users, members, contributors and/or email lists (amongst others). Growth hacking has little or no value if it isn’t part of an overall marketing strategy.
The second situation, and I have seen it more than once, is when a founder or co-founder tags him or herself as Chief Growth Hacker. From day one, their focus is on growing their potential user (fan) base. The product is nowhere near being ready, the target customers still change every other week and product/market fit is nowhere in sight. Growing your user/customer base is a valid concern, even on day one, but growth hack tactics should not be how you find your first customers. Even if you have a web only based business, your first customers should be people you first approach and meet face to face. People you can observe in various situations. People who have no restrictions (or constraints) in telling you what they like and don’t like about your product idea. People you get to know inside out. Most of the users generated by growth hacking tactics before you achieve product/market fit will not convert into paying customers.
When you have not yet achieved product/market fit, you are better off having only a few customers (willing to pay you), that you know inside out, than having a large base of potential non-paying customers that you know only superficially. Once you know your various customer segments intimately and have found the product that they can’t live without, then will be the time to put massive efforts into growth hacking.
Yes, showing a large number of potential customers early can make potential investors notice your start-up. However, unless you can convert a large proportion of these potential customers into paying customers soon, which won’t happen if you haven’t reached product/market fit, the investors will disappear faster than you can snap your fingers.
If you are a founder, and thinking about using growth hacking, the takeaways are:
- Make sure the timing and contexts are right for it
- Growth hacking is not a substitute for marketing. It is but one of its components
- Growth hacking requires skills in analytics. Ensure you have those skills in your company before attempting it
- Growth hacking is not a magic bullet. It will not ensure your start-up’s success by itself.
If this post has raised any questions in your mind about growth hacking, feel free to contact Baker Marketing. We’ll be happy to help you answer them if we can.