Lean Startup during the ideation stage

Lean Startup during the ideation stage

This is the second post, following an introduction post, of a series that will try to show how Lean Startup can be useful at various stages of an organisation’s life. The inspiration comes from entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs I have worked with throughout my career, including myself, who wasted way too much of their time on projects that never reached the market.

The very first stage of any start-up is the ideation stage. This is the stage when you will come up with, what you think, is a solution to answer a need you perceive to be present in the market.

Lean Startup - Decision - Baker MarketingShould I embark on a start-up project?

Just before your ideation stage, or during, you will have reflected on whether or not to embark on a start-up project.

The context you are in at the time will vary but it is important as it most often will be a defining factor of your motivation.

Given this isn’t a post on entrepreneurial psychology; I won’t delve too much into motivation. I can however tell you that insufficient or wrong type of motivation is, by far, the most important reason for failure of a start-up in my observations.

Very few types of businesses can be developed or managed part-time. A start-up is rarely a part-time job. The only stages at which you can get away with doing it part time are the ideation and early customer discovery phase. After, it’s a round the clock activity where you only get a few hours of sleep and have no life outside of your project for a long while.  If you are at a very busy time of your life for years to come, you may want to reconsider the timing for starting a new venture.

A factor that is rarely a reason for a startup failure is that the project owner didn’t have the right entrepreneurial profile. [1]

I do believe that anyone can be an entrepreneur but not everyone is born one. I would make the analogy to a concert pianist. Some may be born great pianists but a majority of them become great only after tens of thousands of hours of practice, coaching and basically dedicating the majority of their life to it.

Of course, if you are tone deaf, don’t know how to read music and don’t have any of the discipline required to practice long hours daily, the road ahead may be a very long and hard one for you.

It should also be noted that there is a strong correlation between knowledge of the field your start-up is in and success in launching a company.

Hence, the more you know about your field and the more of the entrepreneurial aptitudes you possess, the ‘’easier’’ and faster your start-up journey will be. Otherwise, you simply need to accept that you will need a co-founder’s help and/or be working harder and longer at it.

Lean Startup approach - Baker MarketingThe Lean Startup approach

The ideation stage or concept stage is when you start thinking about not only your product/service idea but also the entire business model.

Even before you have anything other than you want to start a business figured out, you should talk about your idea with people around you.

You really need not worry your idea will get stolen (unless you are in an industrial environment and competitors are listening). I have often seen multiple entrepreneurs or teams work on very similar projects simultaneously. All of the times, they took very different paths along the way that resulted in very distinct businesses, when they persisted.

When talking to people you know about your business idea, listen to their impressions and feedback. Some of it will be helpful later on.  It will also get you used to handling the various reactions you can get when discussing your project.  Don’t worry about not always sounding coherent. It’s normal. Your mind is still not set at this point and it shouldn’t be.

Lean Canvas - Baker MarketingFirst Lean Startup tools

The very first work tool I recommend to lean startup students will vary according to their type of project and their experience answering the needs of their target market.

If your project is heavily IT based or it’s a first one for you in a fast moving market[2] you are unfamiliar with, I recommend using the Lean Canvas.  The Lean Canvas will help you focus on what is the problem you are trying to solve and notions such as metrics. It will force you to explain what makes you better than the, likely, dozen or more competitors out there. A second step would then be to work on the business model canvas. It is important that you follow the recommended path to fill out the canvases. You first start with your customer segments and follow with either the problem you are trying to solve or the value proposition.  Notice that the solution is NOT the starting point.

If you already have a few years experience answering the needs of the market you are aiming for, or your project is not addressing a fast moving market, I suggest going directly to the business model canvas.

The business model canvas will allow you a deeper dive into your value proposition as well as the elements that will impact your cost and revenue structures.

The following resources to help you fill out both the lean and business model canvas.

There are literally thousands of texts and videos available on the web to help you fill your canvases. A simple Google search will lead you to them.

Lean Startup - Financial model - Baker MarketingDo your math

Although it is still too early for you to have a good idea of all of your costs and revenues, create a rough version of your income statement either in an Excel spreadsheet or with the help of an application such as Budgeto.

The purpose of this exercise is in no way shape or form to get to reliable net revenue projections. Any numbers you will produce at this point in time for your project are not worth the paper they are written on.

The objective of doing this rough draft of your financials is to get an idea of what parts of your business generate the larger costs and how exactly the money flows in. You can do some sensitivity analysis with fictional numbers and understand how various choices of business model components (like suppliers, distributors, pricing strategies, etc.) will impact your profitability.

The more you play with your financial model, the better the understanding you will get of what business model scenarios make financial sense and the ones that don’t.

Our next post in this series will look at the customer discovery phase of your project. It will take for granted that you have mulled your idea over thoroughly, have gotten some informal outside feedback, and are now confident about a first version of your business model.

[1] Some accelerator programs, owned by venture capital firms, will request a personality test before accepting you. That is because they are not willing to wait for anyone to develop those traits. Doing so would entail higher risks and longer return periods for them. Failing their entrance test doesn’t mean that you cannot be an entrepreneur.

[2] By fast I mean having significant market shifts happen within 6-9 months.

Using Lean Startup – Introduction

Using Lean Startup – Introduction

This post is the first of a series that will try to show how Lean Startup can be useful at various stages of an organisation’s life. My inspiration  comes from entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs I have worked with throughout my career, who have wasted way too much of their time on projects that never reached the market.

This and following posts don’t, in any way shape or form, pretend to be the recipe to a successful startup or project. Hopefully, however, they will give entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs a new outlook on management, new ideas and new tools to help them achieve their goals.

What is Lean Startup - Baker MarketingWhat is Lean Startup?

I have often referred to Lean Startup as a tool box but it is so much more than that. Lean Startup:

  • Gives you a way to look at problems and questions that always keeps in mind the raison d’être of your organisation
  • Helps you to prevent wasting your time developing products or services that no one wants or is willing to pay for
  • Exposes you to management tools and processes adapted to extreme market uncertainty
  • Brings structure and discipline during chaotic times hence reducing some of the risks
  • Creates a culture that enables the real power of any organisation; maximising the use of the brain power and creativity of internal and external resources
  • Introduces you into a community of people whose mindset is to help one another.

In my observations these last two elements, although not the better known ones in Lean Startup, are the most powerful ones.

Understanding the basics of Lean Startup is necessary if you wish to apply it in your organisation. This series will not spend much time explaining them, instead focusing on the practice of Lean Startup.  Hence I am sharing with you a short list of what I consider the best references to understand Lean Startup.  These are not even the tip of the iceberg as to what can be found on the web. They are, however, sufficient to give you an excellent comprehension of the basics and more.

There are millions of other web references. Many of them are excellent.

If you are new to Lean Startup, I urge you to start with the references above.

Lean Startup is getting to be a bit like a holy book. Some read it and understand the concepts behind it and apply them well. Others read it, retain the words but don’t really understand the concepts behind them so they interpret it their own way, sometimes with disastrous results. Yet others still, haven’t even read the book, use the buzz words like MVP and pivot but have no clue as to what they really mean. Hence, always be critical of what you read on Lean Startup, even the posts on this blog.

Why Lean Startup is needed - Baker MarketingWhy we need Lean Startup

Organising the Montreal Lean Startup Circle, as well as working with entrepreneurs as a consultant, a coach and a mentor, has proven to me that when properly applied, Lean Startup has the potential to take a mediocre idea and evolve it into a lucrative business (figuratively in the case of NPOs). It will also show quickly when an idea is so bad (in the context of achieving your business goals) that it needs to die.

Current management models, which were created in a different era, are no longer suited or efficient in uncertain markets.  The astronomical failure rates of startups in North America and the incapacity of our large enterprises to innovate are proof.

It is time to think differently. It is time to act intelligently.

This series will examine how Lean Startup can be applied throughout the entire life cycle of an organisation.  Our next post will look at how Lean Startup can help during the ideation stage.

[1] In case you ever wondered, Ries is pronounced rice in Europe but Eric, who is American, pronounces his last name reess.