Lean Experiments

Written by Ren Butler on the 16th of February, 2017

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Test the sizzle

Then make the steak!

As a startup founder you are an explorer, scientist, and inventor- in that order. The founders going through our program might think we sound like broken records but we could just make “Have you validated that? Let’s look at your research.” signs to hold up …because we have to say it all the time. Those who listen most effectively to their market are typically the ones that have the most startup success.

There are no shortage of problems to solve in the world – both business and consumer. There are, however, many winding paths to the plethora of potential solutions.

Once you’ve validated that your market even agrees that they have the problem you’re looking to solve (see my other work on ideation and problem validation), then it’s time to test what kind of solution people are most excited about buying. The cold, hard truth is that if nobody wants to buy your solution, you don’t have a business.

We are big fans of the awesome Javlin experiment board. Just like you can boil down a 20+ page business plan into one page with a Lean Business Canvas, you can do the same with all of your riskiest assumptions. Of all the things new startup founders worry about, so rarely are they worried about the real dangers. One of the biggest real dangers is not identifying and testing a core assumption to your startup’s solution (which will go on to grow into the product). The practical steps of testing your risky assumptions are not difficult; being mentally open to the idea that they might be wrong is the biggest challenge.

“But I need to build something to test it.” ….NO!

This is the hardest thing about teaching lean experiments. So many founders think you have to build a functional prototype before you can go out and test things. We implore you to do the exact opposite. The core principle of lean experiments is making sure you’re testing everything that could lead you down a path of ruin, figuring out what the most bare-bones version of presenting that assumption for feedback is and go out and ask your market for their opinion. You can do this through social media, going to meetup groups, reaching out to people in professional associations, canvassing people on the street in strategic areas…the only limitation is your knowledge of the market and your chutzpah.

A few good tips for interviewing or conversing with your potential early customers are:

  • Keep it simple
  • Ask specific questions
  • Don’t bias responses
  • Provide options for extended responses
  • Look for signs of “love” not “like”

If there is anything you take to be ‘fact’ but could not show empirical evidence of – sometimes people consider this ‘common knowledge’ – there’s a good chance it could actually be an assumption. Test it. If there’s anything that’s central to the solution you’re building, test it. If there’s anything that is critical to commercial scalability, figure out a way and, test it. You might be seeing a theme here. Test it.

Once you’ve put your assumptions out there as little pitch tests (think Facebook ads) then get people’s email addresses and figure out a way to concierge the product for a small number of customers. We won’t lie, this isn’t easy. These are often those crazy early days where you have to do all manner of things to make stuff happen and learn the most. If you skip or outsource these early concept steps, you can often miss out on highly valuable learnings. Don’t miss out.

When it comes to the look and feel of a tech solution there are heaps of free and low-cost offerings to test user behavior and feature value without having to make the MVP. Look up some tools and find what works for you.

Once you’ve done all this hard work remember to capture the brilliant insights you’ve collected along the way in an organised manner. Set a realistic minimum response rate and what solid supporting data looks like before you jump into researching.

When you’ve collected an adequate amount of research, reflect on your results and decide if you should pivot, persevere or reconsider all together. Not all problems are worth solving and there’s many ways to approach a solution.

This is what we’ve put all our SheStarts ladies through over the first few weeks and they’ve taken to it like natural, born researchers (some of them are!). It always takes longer than you think it will but it will mean building a much better MVP once that stage comes. Stay tuned to the web series and look out for future blogs about the next steps the ladies are going through on their founder journeys.