Madhavi Jagdish on Learning from Assumptions

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This week's Women 2.0 Labs update comes after meeting Eric Ries in Week 1 of Labs. Madhavi Jagdish's Story

After an intense week, we had a lively and engaging session with Eric Ries, creator of the Lean Startup methodology. He illustrated Lean Startup concepts using examples from past experiences including IMVU and current, like Food on the Table. Eric inspired us to talk to prospective customers about our ideas to make sure we weren't deluding ourselves that we had the best idea in the world (aka the reality distortion field). Is there a methodology that we can use as entrepreneurs to increase our odds of success? This is a question that should be asked more often, before years of precious time and millions of dollars are spent on ideas that have not been validated. This was the gist of our discussion with Eric Ries last week. Using the concept of lean manufacturing, Eric walked us through his methodology of the lean startup - one that identifies customers and validates ideas using that customer base before wasting precious resources on building stuff that no one wants.

Some takeaway concepts:

  • All startups sell only to early adopters. Mainstream customers come later. Early adopters have the problem most acutely. So go find them and put your product in front of them.
  • Assumptions and speculation are dangerous. Validate.
  • Don't persevere the plane right into the ground. Sometimes the right decision is to pivot.
  • Fact-free zone: A dangerous place to be.

Lean manufacturing distinguishes activities that are value creating vs. pure waste, Eric suggests we do the same with startups: first validating the idea, and then executing said idea. If value is defined as delivering something to the customer, then we need to take a step further back and find out who the customer is, and whether what we are delivering will be of value to them. We need to conduct a series of experiments that help us understand and learn, as learning is more important than execution in the initial stages of a startup.

These experiments also help us clarify our thinking to come up with simpler, more elegant solutions that lead to a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) - one that we can put in front of our customers and get real, valuable feedback. Absolute, dedicated iteration is the best way to get working software in front of potential customers quickly.

How can I start learning about my assumptions in the least amount of time? The lean startup methodology is a very valuable and practical tool for entrepreneurs. It forces us to think about what needs to be built vs. what we want to build, since what we want may not be what the customer wants. This is a very important discovery that needs to be made in the initial stages of a startup. It also introduces us to the concepts of agile development and rapid iteration, where building working software quickly that can be tested in the real world and improved based upon user responses is key to success.