Tuesday, April 24, 2012

    2nd place at Lean Startup Machine!

    It's 12:30AM right now and I still cannot believe that I won second place at Lean Startup Machine (LSM). Just 24 hours before, I had resigned myself to just trying to finish the workshop.

    Wait what’s LSM?
    Lean Startup Machine is a Friday through Sunday crash course on Eric Ries’s Lean Startup principles. People come together at 6PM Friday and pitch their idea to the rest of the attendees. The only requirement of pitches is that idea must not have had any work done on them. Pitches are voted on and the top 9 are allowed to form teams. Some came with their startups and pre-existing teams but their restriction was that for the weekend they had to work on ideas and they could not recruit new team members.

    After the teams were formed, we set forth to validate our idea for the rest of the weekend. Validation of an idea can come in many forms such as clicks on a buy button, signups for a notification once the product is launched, and the most coveted of all, actual money. Basically, teams had to show beyond a reasonable doubt that people wanted their idea and if no one wanted their original idea then they had to pivot (kill) or change the idea until somebody would.

    Back to me…
    My friend An (UX designer) and I came to LSM together with plans to work on the same team. We listened to the pitches and decided to join Dane, who had this idea for a check in app for pool boys. He explained that his friend runs a pool cleaning company and loses $20 thousand a year on disputed hours. An app that could prove when the pool boys arrived would solve his friend's problems. Two others joined our group and we set off brainstorming on how to validate.

    In the middle of a workshop, I made the observation that it might be hard to reach pool businesses on a weekend to validate our idea. The rest of the group agreed and we switched the idea to Yelp for yoga instructors.

    At the bar with the group I was dealing with doubts about the new idea. When I asked Dane his opinion about the idea, he suggested that we break off and switch back to the check in app. I agreed but while brainstorming for the check in app, we came upon the problem of where to find validation on a weekend. Dane suggested switching to yet another idea and at my wit’s end, I agreed.

    We settled on the first idea that Dane had first pitched to the attendees, which was a customer relationship management (CRM) solution that lived in Facebook. It was an extremely niche product that was targeted at an industry which I was not too interested in. However, I went along with it anyway because we could reach realtors on the weekend and more importantly Dane was very experienced in the space as he was currently running four software businesses targeted at realtors.

    Working through the process
    Saturday morning, we started testing the assumptions we had made about why real estate agents would want to buy our product.  Dane and I start learning about the CRM solutions that real estate agents use. I suggested to Dane that he email his client lists and he shoots off an email to about 1000 real estate agents stating that he was looking to talk about contact database software this weekend and that this was a “one time offer.” Annoyingly, Dane put my phone number in the email.

    Out of the 1000 we sent out, we got about 10 responses in a couple of hours.

    The first response from the email blast actually came in the form of a text.

    We received and made over 5 phone calls. These calls proved to be invaluable as we learned about the many CRM solutions that real estate agents were currently using and the frustrating communication problems between them. We learned that some of them were buying solutions that had way too many features and were overly complex.

    Our testing led us to kill our Facebook idea, as we learned that a good number of realtors did not feel comfortable adding their clients as friends.

    From the many mentions of Gmail, we pivoted and came up with ProDap, a super basic CRM solution that lived in Gmail.  Real estate agents would be able to use ProDap to assign action plans to their clients. These action plans would automatically populate their Google calendar.

    I photoshopped together a screenshot of the product and with Dane’s guidance, built a landing page for it.

    Dane then email blasted his client lists with a link to the landing page and we waited.

    I took to Twitter and tweeted out a link to the landing page to real estate agents.

    The results were fairly impressive. In three hours, we had managed to get 97 people to the landing page. 32 of them clicked on “Buy Now” button and of those 32 who clicked “Buy Now” and learned that there actually was not a product yet, 8 of them signed up to beta test.

    Combining those statistics with some quotes from our phone conversations, I thought we made a decent showing of our work.

    Closing thoughts
    I learned a lot from Dane especially in the areas of copy writing and salesmanship. The best piece of advice Dane gave me was to stop thinking of business ideas and instead just ask people what their problems are. Initially, I had thought that I knew all there was to know about Lean Startup methodology, but LSM has shown me that knowing and applying are two very different things. This weekend has given me much more structure with which to apply my anthropology to customer development.

    It is always a shock to hear people speak well of my skills. Whenever Dane told me what an awesome partner I was, I always questioned the truth behind it because for the most part I felt pretty lost without Dane’s direction.

    Did I expect to win? HELL NO! It was the biggest surprise ever, especially since on Saturday Dane disappeared to take a nap without telling me. When I could not find him, it annoyed me a great deal so I headed to the bar and watched UFC. In hindsight, that two hour break was actually a great idea because we came back invigorated, however, at the time it seemed like a colossal waste of time since An’s team was working diligently the entire day. Sunday at 11AM was even more nerve wracking as Dane called his uncle, a realtor with 200 agents under him, and he told use that he would not buy ProDap. For the presentation, I ran out of time halfway through my slide deck that did not even have all the “requirements” listed in the LSM manual. Knowing how much work some people put into their ideas and competing with actual businesses, I am still dumbstruck over how we got second place.

    Honestly, I do not think we deserved to win. Considering, that the amount of effort we put into ProDap paled in comparison to many other teams and the fact that we were terrible at following directions. I am still scratching my head over how we managed to pull this off.

    Will we be going further with this idea? Probably not, since Dane more interested in pursuing spirituality right now and I was never really interested in the real estate space. However, Dane has offered to guide me and connect me with his Pakistani developer who costs $600 a month if I do decide to go forward with ProDap. So you never know!

    2nd place never felt so good!

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