This past weekend, I once again had the pleasure of mentoring at Lean Startup Machine DC (#lsmdc). It’s always a great experience to be around so many people who are passionately involved in understanding and solving problems and changing the world. Over the course of the weekend, I spent more than 24 hours mentoring teams, and afterwards, I talked with many of the participants about the mentoring process, what was helpful, and what they wished had gone differently. Here are the primary things I learned.
Early on in the weekend it almost doesn’t matter what you do as much as it does the act of doing it. It is important for teams to get through their first Build-Measure-Learn loop quickly to get them over their fear of making the wrong decision and help them realize that they can pivot quickly. Encourage teams to get in front of customers early, even if their first experiment isn’t fully thought-out.
Start with the Problem, Not the Solution
Watch out for teams that dive right into designing their product. They often seem to be making lots of process and will tell you so if you drop by, but they are usually spinning their wheels, and need a kick to get out of the building.
Don’t Plan. Act.
When you’re building anything from scratch, it’s easy to get ahead of yourself. Remind teams not to worry about where the business is going to be in two years. Tell them to figure out the first step and then do it.
Be a Scalpel, Not a Firehose
To borrow from Dan Pink, “Your goal isn’t to demonstrate how much you know or to catalog your many insights, but to leave the audience with one idea to ponder — or better, one step to take.” These teams are surrounded by a myriad of information and it’s a challenge to take it all in. As a mentor, part of your job is to help them pinpoint the right information for the challenge that is immediately in front of them. One participant at #lsmdc explained, “The one thing I felt that all the mentors could do better is provide coaching on action steps. As in, ‘This is what you should do, and here’s how to do it'”.
Lean Startup Machine is a fast-paced weekend. Thinking over some decisions can be valuable, but many decisions don’t need hours of discussion and analysis. Make reversible decisions quickly. Timebox. Don’t wait. In one case, a team had set their minimum success criteria and the early data already showed they weren’t going to hit it. Their feedback: “Your suggestion to pivot immediately rather than continue waiting for survey results saved a great deal of time and frustration.”
Focus on Currency
As anyone who runs a business knows, cash is king. Other forms of currency are equivalent to some discounted value of cash. Letters of intent, email addresses, and people willing to give you the time of day are valuable to varying degrees, in many cases proportional to the amount of friction in the collection process (if all they had to do was click a button, that’s cheap; if they had to jump through some hoops and still bought in, you’re doing better). Remind teams that currency is crucial for validation. One participant said “the most impactful thing you did was to keep asking “Is anyone paying you yet?” — That helped keep me on track.”
Have your participated or mentored at an LSM event? What have you found worked well, or needed improvement? Add your thoughts in the comments below.