(photo via leanstartup.co) I'm pretty tired of innovation-related conferences these days, but I have to say that the Lean Startup Conference has been energizing and enlightening so far. I suppose that any conference in Silicon Valley filled with young (and old) entrepreneurs is always going to get your juices flowing. But this conference is different because it's such a unique blend of the 'art' of the startup with the 'science' of lean and a more disciplined approach to building new companies.
Too often, there is a misconception of startup entrepreneurs being "seat of the pants" types, with no real discipline. That's certainly the case for wantepreneurs. The speakers here demonstrated powerfully how lean approaches can help companies of any size iterate more successfully and quickly.
Here are a few of the speakers and topics that struck me on Day 1 (I'll post Day 2 at the end of the day). Hopefully this will give you some sense of the breadth of companies and topics covered under the common theme of 'lean'
- Eric Reis opening presentation told the story of the explosive growth of lean from just in the last 5 years. In particular, I was struck by his comments about the number of corporates getting involved in lean. It's come full circle as "lean" has its origins in manufacturing and Toyota in particular. Now manufacturing companies and even Toyota are attending the lean startup conference and sharing these lean concepts applied to front end innovation and new business creation. I was particularly interested in Eric's expressed vision for the future of innovation ecosystems... large corporates engaged directly wtih startups and driving innovation in ways that leverage the best of what large companies can do and the best of what entrepreneurs can do. This is a vision I definitely share... we are truly at the cusp of a transformational change in innovation that breaks down these barriers.
- Brian Frezza, co-CEO at Emerald Therapeutics discussed the application of lean principles to clinical research in biotech. It's a particularly long, expensive and resource-intensive process to plan and run clinical research programs and trials and the 'learning cycles can run years. And when things go wrong, it can take a year or more to get back on track. So the opportunity for lean thinking here is huge. Brian shared some compelling examples of small batch research tasks and real-time dispatching of these tasks in ways that enabled faster turnaround and closed loop feedback in days and weeks instead of years.
- Robin Chase of Buzzcar (she was the original co-founder of Zipcar) talked about starting small to do big things. As quick background, lean startup principles include the concept of MVP (minimum viable product)... it's an idea that sounds a lot easier in software/internet than physical product. Well, when Robin started Zipcar, her first MVP was a newly purchase Volkswagen Beetle that she stuck a sticker on the side of. She put ads in Craigslist and her signup was an email confirmation. When it came time for a user to pick up the car at their reserved time, they would walk to Robin's house (or get their by bus I guess), go around back and grab the keys from under a cushion on the back porch. It's powerful example of keeping things simple and manual at first to get quick in-market learning before trying to scale an idea or invest in deeper product development.
- Matt Kresse (@mattkresse) and Vinuth_rai (@vinuth_rai) are two young engineers from Toyota's ITC Center, a connected technology arm of Toyota. They described that in spite of Toyota's philosophy and history in lean, that product development in the early stages still has a way to go. So they pushed for more rapid, iterative engagement with lead users and to do that, also needed an MVP. Since this was for in-dash navigation systems, they took an android phone and cleverly mounted it behind a beauty plate on the dash panel. This provided a very fast way to iterate on designs and interface approaches.
- Reid Hoffman of Linkedin fame and now a Valley sherpa was interviewed on stage in Day 1 in a wide ranging conversation of the importance of building networks of relationships as a way to enable not just your first startup, but a series of startups. Reid encouraged the entrepreneuers in the audience, especially the young ones, to not just focus on the current startup or exit, but to think about "the long game". Invest in building relationships. Good advice for anyone I think, not just the young and not just entrepreneurs.
In the middle of Day 2. Just had a quick conversation with Steve Blank (@sgblank), one of the founders and rock stars of this movement, after his speech and will provide a write up on today's observations later!