Highlights from Lean Startup Conference 2015

leanstartuplogoThis was my second year attending the Lean Startup Conference. Last year I was an attendee, and this year I was honored to have been selected as a speaker.

I’ll admit that having my own dedicated timeslot (at 2:30pm the final day of the conference) meant I was never completely in “learner” mode, in the back of my mind I was thinking of my own presentation and how I could offer my attendees the most value. That being said, I do have a few take-aways.

I feel comfortable with what I consider the ‘practitioner’ activities: customer discovery, creating and validating hypotheses, etc. My purpose for attending this year was to learn more about how to establish a culture that could support multiple projects at once (and how to compare them to determine what to invest in).

My own session, “Internal Customer Discovery” was about how to identify and get buy-in from key internal stakeholders, but I freely admit that this was as much a session about what I wish I had done as sharing my actual experiences 🙂

As for the other sessions, here’s my run-down of highlights and take-aways:

Measuring Learning in Dollars: A Finance-Approved Approach to Innovation Accounting

Once again, David Binetti (@dbinetti) did an outstanding job with the workshop on accounting. My one criticism from last year was that we didn’t actually learn how to associate a number with innovation options, and David came back with a workshop on precisely that topic (he said it was due to the feedback from last year – outstanding!).
He told us the formula was based on a trinomial pricing model, but then thankfully just directed us to a tool he has made freely available online. Although there is still the hard work of estimating the cost of development and the possible market opportunity, at the least now there is a tool to do the math so that different options can be evaluated and compared.
Also, a funny accountant presenter. Priceless!

Secrets of Game Thinking

Although my primary focus for this weekend was on how to formalize an innovation practice at ReadyTalk, I couldn’t resist a few sessions on product design. Amy Jo Kim held a few sessions on Game Thinking that were very interesting. I found myself telling my colleagues about how a compelling product incorporates social actions for different types of users, not just those who want to collect badges and ‘level up’.


The Building Blocks of Community

This session by Ryan Hoover of Product Hunt was one of my favorites. I have been thinking a lot about the importance of community and establishing a relationship with your target users before you ever try to shove a product down their throats. Ryan’s presentation was clear and to the point: my notes include two lists of takeaways. How straight-forward is that? Here’s one of them:

  1. Know the stage of your community
  2. Be personable and authentic
  3. Create moments of delight
  4. Build in public
  5. Enable people to build identity

And? Case in point of the “be personable” and ‘create moments of delight”? I complemented Ryan on his presentation via twitter and he took the time to find my first name to thank me.


How to Ship Your Ideas

Another example of the importance of being personable and connecting is how I ended up at this session. There was a woman at the Lean Startup table standing behind a stack of books, so I stopped to chat. She was very welcoming, asking me what I did and where I was from. She turned out to be Poornima Vijayashanker, the founder engineer of mint.com who now runs the educational platform Femgineer. I thoroughly enjoyed her talk and when I saw she was organizing a meetup Wednesday evening about presenting I resolved to attend! However, my introvertedness ended up getting the best of me, and I’m in my hotel room writing this post instead 🙂

Don’t Listen to Users, Sample Their Experience!

Tomer Sharon commanded the main stage in this session, where he talked about how to uncover user needs rather than superficially focusing on what they (say they) want. This was particularly interesting to me as I have some thoughts about qualitative-to-quantitiative data analysis thoughts stirring in my brain. He was kind enough to response to a question I asked via twitter and agree to let me follow up via email. Love it!


Irrational Product Calls

By 4pm on Tuesday I had determined that slack was the darling of the conference, often cited in reference to user experience or user acquisition. So when Amir Shevat from slack took the stage, I wondered how he would share his insider’s view. Again, this was more of a product design session but there were a few nuggets. Specifically, we were asked to guess which of two user flows was ‘better’. While one had less friction to get the user into the system, it was found that another flow got users more invested in the system, which ultimately lead to greater retention.
Ultimately, it’s essential to figure out that One Metric That Matters so that you can design to support it.

How to Intentionally Design a (Lean Startup) Culture

I’ve been a fan of Alex Osterwalder and his books for years, so it was great to see him up on stage. He introduced a tool called a Culture Map to help companies establish a foundation that would encourage innovation. Sadly, at this point in the day (and given the topic was about focusing on getting your internal house in order), I started to get antsy about my own presentation later in the day, so I didn’t focus on this as much as I could have

Internal Customer Discovery

Naturally (or maybe not-so-naturally for people who don’t like public speaking), another highlight of the conference was my own turn at the mic. I spoke about how to map out your internal stakeholders to focus your efforts on getting buy-in. I got some great questions after the fact, and saw a few photos of my slides up on Twitter, so I consider that a success! (for anyone who missed my presentation but is interested in it, I wrote a corresponding blog post here: http://leanstartup.co/internal-customer-development-get-back-in-the-building/ )

There were many more sessions and great conversations had – and it’s telling that the sessions I identified as the best were ones where I felt I connected with the speaker. This isn’t some stuffy conference where speakers are whisked in, put on stage, and whisked away. It truly has more of a community feel where we can each learn from and support each other.

Thanks to all the organizers for another great year!