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How I Survived The 24 Hour Lean Startup Drill

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I never imagined I would spend the weekend like this. When I agreed to participate in the Lean Startup Drill, which was held in the Core Hub in Zagreb, it all seemed very exciting. I would live and work as a startup for 24 hours, instead of just writing about them. On Friday, around 5 pm, I was already exhausted from my job and all I wanted was to go home and cover myself with a blanket and relax. But, the real work was just beginning. Give your idea 24h to survive – that was the name of the event. Easy for the idea, but would I survive?

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Some time ago I joined the Amaranthine Books team (a side project), that wants to give classic literary works a new design that they deserve, paying attention to every detail: the illustrations, font, etc. The first book, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, comes in two editions – the Jekyll edition and Hyde edition. The editions are so elaborately designed that many people say it borders with OCD. If this story sounds familiar, maybe you remember that last year the team’s crowdfunding campaign failed. A lot of thought was put into thinking about the product itself, but little into the customers who will use this product – potential users and how to get to them. Lean Startup Drill was a good opportunity to deconstruct the whole idea and start over.

Problem? No problem!

This is where we encountered our first, and maybe our biggest, challenge on LSDrill (that’s what we called it) – What is the problem we’re solving?

This is what we had to pitch. Not our idea, not our product, but the problem. The problem that our potential users have. The problem to which our product should be the solution to.

This was our first task which we dived right into after a lecture by Antonio Šeparović from Oradian. He told us his story and through it defined what is a Minimum Viable Product – exactly the thing we were supposed to do in the next 24 hours. An MVP allows you to go from point A to point B. And when you managed that, you should think about how to go from A to B in a better way, preferably with someone who is willing to pay for it.

Ready, steady, pitch!

This was followed by the 45 seconds pitches in which teams presented the problem they wanted to solve in the next 24 hours, some with more success some with less, just to gather a team around them. After the presentations, there were 7 teams.

Miro Hegedić, a lean startup expert, quoted Steve Blank: No business plan survives first contact with a customer. In the case of Amaranthine Books it was true, according to the aforementioned crowdfunding campaign that served, in a way, as a test. That is why we were here, to find out if our potential customers are interested in what we were doing.

Meet your users and find them

The remaining time of the first day, we spent filling out the Lean Startup Drill Board. It was a big piece of paper which covered the entire table, through which we had to define the problem, customer segment (as precisely as possible – create a persona, give them names, estimate how old they are, how much they earn, what interests them, what hurts them…), write assumptions we had and later validate them.

The interesting part was the presentation of customer segments to the rest of the participants of the workshop, after which all who were present there had to say if they know someone who resembles a persona that was presented by teams or whether they might themselves be one. For example, I, as a person who loves geeky stuff, but values good design, belonged to the customer segment of team Moduletti. Marko, a member of my team, connected team Neizvjesnost with his brother, because they needed someone who isn’t from Zagreb, but often comes there by car, and one of the mentors, Dario Zorić, connected us with Alexis from the USA who was our ideal user and who gave us extremely useful feedback about our project the same night.

The trap called ‘The Mom Test’

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Other teams used Friday night as well to communicate with students, business owners, and other customer segments, while others waited for Saturday. The next morning, we went through the questions we had to ask the customers whilst being careful not to fall into a trap called “The Mom Test”. We had to be cautious not to force answers and that we don’t get the answers we want to hear, but to ask open-ended questions so we could get information which will help us validate our assumptions. After several answers to our questions, we already got to some key learnings which modified our original assumptions.

Hit the road

Several lectures were held between experiments. Mentor Dario Zorić revealed small and big secrets to networking, Ivor Bihar explained pivoting of Mediatoolkit which started out as a tool for discovering content for journalists, and today is used for media monitoring and tracking keywords. Filip Stipačić tirelessly explained to us the process we were going through. I think that thanks to him we learned the definition of an MVP, by heart.

The real challenge was getting out of the building, identifying the customer segment on the streets and getting quality feedback. Because our group was specific, we went to a café where they were most likely to gather. Some feedback we got in person and some on the internet, we managed to collect information that confirmed some of our assumptions we made yesterday, and some were challenged. For example, one of our customer segments were people who would buy the product as a gift, but in our conversations with people, we realized that it was a product which people would rather buy for themselves, to indulge themselves. That wasn’t bad either, but it was different to what we originally expected.

Another round of conversations led us to some interesting information about the ways our customer segment decides to shop (they’re impulsive and prefer buying offline). Based on that, we adjusted our conclusions and next steps.

The finish line

Step by step we came to the pitching. After Dario explained what is needed for an effective pitch, we got ready – but not with fancy presentations as we hoped it would be, but with papers and markers.

We were already exhausted when we got to the pitching, so fits of laughter during pitches weren’t surprising.

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The 7 teams presented, again, not their product or solution, but the way they got to their MVP. There was a team Rejected which helped students find suitable accommodation, team Moduletti which is working on new and attractive concepts of electronic products (e.g. extensions cords), team Frizeraj who solves hairdressing and beauty salon’s problems of not keeping track of their customers and gathering information about them. Team Reci.da, an online platform for connecting suppliers and the grooms (everything for weddings), Trade Impulse which solves problems of small business entrepreneurs who have not yet opened their business, Neizvjesnost – a project that solves the problem of finding a parking spot in Zagreb for people who come from different cities, and of course, Amaranthine Books. Probably because of our nerdy approach and Marko’s pitching skills, we managed to get the highest score from the judges, but far more important is what we carry with us – and that is proof that assumptions are the mother of all f…..

24 hours later

Indeed, every assumption you have about your (potential) user is worth nothing if you don’t check it first. And in a right way. I have always been very skeptical of these various programs which promise to improve your business (because as a journalist I have seen far too many of them), but the 24 hours my team spent on Lean Startup Drill was well worth it.

And what conclusion did we get at the end? We recognized who our customer segment is and where to find them, and even though we had a pretty much finished product, we found our MVP which could help us bridge the gap between online and offline, which our customers value because it offers them a better shopping experience. But, we’ll leave that for another occasion because that is an assumption we also have to validate.