Tristan Kromer, a Lean Startup expert, visited Zagreb couple a weeks ago and held a very interesting and effective lecture about Lean Startup implementation (you can find a summary in Croatian language on Netokracija). It was a chance to talk to him more about Lean Startup, Lean Startup Circle and entrepreneurship in general.
Of course, we wanted to know more about Tristan’s encounter with the Lean Startup Space. He explained that he arrived in San Francisco from a year in Ho Chi Minh Vietnam where he was doing pretty standard product development based on big vision thinking and market analysis.
A friend of mine recommended a book he had called The Four Steps to The Epiphany by Steve Blank, which I quickly devoured. It explained mistakes I’d made, and accidental successes in applying lean (without any knowledge of what I was doing) as well. From there I followed the breadcrumbs to Eric Ries blog and onwards. The funny thing is that my friend never actually read Four Steps. He just heard it was a good book and never opened his copy before he gave it to me.
Tristan is a member of Lean Startup Circle, a decentralized grassroots network, with more than 80,000 entrepreneurs all over the world helping each other apply lean startup to their businesses. The organizers in each city often put on events with speakers and case studies, but Tristan says that’s just the gateway. The real stuff happens on a personal level between members. As Tristan says, at its heart, Lean Startup Circle is just one entrepreneur helping another entrepreneur by asking hard questions and challenging hidden assumptions.
Teaching entrepreneurs. Or not?
Tristan came to Zagreb to tell entrepreneurs more about Lean Startup. But, in the same time, he told us that he can’t teach startups here anything. How come? Well, he says that all the knowledge they need is out there in the world.
The things they need to know are simple. Who is the customer? What are their pains? How are they trying to solve their problem now? I don’t know the answers to those questions. It’s the entrepreneur’s job to find them. I can only suggest that entrepreneurs can find the answers to these critical business questions by getting out of the building and talking to real human beings face to face.
Tristan points out that Lean Startup is very hard. It’s not just putting up a landing page and saying “I have an MVP!” – it’s very difficult to question your own assumptions and have the courage to fight through failure after failure until you find something that works. To get through those tough times, you need a team, he adds.
You need a team to keep you honest, to keep you humble, to give a different perspective on a problem, to question your assumptions, and to provide support when things look bad. Most importantly, your team has to agree to do a lean startup together.
It’s possible to have success as a “Build it and they will come” startup. One person might have a vision and it’s the team’s job to execute on that vision. Build this feature, build that feature. Progress means making milestones on a roadmap. At the end of the roadmap comes a big launch and 1 million users in the first week. That’s possible, Tristan says.
It’s possible to have success as a Lean Startup. Build Measure Learn, Build Measure Learn, Build Measure Learn. Progress is measured not its features, but in terms of learning about your business model. It’s not possible to have success if your team can’t agree on the definition of progress.
Tristan vs. Instagram
Tristan told us an interesting story about his first thoughts on Instagram. He explained first that doesn’t like to be called a mentor, because it has an unfortunate association with someone who can tell you what to do and give you very specific advice on what marketing strategies to use, what features to build, which markets to go after. Tristan says he doesn’t know any of those things and he prefers to call himself a coach.
I’m really bad at telling which ideas are good and what features to build. I remember working in Dogpatch labs in the same office as the Instagram founders. I asked them what they worked on and they said, “We’re making a photo sharing app.” My response? “…umm…that’s nice.” Sounded dumb to me. I don’t like taking photos and I hate posing for them even more.
That was a good example that the answers lie with the customer outside of the building. So why would anyone listen to some “expert”? Tristan tells them to go out and talk to their customers!
It’s ok to talk to experts and mentors and get their opinion, but if you’re talking blind faith in someone else’s opinion you are outsourcing the critical decision making of your company. You might as well fire yourself and hire a new CEO.
Lean Startup through different countries
We talked a bit about the differences of implementing Lean Startups in different countries – despite the differences among markets, Tristan says that it works in the same way.
Every country I go to says “I can’t talk to customers here, there are cultural barriers.” It’s nonsense and a bad excuse. The only big difference is that startups in other countries are often targeting customers in the United States. So to talk to their customers they need to get on the phone, use Skype, or get on a plane. It takes a bit more hustle, but it can be done.
You can follow Tristan’s updates on his blog – like he says, he likes writing as a creative outlet, so we might soon see some new posts that he wrote during his vacation in Croatia.