Last night, ( 22nd December 2011 ) was the inaugural meeting of the Lean Startup Circle Brussels. As Andrew and I were both attending anyway and as it was the Tech Brew recording day, we decided to interview Vladimir Blagojevic who set up the group. This is our first video interview. Enjoy. And if you’re curious about this episode’s beer, we settled down to chat with the Christmas edition of Palm.
There are two videos in this episode. The first is an interview that we did after the group met and the second is the introduction to Lean given by Vlad and Nick Boucart. The slides accompanying the introduction are also included at the end of this post.
Gilbert: So Vladimir, you’ve just had the inaugural meeting of the Brussels Lean Startup Circle and it seemed to go very well. Why do you think Lean Startup is still such a hot topic?
Vlad: I think that the promise of it is so exciting, actually. Suddenly, there is a process that promises at least that you can go from an idea to a validated business model. And it’s pretty exciting to have some sort of a recipe or method to help you get there. This is not what we used to have.
Andrew: You still start with a business model canvas idea, you start with some guesses obviously, but how do you actually get from these guesses to an actual concrete, real business?
Vlad: That’s the most difficult part and that’s exactly why we started this Lean Startup Circle (Brussels) because I think that it’s different for everybody and that’s where you need a lot of creativity.
There is a generic recipe that says you first want to document your guesses very well, that you make them very explicit and that you think about the biggest risks. And at the beginning, these are usually the channels, the revenues and the problem solution fit. Once you figure out what the biggest risk is you go and validate them. The way that you do it depends on the phase you are in, because in the very beginning you don’t yet have the product and all you can do is talk to people. So you go and talk to people about the problem and validate, am I solving the right problem?
There’s also a big difference between going out and asking people what they need and actually validating your problem. And a lot of people mix this up actually. It’s really about coming up with a vision. The meaning of “customer development” is that you’re developing the market, your searching for the market for the product as specified by you. Later you can put some things out there in the market and really start measuring things effectively like , “What is my conversion rate?”, “What is my conversion rate from visitors to sign ups?”, “From returners to revenue” etc
Gilbert: Do you think that the fundamental thing that has changed is that people now acknowledge that these are guesses? Whereas previously people would have said, “Here is the concrete business plan, this is what we’re going to do and this is where we’ll be by year 2, this is where we’ll be on the hockeystick”. And now more people acknowledge that these are guesses so let’s go an experiment. It seems that business is more scientific now because the ability to measure progress is open to everyone now and if you don’t take that opportunity you are disadvantaging yourself.
Vlad: I think two things have changed. The one things as you say, is the realisation that we’re starting with guesses. But the other thing is this recipe thing I was talking about, this methodology that is now there. Now we have a way to map out, to make a roadmap for ourselves of how we validate things. Before that it was just the business model. You had to plan how to reach there and then execute it. Then you hoped for the best.
Andrew: One of the things I see as a risk with the validation process is .. and I do believe validation is necessary .. but the risk is that you overly validate and you get into analysis paralysis.
Vlad: Absolutely. That’s a very good question. I’ve been there. How do you avoid that?
Gilbert: Isn’t the nature of the experiment that there is a defined exit point?
Vlad: I think regardless of how you define the experiment that danger is that you can get stuck in it. And that’s why Steve Blank says that you have to start in parallel with your product development. Some people think that with Lean Startup, you have to go out and validate the assumptions first, but they don’t realise that you have to start developing at the same time. Why is that so important? It helps avoid the analysis paralysis and to get something out there as soon as possible. But it’s also because it [the idea] is very different in our minds than from when we actually have to go out and implement it. Then you have to make it real. And that’s that part that you must go through. I often see people, when they go through the customer development phase, that they tend to disregard that part. So my advice is that you have to do both in parallel.
Andrew: One worry I have is is about going out and speaking to customers. Yes you should listen to your customers, but your customers are not always right. What is the risk associated with asking people what they want, they tell you what they want, you build what they want and then they don’t actually want that.
Vlad: But that’s not what you do. You don’t ask customers what they want. The philosophy is that you start with a strong vision. You as an entrepreneur, as a product manager. You come up with the vision, not your customers. You say this is going to be a solution. And then in one way or another you present the customers with that solution. Whether by just implementing it and giving it to the to use or by showing them the product at the very beginning and then you validate whether … you also have to know why you’ve created it e.g. to get some results, to get more revenue, to get more attention, to get people engaged more…. and then you have to validate whether or not the new product or feature results in the assumed benefit.
Gilbert: There was a pretty good reaction here tonight. There’s a [transport] strike, it’s 3 days before Christmas and still more people turned up than actually registered for the event. We had a full house so well done you. One thing that came across strongly was that people want a peer to peer, group learning experience. There are lots of experts in place that are will to help, but in actual fact there’s a real need for the practical peer to peer learning. That was one clear takeaway. So how do you see the future of the group.
Vlad: What I have learned from the discussion is that the focus will have to be on peer to peer learning and the big challenge is how to make that work in a group of 30 people or more. But I also learned that there has to be some structure. We’ll probably have to work with the presenters to give them some kind of structure or framework and we’ll probably have to combine the open discussion with the presentations.
The interview then goes in to a bit of beer talk…
This second video shows the introductory session of the group that took pace before we interviewed Vlad.