This weekend, I had the distinct pleasure and honor (I've always wanted to say that) of presenting two startup-related workshops at the inaugural StartSLC event in Salt Lake City, Utah.

StartSLC is the largest startup festival to have ever taken place in Utah so far, and it was buzzing with a number of panels, workshops, hackathons, pitch competitions, and a startup awards ceremony.

 The two workshops I presented, which were sponsored by the Women Tech Council, were titled:
1) Get Hands-On With Lean (Co-presented with Cache Merrill of Zibtek), and
2) Startup Metrics: How to Measure and Drive Your Startup

When I present a session, I like to gather questions and specific areas people want to learn about before we get started, so I can target the presentation to their needs.
I then try to address any remaining questions after the presentation, so everyone can benefit from the answers.

For these two sessions, I wanted to articulate my answers to the questions that we gathered here on the blog, just in case there was anything we weren't able to get to, and also as a way to share some of the Q&A with those who weren't able to attend. 

The answers will come in a series of posts, with this post being the first in the series. 

Feel free to read through and leave your comments (agree? disagree? have something to add?), since I'd love to hear your thoughts. 

StartSLC Lean Workshop Q&A Series Part I: 
(Includes questions from the Get Hands-On With Lean Session Attendees):

1)    How to turn ideas into a viable product:

a.    Idea to Product:
In the workshop, we covered some of the process for going from idea to product in our overview of the Lean Startup process, the Lean Canvas, and the concepts of creating experiments to test the riskiest parts of your plan quickly then iterating based on your results.

b.    Idea to VIABLE product: Ay, there’s the rub.
Validation at each phase of your product’s development is the key to testing and discovering the viability of your product idea.

As we discussed in the workshop, “Assumptions were made to be tested”.
We are really good at making assumptions and then believing them. Remember this slide: 

What we need to get better at is having the courage to draw a line in the sand, test our assumptions, then take an honest look at the results of our testing. That's part 1 of this answer.

Maintaining viability past the initial (startup) phase is part 2 of this equation. 
Coming from a place of prioritizing Customer Success is key in this phase. See resources on Customer Success here.
In addition, continuing to keep an eye on the right metrics at the right time will give you signals regarding what’s going on with your product as it’s in your customer’s hands.

2)    What metrics should you use to determine if an idea is worth pursuing:

The specific metric/ set of metrics you should track when determining if an idea is worth pursuing may be dependent on your specific product, industry, business model, and/or company phase.

Generally speaking, however, you will probably be looking at a combination of qualitative and quantitative research and metrics.

a.    Qualitative: When you are starting with just a problem assumption and an idea, a great place for qualitative data is user interviews. Identify who you think your ideal user or customer is, then go out and interview them.

A couple of good resources on conducting user interviews are this blog post on Ash Maurya’s website titled “How To Interview Your Users And Get Useful Feedback”, and this recorded lecture (“How to Run a User Interview”) from Stanford’s recent online class titled “How To Start a Startup”, which was given by Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator.

Some things to keep in mind when interviewing customers:
Try to get your interviewees to describe the problem you’re assuming they are having without “leading the witness”.
       ii.  How are they currently fulfilling this need you assume they have? I.e. What are their current alternatives?
iii.  What is the workflow they are currently following? Is it a pain point for them? Are there parts of the process specifically that are pain points?

b.    Quantitative: At this point, you are probably focused on Acquisition, or getting potential users to know about you and your service.

Thus, the quantitative metrics you probably want to be tracking at this phase will have to do with the marketing channels you have in place:

         i.  Draw a line in the sand: Set a goal for # of visits to your site in the very first phase of putting it up, and track how many of those visits are coming from each of the channels you have in place, including Social Media campaigns, Email, Advertising, Organic Search, and any others. (Yes, I just told you to watch what is usually considered a vanity metric. It’s only temporary, I promise.)
        ii.  Optimize: Once you’ve analyzed your acquisition channels in terms of cost and amount of traffic, optimize so that you can focus your efforts on the channels that are performing the best for you, hopefully with the least cost.  

Bonus Pro-tip: See if you can combine acquisition with activation (the % of visitors to your site who end up signing up, subscribing, etc.).

  • Can you ask users to sign up to learn more, or get more information?
  • Can you offer them a special discount if they sign up right there?

The answers can potentially be a strong indicator – it shows that you are solving enough of a pain that they’re willing to sign up right then and there.

As always, your feedback is appreciated. Stay tuned for Part II of the Lean Workshops Q&A Series, coming soon!