No funding? Stop being lazy and become a lean startup

Alistair Croll will have some tough medicine for entrepreneurs to swallow at an upcoming Montreal event: stop your belly-aching about not having access to capital, and stop wasting everyone’s time with products and services that aren’t needed.

The founder of Solve for Interesting will keynote at Lean Startup Machine’s three-day workshop in Montreal running July 13 to 15. The point of the conference is not to finger-wag at startups, despite some pointed words, but to educate about The Lean Startup method that has been made popular by author Eric Ries. The method has received press attention from the likes of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Firms including Dropbox, and Aardvark (acquired by Google) credit the approach with their success.

Now at Lean Startup Machine’s workshop, which is organized in tandem with Montreal’s second-annual Lean Startup Festival, entrepreneurs will learn about how they can apply such principles.

“The old adage was that if you can build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door,” Croll explains. “The new adage is if the world can show up at your front door, they will tell you what mousetrap to build.”

The lean startup principles teach entrepreneurs to do market research and find potential customers before they even try to build a product. It demands that startups focus on evidence-based management of their firms, changing their business model when the facts demand it. Startups must be able to iterate their product – updating it often based on customer feedback.

The Lean Canvas by Ash Maurya. Click for Maurya’s explanation.

It’s a reversal of the more traditional method of building a business, Croll says. It used to be that investors would put up a lot of money for an idea that wasn’t proven in the marketplace, just to see if it would work. Now investors are stingy with their cash, so entrepreneurs must attract attention of customers first, and not complain about needing more money.

“I think those guys are lazy and they’re hoping for free lunches and training wheels,” Croll says.

HighScore House is a Montreal startup that exemplifies the lean approach, Croll says. He worked with the firm in its early days at Year One Labs.

The firm wanted to do something related to kids online, but wasn’t sure what. Using Google Adwords and Facebook surveys, they asked parents about how they decided what to feed their children, and when to putt them to bed. When the firm asked the question “how do you manage chores and rewards?” it noticed a huge uptake in the click-through rate and number of surveys completed. They learned what parents were interested in, plus they’d built a database to invite to the beta version of their product.

“It’s not about new tools, it’s about a new mindset,” Croll says. “Who’s the market and what do they care about? Figure out the problem you’re trying to solve first.”

Entrepreneurs at the Montreal workshop will be applying Ash Mauyra’s lean canvas tool. It helps an entrepreneur draw out a basic business plan in 10 minutes by organizing ideas into several boxes.

Hopefully that will help workshop attendees walk away from the event with a business plan, Croll says.

Brian JacksonBrian Jackson is the Editor at ITBusiness.ca. E-mail him at bjackson@itbusiness.ca, follow him on Twitter, connect on , read his blog, and check out the IT Business Facebook Page.
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