Category Archives: lean startup

7 WordPress Themes for Launching your Minimum Viable Product

By leveraging the web in creation of rapid prototypes for testing business model assumptions, and using customer feedback to develop them, companies will be able to advance in its’ search for a repeatable business model and reduce risk in new-product introduction.

In creation of such rapid prototypes the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) idea is key. Neverthless, open source platforms such as WordPress are key enablers to the Lean Startup. As my previous post on 9 Minimum Viable Product WordPress Themes received pretty good interest among aspiring enterpreneurs,  I decided to share some more recent WordPress themes that can help you in quickly launching your minimum viable product.

Inspire, a clean-cut theme from the rockstars at Woothemes. The theme leverages a clear value proposition and call-to-action alongside usable design. We are working on this for EasyPeasy’s tablet OS, and I must say it feels good (is that a disclaimer?).

Inspire by Woothemes

SaaS Web App. This one I liked so much that I kept it in my browser tab for days. The makers knows all about sizing and positioning elements for increased conversion. The Plans & Pricing is simply right-out-the-box.

Apz, also by Woothemes, is a simple theme aimed at iPhone application developers. Simple and landing page-ish, perfect for that Minimum Viable Product version zero-point-something.

Apz by WooThemes

Coming Soon is a dead-simple landing page theme. Change the picture and do some copywriting, and you’ll be up and running.

SaaS Web App II is based on the same ideas as the SaaS Web App above, but with some modifications. Myself, I like the 1-2-3 description at the bottom.

AppPress by ChimeraThemes, has crafted a promising framework. AppPress really makes use of call to actions and conversion mechanisms as well as a good pricing page.

Fullside is AppPress’ brother theme, having some different design options. Have a look at the 37 Signals inspired decleration module at the bottom of the page. Get ready for ramping your conversion funnel.

What I love about WordPress is its take on simplicity and modularity. It allows you to do rapid testing of features, design and value propositions, and easily integrate third party forms and survey modules for getting customer feedback critical to customer development.

Going forward I would really want to see one Lean Startup-specific theme that leverages the back-end dashboard with consumer-focused metrics for testing business model hypothesis.

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How Lean paradigms go beyond gorillas’ assembly lines

Lean Manufacturing, Lean Production, Kaizen and Continuous Improvement (dear child has many names) have created buzz for many years. Originated with Toyota’s production system, “Lean” was primarily created with manufacturing businesses in mind. Now as manufacturing businesses are increasingly rendered by service and network businesses, how does Lean paradigms go beyond gorillas’ assembly lines and keep up with the new economy?

In one of my favorite articles, Casting of the Chains (pdf) from 2003, authors Ø. Fjeldstad and E. Andersen make a fruitful observation.

The world has changed. From 1960 to 1999 manufacturing companies’ share of GNP in the US, as well as its workforce, fell from 30 per cent to 15 per cent, with the consequence that such businesses are now a minority of the S&P500. Banks, transportation, building, healthcare, research pharmaceuticals and other services companies have taken over. Strategic models of the world, however, have not changed. When managers develop strategies for their companies, they still use the tools and language of the manufacturing organisation.

In brief, the authors found limitations in applying Porter’s Value Chain to other than traditional assembly line-based manufacturing businesses. Consequently, the authors extended the Value Chain to two more models; the Value Shop and the Value Network. The Value Shop creates value by scheduling activities and applying resources in a fashion that is appropriate to the needs of the client’s problem (typically management consulting, lawyers and doctors). Value in a Value Network is created by linking clients or customers who wish to be interdependent (typically banking, social networks and dating venues).

Business Model Patterns on Value Chain, Shops and Networks

When I joined my current employer to work with the web and startups, I did at the same time choose from working on Lean methodology alignment with one of Scandinavia’s leading media companies (see also Bharat N. Anand‘s Harvard Business Review case). Regardless of my interests in innovation methodologies and owing my conviction to entrepreneurship, I wanted to work with growth ventures rather than cutting down “corporate bacon” (is that innovation?). Later I discovered the Lean Manufacturing Startup, which basically adopts Lean Thinking and Customer Development to early-stage ventures and startups.

Although Lean Startup principles are argued to be generally applicable, it has mainly been applied to Enterprise- and Consumer Software cases. However, as far as Microsoft Windows creates value by linking consumers with third party software developers, and Google links consumers with advertisers, the software business generally acts as a value network. Hence, I believe that we start to see cases with the lean paradigm being adopted to the new economy.

In this manner, I assume that new schools of Lean methodologies not only help traditional management thinking avoid cramming business models with manufacturing approaches, but also preserve new-product introduction and disruptive innovation alongside continuous improvement.

Getting Lean: A Startup’s Key Learnings from Web 2.0 Expo

Being fortunate to win a scholarship for this year’s web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco (appreciation to @ericries, @SarahM and @TechWeb for having this opportunity), it is also in courtesy that I share a startup’s takeaways and lessons learned from the conference.

In my approach writing for the scholarship program for lean startups, I pitched how EasyPeasy could learn from attending the conference and the Lean Startup Intensive. I described how EasyPeasy currently is seeking to validate Product-Market fit and, presumably in the customer validation phase, searching for its first transactions.

The Grand Pivot

Arriving at the conference after a 20 hours travel from Oslo, Norway and suffering from a mild jet-lag, I finally got to see Eric Ries, Steve Blank, Sean Ellis and Dave McClure and the reminder of the Lean Startup movement at work. In nearly every event that I was attending that week, either it was the in the talks, keynotes or unconferences, “Lean Startup” was buzzing. One major highlight was attending Matt Brezina‘s talk: 5 stages of Xobni’s growth and 5 pivots along the way.

Having been a fan of Xobni for some time, I was excited to learn from their practical implications in pivoting from offering an e-mail analytics suite to that of “just” an outlook sidebar plug-in. Nevertheless, by talking to @brezina and @hnshah I had my thoughts about customer validation and pivoting matured. One week later, EasyPeasy is smoke testing for a new product offering.

Minimum Viable You

During the Lean Startup Intensive one common denominator came into view. Steve Blank, advocate of validating hypothesis about business models, talked about how a startup must strike balance between a product’s minimum feature set and maximum sales. Accordingly, Dave McClure talked about how a startup must balance between user hypothesis and revenue. Lessons learned, and one key tenet with the Lean Startup methodology is that a focus on validated learning will enable startups to mitigate risk in new-product introductions, often by including continuous deployment, arguably a start-charging-now and learn fast/fail fast philosophy.

This is where the minimum viable product comes into the picture. At the second day of the conference a case of minimum viable tactics was elaborated by @drewhouston and @asmith in their excellent talk: From Zero to a Million Users – Dropbox and Xobni lessons learned. I think that this presentation gave a great many startups, including EasyPeasy, a lean toolbox at hand.

People Analytics

The Lean Startup advocates use of metrics for validated learning. Yet, there still is one vast amount of metrics to track, dependent on what line of business you are in. At the second day, Neil Patel gave an exciting talk on Web Analytics – Tracking People and Not Just Numbers, and an amazing Q&A session about what metrics you ought to track. In plenary, Neil asked the audience for their websites’ URL, he quickly analyzed their pro and cons, and gave the audience applicable tips and tricks, all in real-time. I highly recommend his slides to be found on Slideshare, 5 Metrics You Ought to Track.

iPad, Flash and HTML5

Soon after arriving San Francisco I found that nearly every overseas visitor who I got to meet at the conference, in their very first morning in town, had been rushing over to the Apple store. Ourselves, arriving one day after our Norwegian fellows (we organized by extending the #w2e Twitter hashtag with #w2eNOR), we found that the iPad 3G edition was already sold out. We put our names on a notification list, hoping that another delivery would arrive at the store before we were on our way back home.

Nevertheless, web 2.0 Expo hosted a couple of very popular talks on the tablet innovation, here and here. iPad were on everybody’s tongue and the big discussion tended to be about Flash vs. HTML5 and Adobe vs. Apple. Among a many good keynotes, Brady Forrest‘s chat with Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch did comb the debate. As when it comes to EasyPeasy, currently offering an open source operating system for netbooks, you might have a clue about how this might affect a pivot.

Learn Fast, Fail Fast

Truth is that there was many interesting talks, and unfortunately one did not have the time to attend all.  The main theme of the conference being Web as a Platform, there was a lot of interesting stuff on social media marketing, cloud computing, mobility, usability, virtual and social gaming. Many more events and people should be mentioned, yet I think that the above is sufficient to draw some main characteristics.

Pivoting, minimum viable products and analytics were just some of the themes that were buzzing throughout web 2.o Expo. What these subjects have in common and what was an overall takeaway, whether we are talking about ever changing technologies, markets or startups, is that a strong learning culture can be source of success, or at least to fail fast. I certainly will attend the next year’s web 2.o Expo.

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Diagramming Product-Market Fit at Lean Startup

Continual iteration is a fundamental principle in agile thinking as well as in startup methodologies such as Customer Development and Lean Startup. Basically, its premise is that a startup will mitigate risk and uncertainty by shortening product and customer learning loops, and adjust its product-market fit accordingly.

A startup achieves product-market fit when it masters the balance of building a solution, or product that acts on a customer’s problem, or vice versa. Both product development and customer development each has its own iterative loop structure. I believe that the two should be reciprocally acting and proceed in parallel towards the goal of product-market fit and that this makes a multiple-loop system. This invokes an ambidextrous challenge to early-stage ventures.

Building on my former post on Disciplined Creativity with Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s Flow diagram, I would add to the Lean Startup model.

The diagram above shows product-market flow as a result of efforts in parallel iteration between agile product development (at the y-axis) and customer development (at the x-axis). In order to achieve a product-market flow state, that is product-market fit, a balance must be struck between customer development and product development. If a startup is drifting too far along one of the axis without iterating, flow cannot occur.

I believe that iteration beyond the product-market flow zone could be considered pivoting – that is when you change a fundamental part of your business model in regards to products and customers. To successfully iterate between product and customers and achieve product-market fit, you would develop a minimum viable product offering that enables you to learn about your customers needs and wants.

At startup you must pay close attention not only to the iterative tasks within customer development and agile product development separately, but also to the feedback loops in between the two. However, time is limited, and you should be aware of trade-offs in achieving flow in a Lean Startup. This is where continual iteration and validated learning allows for greater risk reduction under extreme uncertainty.

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9 Minimum Viable Product WordPress Themes

The Minimum Viable Product is one key tenet of the Lean Startup and Customer Development methodology. According to Eric Ries “the Minimum Viable Product is that product which has just those features (and no more) that allows you to ship a product that resonates with early adopters; some of whom will pay you money or give you feedback.”

With the raise of cloud computing and SaaS, the website often makes the product itself. Nevertheless, commoditization of Amazon-ish hosing services, search marketing, free and open source software such as the LAMP stack and publishing systems like WordPress – allows startups to build and market their products at a lower cost. This is a simple overview of – cut to the chase – minimum viable WordPress themes.

1. Optimize by WooThemes is a product and feature-centric theme that emphasizes a clear value statement and sense of call to action.

2.iPhone App theme by Templatic. The name speaks for itself. The theme is designed for, but not limited to marketing of iPhone apps. The call to action button is nicely positioned in the mid of the screen. Although the blue area/the header is static, I’m sure that this can be changed with ease.

iPhoneapp WordPress theme

3. Feature Pitch by WooThemes is an out of the box theme suitable for marketing that one compelling product of yours. Also take a notice of that lighting orange tab at the upper right. Good thinking.

Feature Pitch Minimum Viable Product wordpress theme

4. eBook theme by Templatic. Although the name implies a focus on eBooks, its message can easily be changed to work for any product.  It comes with widgets for testimonials and newsletter sign-up right out of the box.

ebook WordPress theme

5. Coffee Break by WooThemes has unlike the others put the call to action buttons at the leftmost side. It is clean and clearly built with usability in mind. The slider can easily be disabled.

Coffeebreak Minimum Viable Product WordPress theme

6. iProduct Theme by Templatic. Yes it is a product-centric theme. Its layout differs from the others as its download buttons are centered underneath the product image. iProduct comes with a pricing plan module, as well as a testimonials and customer service widget by default.

iProduct Minimum Viable Product wordpress theme

7. Eminent is a simple company-product hybrid. It provides call to action along with Twitter aggregation and client list features.

Eminent minimum viable product wordpress theme

8. Ignite is one dead simple theme. It is primarily a landing page, but it might make a good basis for starting the design of a minimum viable product site.

ignite minimum viable product wordpress theme

9. GetBusiness is a Web2.0-style theme more focused on company profiling. However, with slight modifications it would work as well as a minimum viable product theme. The call to action button and value proposition is at the heart of the front page.

GetBusiness minimum viable product wordpress theme

The themes have in common the emphasis on minimum viable product techniques. Their design is built around the product rather than the other way around. There is a clear slogan and value proposition, as well as product feature listings. Call to action buttons, along with testimonials and customer service widgets are at the center of the templates. Perhaps the most important, the minimum viable theme should organize for customer feedback and simple testing of ideas.

You may have noticed that WooThemes and Templatic themes dominate the list. I believe that this is not by accident. If you have a look at their respective sites, you’ll see that they make good examples of how to design a compelling reason to buy.

Stay tuned for more minimum viable product themes to come.

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Minimum Viable Product revisited – the MVP Curve?

My professor once introduced me to a concept he called FRUST – an acronym for frustration. Its premise is that products should be built solving a problem or pain for the customer. So is the minimum valuable product (MVP) a systematic, disruptive approach to product marketing. Google, Twitter and Spotify apparently get it. Say no more.

At its shortest, Eric Ries coined the minimum viable product:

.. the minimum viable product is that product which has just those features (and no more) that allows you to ship a product that resonates with early adopters; some of whom will pay you money or give you feedback.

In this Venture Hacks interview with Eric Ries, it is put even more simple:

The minimum viable product (MVP) is often an ad on Google. Or a PowerPoint slide. Or a dialog box. Or a landing page. You can often build it in a day or a week.

More recently, voices of the Customer Development/Lean Startup community have made an excellent effort in elaborating the idea, e.g. Andrew Chen; Minimum Desirable Product and Ash Maurya; How I built my Minimum Viable Product.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the minimum viable product would deserve its own least common multiple. Adapting the Featuritis Curve, here is a conceptualization as a basis of discussion.

Minimum-viable-product-illustrated-methodologist1

The MVP Curve questions whether resonance with Early Adopters is relative to the number of features or amount of complexity offered. The minimum viable product does not necessarily mean that the product should be dead simple. Rather, the resonance with customers should peak when the product offering is designed to solve their core problems or jobs-to-be-done, as suggested by Clay Christensen. In accordance with the Customer Development model, this implies not only listening to the customer, but getting out of the building and carefully studying the customer.

I leave to you the question whether the minimum viable product can be conceptualized. In different use cases, what would be the pitch of the curve? Further, the curve might be tested by applying metrics to it: how to measure resonance with early adopters over features, and are there alternative variables?

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How to design your Business Model as a Lean Startup

If you spend time exploring innovation methodologies and models, you know that configuration of such frameworks largely apply new ideas, assembly and build upon previous work (hat off to science). I have come to explore conformity of two emerging frameworks; the Business Model Ontology by Alex Osterwalder and the Lean Startup methodology by Eric Ries. The result, the Lean Startup and Business Model Canvas mashup is illustrated below.

With the Business Model Ontology Osterwalder proposes a single reference model based on the similarities of a wide range of business model configurations. With the business model canvas (used as basis for the illustration above) Osterwalder describes nine building blocks that form a meta-business model.

On methodology, Eric Ries coins the Lean Startup, a practical approach for creating and managing startups using principles of Steven Blank‘s Customer Development  methodology alongside Agile Development methodologies.

The Lean Startup Business Model Pattern adopts principles of the Lean Startup (i.e. agile development and customer development) with the building blocks of the Business Model Canvas. In his recent book, Business Model Generation, Osterwalder uses the notion of Design Patters alongside the ideas of Christopher Alexander and Tim O’Reilly among others, to describe common configurations of business model components. Hence, it could be considered a Lean Startup Business Model Pattern.

The Lean Startup Business Model Pattern aligns with three main pillars that constitutes the Lean Startup methodology; Customer Development, Agile Software Development and Technology Commoditization.

Illustrated above the template using arrows, one key tenet with the Lean Startup methodology is the understanding of Product-Market fit, which optimally results from Agile Product Development, the solution offered, to match with Customer Development, the problem that is solved for a customer.

The Customer Offering or Value Proposition component of the template can be understood with the Minimum Viable Product concept used with Lean Startup method (see also whole product or doughnut diagram in Crossing the Chasm). The Customer Segments in which the Minimum Viable Product is offered, typically is characterized by early adopters or lead users in the social system.

With the Technology Commodity Stack, one of the main principles with the Lean Startup, Eric Ries speaks of how free and open source software (FOSS) availability and user generated content reduce startup costs. This is typically recognized with the Key Resources component. That is, knowledge of and access to open source software is a key resource to a Lean Startup. Similarly, open web hosting services are recognized with the Partner Network component, and convenient search engine marketing with the Distributions Channels component. Social media could as an example be a aligned with the Customer Relationship component enabling user generated content and interaction with customers.

Data-driven approaches based on customer-centric metrics applies to Distribution Channels, but may be considered a key activity as well. Among the Key Activities of the pattern are Agile Software Fevelopment methods and techniques, and the use of Metrics (e.g. Dave McClure‘s AARRR, Startup Metrics) for a startup to measure performance and adjust its directions accordingly. Although “listening to customers” would be recognized as a technique with the Agile Development methodologies, this is central not only to the Customer Development, Agile Development and the Lean Startup methodologies – it is also central to the Business Model Generation (Emphatic Design), Disruptive Innovation (Jobs-to-be-done), Lead User innovation and Voice of the Customer among other customer-centric innovation frameworks.

The conformity of the frameworks is not straightforward though. One such problem is that the level of abstraction differs. Think numerator and denominator. How do we distinguish between tactics, process, strategy and concepts herein? According to Steven Blank’s Customer Development methodology (slide #29 in this presentation), Product Development and Customer Development can be viewed through the tactical lens, while the business model view could be viewed through the strategic lens. Osterwalder understands business models as a facilitator between business processes and strategy. Myself, I would start from the premise that strategy or goals often comes as consequence of continuous learning in early stage ventures where resources are scarce and uncertainty is extreme.

One challenge to consider is how the pattern might express iterative development and internal feedback loops that are fundamental to Lean Startup methodology. It is in my understanding that when working with models and methodologies there is a general challenge in uniting behavior (process) and structure. That is, to what extent are the two frameworks integratable in terms of methodologies and notations. Borrowing from areas such as software engineering and system dynamics, future work would envision a tool that aid in entrepreneurial learning and aggregates key metrics in order mitigate risk in new-product introductions.

For starters a fruitful discussion would consider what are the principles with the Lean Startup methodology that should be included in the Business Model Pattern and where they belong. Later, I will address how a startup would use the pattern to validate their business model as a part of their lean methodology. Stay tuned.

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