This weekend I experienced the intensity that was Lean Startup Machine DC (#LSMDC).  I went with without lots of expectations — I haven’t read The Lean Startup book, I haven’t been to any similar events, and I didn’t know anyone who had.  It turned out to be an intense, great experience.  The highlight for me was meeting all kinds of fascinating people thinking about or already doing cool stuff in the DC startup/entrepreneurship scene. My initial reaction to lean, with has some significant overlap with agile, is focused on quickly validating business models through real tests of your assumptions.  Not thought experiments, not talking it over with you buddy; but real, tangible ways to test your assumptions by removing assumptions.  For example, an early idea of the team I was on was:

  • Assumption:  people would share job openings on their social networks if they would get paid for helping getting someone hired
  • Realization:  people are protective of their social status, as part of their online identify, and only want to share opportunities that help a friend and/or are associated with a cool company

Much of the weekend was spent wrapping my head around using tools to validate or invalidate assumptions (using tools like Google Ad Words, Facebook ads, talking to domain experts (finding them using your network and social media), and pitching concepts).  In addition, there was a huge focus on collecting “currency” or tangible validation of your idea, which could include letters of intent from vendors, clicks on ads (see http://www.stephaniehay.com/blog/lean-content/), email addresses on a launch page (see http://launchrock.com), initial payments, etc. The weekend started with people pitching ideas on Friday evening and forming teams and ended with a Sunday afternoon series of presentations of each group, focused on their process, what they learned, and their results.  In between, there were some great local people sharing their expertise in entrepreneurship and lean concepts; as well as a team of mentors around to help guide people through the process. Some highlights included:

  • Peter Corbett talking about iStrategyLabs
  • Discussions with Teague Hopkins about the future of the office of CIO
  • Maksim Tsvetovat discussing how social networks grow
  • Stephanie Hay’s discussions on initial tests instead of getting stuck in talking about ideas
  • Great ideas from Chitra Sivanandam about focusing on pain points (and hearing about some of the super-cool stuff she does)
  • Hearing Brian Sowards’ story of how he used lean to iterate a weak idea into a multi-million dollar valuation
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