Last weekend, I attended a Lean Startup Machine workshop here in San Diego. It was held over two and a half days from Friday evening to Sunday.
It's a pretty simple (but effective) format. There's not a lot of lecturing but it does provide some classroom instruction to give you an understanding of their lean tool called the validation board. After a little background on the concept, the attendees break off into teams and each team is on their own. The objective is to come up with a business idea and validate the assumptions in the business model. The goal is to hone the business idea with feedback from real people, using the minimum amount of effort possible. The course also provides mentors, experienced folks you can ask questions of at any time.
My team started with the assumption that we could either build a business around tickets from red light cameras or create a social movement around getting the cameras removed (after all, they could be the first step towards Big Brother). We went out onto the street and started talking to people at a gas station at an intersection with a red light camera setup. We quickly learned that people do not see the cameras as an evil Big Brother type situation and building a business around fighting the tickets would be small and niche, at best. So within a couple of hours, we realized this idea had no legs.
We scrapped that idea and started with a new one. We assumed that people had a need to give and receive anonymous feedback to one another. There could be potential positive (constructive feedback) and not-so-positive (rants) outcomes if such a system existed. So we went off to a nearby mall to validate our assumptions. We did realize that there was a need here! It was mostly focused on young women wanting to receive feedback about their outfits.
We built a quick website to test a couple of the key assumptions (that people would post requests for feedback and that their friends would provide the feedback). We had a site up and running in a couple of hours. We would run some people through it, get feedback, and update/improve the site based on the feedback. Within a day, we were able to learn about what was working and what was not and the site we built was all done on free tools.
So, over the course of the weekend, I learned how to validate business assumptions much more quickly than I had been. It took me out of my comfort zone (asking strangers questions on the street). Overall, the lessons I learned will help me at my startup. I've already implemented the validation board as a tool in the office.