Food startups rule at Lean Startup Machine

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This past weekend I mentored the Lean Startup Machine (LSM) here in Singapore, my second such event in the country. Even as a mentor, it’s hard not to get a buzz from the excitement.

As usual, the majority of participants weren’t really sure what to expect. On Friday, we started with a bit of mingling before diving head first into the fact that 98 percent of startups FAIL. Among the great advantages of LSM is that the process is practical and has a hands-on approach. Most people understand the general feel of Lean methodology books (“The Lean Startup” and “Running Lean“), or those on Customer Development (I highly recommend “Entrepreneurs Guide to Customer Development“), but the books fall short on the “how” to use these in the real world, to avoid the overwhelming chance of failure.

The weekend-long event gets you laser focused on the first stages of a startup — Customer/Problem/Solution Fit — well before investing time or effort producing the end-product. Groups are pushed to ensure they have a real to problem to solve, with real people feeling the pain of the problem. If you’re new to Lean principles, or having problems with really feeling confident about your ideas before implementation, this event is for you. I would even go so far as to say it’s “an absolute must for all entrepreneurs, seasoned and newbies.” After taking my co-founder at Moven with me last year, we both pushed to put our entire team through the experience.

Going to Lean Startup Machine will radically change the way you approach innovative product development. And the best part is you don’t have to be working on a startup to get the maximum value. We often see people with day jobs attending, looking to do something innovative.

So how does LSM work?

On Friday night, people pitch ideas and vote for their favourite. Teams of three to five are formed with a clear objective of validating the customer/problem fit, and then problem/solution fit. Throughout the weekend teams are taken through a series of tools, techniques and methods that they apply directly to their idea. In a tribute to Singapore’s favourite pastimes, there were an abundance of Shopping and Food ideas. The question is then posed: is there a viable startup idea amongst Singapore’s favorite pastimes?

A fair number of people were pushed to get outside their comfort zones. Teams were faced with “Getting Out of the Building” to find potential early adopters instead of desk-based profiling. Instead, they were forming a good question flow, considering minimum success criteria and conversing in the right way to validate assumptions. I love seeing engineers get out from behind a keyboard and onto the street, watching them blossom as they confront their fear of talking to strangers. It’s quite liberating for them.

The Validation Board

The primary focus for the weekend is the Validation Board, on which you place your target customer hypothesis, the key problem hypothesis you are solving for them and all your core assumptions. First attempts are always loaded with these: “people want my solution”, “people have the problem”, “they would use a mobile app”, etc.

Once your core assumptions are on the board, you pick the riskiest one and test it. For most, the first iteration is normally “does my target customer even have the problem I am defining?” Once you have some hard data, you then decide to pivot (change an integral part of the problem/solution) or persevere (continue on to the next riskiest assumption). The term “pivot” is often thrown around by those that have read the “lean” books. A pivot is a fundamental change in you business strategy, like changing customer segments, the problem you are actually trying to solve or the pricing model, and the like.

Validation

Validation, or invalidation, is key to removing the assumptions in your business idea that might result in wastage, such as building things people don’t want. So how do we validate? To use the words of Steve Blank, this means “getting out of the building!” And at LSM, you don’t have a choice! You will be herded out by mentors like myself and expected to come back with results! Which is super important when on a compressed learning experience. Most groups have amazing conversations with people throughout the weekend which leads to new insights, new ideas and accelerated focus.

Getting Out of the Building

You won’t find answers sitting at you desk. You need to get out into the real world and talk to strangers. Well, not exactly strangers, since you target talking to your intended customer with the simple aim of validating or invalidating assumptions you have about them. Over the period of the weekend, everyone gets out of the building, in the form of face-to-face interviews with actual customers, testing a pitch on the street, and engaging potential customers for data insights on a current assumption.

Singapore’s mix of ideas had been put to the test, as groups found a mix of validation and invalidation. The weekend was run out of the HUB in Somerset, putting participants just metres from one of the busiest places in Singapore on weekends, Orchard Road, ensuring an over-supply of people to approach for interviews and insights. One of groups went after the “cougar” crowd as they investigated shopping challenges amongst Singapore’s wealthy women without families. While “Out of your Box,” an activity discovery service in Singapore, managed to do S$300 (US$241) in sales.

LSM is a competition — so there has to be a winner. On this occasion, “Just Cook” took the honours with their idea a service that delivers all the ingredients and recipes to the homes of individuals with a desire for convenient home cooking This was a clear favorite with the judges and the crowd, as they managed to sell out a Biriyani event for this week. I’m so annoyed I missed out on tickets! A close second went to “DigsIn,” which has the idea that the best recipes and cooks in Singapore are hidden in homes. Their Airbnb model for home cooking is aimed at allowing Singapore’s best home cooks to show off their culinary talents by hosting home-cooked dining experiences.

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Overall LSM was another huge success, as they HUB was filled with intense learning. Even as a mentor, it’s hard not to get a buzz from the excitement. I hope many of the groups continue on with their ideas beyond the event.

Closing comments from LSM

“The energy was palpable throughout the workshop, and we were fortunate to have such an amazing group come ready to take on the world (and crowds on Orchard Road)! Pushing themselves through an intensive experience they all exhibited grit and hustle, and I was really inspired to see how much learning, progress and awesome bonds they all made by Sunday evening! We were extremely thankful to have such an incredible group of dedicated mentors and speakers from the startup community come out to support along with our generous sponsors and partners.” Amy Lo – Event Coordinator, Lean Startup Machine

Quotes

“This weekend was really intense, I came away exhausted but absolutely buzzing with ideas to implement in my own startup.”

“The workshop was a blast – totally blew my mind, when so much stuff I thought I knew/understood was invalidated.” – MD Han – Duke of Alchemy, PlayMoolah

“What is it with Singapore?” – Brant Cooper, Author Entrepreneurs Guide to Customer Development & The Lean Entrepreneur

“Now i realise, that if I had run off with my original idea(which I thought was totally awesome) and started coding, I would have been working for 6 months, and wasted massive amounts of time and money.”

Scott Bales

Scott is a self-proclaimed extrovert who has meshed his fascination with people and what motivates them, with a raw enthusiasm for technology. Scott is a founding member of Moven, the mobile-centric payments business that helps customers to spend, save and live smarter. He is a founder at Next Bank, a mentor to Entrepreneurs throughout world with Lean Startup Machine, sits on the Board of Care Pakistan and holds advisory positions at Fastacash, Our Better World, One Cent Movement, HUB Singapore and Apps 4 Good. When not in a boardroom or on centre stage, you’re likely to find Scott devouring, tweeting, and blogging on the latest and greatest in the world of mobility, serendipity, user experience and entrepreneurial leadership. An outlet that landed him a contribution to Brett King’s best-selling book, Bank 3.0.

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