Startup How-To: 7 Steps to Creating a Successful Product
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Startup How To walks you step-by-step through the hard work that business founders must do to prove out their ideas and launch a successful product.
This is a premier tutorial currently in use by top accelerators and incubators around the world. It is endorsed by Lean Startup creator Eric Ries, and our customers include 500 Startups, Singularity University, and the US Presidential Innovation Fellows. Whether you're a tech entrepreneur or simply learning how to apply lean principles, this course will set you on a productive path.
This is a HANDS-ON workshop, not just talks. Allow yourself extra time at the end of each step to do the work and move your company forward.
---If you're an active entrepreneur, there is no better online resource for getting started and moving forward efficiently.---
With Startup How To, you get access to the COMPLETE set of and all of the handouts (downloadable PDF files). (Previously, the only way to access this material was to buy the bundled product directly from Luxr.)
The seven workshops in Startup How To cover:
This isn't a "how to" curriculum, it's an active experience, rooted in the principles of Lean Startup. Our promise is that if you give us an hour, we'll move your company forward.
Don't take our word for it --
“Teams using the Luxr curriculum understand Lean Startup at a fundamental level.”—Eric Ries, Author The Lean Startup, and Luxr advisor
"If we'd used this material six months ago, we would have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions." —Bill Gross, Idealab
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|Section 1: Envision your customer|
|Before starting this workshop, you need to do two things:
Can't wait to work with you!!
|Every startup has a customer in mind. Some startups have SEVERAL customers -- eBay, for instance, has buyers and sellers. This step is about choosing which customer you want to use for these workshops.|
|In this step, we start to get in the head of our customer by doing a quick sketch of our customer. I can't draw, but even I find that sketching helps me to think through who my customer is and what their life is like. I promise it will be easy. And maybe a little funny.|
|Here we get out all of that demographic information that's right at the top of our mind when we try to describe our customer - age, job, married or not, kids or not. This is about all of those things you might read in the census.|
|Here we begin to get to the parts of the persona that REALLY matter. What do these people DO that indicates they are a potential customer? How are they trying to solve their problem now?|
|This step, we think about what our customer needs. What is the problem that they are trying to solve? There are some needs that are so broad that they're not really helpful—like "Spend more time with my kids." Try to dig one level deeper, and ask yourself, what would have to change to make that possible.|
|With these three checks, we make sure that you've created a "plausible individual." Not someone you actually know. Not a silly caricature. You're documenting the assumptions that you have, which describe a type of person who would benefit from your product.|
|This step is for teams only! If you're not working with your team right now, you can skip ahead. In this step, we go from having several versions of the persona to one version.|
|The persona you just made records a lot of assumptions that you have about your customer. Here's the big question—what if you're wrong? Which of those assumptions might be fatal to your business idea? In this step we identify the most risky assumptions.|
|This step wraps up workshop number 1 by reviewing the techniques and identifying which ones were most helpful to you.|
|Section 2: Conduct quality interviews|
|The most essential element in an early stage company is how well you understand your customer. This workshop prepares you to do great Customer Development interviews, so that you can make a product that hits the mark.|
|Now that you know how to do an interview...where do you find the people to talk to?|
|In this step, you will create my favorite research tool—the topic map. I use it to keep myself on track and guide the conversation toward those topics that are most useful in my research.|
|The hardest part of interviewing a stranger is breaking the ice. In this step, you get ready by writing out the first few lines to get the interview off to a good start.|
|Feeling prepared will help you to get the best data out of your Customer Development interviews.|
|Seriously...this is the most embarrassing scene in the entire course! Even so, doing a few practice interviews will really help. I hate approaching strangers in a coffee shop, but I've done it because it helps me to know my customer and make products that they love.|
|Before you head out, decide who on your team will do what. If you're working solo, you'll need to wear many hats...and maybe bring a tape recorder!|
|Now is the moment of truth. Go forth and research!|
|Section 3: Learn from your customer development|
|Without a good debriefing process, there's not a lot of benefit from the research you've done. In this section, we're going to take a look at how to extract lessons and insights from your research. Having worked for many years doing this as a consultant, I've seen how transformational succinct research results can be for a company—and how useless research is if it's not "digested" and summarized into actionable lessons.|
|Obviously, the first thing you need to do is go through the notes and pull out the important observations. If you've done a great job of interviewing several people, you might feel a little overwhelmed by the amount of information you have. This step is about looking into the chaos of information.|
|If the prior step is about observing chaos, then this one is about finding order. Sorting is where you begin to see patterns and find some clarity.|
|Even if you don't have a team, it's very helpful to talk with another person and try to explain to them what you've learned and observed as patterns in the data. This step is where you have a good conversation about your research findings and begin to draw conclusions about what they mean and how they might affect your product.|
|Research for its own sake is not effective enough. The real "Win" for your company comes when you update your persona. This is what we call "validation"—is this a valid persona? What must we change to make it more accurately reflect our target customers?|
|Here we make sure to capture the interesting findings that were not our primary research goal.|
|You may have heard of approaches like Lean Startup and Agile Software Development. Both of these have "continuous improvement" as a core philosophy. Here we reflect on the process so that we can grow more effective in our work.|
|It's not enough to do customer development one time. At Luxr, we have two or three Cust Dev interviews every week. In this step, you decide how you want to integrate research into your fledgeling company.|
|Section 4: Capture the value proposition|
|By now you've learned something about your customer, validated some key assumptions, and updated your persona. It's time, then, to transform that new insight into a product vision. This section will walk you through the process of identifying a customer value proposition that reflects your business vision and your customer's actual needs in the real world.|
|Once again, we take up the Sharpie pen to make some sketches. This time, we learn to add simple emotions to our drawing. It's fun, trust me!|
|A picture is worth a thousand words...Even if you can't draw, I can teach you to show a person, in a place, with a feeling and a thought. That complexity, even if poorly rendered, captures far more information than a simple sentence.|
|In this step, we create a lot of ideas. By drawing rough sketches, we capture those moments where a customer needs our product (the moment of pain), or is using our product (the moment of satisfaction).|
|Collaborative work is all about understanding each others' contributions. Here, a team of 3 people can look over the 18 ideas (6 each), and by discussing them gain a deeper understanding of each other and of the potential of this product.|
|Ultimately, you can have only one value proposition. In this step, we introduce a way to simplify decision-making when you have several options and several people.
NOTE: If you don't have the colored dots (available in office supply stores and even many drugstores), just use a colored pen.
|In this final step, we reflect on the techniques from this section and decide how that might affect our work going forward.|
|Section 5: Focus your minimum viable product|
|With a clear Value Proposition, we can pretty quickly determine what features to create. Lean Startup, which is a philosophy we believe in strongly, calls that an MVP, the Minimum Viable Product. The smallest thing you can make (well) that will deliver on the value proposition. That's what this Section will focus on.|
|Using our favorite method—the Dump and Sort—you will brainstorm the features that you could include in your product.|
|Choosing what to build is one of the critical decisions that cause startup companies to get stuck, sometimes creates conflict, and really slows everybody down. When you use a few special techniques, though, sorting and prioritizing features can be a rational process that respects the gut instincts that all entrepreneurs have.|
|In this step, we really begin to focus the features to a crisp, tight MVP. The sooner you can get a small but great version of your product out into the market, the sooner you can learn what works for your customers.|
|When you get down to those few things that are HARD but IMPORTANT, you need to begin making tradeoffs. This step gets you to a more clear picture of importance that will help you decide what's in and what's out for this first build.|
|Because we've made a TON of decisions very quickly, it's important to have a fail-safe. One easy fail-safe is to look back at the decisions you've made and do a couple of quick checks.|
|By assembling all of the decisions into one storyline, you can get a very clear picture of your business so far. This is where you can see the value of all of your work. From a big mass of options and choices, you have arrived at a focused story that you can test, experiment with, and execute on.|
|Section 6: Define actionable metrics|
|Once you know your customer, choose a value proposition, and build an MVP, you need to observe whether it's working: Are customers getting value from your product? In this Section, we will isolate a set of metrics that specifically measure customers' connection to the product.|
|This step follows the established pattern: Come up with a lot of ideas about what you can measure in your product.|
|Using the category cards, sort the metrics according to what kind of insight they will give you.|
|Identify which metrics are most important for you TODAY, rather than a year from now.|
|Learn the tricks that make a metric truly helpful, and avoid drawing false conclusions about how well your product is doing.|
|This step is for teams, only. If you're working solo, you can skip this step. Here teams decide which metrics are right to move forward with.|
|Put together a tracking system for your measurements.|
|Devise experiments and track trends based on what you do with the product.|
|Instrument your product so that you can gather metrics. Learn to observe metrics over time.|
|Reflect on this section and make decisions about how you want to move forward.|
|Section 7: Prepare for pivots|
|A Pivot is a change in business strategy in order to better deliver on the vision of your company. To do that, you need to know what your vision is. Eric Ries says "values are the foot you leave on the floor when you pivot." So, in order to know how to pivot the company, you need to have an explicit understanding of your vision and values. That's what we take on in this final Section.|
|The pattern recurs in this Section: We start with a dump and sort to brainstorm values.|
|We use stack-ranking to get from many ideas to a small number of values that really define and differentiate your company.|
|If you're with a team, you will need to take some time to bring your values into alignment. If you're working alone, you have it easy!|
|The collaboration continues as you cluster your values and make a final decision about what matters most.|
|In this step, perhaps the hardest in the whole course, you will write a single statement that captures the purpose for your company and your product. To do this, you will answer questions like, Why does this matter to you?|
|Take as much time as you need to arrive at one purpose that the whole founding team can agree to.|
|Here you create a record of these decisions and statements. At Luxr, we have ours posted on the bathroom door, so that everyone can see it and reflect on it frequently.|
|In this penultimate step of the course, I ask you to think about all of the different ways you could deliver on that vision. If this product doesn't work out (for whatever reason), what would you do next. Every successful company has had many pivots, especially in the first two years. This step gives you the flexibility to think about the company not just as a one-product entity, but as a phenomenon that will have an impact on the world.|
|It's the last step—if you've made it here, you're well on your way to having a great chance at success. Thanks for the optimism, dedication, and courage that you bring to the world.|
Janice is an entrepreneur and advisor to startups. She is currently the Director of the Innovation Practice at Pivotal. for 16 years before that, Janice started 6 different companies, with a variety of outcomes — both exits and flat-out shutdowns.
Her last company, LUXr, provided workshops for hundreds (thousands) of entrepreneurs around the world. She personally worked with more than 50 companies in a 10-week product acceleration program. With backing by 500Startups, Mitchell Kapor, Bill Gross's Idealab, and Tony Hsieh's Vegas Tech Fund, Luxr reached entrepreneurs around the world before the company joined the exceptional team at Pivotal, where Janice & team continue to coach entrepreneurs inside large companies as well at startups.
My promise to you is this: You give us a day, and we will leapfrog your company forward at least a month.
Janice is also an advisor to startups including Task Rabbit and PopVox. She has raised capital, founded successful (and failed) startups, including the first UX design firm, Adaptive Path, where she served as the company’s first CEO. Janice is a guest speaker at many conferences and top business schools around the world, including Haas, Kellogg, Stanford, and the Presido Graduate School of Management.