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Web Marketing: 7 Takeaways from the Lean Start Up Conference

Every organization can benefit from being lean. I know when I am leaner, more effective and more energetic, that I am happier and more productive.  The same holds true for organizations who are under so much pressure to do more with less everyday. The Lean Startup Conference took place on December 3rd, 2012. The conference highlighted a cast of startup leaders who offered their insights into different aspects of starting organizations built on The Lean Startup approach championed in the book The Lean Startup by Eric Ries,@ericries. Each of these highlights has a takeaway that can be applied to any business.

These were my favorites. Enjoy!

Matt Brezina @brezina formerly the founder of @xobni, working on @sincerely
Matt and his crew developed 9 app startups in 12 months. Matt says we must acknowledge our tendency to believe that everyone uses technology the way we do. We need to ask ourselves if we are drunk on our own sauce. We cannot be infatuated with our own products, services and applications.  We should always be looking for where our processes are fundamentally flawed so we can test and even break those processes and then rebuild or repair them.

Takeaway: Open your eyes a little wider.

Adam Goldstien @adamjgoldstein from
Adam says great design simplicity combined with human interaction gave access to insights which led Hipmunk to targeted improvements and accelerated growth.  Little things mattered so much like the symbol indicating wifi access on flights that offered wifi displayed larger on than on competitors sites and drove 10s of 1000s of visits. Human interaction coming from a chat feature used to help customers navigate the site drew these insights and saved months of development.  They employed a rotation of employees to handle the chat wire so there would be different takeaways from people with different backgrounds and experience bases.  Lastly it was confirmed that luggage tags with the Hipmunk logo are so cool they are regularly stolen from luggage. So if you Hipmunk luggage tags are gone, you're not the only one.

Takeaways: Simplify a difficult common repetitive task (like buying airline tickets) and then make a big difference with small unique features.

Justin Wilcox @justin_wilcox of Customer Development Labs
Justin pointed out that business startups and hobbies share common attributes including: being fun, verging on obsession, and costing lots of money.

Takeaway: If there is no money made then it's a hobby.

Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora from and @BTTRventures
Alejandro and Nikhil are two bankers who became full time urban mushroom farmers. They set out to increase engagement at farmers markets with a common product - mushrooms. They offered a portable cardboard box to grow the mushrooms rather than selling mushrooms by the pound. Their idea started conversations about mushrooms using the uniqueness of the box and conversations sold more mushroom boxes.  Their mushroom boxes are now available at retail stores nationwide.  Their next idea uses fish waste to feed plants which sit on top of the fish tank.

Takeaways: Find a twist to a common product and use this twist to start conversations. Conversations sell.

Stephanie Hay @steph_hay from
Stephanie helped us understand ways to speed up customer development: Start by pitching customers for "A-HA!" body language. Write down customer questions. Then iterate to get to "A-HA!" faster. Also, apply the mom test: If you're mom would be confused, it sucks. Lastly, ask users why they signed up (or purchased) and why they come back.

Takeaway: Pitch to your mom. If you get "A-HA!" body language, you may have a winner!

Steve Blank @sgblank who is involved with Startup Weekend and 10,000 startups
Entrepreneurship is about theory and practice but the ratio should be about to 1 to 100 theory to practice.  Steve also described several myths about entrepreneurship.  Myth: Entrepreneurship can't be taught. Fact: Entrepreneurship can be taught to those who volunteer to learn. Myth: You must fail a lot. Fact: You can fail less. Using a business model road map, you could think before you build. Check out the business model canvas available at Steve quoted Harvard Professor Clayton Christiansen who says "We hire products to do things for us."  So Steve asks, what are your customers hiring your products to do? He also mentioned Thomas Lewitt, former Harvard Professor who says "People don't want a quarter inch drill, they want a quarter inch hole." Steve said to ask yourself what are the pains that you are addressing in your application? Then ask what are the pain killers?

Takeaways: To better engage your customers, start with the pains not the pain killers - start with the hole, not the drill.

I believe The Lean Startup approach can be used by any small business regardless of their stage of development. The grand takeaways from this post: First, you don't want cardboard boxes, drills or any more theory. Next, you surely don't want to confuse your mother. Lastly, regardless of what anyone tells you, you don't want a website, a mobile app or a Facebook page. You want engagement, sales, repeat customers and repeatable solutions.

Image courtesy of franky242 via

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