Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Step Forward

This weekend I did something that I have never done before, I joined a 52-hr (which turned out to be less demanding than it seemed) start-up competition in Chicago called LeanStartupMachine. The event was geared towards the entrepreneurship community in Chicago and was advertised through the Kellogg community through the Entrepreneurship Club newsletter. I knew this event would be one of those opportunities for me to meet interesting/entrepreneurial people outside of the business school sphere and possibly learn bits and pieces from working with individuals with a designer or developer background.

Attending an event like this might not seem that much of a big deal to many of my readers. However, it was quite a substantial step for me. I have been liking the idea of joining a startup for awhile but never took the first step to try start something. I came to Kellogg with the expectation that I can meet people with exciting ideas and possibly dive into some entrepreneurial activities quickly. Although Kellogg provides excellent resource for this to happen, for someone without a particular idea in mind, it wasn't that easy. I grew anxious about what I should do about my desire to do something in this space and then I saw this event. I took a step forward. Joining this event and emerging myself in a short but intense startup experience is really my first taste of the whole startup thing, and I honestly did not know what to expect.

The details about event has been documented pretty well by my team leader Obie Fernandaz's live blogpost . The cuban descent developer/entrepreneur who had led a successful career in the web design field pitched an idea which he was passionate about, got a team together (including me who was intrigued by his idea) and started the process. The team was composed of an eccentric group of individuals. Me and another Kellogg student were the traditional "business" folks, and then we had two guys from Sears holdings who were both involved in the eCommerce division and were quite familiar with the product development process. Then there was your stereotypical geeky developer and a girl with consulting/banking background who wanted to become entrepreneurs.

It is probably good to mention that the LeanStartupMachine event is a testing ground for trying out the Lean Startup model which has been pioneered by Haas lecturer Steve Blank. The whole idea is about fast cycle of customer development, changing your assumptions and pivoting your product before actually building something in full-blown fashion. It's about getting close to the customers early through your prototyping phase and constantly modifying your prototype. I thought the idea was quite relevant for early stage startups but probably wouldn't be able to create the next revolutionary product such as the Ipod.

Given the scope of the project, we followed the steps of the LeanStartup principles and constructed our working days around conducting customer surveys, testing our assumptions and pivoting our ideas going forward. It wasn't so much of building the site out, in fact, we only built a landing page so far. But the customer development process, although at times painful and unclear, have led us to focus on the most important aspects of the project. And this first hand experience of struggling through the first stage of starting up an idea was well worth my precious weekend time.

I think I will summarize some of the lessons learned tomorrow after we do our 9min presentation. As much as I don't believe this idea will turn into anything fruitful in the future, I am excited to see what we can come up with as MVP (minimal viable product) and what other teams have done.

Lessons learned: