During the first week of November, I joined a small group of aspiring entrepreneurs traveling to Silicon Valley in San Francisco, CA for the Lean Startup conference. This conference was fueled with excitement, insights, innovation, and many cups of coffee. The stimulating atmosphere arose from the passion within each speaker and attendee. The lean startup way inspires entrepreneurs and employees to use the resources at hand to maximum efficiency. The term, “Minimum Viable Product”, or “MVP” was mentioned countless times at the conference. The MVP is at the heart of the lean startup way. The founder of the lean startup conference and author of The Lean Startup, Eric Ries, describes it as the version of a new product, which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort. These methods save time and money while showing the entrepreneur whether their product will serve the market.
An important realization I took away from the conference was that a company’s first prototype doesn’t have to be the best version or the jaw dropping experience that you want for the customer. The MVP will help you understand how the market will react to the idea before thousands of dollars are spent and hours of product development are completed. Test your ideas in small ways to get a better understanding of the needs of the customer. This could be as simple as setting up an extra page on your website with more information and/or future products. The extra clicks by visitors could show their interests and needs. Startup companies need to entice their target customers to share as much information about their interests as possible to better serve them. As Steve Jobs once said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” If you test the market and fail to validate your product, modify the plan and get back out there to test again. When applying lean startup concepts to your business, risk of catastrophic failure is mitigated, which will allow your business to pivot and try a better solution.
The ideas shared at the startup conference are not unique to one place or time. The concepts can be taught and modeled within our own startup communities in Nebraska. Traveling to Silicon Valley has great networking benefits which should appeal to many entrepreneurs, but remember to use your time and money to maximum efficiency. After traveling to Silicon Valley, I identified three important reasons to network in that area. The first would be to gain access to valuable start-up funding such as: angel investors, venture capital funds, partnerships, acquisitions, or start-up accelerator programs that litter the bay area on the hunt for innovative ideas with growth potential. Secondly, business models of all sorts are put to the test in this fast paced environment. The failures and successes of these businesses can be learned from or copied. Speakers at the lean startup conference shared their experiences of success and failure so others can avoid setbacks on their journey to success. Lastly, the people and culture in the area are driving change across the world with innovation. Their insights can help open your eyes to different or better solutions or if there’s a problem holding your progress back. The more you understand the start-up world, the better you will become at using and locating the resources required to reach success. Reach out for networking opportunities, not only in Silicon Valley but also within our own community. Lincoln is thriving with startup support for ideas that have merit. Overall, understand all aspects of the market your business is getting into, test the market with a MVP, and build a solid foundation with a team with steam and fire in their bellies!