The Lean Startup Challenge is at its halfway point at the time of this posting. I decided to take on the role of co-chair this year, upping my involvement after the inaugural challenge last year. It’s been, at times, a stressful responsibility yet its also been very fulfilling experience and I, myself, have learned a bunch along the way.
If it sounds like I’m slightly surprised, it’s because I am. Lean Startup Challenge is all about startups entering to ‘get lean’ by implementing a rather disciplined and scientific approach to growing their businesses with limited time and resources. With a required weekly report and only 4 weeks of iterations, the program is designed to accelerate the learning curve. But I didn’t anticipate the level of learning that I would go through as an organizer.
First and foremost, the LSC is its own business operation unto itself. And just as teams are talking to customers, validating assumptions, gleaning insights, I’m doing the same except my customers are the contestants. My product is the 4 week challenge. I’m getting feedback on what’s working and what’s not. We’re trying to iterate and improve each week as organizers. My co-chairs and team talk multiple times a week to gather our learnings and make tweaks (or in some cases larger changes). It’s important that I eat my own dog food, otherwise I believe there would be a question of legitimacy in what we do.
Secondly, as I watch teams go through the process, I’ve observed a pattern. Its related to the latter half of a post I put up on the LSC blog based on Professor Eisenmann’s (LSC’s kickoff keynote speaker) warning to avoid ego defensive behaviors. It’s a common pitfall. We can focus on adjusting the room temperature when the building is on fire because it feels hot. Nobody likes to be wrong. And no one likes to fail. When we have new ideas, they present opportunities to win and prove we were right and how smart we are. But the reality is that when we get brutally honest is when we’re poised to glean the most insights.
Lastly, it’s an interesting perspective to be at a bird’s eye view observing the progress of over 35 teams. Seeing what various actions are driving traction for contestants has been valuable. Culture Adapt wasted no time in going from concept to generating revenue. ZappRx has moved quickly in pulling a group of beta users together in its efforts to tackle big problems in healthcare. These are just two of our contestants that come to mind but there is lots of really impressive work being done by all our teams this year and its not only been a great experience to have front row seats but its also provided valuable learning for me as well.