My First Lean Startup – In Brief

At last night’s Lean Startup meetup (video), Eric Ries inspired us to share stories of how we’re applying various techniques, so here goes… 

In January, I had the the idea to build a new app which would enable us to make more meaningful birthday wishes to our friends in the form of something called a  BirthdayGram. However I was determined to avoid investing millions of dollars into an idea only to find out later, it wasn’t needed or desired by customers. Having recently read The Lean Startup, I was inspired by the Intuit “intrepreneur” story and thought it fit well my situation operating with the larger Comcast. So I convinced my team and my boss that we should give Lean Startup a try and we were on our way.

Over the course of next few months we applied the Lean Startup principles and shaped our nacent product. We started running experiments almost immediately as we aimed to validate our most core hypotheses. We also were determined to only build what was necessary to gain learning and deferred issues of scaling / marketing to later as we didn’t need very many users to measure success.

Part of our concept is combining videos from multiple friends into one montage to be shared on the recipient’s Facebook Timeline on their birthday. However building a complex automated video editing solution would be quite resource intensive. Since we only expected a manageable number of users at the beginning we decided to have a small team in India manually edit the videos by hand (turned out to only cost about $0.20 / video). 

We also focused solely on iOS to start even though we knew we’d like to offer a webcam and Android experience eventually. While we’d track interest in those other two platforms we could easily understand what we were “missing out” in terms of virility without them. 

In launching our MVP in April the lessons learned went on overdrive. We were able to measure all our metrics in realtime using Mixpanel and see what aspects of our viral engine of growth were working (lots of people invited) and which were not (invite conversion sucked). We also saw how meaningful it was for recipients to receive a BirthdayGram which inspires us to persevere.  

Assuming there’s interest I’m could expand with details on the following topics:

  1. Defining Hypotheses and Running Experiments – How focus enabled us to find creative ways to gather customer feedback and only build what was necessary. 
  2. Optimizing a Viral Engine of Growth – How we used AARRR funnel metrics to understand whether we were improving our core engine even with just hundreds of users. 
  3. Using the Five Why’s – Examples of how running a service for real and having problems taught us way more than if we had waited longer to launch. 

Time will tell if this all turns out to be a good idea. But either way, I’m learning how to be a better entrepreneur. 🙂