It was the year 2017 when I heard, or at least, paid attention to the term Lean Startup. I had always thought that the term was just a casual word-play about applying Lean principles while running a startup. This post is an attempt at explaining how our NotesAlly team benefited from the Lean Startup principles.
When I attended Agile India 2017, I realized that the term ‘Lean Startup’ is a little more than the casual usage I thought it to be. In a talk titled Design Thinking Vs. Lean Startup: Friends or Foes?, Tathagat Varma, a (very good) speaker, compared and contrasted two approaches to business problem solving - Design Thinking and the Lean Startup.
That very evening, after finishing the evening meet-up with my Bangalore friends at MG Road, I casually strolled into Higginbothams to browse their collection, with no agenda whatsoever. This bold blue book The Lean Startup by Eric Ries caught my eye and I bought it right away. The lessons from this book helped my team recently when we faced a challenge to create a new product.
How did NotesAlly come to be?
We, at Ampyard, wanted to create a new SaaS product. We did not know what to create yet. We ran workshops to brainstorm about the ideas for a new product. Many ideas came out too.
The constraints we set for ourselves were simple. We wanted a product idea that
- Has a very specific target audience, not every organization in the world
- Has a demonstrated need in the market
- Has the potential to be developed iteratively over a period of time
- And, has a viable business case with low investment
How did we decide the target audience?
Among other frameworks, TK Kader’s framework described in this video had a heavy influence on our choice of target audience. After a few hair-pulling team work sessions, we decided that we will build something that helps sales professionals.
The top 3 reasons that we had for this choice were:
- We have in-house sales talent and community connections that can help in understanding the problems salespeople face.
- We could use (aka dog-fooding) the resulting product in our own organization. This way, even if we end up with zero licenses sold, we would have made our internal sales a little better (hopefully :P)
- Due to the dog-fooding choice, we could have our internal sales talent set the direction for the product.
How did we decide which problem to solve?
Given Ampyard’s consulting experience in Agile & DevOps, it was a no-brainer for us to start with a ‘Design Thinking’ approach. Long story short, we did interviews of sales professionals and sales leaders in our network.
When we analyzed the interview results, one particular problem seemed approachable to our team, with our 4-point constraints discussed above. The chosen problem statement was this - Loss of potential sales due to time consuming data entry in CRM systems.
Another related problem that came out was the loss of trust with customers due to incorrect data entry in the CRM systems.
How did we arrive at the solution?
Short answer - prototypes. We created lo-fi prototypes that were presented to our sample set of target audience. This exercise gave us useful feedback in two areas.
- Whether we were in the right direction with our solution.
- Potential improvements to our solution
The inputs gathered from the prototypes became the basis of the scope for our Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
Minimum Viable Product
Having read the Lean Startup, our Minimum Viable Product was designed as an exercise in curiosity about the market. We wanted to release a small but useful functionality to the market and learn from it.
We set a date for our MVP release and slogged amidst (passionate) debates to get something to market on that date. Our MVP did not just have the features as target, it had measurements too. These measurements will help us to achieve the goal of our MVP - to learn about the market.
Once the MVP was ready, we invited a few of our contacts to be our first users. We gather feedback from these users and push an update to the product, solving any problems they highlight. Surprisingly, we have had a few voluntary sign-ups too :)
At this point in time, we are learning fast and validating/invalidating our assumptions about what will serve the sales professionals. We are also changing our product and sometimes, even the business, based on our learnings.
We have now set in motion a perpetually running cycle of ideate-build-measure that will make life better for some people on this planet, while creating business value for our organization. The journey ahead is uncertain but exciting too.
Photo Credit: Danielle MacInnes