Startups Are Conversations

The true job of an entrepreneur is to systematically de-risk their big idea (or business model) through a series of conversations.

Startups are Conversations

My first book, Running Lean focused on the first conversation in this picture: The entrepreneur to customer conversation. It outlined a tactical roadmap for deconstructing your idea (using a Lean Canvas) and then stress testing the riskiest parts of your plan through meaningful customer conversations (problem and solution interviews).

Since Running Lean, I’ve been approached by hundreds of entrepreneurs, innovators, and intrapreneurs (at large companies) with the same question:

How do I get my stakeholders to buy into Lean for my next project?

My next book, Scaling Lean takes on this question.

Scaling Lean Stakeholder conversations

This book shows you how to define, measure, and communicate progress to your stakeholders without drowning in a sea of numbers.

Even if you don’t have external stakeholders or budget gatekeepers, you always have at least one stakeholder: YOU. You invest with time which is more valuable than money. So before committing years of your life to an idea, you have to make sure it will be worth the journey.

The Traditional Stakeholder Conversation

We have traditionally convinced ourselves that an idea is worth pursuing by attaching it to a large market. The logic then goes that if you can capture “just 1%” of this large market, you’ll be all set. After all, 1% of a billion dollar market is still a lot of zeros…

To make the pitch sound more believable, we then spend the next several weeks (and sometimes months) planning our go-to market strategy. We write elaborate business cases or business plans, back them with head-spinning forecasts, seek sponsors, secure funding, build teams, then prepare for scale.

Financial Forecasts

Most of these products never get out of the starting gate. Those that do, start measuring progress in terms of execution of “the plan” — however disconnected it may be from the reality on the ground.

Egos are tightly attached to “the plan” and deviation from “the plan” is a sign of weakness and not an option. So we go on defending the plan externally, while we spin a different story internally in the hopes that we arrive at the same place.

Not only is this sort of success theater a form of waste but it’s counter-productive because it fails to tap into the wisdom of your full team.

Investors aren’t just bags of money.

The Scaling Lean Stakeholder Conversation

In my next book, I aim to dismantle this dichotomy of progress stories by advocating the use of a single metric of progress — TRACTION.

Traction is the rate at which a business model captures monetizable value from it’s customers.

If this number is going up and to the right, the business model is working. Otherwise, it’s not.

This is best illustrated using a journey metaphor.

1. GOAL — Where are we headed?

The first step is getting clarity on where you are going or more specifically where you are taking customers (the business model goal) and tying this goal to a measurable traction metric (built on customer actions and not just revenue).

It’s important to highlight that this goal is mutually exclusive from your shiny solution.

  • Goals come from stakeholders.
  • Problems come from customers.
  • Solutions come from entrepreneurs

All three should fit in the early business model story. You don’t need anything more than a Lean Canvas for this conversation.

Lean Canvas

2. Observe and Orient — How do we get there?

The next step is formulating a validation plan (or strategy).

Validation Plan

Going for scale from day 1 is the premature optimization trap and a top killer of ideas.

Instead employ a staged 10X rollout as a deliberate strategy which automatically works to prioritize the riskiest parts in the business model first (customer/market over technology/solution).

10X Launch

Elon Musk’s secret master-plan which he shared again during the Model III announcement video is a great example of this (case-study also in the book).

Tesla - Secret Master Plan

A staged rollout model, lets you turn your fuzzy 3 or 5 year revenue goal into a more actionable 90-day traction model.

Traction Model

The traction model is to the financial model what the Lean Canvas is to the business plan.

3. LEAN Sprints — Are we there yet?

With a ballpark destination and a validation plan in hand, the heart of the framework uses iterative LEAN sprints designed to source, rank, and test ideas towards driving the business model to the goal. Unlike more traditional sprints (Agile, SCRUM, Design), these conversations aren’t focused on build velocity, but traction velocity.

LEAN Sprint
The Experiment Report

Like traditional sprints, a LEAN Sprint also employs a regular progress reporting cadence which are critical for keeping everyone accountable while making forward progress. As with my last book, I have sample scripts for how to conduct all these conversations.

Progress Reports

Writing a Book is Only the First Step…I Need Your Help

Scaling Lean will be out on June 14th and I am incredibly proud of the result. But writing a book is only the first step. Without a scalable path to customers, even the best products die a slow and silent death.

I am an entrepreneur and write for other entrepreneurs. If you are reading this post, chances are high that you are a like-minded entrepreneur. My hope is that some or all of these ideas resonated with you and that you’ll attempt to put them to practice across your teams. But that’s still only one side of the conversation.

It Takes Two to Tango

For any of these ideas to spread we need to involve stakeholders in the conversation. The pivotal mind shift is getting them to move away from a traditional big bang launch strategy and embrace a more deliberate staged rollout strategy.

This doesn’t require compromising on a big vision or adding more time to a project. But it does require everyone to buy into a different way of thinking and measuring progress. I have numerous case-studies in the book to support this approach — but if we don’t get the book in their hands, none of it will matter.

How Do We Get Stakeholders Involved

1. Stakeholders don’t read the same books as entrepreneurs
This is why I decided to switch publishers from O’Reilly (a great technical book publisher) to Penguin Randomhouse (the largest business book publisher).

2. Stakeholders typically read only what’s popular or what’s referred to them from trusted sources
This is why pre-orders and early orders are so critical. Pre-orders determine how much support retailers and curators of bestseller lists give this book. The more support it gets, the higher the odds that the book might be noticed by the people we need to reach.

It is unfortunate that many of these bestseller lists are seriously broken. And too many authors simply try to buy or cheat their way onto these lists. I am not driven by hitting the list — but getting these ideas to spread — so that we change the conversation on how we build great products.

My strategy from the start was simple:

1. Write a good book,
2. Get it in the hands of enough readers.
3. And let them decide. If the ideas are worthy, they will spread. Otherwise they won’t.

I’m perfectly okay with that and you can stop reading now if you found nothing interesting in this short preview. But if you found any of these ideas worthy of spreading, I’d like to ask for your help.

The Ask

If you are considering getting a copy of the book, I’d like to ask you to pre-order a copy today and not wait until the book launch date.

To make this a no-brainer, I am giving away a bunch of high value bonuses until the book launch. These are additional tools, content, and coaching resources that help you put the Scaling Lean framework to practice. Many of these bonuses are valued at 5 times and some even at ten times the cost of purchase.

One of these bonuses is the BOOTSTART Foundations Course. This was the MVP for the book. Today this course powers the curriculum of several accelerators programs, universities courses, and corporate innovation programs around the world. The BOOTSTART Foundations course is valued at $300/seat and is included with the 3-BOOK ($60) or higher bundles.

If you’ve already pre-ordered, you can still upgrade to a higher bundle and claim the additional bonuses.

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You can find the instructions for pre-ordering at ScalingLean.com.

Remember that every pre-order counts.

If you’ve benefited from my last book or writing on this blog, I would really appreciate your help.
This has been the biggest project of my life.

Thank you!

Ash

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UPDATE: As of this writing (June 1, 2016), we are T-14 days to launch and are tracking 5,145 pre-orders. My stretch goal is hitting 10,000 copies by launch following Shawn Coyne’s 10,000 Reader Rule.

You can track the latest results on the meta-recursive case-study page here: .

Journey to 100K

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TO PODCASTERS, BLOGGERS, MEDIA, AND LIST OWNERS:
Do you have a column, show, mailing list, or blog audience? Would you like to do a feature, an interview, or post an excerpt? Please click here to let me know. There is a ton of material, including case studies and videos.