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Don't Talk With Your Mouth Full: Ten Lessons from Lean Startup Machine Toronto
Forget what your mom taught you.

At most startup events, the question posed at the end is “Okay, what were you able to create?” But at Lean Startup Machine in Toronto this weekend, an event dedicated to implementing Lean principles, there was a perhaps more interesting, if less sexy query to ask: “So, what did you learn?”

It’s that experimental notion that pervaded the event at the Burroughes Building, and the emphasis placed on real-world customer validation of a business idea. That meant picking up the phone or hitting the streets to talk to people. Only then, after learning what customers actually wanted, could teams “pivot“–i.e. alter their original idea–until a viable concept emerged.

At the end of it, two teams were victorious. Second place went to tattoo parlour management software Inkless, in large part because of David Tran’s showmanship, the same showmanship he displayed at Startup Weekend. Top prize, however, went to Hire Shark, a proposed service that seeks to filter and rank prospective employees for small businesses.

So after a tumultuous, hectic weekend, what did people actually learn about entrepreneurship? For your pleasure and edification, the Standard canvassed the teams as to what lessons they had come away with. Here is an amalgam of their takeaways:

  1. “Your mom always told you to believe in and trust yourself. She was wrong. External customer validation is so much more important than what mom told you.” —Shaharris Beh.
  2. You think you know what your customers are thinking–until you ask them. Once you do, everything you know is going to change.
  3. It’s never too early to start testing your customer base.  To wit, “the customer is more important than the product.” —Tim Capes
  4. The answers are not in your office. The answers lie with your customers. Get out of the building.
  5. Everyone has opinions. To filter through them, learn to recognize patterns and trends within those opinions to gauge what your the majority of customers actually want.
  6. What is the problem you’re actually solving for the customer? If you can’t articulate that in a sentence or two, it’s unlikely that your proposition is compelling.
  7. It’s easy to get too emotionally attached to your ideas. To fix that, sure, fail fast and fail quickly. But, as participant Asif Mandozai pointed out, “fail cheap,” too. By that he means, that everything you do is an expense, whether it involves time, material, or investment. Don’t build first and then show a customer your idea; talk to the customer first, then build.
  8. From the obvious-but-you’d-be-shocked-at-how-often-it-gets-ignored file: “Don’t build a product in which you mould a problem to fit your idea of the solution. Instead, mould a solution based on the customer’s problem.” —Daniel Bower
  9. At first, don’t target both sides of a market, i.e. end-users and B2B relationships. Double-down on one side and build from there. Only expand to a two-sided business model when you’ve nailed one half of the equation.
  10. A pivot isn’t a singular act  – it’s a process and series of changes, each of which results in entirely new problems and opportunities.
  11. And finally, in a bonus aphorism that will live on for the ages because of its pure, simple wisdom: “Shit takes longer than you planned for.”

Navneet Alang is Toronto Standard’s tech critic. Follow us on Twitter @torontostandard@navalang.

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