Archives for posts with tag: business

In my search for entrepreneurs in Vancouver who have used Lean Startup practices, I am finding that there is a class of entrepreneurs who are accidentally lean. They came to the same conclusions about the need for validating assumptions with a rigorous experimental process and iterating with low cost trials because they discovered these best practices on their own. Their approach is more unintentional lean startup.

Take Sean Clark, for example, who started in the basement of his parents’ house in Vancouver. Sean and his team have emerged as a Canadian e-commerce success story, but his early days were anything but glamorous. He tested his model with what Eric Ries would call a “concierge minimum viable product.”

This is a fancy way of saying that he put up a $60 website and through a few hundred more in pay per click advertising, tested his site’s flow and landing pages. When someone would buy something from this sandbox in the very early days, he would have to run out and buy it from the shoe store down the street and ship it himself at the post office. This practice matches perfectly the definition of the MVP, yet Clark was not aware of Eric Ries or Steve Blank.

Daryl Hatton learned the value of Lean Startup practices, but only through the hard way of nearly running out of money first and then, by necessity, pivoting the customer segment under the urging of a new partner, PayPal.

His Fundrazr crowd funding platform started as a tool for community groups and sports teams to raise money together. This plan met initial success through a partnership with Facebook that allowed their app to post to the users’ feed. For unrelated reasons, Facebook clamped down on apps’ ability to do this, just as Fundrazr began to see traction.

PayPal approached Hatton with a proposal. They said ‘partner with us and we will drive traffic through your platform.’ The approach was a shift in their original strategy. Instead of community groups, they focused on personal fundraising. He knew that they had made the right decision when they had the first campaigns starting within a few hours of going live.

“At the time of the pivot we were aware of Lean Startup practices, but not using them,” reflects Hatton. “The pivot set us on the path but it still took a long time to sink in.”

Tom Kineshanko started Habitat Enterprises in 2008 in his garage with cofounder Rob Drapala. In the first 24 months after founding they had done over $1.5M in revenue through their software and services business that helped turn reductions in carbon into carbon credits for the European Carbon market.

When this market started to dry up, and with a little cash in the bank left over, Kineshanko and his team began the search for another business. They employed the Business Model Canvas from Business Model Generation and the Minimum Viable Product from The Lean Startup to apply what they learned about the energy markets to create a product that answered a real customer pain point. Their work became Gridbid, an online auction to get multiple offers from solar installers and save on rooftop solar.

While, Fundrazr, and Gridbid share little in terms of their business models, their founders all approached the process by iterating their way towards a successful product/market fit. As Eric Ries concludes The Lean Startup, the best way to learn these techniques is to embed oneself within a community of practice. I feel that Tom Kineshanko, Daryl Hatton, and Sean Clark have done just that.


Hey, there, all of my loyal readers and the others who just stumbled upon my blog, I have decided to return to blogging, but this time with a new focus. This focus reflects what I have been hacking at over the last two years as both a graduate student and as a consultant at SAP.

I am interested in Design Thinking, but more specifically, I am interested in the application of the creative collaboration process to the building of new companies. Over the coming weeks and months, I aim to dive into Vancouver’s technology start-up scene and discover who has been using Design Thinking (in any of its forms) to grow or better their business. My interest comes from seeing how useful it can be to focus a team on a single problem and then to harness the creative potential of the group (or the individuals) to find solutions.

I first witnessed how a group of business students at UBC took to the process and the mindset when I worked as a Teaching Assistant for Moura Quayle and Ron Kellett. As a new professor in the business school, Moura was looking to shake things up. She invited a colleague from the design school to join her as they paved the way with a new pilot for the undergraduate business students. Through service learning activities and many presentations, we learned just how different business students are from design students. Yet, in the end, the pilot was a huge success and became a standard course at Sauder School of Business (COMM388).

More recently, I have been practicing applying Design Thinking techniques at SAP to develop and refine new products and services. The experience working with the product teams proved to me how effective it could be—when done well—within the enterprise. Design Thinking, I believe, helps to overcome from the huge challenges to innovation that exist within the enterprise.

Of course, there is more to be done and no solution is perfect. Often, internal forces within the enterprise still retard good products before they leave the building. This realization helped to shift my focus to start-ups. Here was an ideal proving ground, I thought. Here, within these new or small firms, the process should be much effective and pure. I took heart from examples such as the design staff that Google Ventures uses to ensure that their ventures get the Design Thinking support they need.

Let the search begin. I can’t wait to discover how Design Thinking, the Lean Start-up, and the Business Model Canvas are being applied at start-ups in Vancouver. Stay tuned for more.