Archives for posts with tag: lean

When I completed my MBA at UBC just two years ago, the entrepreneurship program looked different than it does today. The courses focused on the classic elements of entrepreneurship, like identifying a target customer segment and writing a business plan. The project work typically culminated in a mock presentation to a panel of Venture Capitalists. Classmates told tales of crushing embarrassment and humiliation before the VC judges.

Now, just two years later and the entrepreneurship program at UBC has changed. A lot. More impressive still is the pace of change at other schools and accelerator programs in the Lower Mainland. Almost everywhere I turn these days, I see the influence of Lean Startup, Lean Launchpad and Design Thinking on entrepreneurship education.

Paul Cubbon

UBC marketing professor Paul Cubbon likes to challenge the status quo. Upon reading Eric Ries and Steve Blank, Cubbon set out to implement their ideas in the new Sauder School of Business MBA ‘Innovation and Entrepreneurship’ track. The focus on lean practices in this entrepreneurship program adds significant rigor to the curriculum.

But Cubbon did not stop there. He took his enthusiasm out to the full university and joined up with the folks over at e@UBC, or Entrepreneurship at UBC. Their Lean LaunchPad Accelerator Program aims to teach alumni, faculty, and students how to commercialize their ideas using a crash course on lean. Participants learn lean entrepreneurship with regular ready-or-not presentations on what they have learned over the previous two weeks.

Their site explains what a typical week will look like: “you and your team will spend 20-30 hours/week between seminars conducting 20-30+ interviews as you progress through business hypothesis testing and customer discovery, mapping out the web of relationships in your industry ecosystem.” Clearly, this is not your grandmother’s entrepreneurship program, with such an emphasis on ‘getting out of the building’ and regular iteration of your ideas.

Meanwhile, over at Simon Fraser University, Design Thinking and Lean Startup are the cutting edge management practice that every participant must master when they sign up for the Radius Ventures programs (four- and six-month options available). Professors David Dunn and Shawn Smith use Design Thinking and Lean Startup practices as a core part of their curricula for social entrepreneurs.

And it is more than just the public universities that are making the shift to lean. The folks over at the Launch Academy have taken their best practices and guest speakers and compiled a new Lean Entrepreneur Program. Beginning next week, this eight week crash course has two tracks—business and technical—with a third design track in the works.

Spiced throughout their curriculum is an overarching emphasis on lean principals. Right in week 1 of the program, aspiring entrepreneurs are introduced to Lean practices, such as how to build a minimum viable product and how to measure their progress using innovation accounting.

These programs represent an exciting and welcome shift in the way that entrepreneurship is taught in Vancouver. My hope is that these new programs and curricula will start to generate the valuable and scalable enterprises that they are designed to help foment.

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 Shoeme.ca 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 shoeme.ca, 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.