Start-up Owner’s Manual – Book and online course reviewed

For the past few months, almost a year now, I have had the opportunity to experiment and work with the latest approaches in business & product development! I started working with the Lean Startup methodology by Eric Ries and the Lean Canvas of Ash Maurya and worked my way back to the origins of the entire approach, going through Alex Osterwalder’s famous Business Model Canvas, all the way to the course that Steve Blank taught to his students, on how to build a startup… Taking this course online, here, but also reading his book, opened up my mind to a world of opportunities and ideas! Therefore, I decided to use this opportunity to blog a bit about both of them, the book and the course, asking for the author’s (should he comes across this post) understanding for my poor interpretation of both of them!

The Course

As anyone would do, I did start with the course of Steve Blank, some months ago… I watched and watched over a course of a month, the videos that explained his entire approach of discovering customers, validating their problems, getting them onboard and working your way to growing them as well as your idea into a sustainable and profitable  but more importantly scalable business model. But apart from the apparent that can also be found in the page of the course, I think that the most valuable lesson for me, taking this course, was the introduction to some basic principles and notions that were not that clear to me until that time.

My certificate

More specifically, listening about why startups usually fail, and identifying their unique nature in comparison to larger companies, blew my mind completely! It was a fundamental assumption that needed to be clear in my head, as it needs to be clear in your head as well if you are planning to start your own startup! The remainder of the class, focused in a very practical and pragmatic way on the specifics of each section of the business model canvas providing examples for each case, both in physical and web/mobile channels. Along with an existing example of a startup, these lectures really cleared my head and answered a thousand questions I’ve had since I started working with the simplified versions of this approach, as these were expressed in the Lean Startup and the Lean Canvas, mentioned previously.

The Book

But completing the course was just not enough… The explanations and examples provided really created more questions that they answered, so when I saw that there was extra reading material involved, I decided to get my hands on the book itself! It was a daunting task in the beginning when I saw that there were around 900 pages to cover, but I really wanted to learn more…! In order to be able to have access to the book in the future, in a more convenient way, I decided to keep my own notes, summarizing what was written there, as a reference… The result looked sth like the following picture…

Notes on startup owner's manual

The book itself is really a “read” that has to be revisited again and again… Don’t even try to get it all in one seating… Applying the techniques and approaches that are described in there is an exercise that will get you back and forth through a seemingly endless iteration of ideas and processes… But once you find your scalable and profitable business model, you’ll be more than happy that you spent the time looking for it… The book starts by tackling Customer Discovery as a process, outlining the main steps you have to take to identify who your customer is. It discusses archetypes as a way to describe and get to know your audience! I really enjoyed the “day in your customer’s life” approach as a method to identify what your product can do for your customer. Finishing with this, Steve Blank (S.B.) emphasizes the need to get out of the building and discuss with your customers. Methods for doing just that but also measuring your performance were really useful and applicable to our own Lean AKademy course.

Moving on to Customer Validation, it was really useful for me to see which techniques I can use to verify that the initial problem that I identified, can be tested with a larger audience to prove that there’s significan traction to move the product development ahead. Another highlight for me were the metrics that S.B. used all along the way, to track the progress of the experiment described in the book. Gradually and methodically, the discussion moved to selling the product and finding ways to reach more and more customers than just the early evangelists that follow your product from day 1. Product and company positioning were also two concepts that I did not take into consideration before reading the book, but are really fundamental.

Finishing the book, I realized how structured and based on facts this entire process became, where in the beginning we 0nly had educated guesses about a thing or two. Apart from the dispersed highlights that I briefly mentioned for you, this book has given me something that is truly much more valuable than any of-the-box solution… It gave me the understanding that in any startup, or any effort of that kind, measuring and experimenting with metrics that matter, is the only way to go about it… Having faith, persistence and vision is one thing, but being able to translate, validate and interpret those through a structured approach, is what distinguishes an amazing idea from an amazing, profitable and scalable startup that will last the test of time…

(initially posted on Agro-Know blog by me: http://blog.agro-know.com/?p=962)

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