One of the required pre-reads of the Health for America at MedStar Health fellowship is Eric Ries’ book, The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. To further immerse ourselves into this methodology as the HFA fellows near the end of their exploration phase, we traveled to San Francisco this week to attend the two main conference days of Eric Ries’ Lean Startup Week from Nov. 2-3, 2016.
This conference convenes both intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs from multinational corporations, startups, the government, and community organizations who seek to significantly change their industries. We applied for Bootstrapper Passes reserved for select non-profits and very early-stage startups, and were fortunate to be awarded discounted participation to make our attendance possible.
In an effort to spread what we learned, below we’ve captured each of our top reactions from this experience. We hope you’ll check out the amazing stories of these speakers, in this book, or at related events in your area to learn more about lean startup methodology and its many benefits.
Stephanie Guang, 2016-17 HFA Fellow
One of my favorite one-liners from the conference was a quote from Guy Kawasaki, Chief Evangelist of Canva (and formerly of Apple). In reference to convincing others to believe and invest in what you’re doing, he said, “Some things need to be believed to be seen.” Even before getting others to believe, the HFA fellows can internalize that philosophy within our team as we move into ideation by believing in our potential to innovate a solution and approaching each new idea with an “I believe” state of mind. This same idea was echoed by Stuart Eccles, Co-Founder of Made by Many, when he talked about experience prototyping, which he uses to get people to believe the future and the impossible are already here.
Using the holy trinity (build, test, learn) of Lean Startup first depends on solving the right kinds of problems for users. When Tom Nguyen, Principal at Adobe, talked about interviewing customers before he developed Adobe Spark, he emphasized the need to build empathy before building products. There’s no room in startup life to test everything quantitatively or collect large data on potential customers; in fact, Tom argued that you only need five interviews, because it’s more about the people than the numbers now. This resonates with what Kelvin Kwong, Director of Product Management, Head of Behavior Change at Jawbone, talked about in using existing behavioral science data and learning from academic research and, instead, using build-test-learn to answer the right questions.
Bonus takeaway: The Chairman, a San Francisco food truck that makes Taiwanese pork bao, has changed my life on a profound level. I will never be the same again.
King John Pascual, 2016-17 HFA Fellow
My favorite part of the Lean Startup Conference was Guy Kawasaki's talk about the 10 things he learned from Steve Jobs. Listening to Kawasaki, one of the original employees on Apple’s marketing team, empowered me to be bold and not be discouraged by naysayers.
Another highlight was hearing Matthew Brimer, Co-founder of General Assembly and Daybreaker. Brimer shared his stories as a Millennial trailblazer and entrepreneur who wasn't afraid to experiment for the sake of experimenting. Like Kawasaki, Brimer showed me how true entrepreneurs are curious individuals who value the journey just as much as the destination.
Michael Mezher, 2016-17 HFA Fellow
While attending “12 Years Building Moz: What I’d Change, Keep the Same & Don’t Yet know,” one key aspect stood out. Namely, the Founder and former CEO of Moz, Rand Fishkin, revealed himself to be blatantly and unapologetically human. Rand revealed that many of the challenges, regrets, and victories that he’d encountered as CEO of Moz are very similar to what many people experience in their everyday lives. Work life balance, lack of foresight, and trusting the right people were all relatable challenges faced by Rand during the building of Moz, which most individuals face on a day-to-day basis in a variety of fields. I argue that in making the speech so relatable, Rand effectively delivered his message in an easy to understand manner.
In “The Vision before the Experimentation: Applying Lean Startup to Creative Idea Generation” a couple statements made by Stuart Eccles stood out. First, he said, “Talk to your next customer, not your best customer.” This statement is crucial. If a company only focuses on its base user, retention may be high, but the company will be unsuccessful in enticing new customers or users to a product or service. Simply put, there should be an appropriate balance in retaining users, and expanding a company’s consumer base. Next, he said, “If you don’t research the young, you’ll never make the next Pokémon Go.” As narrow ended as this statement is, it provides an excellent anecdote. Always study and more importantly understand your target audience. This lesson has been reiterated by nearly every successful innovator who has presented at Lean Startup Week.
Katia Vlasova, 2016-17 HFA Fellow
The first insight I want to share came from Guy Kawasaki’s talk on top 10 lessons for innovation and entrepreneurship learned from Steve Jobs. He said, “Innovation takes place on different curves.” Guy told a related story about ice and the tangential curves that led the industry’s innovation/evolution from ice harvesting, to industrial production, to making ice cubes in our freezers at home. It resonated with me, reminding me that in retrospect, brilliant innovative solutions can seem so logical, yet moving forward, the gaps between each creative leap can seem dauntingly large.
The other insight that stood out to me on the first day was innovation advice from Matthew Brimer, found in the graphic on this page. It captured the essential element of curiosity, without which innovation cannot flourish.
On the second day, I was struck by the serendipity of conferences. Apart from listening to amazing speakers present their ideas, Lean Startup Week has also given us a chance to immerse ourselves in a liquid network of creative and curious individuals. Serendipitously, someone who happened to sit down near Mike and I today had created software for Stroke Link, a startup which aimed to link stroke patients with health providers. What a cool conversation that unfolded organically and turned out to be interesting for our work with stroke!
One of my favorite insights on the second day came from Tom Nguyen’s advice on how to lead a good customer interview. Echoing Guy Kawasaki’s comment that customers cannot tell you what they need, they can only describe the status quo, Tom explained that it’s most helpful to ask for descriptive leads (“Tell me the last time you…”) and ask “why” to gain a sense of what the true needs really are when creating a product. I’m excited to apply this thinking when we move forward into rapid ideation and prototyping, bouncing our ideas off of stroke patients and care providers.
Mandy Dorn, Director of HFA
I loved that the session format we experienced during our first day at the Lean Startup Conference guided new and diverse learning. The bulk of the day consisted of blocks of four, 15-minute presentations that everyone attended, rather than giving you four choices and having you select the one that felt comfortable. On many occasions, I got the most out of a talk I likely would not have attended on my own.
As an example, I was particularly moved by the remarks of Kara Goldin, Founder and CEO of HINT water. She discovered her product when trying to shake a serious Diet Coke habit by adding fruit to water in a unique way to make it more satisfying to drink. Her hypothesis was that this targeted change would have a ripple effect on her health as she worked to increase her energy, lose weight, and clear up adult acne, and might even prevent her from needing to take a new medicine. After this drastically changed her health, she had the courage to ask someone at Whole Foods how to get her product on the shelves locally, try it at a small scale to validate there was demand, and launch a new product based on this initial success (despite this not being her area of expertise). In the process, she’s learned you can launch a social mission company that can truly help people be their best, while creating change and disruption. As another speaker, Tren Griffin, Senior Director of Microsoft, said, missionaries make better businesses because they “are fundamentally driven by the desire to make meaning.” I was inspired to hear the stories of so many trailblazers who have a relentless focus on making things better through their work—not just on building something new or focusing solely on money.
The second day had a more traditional format, and I was really moved by the two sessions that directly pertained to health. The first talk was by Jay Parkinson, Founder & CEO of Sherpaa. He described Sherpaa as a healthcare command center that’s online first, and in person when needed. He observed that when your gadgets break, you go online to fix them. When your body breaks, he felt you should be able to do the same. While he certainly called out many broken aspects of health care, he demonstrated that disruption stories can be quite optimistic and uplifting. The second health talk was by Kelvin Kwong. He shared how his team leverages behavioral science to shape the user experience for a wearable tracker. As the mother of toddlers, I especially appreciated his points about reactance, or how we respond when someone threatens our autonomy. When we grow up, we start to protect our freedom by saying "no" even when a command makes sense. He used the example of a parent telling a child to wear a coat when it’s cold outside, but the child says “no” to reject direction (and then ends up being super cold!). His point reinforced a line I often hear (and love) from Dr. Mark Smith, Director, MedStar Institute for Innovation: “Words matter." Empowering someone to make a choice with your suggestion, rather than dictating what needs to happen, can go a long way in health care—and beyond. (Which coat do you want to wear again, dear three-year-old of mine?)