Last weekend, instead of watching a movie or lazing at home, about 50 people decided to spend their time stalking strangers, working late and building prototypes. They participated in our very first Lean Startup Machine (LSM) workshop here in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.
For the uninitiated, LSM is quite different than your average workshop or hackathon. Besides learning and working on your idea, you are "forced" to Get out of the Building to interview, sell and pitch to your customers. It focuses on customer development and practices the mantra of Learn First, Code Last.
In LSM, participants are taught, even though every customer has a problem and every problem has a solution, not every solution has a problem and not every problem has a customer. Most ideas or startups failed not because of technical difficulties but rather no one is using the product.
Before you start working on your product, you need to identify your cookie monsters. You must validate that there are people who not just need your product, they want it so badly they are willing to pay you to build it.
During the workshop, participants formed teams around an idea and design experiments, with the help of the Javelin Board, to validate their target customer and their problem. Only when they have successfully found their group of customers with a problem will they start on the solution.
At LSM KK, we had 10 teams with 3-5 members each working on ideas ranging from food delivery, parking services to an online lingerie store and a job platform. They had to design experiments, conduct interviews, build landing pages to collect interest and attempt to deliver the experience of their product without building it. They stayed LEAN by doing everything they can to get customers without building the actual product.
On the final day, each team presented their idea to a panel of judges and were scored in how well they executed their customer validation and what they learned. They have to convince the judges that they have found their cookie monsters.
Ultimately, it wasn't about winning but what they have learned in this workshop. I believe most of them learned something new and may have even discovered that they could do things they never thought they could. It was really amazing to see how much could be done and achieved over a short period of time, working together as a team.
As this was my first time organizing an event of this size, it was also a great learning experience for me. The greatest lessons I learned wasn't about how to run an event, although I definitely need to improve in that regard, but rather how amazing the participants were. Here are some of the interesting insights and observations I had over the 3-day event.
KK loves to pitch
Since every team will be working on an idea, we needed the participants to pitch theirs. However, at the start of the event we only received 2 ideas and we need at least 15. We were nervous and tried to make a final call to get people to pitch.
This was when KK participants surprised us. I always thought people here are generally shy and boy was I wrong. Out of nowhere, we had a total of 32 ideas pitched and some of them were really good and funny.
Getting out of the building
When I was mentoring at LSM KL back in June, it was quite hard to get the teams to leave the venue for the first time and get out there to talk to customers. Some teams spent a long time discussing and debating instead of doing actual validation.
But for LSM KK, it was amazingly easy and fast to get all the teams out there to do their thing. It seems natural for them and they did extremely well. We had a team that secured more than RM6k in funding, a team that ran 8 experiments and another one that collected close to 200 email addresses.
For me, the team that did the unthinkable was a team of 3 guys trying to figure out if there was a market for plus-sized women lingerie. Considering our culture and how sensitive the topic was, they managed to pull it off and even came second in the competition. These guys have balls of steel.
Getting stuff done
In LSM, you are required to identify your customers and their problems before proposing a solution. Once you are ready to propose one, you keep things lean by building simple landing pages or prototypes.
It was at this stage that you see how resourceful and creative the participants were in coming up with beautifully designed landing pages, logo, UI mockups and even an app prototype made with paper. They did all these in a short amount of time and it wasn't just 1 or 2 teams. Almost every single team had a landing page, a prototype or both.
Knows how to have fun
Despite having to do a lot in a short period of time, some of them made sure they had fun doing it. For the final day presentation, we require each team to take a photo of their members as their first slide. One of the teams decided to take theirs in the restroom.
Engaged till the very end
One of the worries for events like these is the participation level. Because you have to commit the entire weekend to this workshop, we were unsure if people will stay on till the last day. It is quite common to have some people drop out of the event.
For KK, we are proud to say that we had all 10 teams intact till Sunday and only a handful of participants dropped out. The numbers were small enough that the teams could still complete their tasks. This type of engagement and response from the participants were inspiring.
Even after the event, the energy was still strong and it was such a surprise to see some of them considered it their most productive weekend ever. Some brought back their Javelin Board while others started printing new ones and putting it up on their walls. I have never seen people have so much affection for a piece of paper before.
Stay awesome, stay lean
Honestly, when we started this journey to bring LSM to KK, we weren't sure if it will work out. There were a lot of challenges and there were moments we wanted to give up. But after this weekend, seeing how much effort and dedication the participants have put in, we won't be able to forgive ourselves if we canceled the event.
You guys are so awesome and we are really proud to have all you heroes in LSM KK. We hope this won't be the last LSM KK and some of you can come back to help out in the next one. Thank you to all again for the amazing experience and all the best in your future endeavours. Remember to stay awesome and stay lean.