Monday, September 1, 2014

Thoughts of a Lean Startup Practitioner

Paul Chen

Last week at AIPBusiness Link in Krakow, Ian Scarffe gave an introductory lecture and workshop about how to use lean startup model as evangelised by Steve Blank, Bob Dorf and Eric Ries. He explained the general idea of Lean Startup and how to get out of the building and conduct proper customer discovery. Ian is a serial entrepreneur, who is now living in Krakow. Ian is one of the leaders and believers in the Krakow Startup Community. I had a chance to sit down to chat with Ian about his experiences and what he thinks would help the community reach new levels.

Hello Ian, that was an intriguing talk. How do you feel about the feedback of the audience?
We had a limited number of seats available for the workshop, and to see the room overflow was a nice sign, it proves that there are a lot of people wanting to learn more about Lean Startup process and what I refer to as Lean Business Development. It is also good to know that companies like Business Link are getting behind the lean startup movement.
There were some nice ideas presented, which one did you feel has the most promise?
I am working with some of the participants now, helping them to conduct the first phase of customer discovery and to confirm what ideas are worth investigating more. The most promising idea was a “uber” style of business for physical things.
Is there any concept that you feel the audience isn't really understanding yet?
One thing that needs to be clear is that startup enthusiasts need to understand the concept of “getting out of the building” and gaining quality feedback from potential customers, moreover, that the process is not a one time event, it is a continuous process; as you confirm your first hypothesis, you may need to change direction or the model somewhat and then you need to “get out of the building” and recheck the new version with a new set of potential customers, and so on and so forth.
How did you get into the practice of lean startup?
Having years of experience as an entrepreneur teaches you many lessons, some of them are you are able to learn along the way and some of them you are forced to learn. I have had some terrible failures along the way, as do most entrepreneurs, and it was due to the failures that I learned to work on the ideas that fit with the market demands, hence the meaning of product market fit, an integral part of lean startup.
What process in Lean Startup is the most appealing to you?
I have always had a passion for customer service, and if you understand what makes good customer relations you then can understand what you need to do to deliver a unique product and or service to the customer or end user. This is all part of lean startup, discovering your customers and then delivering the desired product or service. This is one aspect of lean startup that is both exciting and rewarding.
Some people think that lean startup is about being cheap, how do you dispel that notion?
Lean Startup is not about being cheap; it has nothing to do with money, in general it is all about using all of your resources wisely. Lean Startup methods teach you to work smarter, not harder. I believe it also helps you qualify your ideas at a very early stage without having to burn you cash. Why would anyone want to build a whole new business, company setup, website, logo, office, etc without having first proven if the idea is worth investing resources in!
You were quite involved in the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards Poland, please tell us more about that?
Last year we ran the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards for the first time in Poland and it was a huge success. Natalia Maczek, from Misbhv was awarded the best Polish student entrepreneur, and she well deserves it. We flew her to Washington, USA to compete with other student entrepreneurs from all over the globe. Natalia’s passion and experience in business helped her to be awarded by the judges with the Lessons from the Edge Award.
You also run, an incubator. Please, tell us more about it.
I established a few years ago to help young entrepreneurs who have ideas to turn them into early stage startups. I had been mentoring and consulting in the startup industry for many years and this was a natural progress of formalizing the process and to incorporate lean startup principals into the mix. Binkplus also acts as a bridge between Polish startups and the global community of early stage investors and the startup community as a whole.

Who have you helped grow with
A few years ago at one of the first Hive53 meetings, I saw Damian Sluja, pitch his idea for a student based social network. I liked the idea and after a few meetings we decided to move from the idea stage to developing the portal, all using Lean Startup methods into a global network of student and graduates. Today has the support of some of the largest student organizations in the world, and international companies such as IBM, Heineken, Cap Gemini, and Lufthansa, to name a few.

How do you feel about the Polish startup community?
The Polish startup scene is still quite young and we still need to work together to build and connect the communities. We also need to educate and inform young entrepreneurs and startup enthusiasts that becoming entrepreneurs can be a life changing decision, and a lot of hard work. If we want to make a difference in the world we have to take risk, no risk no gain. However, it can also be fun becoming the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg.
What do you feel are two thing that would help to get the Polish startup community to the next level?
At the moment I am in talks with Techstars, who is the number one startup accelerator in the world and we are looking to introduce a similar program into Poland. This would help to build bridges between other startup communities across the globe with Poland.
We also need to have the support of the government and local business to further enhance the awareness and support the community, be it with resources and or financial support.
The overall mission of everyone should be to foster a society of economically independent individuals who are engaged citizens, contributing to the improvement of their communities.

Thanks for talking to us. We are looking forward to more from you in the future.

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