My talk at The Next Web / LeanCamp2011

I was fortunate enough to be invited by Salim Virani, the main thinker behind the LeanCamp movement in London, to join a LeanCamp session at the NextWeb Conference in Amsterdam last week. Salim promised…

a fast-paced, multi-faceted conference track, emulating the Leancamp unconference experience, exploring the world of Lean, Agile and Design-led business.

…and so it was delivered. I think this was one of the most fun and engaging speaking gigs I’ve ever done, even if the group of attendees got smaller towards the end (announcement of the startup rally, a 3-day conference, and the dutch sun outside did their part). The speakers were great, and the amount of input for myself was so useful that I would have been happy to just watch.

Covering ground with short interactive talks

The setup was great for such an intense topic: the set of talks that would have lasted a day at other conferences were condensed into a swift 2-hour session with lots of interaction and quick turnaround. There was a short introduction into lean startup thinking from Justin Pririe, who told us how SaaS juggernaut Mimecast (well above 20 million in revs) is using lean startup practises to stay fast, and by Salim himself, who talked about identifying the right business models for specific markets (for extra points, he talked about Garmz, a Seedcamp company). Patrick, one of the heads behind the great business model generation book talked about the ways the team used different approaches to selling the book, building a company around it, and how he sees classical business plans (spoiler alert: he doesn’t particularly like them).

Personally, I found the more technical talks on feature injection (by Chris Matts), UX and UI (titled “don’t forget the humans” by Ian Collingwood), and A/B Testing (interview with James Gill from GoSquared) surprisingly interesting and learned a ton. Thanks for keeping it light, guys. Rob Fitzpatrick rounded the whole session off with a primer on metrics and measurability – great stuff for startups, I hope we’ll see the slides.

Note to all conference organisers: This is a great way to give attendees a deep dive into a relatively new topic and is a safe way to avoid the boring speaker trap while keeping up the momentum. After all, I only talked for about 15 minutes.

Lean Startups and Seedcamp

It’s a bank holiday in London today, so I can make this longer: why was I actually invited to this session, being all VC-y and boring?

I collected a couple of examples of the newest Seedcamp portfolio companies to show how the learnings of the lean startup movement can be applied and used in very practical ways.

5 Reasons we love lean startups

1 – Validation is possible

Lean Startups are all about validating hypotheses, and from an investor’s perspective, this means one thing: No need for large sums of money down the drain before a product-market-fit is established. I gave the example of Robot Media, who had some pretty incredible traction in the Android market even before Seedcamp decided to invest. If you can show that a market exists for your type of product (with only a fractions of a finished product), you will be liked – because you already de-risked large parts of your business plan.

2 – Capital efficiency

One more recent addition to the portfolio is, the dead simple “telephony for the 21st century” provider. Tomaz and his Slovenian team built a great product with very limited ressources – this was possible because of singular focus on the goal to build the most simple phone for the browser. Obviously, location is a plus here, and this is where many of the Seedcamp portfolio companies excel: a cost-effective development base in the home country (often eastern Europe), with management or sales in London, New York, or even the Valley (also see Brainient, Zemanta, and Profitero).

There was a discussion in the audience about outsourcing product (to cheaper locations), and there’s a big difference: as my colleague Carlos wrote, you should have the tech ability in your team, as it will make you faster, more efficient, and of course independent. This approach is perfect for the Seedcamp teams who have cost-effective development at their home base: they get all the benefits of a technology hub like London without the nagging problems of extremely costly development talent. Also, you can only build a product-centric culture when you have the knowledge in your own team, ‘eating your own dog food’.

3 – Existing tools and ressources

GIScloud built a very powerful platform for professional geo-information systems in the browser, and are able to develop new features incredibly quickly. Do they have more engineers than for example Bing Maps? No, but because they rely on open source technology, existing frameworks, and widely tested solutions, they can do what they do quicker and cheaper. Almost none of our portfolio companies work with costly licenses or develop everything from scratch – speed and efficiency, again.

4 – Measurable success

A powerful product exhibiting the right kind of metrics can show you very early on if and why a product is used in a certain way. This is a powerful pointer when deciding on the right monetization strategy (or refinements thereof). Nuji started with an incredibly simple product, allowing you to simply tag products on the web that you like. By measuring user data, it was clear how the usage pointed towards a curation method, and how a business model could be developed around the specific user actions.

5 – Scalability

The ultimate quest for a startup is to develop a scalable business model with tested assumptions. This is part of a more formal business plan (sorry, you will really need one), and will be asked for by any serious investor before your series A.

When I met Tamas and Andreas of Garmz for the first time (way back when I worked in Germany), they had a great idea and some bold assumptions about the fashion market and its customers. There were many parts of their business model that needed to be verified and de-risked (do designers care about having their own garments produced? Will people let us know about what they want to buy? Will they accept unknown designers? Will they give us their credit card details before the production is done? How many items will be returned?). Two years later, they can finally prove their thinking around their ingenious model*, because they have tested these assumptions in the market and are ready to scale.

Get this to London!

So, a great conference in general, and a great group of speakers in particular. Maybe this will be repeated in London – reach out to Sal @leancamp, and he will surely put it together. I will choose new examples, promised.

*Garmz’ ingenious business model hinges on another lean startup method: customer development and the pre-sales establishment of product-market-fit. By getting designers to feel out the market with their fashion designs, the team knows which products are most liked. If these are then mocked up as samples, and people leave their payment details, not much can go wrong.