Steve Blank at Lean Startup LA

Customer Development is the process of how you get out of the building and search for the model. Customer Development is designed so that you the founder(s) gather first hand experience about customer and market needs.” –, 5/13/2010

My signed copy of the Four StepsI heard  Steve Blank speak at the Los Angeles Lean Startup Circle 10/6 at UCLA. He even signed my book! “To Lane, Get out of the building”

I can’t find the specific deck he used, most of the content is covered by these decks on SlideShare:

A video stream of the event is archived on LiveStream.

When I first read “The Four Steps to the Epiphany” I was frustrated that Steve advised people to “get out of the building” but didn’t provide any advice about what to do when you’re out there. As a UX practitioner, I know how to help teams achieve meaningful conversations with users, synthesize the information we collect and make it actionable. I wondered how he could have missed the fact that UX folks had been focused on this stuff for YEARS.

After hearing him tell the CarrotBot story, I realized that Steve is giving advice at a fundamental/basic level. He’s working with CS students who love tech and, left to their own devices, would  prefer to just start building things. They think they already know. His demand that they “get out of the building” helps them see the world in a new way. It doesn’t take a lot of fieldwork for his students to learn what’s really going on and look at the problem differently.

The edict “get out of the building” is a general, simple thing anyone can do. Any entrepreneur is going to learn by trial and error anyhow and they are going to learn a lot more, a lot faster if they are in the world. Making it a process could create another device that entrepreneurs can use to avoid talking to real people.

I think UX people harm ourselves by calling what we do “user research” and “testing.” We do that, but there’s also aspects of the work that are deeper and more subtle. We’re trying to learn about people and their problems so we can create the right solutions. This is the critical learning for entrepreneurs who are looking for a viable product idea. Once someone starts to get out there, they develop second-order problems, like “how do we do this as a team?” and “what do we do with all this information we’ve collected?” and “what about all this contradictory information?” That’s when people are ready to use some tools and tricks.

The other highlight of the talk was Steve’s description of how the business model canvas is used to define the hypothesis of your business. You get out of the building to discover if your hypothesis are true, and you Pivot when one or more aspects of your business model canvas changes.

Thanks, Steve for an excellent talk, I enjoyed meeting you!

Balconf: Hybrid User Interviews

Here’s my talk at the Balanced Team Conference in San Francisco Sep 23-25, 2011.

You can see other presentations from this event on the Balanced Team Blog.

Ignite: Lean Startup “I (heart) ugly”

Back in June, I was invited to participate in a session of Ignite: Lean Startup at Pivotal Labs NYC. I gave a short talk about working quickly at low fidelity to help teams create a shared vision, illustrated with some examples from the Knowsy project I worked on with Innovation Games Online.

Ignite is a short-form presentation format similar to pecha-kucha. Speakers are allowed just 20 slides which advance at 20 seconds each, whether you’re ready or not. The format encourages you to be brief, memorable and funny if you can manage it. If you want a challenge to your presentation skills, I recommend the format!

For more talks offered that night, check out the YouTube Playlist.

Think, Make, Check: the Lean User Experience Intensive

Group photoJosh Seiden and I taught a sold-out session of the Lean User Experience Intensive (LUXi) July 9-10, 2011 at Pivotal Labs NYC. Here’s some information for those of you who didn’t get a chance to join us. We hope to see you at a future event!

Event summary

For a participant’s perspective, please see Nelly Yusupova’s post on the Webgrrls blog.

Eventbrite announcement

You know that great design is critical to the success of your business. It differentiates your product, defines the experience, and creates passionate users and loyal customers. Yet, many teams today struggle with design. Designers are hard to hire, working with an agency is expensive and doesn’t transfer knowledge to the team. If you do have designers and developers working together, It’s challenging to bring UX methods into an agile process without creating a bottleneck and tensions in the team.

Lean UX is a way to solve these problems. It’s a deeply practical and collaborative way of working. Lean UX uses rapid iterative cycles to create and improve products, simplify decision-making, and ensure you are building things that people want.

The Intensive is a two-day workshop for startups who want to improve the user experience of their product or individuals who want to work more effectively by using lean user experience methods. Over the weekend, you’ll be introduced to key principles and methods, and you’ll learn by doing. You’ll work collaboratively with your team-mates and experienced coaches to gain skills you can put to work immediately after the workshop.

Materials on SlideShare

Related links

Getting ready for LSM

I’m attending Lean Startup Machine this weekend. Participants were selected via application. At the event we’ll pitch ideas and form small teams of people with business, tech and design skills. (Hooray for cross-functional and collaborative teams!) We’ll learn Lean Startup methods by doing customer discovery and making things together. The program runs Friday night through Sunday eve and there are prizes at the end for the best projects.

I want to get the most out of the experience so I am preparing for it. One aspect is establishing what I personally want to get out of the event. Here’s my objective.

I’m agnostic about the platform and idea I work on this weekend. What matters to me is:
– The team has a good mix of skills
– The team plays well together
– The idea we’re working with is relevant to people who are easily accessable this weekend

LSM participants have many different skill sets and personal objectives. I can’t assume they know me, or anything about what I do. Because of my own objectives, It matters to me that I attract compatible working partners. I created this brief bio and shared it with the group list before the event. It was hard to write because a) in this context, I’m a learner not an expert and b) I do have something to offer and don’t want to under-sell myself. This is what I shared with the group.

Here’s why you would be interested in working with me:
– I am a UXer with big experience and a small ego
– I am great at finding people to talk to and listening to them
– I make quick, lightweight concept sketches (pen/paper)
– I help teams quickly generate ideas and decide on a course of action

My other form of prep is research. I’m reading books and blogs and watching videos. I am trying to figure out “what is lean startup?” “how does it work? “who are the thought leaders?” “where are the examples of people’s experiences with it?”


  • The Lean Startup movement is young, decentralized and experiential/evolving.
  • Eric Ries identifies it as a movement, not a method or process, and acknowledges participation from prior art and other contributors. (Kent Beck/XP/agile, Steve Blank/Customer Development)
  • It draws on a large existing body of information that requires the learner to know “prior art” or be able to dig back to understand it (e.g. some knowledge of agile terms and practices is assumed).
  • There’s a LOT of amazing great stuff out there if you can find it.


  • As a person newly interested in the movement, I’ve needed to figure out who are the people who are relevant, then do a lot of research into their blogs/videos (and a little into tech press) to figure out what matters.
  • A lot of the conversation is happening on lists, and at conference proceedings (which aren’t always very well documented)
  • There’s a lot of cross-checking involved (e.g. watching a video, the speaker will reference something I need to go follow up)

What’s useful

  • I find Eric Ries’ “talking head” videos about “what is Lean Startup” “What is a MVP” etc, very helpful. Some of them are informal, some of them are a little more produced, but they’re great for linking/sending to people to say “see, this is what I mean…”
  • I’ve found SocratED helpful, because it pulls together some of these distributed resources in a curated way.
  • I’m finding delicious somewhat helpful, mostly to track my own progress, but somewhat to find other links tagged “lsm” and “lean startup.”
  • Quora hasn’t been very helpful to me yet. Still trying to figure out how to use it effectively.

I’ll post some more impressions after the event, watch this space!