Applying Lean Startup to building startup communities

This is a follow-up to a recent post: 8 lessons I took away from the Lean Startup Conference

A group of startup community builders gathered at a meetup during the 2013 Lean Startup Conference

After writing about theĀ lessons I took away from the Lean Startup Conference this year, I got to wondering if lean startup methodologies could be applied to the art of building startup communities.

The Lean Startup movement has been adopted by corporate america, the nonprofit world, the education industry, and even government. Each takes bits and pieces of the lean startup methodology and applies them to their unique industry, market and … politics.

Which bits and pieces of the lean startup methodology can we as community builders use to grow our local startup community in better, faster ways?

1. Customer interviews – do we as community builders do enough customer development? Do we survey local entrepreneurs to find out what their needs are? Do we do in-person interviews? Do we find out how entrepreneurs are feeling? I have a hunch that most events get started after someone attends an event in a different city and decides that their city needs it too. But did they identify and validate their hypotheses? What if that need was already met locally, or what if a different event or a slightly different format would create more value? Why don’t more community builders crowd-fund ticket sales to prove demand?

2. Build. Measure. Learn. – How do you measure the success of the activities you organize for your local startup community? Do you send out satisfaction surveys? Do you track outcomes? Do you follow-up with your participants to find out if there are any interesting stories to tell? Maybe they met their co-founder at your event, or hired someone or met their lead investor (all of which I’ve seen happen at Startup Weekends). Do you follow-up with sponsors and other stakeholders? If you do follow-up, do you actually apply what you learn and make changes or do you just go through the checklist and plan basically the same event again? Pro tip: use Startup Genome to track the people and companies in your communities.

3. Iterate – You don’t have to get it right the first time. People won’t write you off as a bad community builder if you fail, as long as you gave it a good effort and you did it with altruistic motives. Let them know it’s an experiment from the beginning. Here are some things you could experiment with in your community:

  • Experiment with venues. Do an event at an art gallery. Do an event outside.
  • Does your community operate in silos? Try inviting 2 or 3 other leaders to a private dinner at your house just to get a conversation started.
  • Throw a startup wake or funeral party for a startup that recently shut down. Encourage the team to try again and share their lessons learned.
  • Bring a national movement to your city, like BarCamp or Ignite.
  • Take an existing event and apply a theme to it. Ex: Startup Weekend EDU
  • Is there an issue with sponsorship dollars in your small town? Create a startup community fund.

Shane Reiser is the Co-founder of Startup Genome and a community builder in Omaha, NE, USA. He attended the Lean Startup Conference in San Francisco in December 2013.

Photo Courtesy of Brian Ardinger

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