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Founders Master Class: 7 Essential Steps for Startups

A Lean Startup master class for solo entrepreneurs and founding teams
Instructor:
Janice Fraser
6,089 students enrolled
English [Auto]
Discover which of your assumptions are wrong (and which are right!)
Understand what your customer really needs
Hone a value proposition that combines user needs with your business vision
Measure your product's effectiveness
Make key decisions efficiently
Decide what NOT to build
Learn new techniques that you can use forever to make progress quickly

    This Founders’ Master Class walks you step-by-step through the hard work that business founders must do to prove out their ideas and launch a successful product. 

    This is a premier program, currently in use by accelerators and incubators around the world. It is endorsed by Lean Startup creator Eric Ries, and has been use by 500 Startups, Singularity University, and the Obama White House. Whether you’re a tech entrepreneur or simply learning how to apply the principles of Lean Startup, this course will set you on a productive path. 

    This is a HANDS-ON workshop, not just talks — Allow yourself extra time at the end of each step to do the work and move your company forward. A complete set of handouts and worksheets is downloadable as PDF files. 

    —If you’re an active entrepreneur, there is no better online resource for getting started and moving forward efficiently.— 

The seven workshops in Startup How To cover:

  1. Document your assumptions about your customer

  2. Do GOOD customer development interviews

  3. Figure out the key learnings from customer development

  4. Hone your value proposition based on what you’ve discovered

  5. Use that value proposition to prioritize your product features

  6. Identify which metrics clearly show your product’s success

  7. Root your whole business, and your product in a statement of vision and values.

    This isn’t a “how to” curriculum, it’s an active experience, rooted in the principles of Lean Startup. Our promise is that if you give us an hour, we’ll save you a week.

    “Teams using the Janice’s curriculum will understand Lean Startup at a fundamental level.”—Eric Ries, Author The Lean Startup, and Luxr advisor 

    “If we’d had this material six months ago, we would have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions.” —Bill Gross, Idealab

Envision your customer

1
Getting Started
Before starting this workshop, you need to do two things:
  1. Download the two files: zip file has all of the worksheets for the entire series, and the pdf file has all of the supplemental materials.
  2. Gather Supplies: Sticky notes, a Sharpie or other thick black marker, blue painter's tape (it won't leave goo on the walls the way other tape does), white (printer) paper, and colored dots (or a colored marker).
Can't wait to work with you!!
2
Pick a Customer
Every startup has a customer in mind. Some startups have SEVERAL customers -- eBay, for instance, has buyers and sellers. This step is about choosing which customer you want to use for these workshops. 
3
Create a portrait
In this step, we start to get in the head of our customer by doing a quick sketch of our customer. I can't draw, but even I find that sketching helps me to think through who my customer is and what their life is like. I promise it will be easy. And maybe a little funny. 
4
Identify facts
Here we get out all of that demographic information that's right at the top of our mind when we try to describe our customer - age, job, married or not, kids or not. This is about all of those things you might read in the census. 
5
Brainstorm behaviors
Here we begin to get to the parts of the persona that REALLY matter. What do these people DO that indicates they are a potential customer? How are they trying to solve their problem now? 
6
Find needs & goals
This step, we think about what our customer needs. What is the problem that they are trying to solve? There are some needs that are so broad that they're not really helpful—like "Spend more time with my kids." Try to dig one level deeper, and ask yourself, what would have to change to make that possible. 
7
Three checks
With these three checks, we make sure that you've created a "plausible individual." Not someone you actually know. Not a silly caricature. You're documenting the assumptions that you have, which describe a type of person who would benefit from your product.
8
Consolidate as a team
This step is for teams only! If you're not working with your team right now, you can skip ahead. In this step, we go from having several versions of the persona to one version. 
9
Identify key assumptions
The persona you just made records a lot of assumptions that you have about your customer. Here's the big question—what if you're wrong? Which of those assumptions might be fatal to your business idea? In this step we identify the most risky assumptions. 
10
Review patterns and wrap-up
This step wraps up workshop number 1 by reviewing the techniques and identifying which ones were most helpful to you. 

Conduct quality interviews

1
Getting started
The most essential element in an early stage company is how well you understand your customer. This workshop prepares you to do great Customer Development interviews, so that you can make a product that hits the mark. 
2
Create a "Find" list
Now that you know how to do an interview...where do you find the people to talk to? 
3
Map the topics
In this step, you will create my favorite research tool—the topic map. I use it to keep myself on track and guide the conversation toward those topics that are most useful in my research. 
4
Identify the opener
The hardest part of interviewing a stranger is breaking the ice. In this step, you get ready by writing out the first few lines to get the interview off to a good start. 
5
Craft your approach
Feeling prepared will help you to get the best data out of your Customer Development interviews. 
6
Practice an interview
Seriously...this is the most embarrassing scene in the entire course! Even so, doing a few practice interviews will really help. I hate approaching strangers in a coffee shop, but I've done it because it helps me to know my customer and make products that they love. 
7
Decide on roles, rules & notes
Before you head out, decide who on your team will do what. If you're working solo, you'll need to wear many hats...and maybe bring a tape recorder!
8
Go out and have conversations
Now is the moment of truth. Go forth and research!

Learn from your customer development

1
Getting started
Without a good debriefing process, there's not a lot of benefit from the research you've done. In this section, we're going to take a look at how to extract lessons and insights from your research. Having worked for many years doing this as a consultant, I've seen how transformational succinct research results can be for a company—and how useless research is if it's not "digested" and summarized into actionable lessons. 
2
Review your notes
Obviously, the first thing you need to do is go through the notes and pull out the important observations. If you've done a great job of interviewing several people, you might feel a little overwhelmed by the amount of information you have. This step is about looking into the chaos of information. 
3
Sort your learnings
If the prior step is about observing chaos, then this one is about finding order. Sorting is where you begin to see patterns and find some clarity.
4
Discuss as a team
Even if you don't have a team, it's very helpful to talk with another person and try to explain to them what you've learned and observed as patterns in the data. This step is where you have a good conversation about your research findings and begin to draw conclusions about what they mean and how they might affect your product. 
5
Validate your persona
Research for its own sake is not effective enough. The real "Win" for your company comes when you update your persona. This is what we call "validation"—is this a valid persona? What must we change to make it more accurately reflect our target customers? 
6
Cluster additional insights
Here we make sure to capture the interesting findings that were not our primary research goal. 
7
Learn from the process
You may have heard of approaches like Lean Startup and Agile Software Development. Both of these have "continuous improvement" as a core philosophy. Here we reflect on the process so that we can grow more effective in our work. 
8
Make customer development a ritual
It's not enough to do customer development one time. At Luxr, we have two or three Cust Dev interviews every week. In this step, you decide how you want to integrate research into your fledgeling company. 

Capture the value proposition

1
Getting started
By now you've learned something about your customer, validated some key assumptions, and updated your persona. It's time, then, to transform that new insight into a product vision. This section will walk you through the process of identifying a customer value proposition that reflects your business vision and your customer's actual needs in the real world. 
2
Sketch expressions
Once again, we take up the Sharpie pen to make some sketches. This time, we learn to add simple emotions to our drawing. It's fun, trust me!
3
Sketch collaboratively
A picture is worth a thousand words...Even if you can't draw, I can teach you to show a person, in a place, with a feeling and a thought. That complexity, even if poorly rendered, captures far more information than a simple sentence. 
4
Generate many options
In this step, we create a lot of ideas. By drawing rough sketches, we capture those moments where a customer needs our product (the moment of pain), or is using our product (the moment of satisfaction).
5
Understand the ideas
Collaborative work is all about understanding each others' contributions. Here, a team of 3 people can look over the 18 ideas (6 each), and by discussing them gain a deeper understanding of each other and of the potential of this product. 
6
Choose options
Ultimately, you can have only one value proposition. In this step, we introduce a way to simplify  decision-making when you have several options and several people. 

NOTE: If you don't have the colored dots (available in office supply stores and even many drugstores), just use a colored pen. 
7
Review patterns & wrap-up
In this final step, we reflect on the techniques from this section and decide how that might affect our work going forward. 

Focus your minimum viable product

1
Getting started
With a clear Value Proposition, we can pretty quickly determine what features to create. Lean Startup, which is a philosophy we believe in strongly, calls that an MVP, the Minimum Viable Product. The smallest thing you can make (well) that will deliver on the value proposition. That's what this Section will focus on. 
2
Brainstorm features
Using our favorite method—the Dump and Sort—you will brainstorm the features that you could include in your product. 
3
Sort and prioritize
Choosing what to build is one of the critical decisions that cause startup companies to get stuck, sometimes creates conflict, and really slows everybody down. When you use a few special techniques, though, sorting and prioritizing features can be a rational process that respects the gut instincts that all entrepreneurs have. 
4
Define a minimum viable product
In this step, we really begin to focus the features to a crisp, tight MVP. The sooner you can get a small but great version of your product out into the market, the sooner you can learn what works for your customers. 
5
Stack-rank options
When you get down to those few things that are HARD but IMPORTANT, you need to begin making tradeoffs. This step gets you to a more clear picture of importance that will help you decide what's in and what's out for this first build. 
6
Two checks
Because we've made a TON of decisions very quickly, it's important to have a fail-safe. One easy fail-safe is to look back at the decisions you've made and do a couple of quick checks. 
7
Tell the story & wrap-up
By assembling all of the decisions into one storyline, you can get a very clear picture of your business so far. This is where you can see the value of all of your work. From a big mass of options and choices, you have arrived at a focused story that you can test, experiment with, and execute on. 

Define actionable metrics

1
Getting started
Once you know your customer, choose a value proposition, and build an MVP, you need to observe whether it's working: Are customers getting value from your product? In this Section, we will isolate a set of metrics that specifically measure customers' connection to the product. 
2
Brainstorm metrics
This step follows the established pattern: Come up with a lot of ideas about what you can measure in your product. 
3
Sort and prioritize
Using the category cards, sort the metrics according to what kind of insight they will give you. 
4
Focus near-term
Identify which metrics are most important for you TODAY, rather than a year from now. 
5
Three checks
Learn the tricks that make a metric truly helpful, and avoid drawing false conclusions about how well your product is doing. 
6
Consolidate as a team
This step is for teams, only. If you're working solo, you can skip this step. Here teams decide which metrics are right to move forward with. 
7
Draft a metrics dashboard
Put together a tracking system for your measurements. 
8
Move the metrics
Devise experiments and track trends based on what you do with the product. 
9
Gather the data
Instrument your product so that you can gather metrics. Learn to observe metrics over time. 
10
Review patterns and wrap-up
Reflect on this section and make decisions about how you want to move forward. 

Prepare for pivots

1
Getting started
A Pivot is a change in business strategy in order to better deliver on the vision of your company. To do that, you need to know what your vision is. Eric Ries says "values are the foot you leave on the floor when you pivot." So, in order to know how to pivot the company, you need to have an explicit understanding of your vision and values. That's what we take on in this final Section. 
2
Brainstorm values
The pattern recurs in this Section: We start with a dump and sort to brainstorm values. 
3
Stack-rank and select
We use stack-ranking to get from many ideas to a small number of values that really define and differentiate your company. 
4
Combine and cluster
If you're with a team, you will need to take some time to bring your values into alignment. If you're working alone, you have it easy!
5
Cluster (more) and select
The collaboration continues as you cluster your values and make a final decision about what matters most.
6
Draft a purpose statement
In this step, perhaps the hardest in the whole course, you will write a single statement that captures the purpose for your company and your product. To do this, you will answer questions like, Why does this matter to you? 
7
Create a collective purpose
Take as much time as you need to arrive at one purpose that the whole founding team can agree to. 
8
Build a pyramid
Here you create a record of these decisions and statements. At Luxr, we have ours posted on the bathroom door, so that everyone can see it and reflect on it frequently. 
9
Practice pivoting
In this penultimate step of the course, I ask you to think about all of the different ways you could deliver on that vision. If this product doesn't work out (for whatever reason), what would you do next. Every successful company has had many pivots, especially in the first two years. This step gives you the flexibility to think about the company not just as a one-product entity, but as a phenomenon that will have an impact on the world. 
10
Review patterns and wrap-up
It's the last step—if you've made it here, you're well on your way to having a great chance at success. Thanks for the optimism, dedication, and courage that you bring to the world.
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