Lean Startup Story: Andrea Hill, Intrapreneur and Product Strategist at ReadyTalk

Andrea running in a recent marathon.

If you’ve ever been to The Lean Startup Conference, you’ll know that some of the best opportunities to learn come from fellow attendees—entrepreneurs, product strategists, and transformation leaders from around the world.

We’re launching a ‘meet the community’ blog series to help you learn how to create a culture of innovation, turn ideas into products, and build a sustainable business. You’ll also get a glimpse of the Lean Startup practitioners (i.e. rockstars) you’ll meet this November at the conference.

First up is Andrea Hill, a Denver-based intrapreneur, product strategist, and marathon runner (both in and out of the office). She’s helping audio and web conferencing provider ReadyTalk, launch an internal startup and bring a new product to market. Here’s what she has to share.

Tell us about what brought you and your team to the Lean Startup Conference in 2014—and what’s bringing you back in 2015.

Hill: We’ve become interested in Lean Startup principles to develop new lines of business. Prior to attending the conference we were trying to balance doing customer discovery and working on new problems while also serving our existing customers.

We had a cross-functional group from product, technology, and finance who attended: our CFO, our director of engineering, director of product management, enterprise agile coach, product strategist (me) and a product manager. The biggest benefit was that we could divide and conquer.

We tried to have coverage for all sessions, and then meet over lunch and dinner to share our learnings and reflections. I thought it was great to have a team there as we were more effective in coming back and sharing our learnings with the rest of the organization.

The experience from 2014 helped us integrate lean into the company. We launched our beta of ubimeet.com in March 2015, helping people run more effective meetings. We are now in the product-market fit stage and are coming back to the Lean Startup Conference to explore this next stage of our product development.

What are some of the biggest changes that you’ve made in the last year?

Hill: The biggest takeaway was that Lean Startup wasn’t something we could enter into half-heartedly. The innovation accounting workshop from the 2014 program helped us convince our COO that a Lean Startup team needed to be held to different standards of success than development in our more established line of business. We now use metrics like cost-per-learning and validation velocity to show progress since more traditional things like ROI weren’t applicable.

One of the biggest changes in corporate mindset that allowed us to innovate was the recognition that things didn’t have to be perfect and complete before release; that we actually didn’t even know what that meant.

We knew our initial release offered value but it wasn’t as fully-featured as we may have wished. With our parent brand, we’d have been concerned about not meeting the needs of all of our users, but we were okay with releasing something and working with customers to help determine the order in which we’d develop additional functionality (and whether we had to build it at all!)

The product is a meeting productivity tool, and after three months with beta testers on the service, we were able to better understand the type of meeting organizer who finds the most value from the product. We could then focus on building a product that really fit in with the workflow of our strongest advocates, rather than trying to guess. It meant we had to make the hard decision to drop support for one platform, but that allowed our engineering team to focus on what would have the most impact for our best users.

We’ve reached a point in our process in which we need to be laser-focused on only doing tasks that added customer value.

What tools are helping you drive change and innovation within your organization?

Hill: We adopted the use of the Lean Canvas as a primary resource to describe the business opportunity, and drive our experiments.

The canvas was displayed prominently when we met with internal stakeholders to help them understand what we were actively working on, and give them confidence we had a backlog of experiments to run to challenge assumptions.

What were some of the biggest challenges that you’ve addressed?

Hill:  Prior to attending the conference we were trying to balance doing customer discovery and working on new problems while also serving our existing customers. Innovation accounting helped us understand the need to dedicate folks to these types of initiatives, and we were able to get the corporate buy-in to do so as a type of experiment in and of itself.

As a result we’ve been able to iterate much more quickly, and overcome some of the executive fear of releasing something into the wild in an MVP state. As it turned out, some of our first external testers immediately latched onto the value proposition and said they’d have no hesitation in recommending it to others.

What are you looking forward to learning at the Lean Startup Conference in November?

Hill: I’m really looking forward to returning this year with some practical experience under my belt. Now that I’ve been through one cycle of intrapreneurship, I’m eager to learn how to formalize this within our organization so we can have more concepts being explored in parallel.

To use a metaphor anyone reading this will be familiar with, Lean Startup is the solution to a problem we had at ReadyTalk (new product innovation). The next step is how to scale it!

Interested in results like this for yourself? You’ll make a great addition to the 2015 Lean Startup Conference community. Join us on November 16-19 at Fort Mason. Come away with new Lean Startup contacts and actionable takeaways that you can immediately apply at your company. Click here for all the details and to register now.

This post was written by @ritika puri, resident storyteller at The Lean Startup Conference.

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