Lean Labs’ Enterprise Summit Hits the Trifecta

Thanks to community member, Stefan Kooistra, Corporate Vice President – Strategy, New York Life Insurance Company for writing the following about his experience at our inaugural Labs summit. We look forward to meeting more new community members as we cross the country bringing Lean Startup lessons to your city. -Heather McGough, Cofounder of Lean Startup Co.


I recently attended Lean Startup Labs’ Enterprise Summit at Civic Hall in New York City.  The new Series is bringing Lean Startup lessons beyond Silicon Valley and into new cities around the U.S. The event promised to showcase innovative leaders who’ve applied Lean Startup to grow, change, and drive business, sharing lessons learned from applying Lean Startup in the corporate world.  This sounded like a great opportunity to continue building upon the knowledge base I started cultivating last year after reading Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup and attending the Lean Startup Conference last fall in San Francisco.

When I attend events like this, I’m looking for 3 key elements:

  1. Hands on activities – learn by doing
  2. Lessons on Practical Application – learn what worked and didn’t work for others
  3. Networking Opportunities – continue to learn with like-minded individuals

The Enterprise Summit delivered on all 3 – the trifecta!  

Hands on Activities.  

These ranged from very light to very interactive and I took something important away from each one.  Activities included crafting hypothesis statements and running experiments, analyzing our company’s Innovation Ambition Matrix portfolio mix (Core, Adjacent, and Transformational), acting as a governing committee listening to and deciding the fate of a Lean Startup stage-gate and funding pitch, and taking a quiz to determine our causal vs. effectual thinking style.  

Lessons on Practical Application.  

Innovators from a variety of industries shared their best practices and lessons learned implementing Lean Startup in their organization (GE, Pearson, Humana, American Express, Viacom, Dunn & Bradstreet, United Nations, Capital One, and Ericsson).  A selection of external consultants and advisors also shared Lean Startup best practices and provided some insights on how they assist large organizations run experiments and MVPs (Sparked Advisory, Alpha UX, Machine, Neo, NYU, and Brilliant Experience).

Networking Opportunities.  

The event organizers facilitated ample opportunities for networking with time available during breakfast, lunch, breaks, and a networking reception.  These opportunities made it possible to meet and connect with lots of like minded individuals from a variety of companies and industries.  I always appreciate these connections and have kept the conversation going with attendees I met at last year’s Lean Startup Conference and will continue to do the same with my new connections from the summit.

So, with all of the great stuff referenced above, what did I learn at the Lean Startup Labs Enterprise Summit?  

Top 5 learnings.

  1. It’s Hard – Implementing Lean Startup can be an uphill battle.  You’re trying to implement a new, better way of doing things and it will most likely require a culture change, driven by a large mindset shift.  You’re trying to introduce a way to reduce risk, yet many will see it as too risky to their sales plans, brand image, resource management, or a host of other reasons.  The advice I received from multiple sources is to use the combined approach of getting executive sponsorship, starting some grassroots efforts to prove the methodology works, and then start spreading it across the middle of the organization.
  2. Get Started – Doing is the best learning.  If you don’t have the budget and resources to make a big splash, start using the methodology in a small way on your own team.  Over time, you can build up a portfolio of initiatives to help you sell the rest of the organization on Lean Startup.  Even better, once people find out you’re doing awesome things, there might not be much “selling” required.
  3. One Size Doesn’t Fit All – You’ve got to figure out how to implement Lean Startup in a way that works best for your company.  Sometimes you’ll run into vocabulary issues like rejection of the term “fail fast”, which might be easily overcome by flipping it to say want to “learn fast”.  Some companies use a team of Lean Startup coaches and the actual design, development, and other skill sets reside in the business where they always were, while other organizations fully staff Lean Startup teams with all the necessary skill sets to deliver and run experiments and MVP testing.  Part of it is knowing your culture and politics and part of it comes back to #2 above – get started and learn what will work best as you go.
  4. Don’t Fall In Love – Lean Startup is based on the scientific method.  You’re looking for evidence that will give you confidence that your hypothesis is right or wrong.  The thing you’re testing is not your baby, don’t fall in love with it.  It’s an idea that may or may not have merit once tested.  Remember, your goal is to solve a customer problem or need and at the end of the day, customers are the only ones that can tell you if your solution actually solves a problem or need that they have.  Falling in love with your solution can lead to bad decision making.
  5. It’s a Never Ending Journey – One of my favorite phrases is “always a better way, never a best way.”  No matter where you start your Lean Startup journey, there will always be ways to make improvements.  The more you do it, the better you’ll get at designing experiments, building MVP’s, testing with customers, understanding which metrics to track, reading results, and deciding when to pivot or persevere.  There were some big organizations at the summit with 2 to 3 years under their belts using Lean Startup and they are still improving upon the foundation they’ve built and spreading the methodology deeper into their enterprise.


The Lean Startup Labs Enterprise Summit was a hit. If you have the opportunity to attend a Lean Startup Labs Summit, I strongly recommend you do so. They’ll be hosting a summit in Detroit this September. Lean Startup Week will be held in San Francisco from October 31st – November 6th. Hope to see you there!