Far too many startups spend months (and sometimes years) perfecting their product or service without ever putting it in front of their customers. These startups miss out on quickly gathering REAL customer feedback and miss out on seeing if their product will actually sell.

The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries guides us in a different direction. Ries encourages startups to get in front of customers FAST and continually, to stop operating off assumptions and instead, test them right out of the gates.

Social good enterprises are slow to adopt lean methodologies… but the organizations that have hopped on the lean bandwagon are reaping the benefits.

One organization that is seeing the advantages of lean thinking is Power Poetry – The world’s first mobile poetry community for youth.  Marie, the Digital Programs Coordinator at Power Poetry, shares with us  how her team used lean principles to efficiently and successfully build their mentorship program.

The Problem

PowerPoetry.org has a small budget/team and can’t afford huge builds, especially those that might fail to create more poets. The idea of mentors was on the product backlog and we wanted to test if teen poets would even be interested in the concept. Most of the team believed that teens would pass on having others review their poems.

We wondered if our community even wanted people reading their poems if they were already hesitant to post them. And what exactly would go into the process of screening these mentors? We’d heard horror stories of when youth-mentor relationships go awry, and suddenly the originally well-intentioned goals of a mentoring program are completely upended.

The Solution: A Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

We decided to test these assumptions with a simple build of a minimum viable product. Our team built a basic button and poem queue system to keep track of any poets that requested the service. The project took about 2 hours to build on our Drupal platform and then we let it go…

Power Poetry MVP

The Result: WOW

When 1,200 poets in 2 weeks requested a poem mentor, we realized that we had built something great!

The next step involved ramping up mentors and increasing feedback loops to help young poets looking for resources. The mentor program has also challenged staff to meet the mentor needs of our community as well.

Startups — especially nonprofits — must run lean, and Power Poetry is no exception. Our team has more interns than staff (seven to four… Don’t worry we pay them). As a result, we need to be careful with what we commit ourselves to creating. When I was brought onto the project, our Chief Technology Officer, George, said we needed 50 mentors by the fall. We are currently at 8 mentors to date.

Through developing this program, we’ve created something much more valuable than a herd of mentors: We’ve created a process for recruitment, screening, and training of current and future mentors.

As a result, we made a process for making a focused, passionate, and handpicked group of dedicated writers who are invested in young poets’ self-expression and ensuring their voices are heard. Today mentor feedback reinforces our original mission and supports the true impact of our work.

Oh, and we’re still looking for great poetry mentors. If you’re interested, please take a moment to fill out our application!

Your turn: What was your organization’s minimum viable product (MVP)? How long did it take to build and what successes / failures did you experience when rolling it out to your customers? Please share your story with us in the Comments!

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