Editor’s note: The 2015 Lean Startup Conference is just around the corner (it’s from November 16-19th in San Francisco, and there’s still time to get your ticket!). We have dozens of excellent speakers and mentors who are eager to share their product development, entrepreneurship, and innovation stories–you’ll never see these experts in one place ever again. Learn more about them in our ‘Lean Startup Speakers’ series.
When I walked into the 500 sq foot room in the basement of a 1920s house converted to office space and saw 5 guys huddled around a desk fashioned out of a door and two saw horses, I thought I knew out what Lean Startup was. It meant frugal. It meant minimizing your burn rate. It meant no bottled water and certainly no free lunch. As Chuck Testa would say, “NOPE!” That’s not what Lean Startup is.
It wasn’t the glamorous office space that lured me away from Whole Foods Market to work at Food on the Table. It was Lean Startup principles. Manuel, the CEO and founder, explained to me that we were digging for gold. We’d talk to our customers. We’d try an experiment here, and experiment there based on what they said. The ones that worked, we would add more resources and continue digging. The ones that didn’t work, we would cut bait and move on. He told me that if I had customer data to support a decision, then titles and opinions didn’t matter.
When Food on the Table was acquired by Food Network, our team brought our Lean Startup training with us. The first project I had as product manager of FoodNetwork.com was to increase retention. In interviews, users had mentioned they would like to compare recipes. The dev team said a working prototype of this would take at least three weeks to build. That sounded like a lot of resources to invest to a feature that wasn’t proven. My Lean Startup background told me I could find out quickly by doing a test. I could put a button on the recipe page that when clicked said “Coming Soon!” That was a completely new way of doing things for the team. My talk will focus on how that button introduced the power – and cost savings – of Lean Startup to a huge organization.
I recently left the Food Network to return to startup land. I joined Farmhouse Delivery, a subscription service that delivers fruit and vegetables from local farms to our community. In a survey, we found that our customers find it difficult to cook with everything in their bushel each week. As the popularity of services like Blue Apron and Plated grow, we thought we could provide a similar service, but using the items in their bushel and providing proteins and seasonings that are all locally sourced.
I guess we could have a fully baked product, labels printed, webpage up, menus for weeks, and operations planned out for the quarter. But remember, I’m a Lean Startup girl. What’s the first step? Talk to people! I spent two days on the phone with our customers. Every single one loved the idea of supplementing their bushel with a meal kit. I sold a dinner prototype to 95% of those customers. Those that declined were vegetarian.
The next week, I received feedback from our first testers to see if they would renew, and cast a wider net for new customers. For new customers, I sent an email rather than calling. The conversion rate was very similar. We increased our sales by 2.5x the second week.
Operationally, this is a big stress on our packing room and our chef, but we have a threshold we need to meet before we add more resources. The neatest part? Lean Startup isn’t just for software.