The day before we started our first Lean LaunchPad program with the CSIRO, Bill McKeague and I talked strategy over coffee. We had been working towards doing an LLP for over a year, and we were both excited, and scared.
At one point, I said to Bill “Well, I’ve got no idea how this will go, but as they used to say in those old Mickey Rooney movies, ‘Let’s put on a show!'”
We’d been working on this with our CSIRO partners Sarah King and Peter Kambouris for a while, but it still seemed like it had happened too fast, and we were too unprepared. For me, at least, scared was winning out over excited.
I often forget getting out of my comfort zone requires actual discomfort…
In running that first program, we learned (or re-learned) the lessons that we are trying to help others get as well.
The first lesson is the importance of hypothesis testing. I often refer to that first one as our Minimum Viable Lean LaunchPad. We had no resources for it, so we ran as leanly as possible. And we were testing three hypotheses:
- Lean LaunchPad will be effective with deep technology research projects. Definitely supported, though it requires some modifications, which I’ll get to in another post soon.
- The scientists will see the value in customer development work. Verified, more enthusiastically than we expected.
- We can get the teams to do enough customer development interviews to have a big impact on their projects. We didn’t get there on the first try. This is what we’ve worked on the hardest in subsequent iterations.
It was, of course, classic Build-Measure-Learn. We got the first version out into the world, and then improved each iteration subsequently. We’re still working hard to improve each new version.
The second lesson is that we need to get our ideas out uncomfortably early.
It turns out that all of those startup cliches keep getting repeated because they’re true:
- “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” – Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn founder
- Move Fast and Break Things;
- Done is Better Than Perfect. – Facebook slogans
It was true for us, and it was true for the CSIRO researchers too. This gets at one of the biggest flaws in the way that we try to commercialise research. The normal thing to do is to do all of the research first, and then hand off the technology to business development people to bring it to market.
This model assumes that technical risk is the biggest problem we face. While technical risk is higher in deep technology research than it is if we’re building a normal startup, market risk is still the biggest risk that we face.
This means that we can’t afford to engage with the market only after the research is done. Instead of moving up the Technology Readiness Levels first, then going up the Investment Readiness Levels second, we must work on both simultaneously.
The reason for this is that engaging with the people that will benefit from our research leads to better research.
Here’s how I put it at the final session of that first Lean LaunchPad:
This was my fourth hypothesis going into this: doing Lean LaunchPad leads to better science. It’s turning out to be true, which has been the biggest surprise for the scientists – and it’s deeply counterintuitive.
This comes up in larger organisations too. They are uncomfortable with the lean startup approach because they worry about eroding their brand through running experiments. This is why thinking about minimum viable products as learning objects is so important.
We’re getting better with each Lean LaunchPad program that we run. And fortunately, I’ve been learning my lessons. I’m working right now with my colleagues Scott Thomas and Kate Morrison in launching another lean startup program that seems to fast, too soon. But we’ll get it out there, then make it better.
If we wait for something to be perfect before we launch it, we’ll never launch.
Note: Over the past year, I’ve been running (with help, of course!) a bunch of Lean LaunchPad programs with the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) aimed at increasing the impact of all the great research that they’re doing. This is part of a series reflecting on what we’ve learned through the course of six programs involving 40 research projects and more than 250 people. The other posts are:
- Part one: The How and Why of Customer Development
- Part two: Is Our Business Model Ready to Launch?
- Part three: How Big is Your Market and Where Will You Start?
- Part four: What Assumptions Underlie Your Business?
- Part five: A Minimum Viable Product is an Object for Learning
- Part six: Move Sooner and Faster Than You Think You Can
- Part seven: How to Find Your First Customers
- Part eight: How to Make Good Lean Startup Hypotheses