Lean Startup Machine Tokyo Edition

My first Lean Startup Machine experience was in Singapore where Microsoft was a sponsor of the event. It was the first time being held in Singapore so there was a lot of buzz especially on the process. This was the time that the Lean Startup book was gaining followers so it’s timely to be held in Singapore.

Moving to Tokyo, I was lucky to be contacted by the organisers to be a mentor on it’s Tokyo leg. It’ll be a good opportunity to meet and connect with the local community and, more importantly, fuel my curiousity on the problems that people are trying to solve in Tokyo. No matter where I go, it’s always the problems that interest me more than anything else.

There was an interesting diversity of the attendees, around half of which are foreigners. I’m fascinated with this diversity as it’s the same in Singapore and even in Cebu. I know this has some meaning behind it as the entrepreneurship culture is different everywhere in the world. Enterprising individuals, no matter where they are, will always show up in events like this to fulfil their need to solve a problem.

As always, the pitches are the most interesting part, having seen many startup events with pitching opportunities, I wanted to know what type of problems people are concerned about in Japan and how they propose to tackle them. I always thought that Japan is this hi-tech heaven, but after spending a few months here, it’s not the case. With that in mind, I was opening myself up to more on the ground type of solution rather than the magical hi-tech miracles.

Striking, and yet not surprising, that everyone in the world has the same problems. Keeping in touch with love ones, achieving your goals, keeping healthy and the like. If you are looking for some world chaging solution in these type of events, then you’re at the wrong place. The great thing with these type of events, is nobody aims to solve the largest problem in the world and yet from these solutions, larger problems are solved. I won’t say how many things came out of small beginnings and the lean methodology is a great way to get started and see if you are going into the right direction. I gave my review of Lean Startup here and if you follow it while keeping the learnings intact, then your relatively small solution, will start getting bigger as you continue your learning and discovery.

Here are some of the teams that presented at LSM Tokyo in my raw notes form.

Teams

1. Yaoya-IT – shop management/ loyalty app. facebook.com/yaoyait

2. Kizuna connect – connecting with grandparents via physical printed pictures.

Hypothesis – If people would actually subscribe to a service that will send physical photos to parents

Reached the pitch stage but now will come to execution. Something similar exists? not sure. All I can think of is touch note.

3. Happy Family Lunch – tool to be able to each with your family together while knowing if the restaurant has the correct facilities.

Eating out with kids – diapers, type of food.

Hypothesis – Family who wanted to enjoy good food experience. The issue is not serious enough so they pivoted. They went out to understand the customer base and who they are actually targeting and ended up targeting moms WHO wants to eat out.

4. Wishmall – is this a wish, service request app? List of peoples need and match with who can provide it. (craigslist)

Illusionary feedback which is good – invalidated.

People like advice on expensive stuff rather than cheap stuff. shoes for special use that then jumped to baby sitting. The whole service became a babysitting service with other features.

Interesting how they transitioned from shoes and being things, which the process lead to something that people actually trust and there’s no more thing that you will trust other than your kids which then transformed to a baby sitting service.

They went out to ask how baby sitting is and the most important thing is the trust rather than money. It will be a babysitting review site more than anything else.

5. Bilinguals – accumulating medical information for kids and recommend hospitals.

First assumption were new movers and taking over the counter medicine. Focused on who. Seriously ill and who are not satisfied with their treatment, moved to healthy people who are concerned with kids health. went out again, people who have cards and who are not happy with keeping their hospital cards.

Keeping one card and information in the web.

6. Achievement – achievement tool. Focused on getting your goal achieved. Pivoted 3 times based on feedback.

Turned into a business matching for wannabe entrepreneurs or people who wants to explore entrepreneurship. from starting a business into an app for people who are doing weekend business. A motivational tool for people creating business. Turned into a team management but more of people who share the same vision.

7. Super Wifi – They have a nano material called Graphene and is looking for a problem to solve. Didn’t get a solution and is still looking for the problem that they want to solve. Needs more time to simmer as they don’t have the solution that they are looking for.

8. GoIssho – starting with suica expansion/loyalty card. Starting with a long story rather than learnings good points on how they should not hold onto the idea. Created Goissho, mentor and entrepreneur connection tool. Not sure if they did the correct thing but after going through the Suica process and chaining their minds, they focused on their cookie monster effect. I’m not sure if they maximised the learning that they could haver learned today none the less they pivoted and moved on from their initial idea which is good.

People are hesitant to pay more than 1000yen with their suica. They want a detailed breakdown of their suica spending.

9. I love kosadate – providing busy moms with health information for their kids. Followed the energy of the audience instead of going with their first instinct. the pivot was good and I think this team will win as they did all things write.

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[book review] The Lean Startup

Heralded as one of the must buy books for entrepreneurs The Lean Startup was written by Eric Ries, founder of IMVU. The book describes itself as a scientific approach to starting a company.

As the title implies, the goal is to get lean. Lean might mean several things to you like starting with a lean budget, lean time, lean resources or a lean product. These descriptions are actually part of the book, but one of the key components with starting a lean startup is customer validation. The goal is to learn from a process that will allow you to validate your hypothesis, create the experiment, measure the results and build from these learnings. The key with the whole process is to create a way to keep iterating through your ideas and your experiments so that you will be able to react, not with gut feel, but with hard data. No assumptions but rather well backed decisions based on data.

The book is divided into three main sections, Vision, Steer, and Accelerate. These main categories take you through the journey of learning the method.

Vision is your high level, concept phase of learning the difference of the methodology from traditional corporate thinking. This section takes you to realize the whole concept that creating sustainable business is a process. When it’s a process, it can be learned, and can ultimately be taught.

Being exposed to a lot of entrepreneurial activities, the first section doesn’t cover anything ground breaking, rather it shows you the possibilities of viewing a challenge with a different perspective. Well repeated in the book is that the Lean Startup methodology is not just for new startup companies, but for any organisation creating a product. I think this goes well with anybody working in a knowledge based industry. Formulating marketing campaigns, community engagement and other community based marketing can benefit from having a lean approach towards their business.

Steer, talks about the methodology. Dropbox and Intuit were were given as examples while going to the process of build -> measure -> learn.

This whole section is what you want to read. Again, the whole book is not rocket science, but the process itself is well thought of and it’ll get you thinking whenever you go through the rounds of work. Several methods and techniques were presented here, again with the goal of getting you to rethink how you do things now and getting into the lean mindset.

One thing that stuck out for me was how we measure “success”. We have to get into the habit of measure the right things rather than the things that will make us look good. (which is very typical in large companies) I got my fair of vanity metrics that I see often. How, and more importantly, what we measure is a crucial step in learning. If we don’t measure the correct things, our assumptions might be validated the wrong way. If you are measuring page views on your site rather than activations, this might present you with a great chart, but it won’t give you more business. I like quantifiable measurements as it takes away any doubts and uncertainties whenever we look at metrics.

Accelerate talks about growth, releasing in small batches and how you will move after applying your validated learning.

I especially liked the chapter about batches as it’s quite common for us to procrastinate by releasing a larger batch until it’s perfect then getting bombed in the end as our work didn’t get enough validation or feedback.

The last part of the book also shared a lot of resources to get you on track with the lean methodology. Blogs, resources and other books that will help you get into the mindset of lean.

As me and a friend are building our product now, the book helped me think of how we should be constantly validating our assumptions and what metrics to measure. I’ll be talking about this more once we launch and I’m so happy that it’s going to be soon.

If you are looking for a precursor to startup life, this book is a great way to change how you think and how you tackle problems. I think this is not only for startup companies, but for individuals who wants to achieve more. Conducting experiments is not just for directors or people handling budgets, it’s also for people on the field who talk to customers and clients and can constantly reinvent themselves and adapt to different situations. With the lean methodology, you can categorically experiment while constantly learning. Read it and use. 😉


Startup Weekend Cebu 2012

I was lucky to have been part of Startup Weekend Cebu that happened over the weekend. Held last May 11, 2012 at University of the Philippines Cebu, me and a few of my team mates came down to explore the startup scene in Cebu. I also helped out the organizers to get some some mentors and a judge for the event.

I’m no stranger to Startup Weekends and I’ve been part of a couple here in Singapore. One thing that I always look forward to is the pitches during the first night. Pitches give me a quick idea of what are the problems that people care about and think of and it’s something worth solving or spending time on.

During SW:Cebu over 40 pitches were given which lasted for over an hour. I love the diversity of crowd pitching. From professionals to students, people from different industries and nationalities. The mixture felt great and more experiences will be shared all throughout the event.

Over 40 participants lined up to pitch

I find that the pitch reflects the problems that the participants face. One thing that I observed was how the expats were trying to solve “first world problems” while most of the locals were pitching solutions for entertainment, solving simple problems, staying in touch with their families and such. Coming from the Philippines, I felt a big difference between the pitches. A couple of pitches that really stood out was one about how he can get the best deals for importing luxury cars to the Philippines and another one about how he can rearrange his DVD collections efficiently. These type of problems just strike me as “non problems” and it was quite interesting to see it being pitched in Cebu. Those type of pitches would’ve had a different reaction elsewhere, but in the Philippines where most of the people can’t afford cars, the pitch would be falling into deaf ears. I guess that’s where knowing your market well comes into play.

As the teams form up, the ideas got polished and everybody starts piling up.I wasn’t able to talk to all of them but I noticed that most of them has a great sense of design. Most of the teams were really prepared and some went there to get mentoring and feedback for their ideas.

Teams formed up and ready

One of the teams I talked to was Codetoki. I love the passion of the founder and how she wants to solve the issue of lack of industry knowledge in fresh IT graduates. Her idea was to provide a platform for students to reach out to IT professionals and bridge the gap between school and the industry. She hopes that students and industry professionals will help each other and increase the competent talent pool of IT professionals in the Philippines.

Can’t help myself take a photo with Swan Hat guy

I also talked to AppsXL. I was really impressed with their design capabilities and it showed through their presentation and product. AppsXL is creating a platform for mobile developers to easily create applications using native code through several ready made templates. A number of apps on the Appstore follow a standard template, so if you are a developer and want to create a quick app for one of your clients, you can just purchase a template from AppsXL, skin the app and you’re ready to go. I can imagine AppsXL being similar to wordpress theme makers like woothemes but for a more niche market. Although their final presentation wasn’t solid, I think there’s a market for the idea. I wasn’t really convinced on how they priced their templates, $100 for a template, as I think it was quite low. Hope to see more from AppsXL as demand for mobile applications is rising.

One of my own personal goals aside from knowing more about the tech scene in Cebu was meeting the community. I have to thank Tina Ampers and Ian Tusil for inviting us and making us feel welcome.

Tina is the founder of techtalks.ph, a technology meetup at Cebu. It’s a great way to meet the tech community in Cebu. Aside from her, I met some awesome guys from PhilDev, DevCon, MorphLabs, Kickstart Ventures by Globe, IdeaSpace by Smart, Microsoft, Google, a few local blogger communities and a lot more to mention.

I was excited to see all the support that everyone put in and I hope the teams that formed will continue building on their projects. From experience, some of the teams in Startup Weekend fizzle out but I hope the winning teams will continue on their projects and ship the products out for the market to try.

The winning teams at the end of the weekend were teams that focused on real problems. The first place winner was team WaitKnowMore. They are trying to solve the problem of waiting in line for common services like paying bills or waiting in line for the doctor. Their system will allow an establishment to inform a customer when it’s their turn in line while allowing advertisers to publicize deals for the customers waiting in line. There are existing systems like this out there, but I haven’t really seen or tried it personally. It’ll be great to see this properly implemented and give relief to waiting customers all over.

Keep yourself updated with the Startup Weekend Cebu team and their follow up events via their site at http://cebu.startupweekend.org/. If you are interested to support technology events in the Philippines, either in Cebu or Manila, feel free to ping me and I’ll try to connect you to the right persons.

P.S. Make sure you stop by Cebu’s natural wonders. We stopped by Matayupan falls and the view was breath taking. You always see waterfalls on TV, but being there in person feeling the breeze of the water in your face is just refreshing. Cebu has a lot more to offer so make sure you explore the wonderful island.


Founder’s Institute Singapore, BizSpark and me in between

Running for 2.7 years now, Founder’s Institute (FI) is a “global network of startups and mentors that helps entrepreneurs launch meaningful and enduring technology companies”. Founded by Adeo Ressi, an entrepreneur himself, FI aims to help entrepreneurs worldwide with the vision of helping launch 1,000 technology companies per year worldwide.

Just finishing its fourth semester, Singapore is one of the first countries to have FI in Asia (if not the first) and I’m lucky to have been part of it.

Founder's Institute Singapore 4th Semester

I formally joined the second semester as I have some ideas that I wanted to cultivate and it was a challenge that I wanted to conquer. Every week for four months, we were introduced to a new founder that will talk about a specific topic. There were tons of awesome founders that I met from really cool startups from the US and VCs from all over the world.

I had the opportunity of meeting Phil Libin from Evernote and Aaron Patzer from Mint. They both had really solid talks and it was great meeting successful people talking about their previous failures. Those are the stories you rarely hear.

Three months pass and sadly, I wasn’t able to graduate as I wasn’t ready to incorporate. Incorporation is one of the requirements to graduate the class and is one of the last milestones. Of course, your idea will be evaluated as it’s one of the first milestones aside from your commitment and dedication to the program.

Founder’s Institute is of course always compared to other incubators or accelerator programs and Adeo himself has a good answer in one quora thread. They have positioned themselves well and it’s really up to you to find out if the program has value for you. For me, it was a good primer in knowing what to consider when forming a company. For first time entrepreneurs, the basics is always something we won’t know especially if we don’t have a business background. The network is another great value that is not so obvious to outsiders. Starting a company is a hard and lonely path; having a circle of supporters and friends is essential in ensuring your success. I’ve seen the FI family grow in Singapore and the diversity of people just makes the stew even more interesting every semester.

Since the second semester, I’ve been supporting FI through my work in Microsoft. Being the lead for the BizSpark program in Singapore, it was just natural to work closely with the guys behind SGFI. Providing them with all the benefits and other cool stuff that BizSpark and Microsoft has to offer for startups.

If you want to know more about FI or BizSpark, check out their sites and if you’re in Singapore and interested to know more, feel free to ping me.


Startup Asia 2012

Startup Asia is the years first big startup conference here in Singapore. Held February 2 and 3 at the Singapore Post Centre. Their tagline of ‘Pitches, Demos, Founders, & NO B.S.” is quite straight forward as a reference to other startup events.
From the details page alone, you can see that they have an impressive set of guest panelists, investors and attendees from all over Asia. Mobile giants, Gree and Dena as well as several Japanese and Chinese investors. A lot of local players as well representing different industries and sides of the startup world were present.

The conference started off normally with the crowd pickup up after lunch. Lots of talks and people wandering around the booths to get to know the companies more. I greatly enjoyed the pitches where Penn-Olson had a prize of 10,000 USD for the winning company. I had a couple of friends from Founder’s Institute pitching on stage and it was quite exciting seeing them in action. Dema from Vibease and Nicky from Acheev.it represented their companies quite well if it might say.

Saw a bunch of familiar faces as well such as Angeline from Sold.sg (thanks for the mug!) and John from Actatlys

Actatlys

I was amazed to see a couple of Startup Weekend present too just like John’s company, Actatlys, and Fashion Space.

Of course I met a number of BizSpark partners too roaming around the conference hall. Great to see familiar faces enjoying the sessions and the networking opportunities.

I was quite surprised with the number of Japanese companies present during the event showing how international Penn-Olson’s audience is.

Overall, the event went well with lots of learnings from different speakers. Aside from the small venue, I believe that the attendees enjoyed the event and I’ll definitely come for the next one.

PS. One thing I learned about conferences like this is to make sure you have your business cards ready and never be shy in approaching people. I met tons of interesting people during the event and it’s really up to you to say hi and introduce yourself to them. Everybody in conferences like these are looking to connect with people to expand their network so make sure you put your best smile and are ready to meet new friends.