On a rainy afternoon in the fall of 2005 we were driving back from a meeting with a potential customer of my startup, BackupAgent. They just told us they were going to buy over 40.000 euro of backup software, which would allow their users to backup data from their computers to their datacenters. We had one problem; the software was nowhere near finished.
As first-time founders we thought very little of ourselves for striking a deal we could not deliver. We enjoyed the luck that this customer was willing to pay us the license fees in advance. A few more of those deals followed in the next months. We'd typically spend much of our time talking to potential customers, gather feedback and changed the product to serve them, ideally by building features they all wanted. The few advisers we had always advised us to 'stick to the plan' and 'make the numbers', which was an impossibility. They were nervous about how we were handling things. We had competitors, who appeared to be greyhounds that stayed the course. We thought we were weak shifting gears constantly.
Four years later I picked up on Customer Development by reading the The four steps to the Epipany by Steve Blank. I also found this blog of Eric Ries, who coined the term Lean Startup. By now BackupAgent grown into a full-flegded company. Their insights were very counterintuitive. All the things we deemed to be wrong, were the right thing to do. All the 'smart' things we thought we did, had in fact backfired just as Steve and Eric were explaining in their writings and talks. Fortunately, we were not the only ones doing this all wrong. I decided there and then to apply Lean Startup in BackupAgent and this enabled me to exit this successfully in 2014.
I met with Bob Jansen on Startup Weekend, who also picked up on Lean Startup. We decided to run a meetup group about it together. It would allow startup founders to meet up with each other. Thanks to our efforts we became mentors at many Dutch startup programs, such as Rockstart, Startup Bootcamp, YES!Delft, Utrecht Inc and more. Like many entrepreneurs in other countries who moved first, we are now alleged experts and this enabled us to help hundreds of other startup founders in the Netherlands.
We decided to write this guide in an effort to capture as much as we can into a format which can be shared online and isn't simply a hand-out copy of one of the many decks we created when doing workshops about Lean Startup. It's our way to do even more.
Let's just say that we sincerely hope that this little guide will help you get in touch with what you want to achieve as an entrepreneur. We'll introduce a very simple rule-of-thumb as the basic two principles of Startup Experiment Design:
Robbert van Geldrop