Lean Startup Paralysis

In my previous post, I started a Lean Canvas for Bounce and hoped to have the next post ready the following day. That didn’t happen, largely because I got struck by analysis paralysis.

Phase 1 – Reviewing Bounce’s Lean Canvas

Getting a 50-page business plan reviewed is hard. Getting a 1-page business model reviewed is easy and, is an important part of the process.

It is imperative that you share your model with at least one other person – Ash Maurya, Running Lean

With that in mind, I started incorporating feedback from a couple folks. First, Hakon Verespej left some great comments on my first canvas which I’ll summarize:

  • Key Metrics – Instead of several metrics, identify a single metric that best encapsulates our goal and drive decisions around that metric. See Walgreen’s “profit per customer visit” here: http://www.anbhf.org/pdf/walgreen.pdf
  • Channels – Where’s Facebook?!  Of course…should have been there.
  • Unfair Advantage – “Exposure” isn’t sustainable.  I agree. I don’t think I have a real unfair advantage at this point.
  • Unique Value Proposition – “Makes being on time easy” isn’t compelling enough.  I agree, largely because it’s too broad and doesn’t speak to each of my customer segments specifically.  Which is where Riyaz’s feedback comes in handy.

Next up, my friend Riyaz Habibbhai shed quite a bit of light on the Unique Value Proposition box:

Basically, we need to come up with value propositions for each of our customer segments.

When it comes to Unique Value Propositions, one-size-fits-all…fits no one.

Phase 2 – Value Proposition Matrix

After chatting with Riyaz, I began to realize exactly how much of my first canvas was a total guess.  Every single one of my customer segments had potentially multiple value propositions, and I had no clue which one was the most valuable.

My first thought, was to organize it all so I can get a lay of the land. With that, came the value proposition matrix:

Now I had 12 customer segments, 16 value propositions and no clue which pair was the most compelling.  This is when my head started to spin.

Phase 3 – Knowing what I Didn’t Know

Before I started Bounce’s Lean Canvas, I was blissfully ignorant of what I didn’t know. Now, I was overwhelmed by it.  I didn’t know…

  • Who Bounce’s best customer segment was
  • Why they wanted Bounce
  • What features they wanted Bounce to have
  • How much they were willing to pay for it

In fact, at this point, I’m not exactly sure what I do know.

Faced with a huge, empty spreadsheet of not-knowingness, I spent a couple days stuck in paralysis.  I knew my energy needed to be spent filling in my knowledge gaps, but doing so by interviewing hundreds of people was too daunting of a task – so instead, I did nothing.

Phase 4 – Something is better than Nothing

For me, the worst thing about analysis paralysis isn’t that I’m not getting things done, it’s that I feel lazy for not getting things done. Feeling lazy is demoralizing and can start a pretty nasty downward spiral.

But feeling lazy can also be that kick to the ego that gets my ball rolling again.  After a couple days of “mehs”, I decided come hell or high water, I was going to do something.  It didn’t have to be the optimal thing, it just had to be some thing.

As luck would have it, a friend of mine needed a lift from the airport and, wouldn’t you know it, some of my potential customers are at the airport!  With that in mind, I headed there a couple hours early to interview some folks:

I’ll post more details and videos about the interviews later, but the big takeaway here was that it stoked the fire again.

Phase 5 – Running Lean

The other fuel for my recent fire was Running Lean, which arrived the same day I set out to do my interviews. John Sechrest highly recommended this book to me and I’m grateful he did.  It’s written by Ash Maurya, the man behind the Lean Canvas, and had I read it before my little bout of paralysis, I could have saved myself quite a bit of time.

Things I know now that I wish I would have known then:

  • It’s best to make multiple business model canvases – one for each customer segment, which its own corresponding unique value propositions.
  • Prioritize the business models – otherwise you’ll get overwhelmed (ahem)

If you’re in the process of testing hypotheses, I highly recommend you grab this book. Easy read with targeted, prescriptive advice on business model validation.

Phase 6 – Takeaways

So that I don’t repeat this same mistake again, I’ve thought quite a bit about what I can learn from this experience. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • If the “optimal” next step feels too daunting to take one, take a suboptimal one. I’ll feel less guilty about doing nothing with my time and may capture enough momentum to tackle the “optimal” step next.
  • Ask for help. I wish I would have asked for help from some other folks to get me out of this rut a little quicker. Help eventually came in the form of a book, but maybe it would have come more quickly in the form of a friend.

Next up: Interviewing strangers at the airport!

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  1. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve gone through the same sensation of feeling overwhelmed with all the possibilities the canvas can create. To me, your approach sounds like a great way to go and based on the context I actually don’t see it as suboptimal. The reasoning is that you only have so much time. Doing hundreds of customer interviews takes a lot of time and involves a lot of context switching. We can avoid the overhead of context switches by limited the set of variables we test. I kind of feel like we don’t have to find the “perfect” answer right now since if we find one that’s good enough, it unblocks us. I imagine that as we get more knowledge and/or experience, future conversations will be more productive. This is speculation though, so I’d love to see someone share their real experience.

    I think you nailed it on the head with the observation that we all need to be aware of how our work is affecting us. In most cases, we can step back and find a way to simplify and make sure we continue progressing.

    Excellent post – can’t wait to hear the outcome of the interviews. Do you actually have videos of customer interviews? I felt like the second video was a teaser and would love to see the customer interviews if you have them (and it’s okay to share them)!

    1. Thanks for the support Hakon – glad to hear I’m not the only one :)

      Yeah, I’ve got some video of a couple videos. Working on stitching that together for a another post.

      1. Sweet! I can’t recall having seen this level of documentation on this process in any of the online reading I’ve done so far. I can’t wait!

  2. Hi there! :)

    Our confusion arises when we lose sight of our original goals (in this case, the original vision we had for our business) and when we lack appropriate decision making tools to choose from the available options.

    So spending an hour reminding ourselves of our original vision and using some decision making methods will help enormously in this situation.

    Here’s my three step approach to unfuddle the muddle:

    Step 1:

    The purpose of this step is to rekindle our passion for the project, and to get ourselves fired up again about making something happen in the space we’re working in.

    Using index cards, post-it notes or a mindmap, remind yourself of all the reasons ‘why’ you’re doing this at all?

    What is your original vision or purpose for doing this business?

    What attracted you to the opportunity that you’re working on currently?

    Step 2:

    During the business model creation exercise we were using emergent thinking to generate as many ideas as possible. This is great for spotting additional customer segments we may have overlooked at first.

    Swapping back into convergent thinking mode will help us narrow down our focus regarding which customer segments to test first.

    Using your original list of possible customers on your canvas as your reference, make a new list of all the people you know you’ll HATE working with. Yup, go with your gut feeling. Who wants to spend their life with golden handcuffs serving profitable but ultimately horrible customers?

    This step cuts down the range of possibilities to customer groups you think are likable and who you can actually see yourself working with.

    Step 3:

    Now we need to decide which customer segment appeals to us the most (if that isn’t already clear after the last two steps). This is the customer segment we’ll start test first.

    Create a list of factors which your ideal customer has, e.g. pays up front, has loads of cash, always refers, always engages in your marketing initiatives, always writes rave reviews etc.

    Rank which factors are most important to you using a ‘paired comparison analysis’. For more info on how to do a paired comparison analysis, check out https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTED_02.htm.

    Rank each of the remaining customer segments against your list of important factors on a table. For info on using a decision matrix, look at http://www.decision-making-confidence.com/pugh-matrix.html

    If you’re still stuck, either test ALL of the remaining customer groups on your canvas or flip a coin between your favourite two.

    At thi point you can also be super Lean. You don’t need to worry about interviews yet, those take way too much time. You could try sending some emails and track your response rate from each customer segment, or trying to get just one phone call with each of your potential customer segments. This in itself is kind of like a Lean test.

    Anyway, keep on at it. Remember that happy medium is being halfway between vision led and market led.

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