Lean Startup is a methodology for increasing the chances of startup success that is widely popular amongst tech startups. The book The Lean Startup is almost considered required reading for all new tech entrepreneurs. The Lean Startup methodology talks about how to get your product out to customers quickly, to cut waste, to constantly measure what you build, to pivot or to preserve and grow based on those learnings. The approach has helped many startups build successful products and ultimately profitable businesses, Dropbox, Groupon being just few of them.
Eric Ries, the promoter and the author of the The Lean Startup book emphasizes that the approach can be applied to any startup and company of any size. The philosophy however is somehow most widely talked about in the tech circuits. There are numerous blogs, meetups dedicated to how entrepreneurs are applying lean in their startups.
I was therefore surprised when I heard about Lean Impact and that its advocating the Lean Startup approach in the social good space. I was even more surprised to hear from the Lean Impact promoters that there are already thousands of social good organizations, new and old that have been applying Lean principles in their work.
Curious to find out more on what Lean for Social Good look like, I spoke to Leah Neaderthal, one of the promoters of the Lean Impact movement. Leah along with her co-founder, Leanne from Start Somewhere started Lean Impact
Deepa Chaudhary (DC): What was the need to start a separate Lean for Social Good movement when there are already so many Lean Startup resources available online?
Leah Neaderthal (LN): At our business Start Somewhere we work with both social good and tech startups on web design, marketing and databases. While working with these two different set of organizations we saw a big difference in thinking and approach. Tech startups are all about testing and experimentation and doing what works as against nonprofits which are risk averse. Even in a place like San Francisco there is a tremendous gap between the startup world and the social good space. We felt we needed to make the connection between lean and social good. There is also very little awareness about Lean principles in the social good sector, there is only a very small subset that’s practicing lean.
At the same time we realized that social good space is different. It’s not as easy to simply read the book and apply it. The way to enable social good organizations is to make Lean Startup principals relevant to their context. We are doing this by gathering the stories of social good organizations who are applying lean principles and demonstrating their use case to others in the field through our events.
DC: What are some of the things you are doing to advance Lean Startup to Social Good Organizations?
LN: In addition to providing lots of learning resources on our website LeanImpact.Org we are also conducting Lean for Social Good Summits in all major cities in the US. So far we have conducted two Summits, in New York and San Francisco and have another one coming up in DC on March 26.
DC: What happens at the Lean for Social Good Summit?
LN: Before the summit takes place, we invite social entrepreneurs to apply to pitch their lean use case. We also select a panel of judges to determine the best lean organizations from the pitches. You’ll be surprised to know that between New York and San Francisco we had 500 people who applied to speak. The applications came from all over, from direct service organizations addressing sex trafficking, homeless shelters in SF, organizations working with poor in developing countries. We select about 16-18 speakers for each location.
At the summit, we start off with a presentation around Lean for Social Good. We then have a funding conversation, pairing funders with grantees and discussing what it means to be lean in a funder relationship. Then we go into pitches, wrapping it up with judging and prizes.
DC: So What Does Lean For Social Good Orgs Look Like?
LN: The organizations that pitched at our conference, focused on testing, trying new things even if there is no evidence that it may work. Using new technologies effectively to facilitate testing. Starting with a minimum viable product (MVP), they adopted the philosophy of MVP to their context. We had examples of minimum viable products in fundraising campaigns, services and products. An important element is that the organizations that pitched were able to get away from analysis paralysis and focus on moving forward with their idea. We will have all the videos from the summit online at our website in the near future.
Lean is not just for tech or tech enabled nonprofits. Lean can be applied to both new and old organizations. TechSoup which is a 25 year old nonprofit applies Lean principles, Grameen Foundation and Acumen Fund follow the lean approach. WorkPlace Fairness started in 1990s won our Peoples Choice Award in New York. One of the things that we talked about in our summit is that one can carve out teams that can operate as little startups within big established organizations. Intrapreneurs who are given responsibility and freedom to operate as startup within bigger groups.
DC: Measuring data is critical in the Lean Startup approach, what are some of the key data tools Lean Impact uses?
LN: We like strikingly and WordPress for building microsites. Optimizely for A/B testing. We use Google Docs and Google Analytics. Mailchimp for email sign-ups.
To gather customer feedback we did a lot of Google Hangouts in groups of 6-8 and one on one. Though not a tech tool but we use TaskRabbit a lot to outsource simple tasks that are not our teams key responsibilities.
DC: What’s next from Lean Impact?
LN: We are exploring a few things. We will be sharing some of the videos from our summits online. We are working on a Lean Impact online curriculum so people can learn wherever they are. We are also planning a Lean Impact global challenge. We want to make sure we are constantly providing value.