The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries, outlines a methodology that revolutionized how startups launch and build products. Following its publishing in 2011, startups around the world have used Lean Startup tactics to create products in a time and cost-sensitive manner. Are you wondering how this has anything to do with my organization’s community? Don’t worry, we’ll get to that.
While your online community is not exactly a new startup, there are some applicable lessons that we can take from Ries’s book. When we talk with community administrators, they often feel the need to create a perfect community before they can launch. They have ideas for multiple new features to add to the platform that they know will put their community over the top! This thinking seems logical as you do not want to present something to your audience that is not fully baked. However, this strategy often backfires and results in a project that takes much longer than anticipated and finishes well over budget.
We want you to hit your deadlines and stay within your budget. So, let’s look at some of the fundamental elements of the Lean Startup methodology that we can bring to your community project.
The Lean Startup Tactics
The Lean Startup contains extensive tips and lessons that you can take to your product development and project planning toolkit. In this post, we are going to focus on three parts of the Lean Startup methodology:
- Leap-of-Faith Assumptions
- Minimum Viable Product
- Innovation Accounting
Throughout this post, we will explore Ries’s basic explanations of these concepts and how they relate to your organization’s online community.
The first step of applying the Lean Startup plan is creating leap-of-faith assumptions for your community. These assumptions are hypotheses that serve as the foundation for the rest of your community project. According to Ries, the two most important assumptions are:
- Value Hypothesis
- Growth Hypothesis
First, let’s address the value hypothesis. As defined in The Lean Startup, the value hypothesis “tests whether a product or service really delivers value to users once they are using it.” How will users receive value from using your community? Or, what incentives can you create to drive users to your community? This would also be a good time to revisit the purpose of your community to evaluate how that ties into your value hypothesis.
Next, we can work on a growth hypothesis. The growth hypothesis “tests how new customers will discover a product or service.” Obviously, your community will need members to be successful. How are those members going to find your community? Fortunately, we have outlined some basic marketing ideas to help you craft your growth hypothesis.
Now that we have created our Leap-of-Faith assumptions, we can move on to the next tactic, the minimum viable product.
Minimum Viable Product
The minimum viable product (MVP) is the version of your product that can address your leap of faith assumptions while requiring the minimum amount of time and effort. As Ries points out, an MVP does not mean you are releasing a bad product. Rather, it allows you to release just enough of what you need to test what you think your users will want and gradually improve your product as you get user feedback.
In this case, the MVP phase does not require much building or creation efforts. Rather, we are going to have to practice some restraint. Memeni and other community platforms have already done the hard part of creating the initial product for you. In fact, these community platforms far surpass the bare-bones of a traditional MVP. Now, it is up to you to resist the temptations of wanting to add 15 new features that you think your members will need in the community. Of course, there will be times when you need a new feature. However, often it is best to just put the community out to your audience with the existing tools and gradually improve from there.
We know that this can be scary. Excuse the bad wordplay, but it does take a leap-of-faith to release your MVP community into the wild. However, we wouldn’t recommend this unless we believed it. Using the MVP philosophy will you to efficiently launch your community to your audience while saving time and money. Next, we move to the last of our three Lean Startup tactics, innovation accounting.
Ries describes innovation accounting as a quantitative approach that allows you to figure out what you need to measure to gain validated learning. Put simply, innovation accounting helps you measure your leap-of-faith assumptions and how you can improve your MVP.
Since we are not developing a new product, we are going to use our own form of innovation accounting for your community. Before launching your community, you will define a few key metrics to provide actionable insights from your community. These metrics should help you take a quantitative approach to measuring the success of your community and dictate future decisions for your business.
A tip for assigning these metrics is to think about how your community directly impacts your business. For example, do you have a dollar value that you can assign to each email address added to your database? Then, the number of community members could be an important metric to monitor. Maybe, you want to drive more business to your stores. Therefore, coupon downloads would be a good measurement of success.
Metrics will vary based on the goals of your community and the nature of your business. Also, you can use metrics to track user behavior and understand if you need to make any improvements to your community.
Can You Sum That Up For Me?
Ok…so that was a lot of information. For those of you that stuck with us through it all, you deserve a round of applause.
And for those of you that decided to just skip on down to the last paragraph hoping for a short summary…
Either way, we’re still happy you’re here! And, as you hoped, here’s a quick recap of what we just discussed…
The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries, helped revolutionize the way startups developed technology products through quick development and rapid learning and iteration. While the analogy is not perfect because you are using an already developed product – an online community platform – you can still take some vital lessons from Ries’s writing.
First, define the leap-of-faith assumptions of your community. What value will community members receive? How will the community grow its membership?
Second, launch your minimum viable product (MVP). Again, the analogy isn’t perfect because you are using an already developed product. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore the principles. Community administrators often want numerous custom features because they think they know what their audience needs. In our experience, we recommend launching with what your community platform of choice can offer you off the shelf. There are exceptions where a custom feature is needed, but the feature should be absolutely essential to your leap-of-faith assumptions.
Finally, use innovation accounting to define actionable and meaningful metrics. You need to understand how this community is directly benefitting your business. What metrics can you set as indicators of success for your community?
Hopefully, you’ve found this helpful as you embark on the journey of creating your online community. Some of the lessons of The Lean Startup are more applicable to the development of a completely new product. But, the lessons we’ve outlined can help you create your organization’s new community. If you have more questions about how to build your community, feel free to contact us here!