Lean Startup Machine: How #Croydon #TechCity won the London 2014 event


By - Monday 9th February, 2015

Nobody said it would be easy, and it wasn’t. But it was thoroughly rewarding. #Croydon #TechCity specialist Robert Wood explains how the movement triumphed at last year’s start-up event


Photo author’s own.

If there is only one message you learn from the Lean Startup movement it’s this… “Fail fast, and validate”.

I had read Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup and was a strong believer in the Lean Startup Methodology.

However, while learning the theory is helpful, nothing validates quite like experiencing it first-hand.

So in comes the Lean Startup Machine. A full-on weekend, starting Friday evening and finishing up celebrating late into Sunday night.

“Javelin Board”  – a granular introduction into the world of customer segmentation, problem and experiment definition

The London Lean Startup Machine was organised and set up by three instructors, including Croydon tech entrepreneurs Kumy Veluppillai and Lukasz Syzrmer.

The weekend began with a standard enough introduction into the LS world, with some introductions from past winners, several pitches, and the obligatory oath (feeling oddly American in London).

We all picked a team (very schoolboy-esque) and then the real work started. By the end of Friday night each team was becoming familiar with the “Javelin Board” – a granular introduction into the world of customer segmentation, problem and experiment definition.

0 (zero!) of our 8 customer interviews had the problem we expected

Saturday morning kicked off with the usual caffeine-fueled startup vibe. Each team then “Got out of the building” to complete their first experiment – ours being to discover if customer’s had a problem discovering unique chocolate from smaller artisan producers. What did we find? After building up the courage to approach strangers (in London!) we found that, well, no one was buying what we were selling.

The key to each customer interview is to ensure a focus on the hypothetical problem, the customer’s past activities and holding back from interrogation or leading questions. We were amazed at what we learnt simply by stepping back and letting our customers talk. It turns out that the problem we presumed they all had, was not a problem at all. We’d set a lofty goal of 16 / 20 (80% in more conventional terms) experiencing our stated problem. Besides the challenge in finding 20 interviews in such a short space of time, we were initially disheartened to find that 0 (zero!) of our 8 customer interviews had the problem we expected.

Yet again we were surprised to find that the problem we thought seemed so obvious, was not as large as we initially expected

So, where to from here? Back to the drawing (sorry, Javelin) board. Collating the various customer interviews uncovered an intriguing theme. Whilst no one had the problem we expected, every single person (without fail) had a common theme. “Free From” produce. They all sought it specifically. So, despite the draw we felt to our original goal, we pivoted. Next step – devising the second experiment.

Yet again we ventured into the cold heart of London. This time focusing not only on finding our customers in the wild, but also reaching out to dedicated online networks. Yet again we were surprised to find that the problem we thought seemed so obvious, was not as large as we initially expected. Only 2 of the 10 customers we interviewed truly had a challenge obtaining the majority of ‘free from’ produce.

We were now 0 for 2 in our experiments. Despite our mentor’s insistent advice that this was perfectly normal, and a great result in many ways, we couldn’t help but be disheartened. All these brilliant ideas that we harboured, all for naught?

Photo author’s own.

Talking to various small food businesses throughout the vibrant Spitalfields Markets spawned a ‘light bulb’ moment. What if there was a way, to easily validate and communicate the various ‘free from’ offerings that cafés, bakeries and other sellers produced, with a brand that the general consumers trusted?

At this point we were counting down to the final presentation deadline, with only a few hours to spare we started cold calling businesses. Turns out that this wasn’t particularly easy on a Sunday.

However, finally, some glimmer of success! Of the 11 small businesses we called, every single one was keen to follow up and was personally experiencing the challenge we expected. This was a problem that resonated with our customers, finally, a problem that we were able to validate.

We presented our journey, and were very excited when we were announced as the winners of the LSM weekend, thanks to our embodiment of the key messages of the methodology.

“Don’t focus on the solution, focus on the problem”

So, where to from here? We’re not at the end of our journey yet, not by any means. We’ve pivoted to the moon and back during our journey of the Lean Startup Methodology, yet have gleaned insights in only one weekend that would have taken months to discover otherwise.

We won’t stop on our journey to validated learning, and will take this as the first step to creating a sustainable startup that solves a real problem.

What did we learn on the way? There are many that doubt the LSM. However to all those that think the LSM flies in the face of typical startup innovation impulses, I tell you – don’t focus on the solution, focus on the problem. If you validate the problem as something that is experienced by your customers, how you then solve that problem is what will make you a success.

Now – to build our MVP!


#Croydon #TechCity would like to bring Lean Startup Machine to Croydon. To prove demand, we need to reach 300 email signups. Go here to help us reach the target!

Robert Wood

Robert Wood

By day, Robert works at SAP to design analytical “Big Data” solutions across a variety of human resource applications whilst ensuring companies align with best practice methodologies that match their business strategy. By night (and during lunch times, and on weekends, and any other spare moment) Robert is a Tech Specialist for Croydon TechCity, providing a sounding board and guidance to aspiring startups.

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