Lean Startup and UX: Why You Shouldn’t Build Anything to Start With!

At last week’s Startup Monday at BootHK, Jason Crane gave a talk on “How to UX your Startup’s Product or Service…”, there were a lot of good lessons in there, and as a first time entrepreneur who until recently thought he knew everything about agile, lean startup and customer developments, it was an ironic reminder of how little did I really know! It prompted me to tweet out saying I’ll write this blog post about “UX & lean startup & how u SHOULDN’T build ANYTHING to start w/!”

You see, I really was no stranger to the whole agile & lean thing. First learned of and started using Scrum back at Yahoo in around 2006, I became quite passionate about it and started attending agile meetups. I brought all that experience with me to Japan, where I directed the development of LEGO CUUSOO, a groundbreaking crowdsource product design service for LEGO! I had to educate the managers on building MVPs (Minimal Viable Product) instead of fully spec’ed out final product; weekly timeboxed sprints instead of long features development; burndown charts instead of Gantt charts… etc etc. It was a great success!

In April of 2010, we also arranged for an overnight Tokyo simulcast of Startup Lessons Learned at the Tokyo Hackerspace! That’s where I first heard about the term MVP (which I was already doing), and other great insights in customer developments and continuous integration. Fast forward to late 2011, I moved to HK for my first startup – Makible.com, I talked about doing all of the above… but somehow, things weren’t working out. It wasn’t until we got an unexpected acquisition deal that really snapped me out of it and thought “Hey! I should’ve done this & that!”

So, what’s the one thing that I should’ve done before anything else?


Honestly, even though I thought I knew the importance of lean, agile, MVP… at the end of the day, I was still building without talking to customers! When you don’t talk to any customer, building even just a login page is TOO MUCH!! I was so passionate about my idea that I fell into the same “build it and they’ll come” trap! When customers didn’t come, I was sort of lost for a while, thinking about “how to genuinely connect with a community and serve their needs, so they’ll come on board Makible”. Well, it’s true that genuinely being part of a community helps, Threadless’s co-founder Jake Nickell told me that, but then where do I start? I had no clue! It wasn’t until the recent unexpected development that I finally got my head cleared! I reached out to my successful entrepreneur friends, picked their brains, gotten many good tips! (I must thank Stephen Forte in particular!)

So… back to Jason’s “How to UX your Startup”, much of it was about validating with your users early! It’s so true, but I believe a lot of people will still fall into the same trap as I did. The one point from the presentation that I liked most was Lao Tzu’s quote: “The journey of one thousand miles begins with a single step.” Applied to startup and customer development, you could say “The journey of one thousand people strong community begins with a single person!” That’s it! Go out and start with one single person!!

Getting back to Makible, I’m now looking for 3 more product designers to work with. (I’ve found 2 already.) The plan is to work closely with 5 designers with a lot of “hand-holding”, get them to use Makible’s site from beginning to end, post up one design each, get their feedback and make improvements. And then repeat for another 5 designers… do a few iterations like this until success! So, if you know any good product designers, please send them my way! You can reach me directly at my email – nicholas.wang@makible.com.


Just another guy trying to beat the system and be released from the Matrix http://about.me/nicholaswang

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