Aspiring entrepreneur Nodir Abdullayev (Bek) shared his experiences becoming involved in the entrepreneurial community in Kansas City and going through a workshop in Kauffman Labs. Learn how Bek’s first experience made him go from an aspiring entrepreneur to lean entrepreneur.
I showed up at Kauffman Labs with nothing but an idea, and 48 hours later I had a business with real customers and over $3,000 revenue. This story is about local entrepreneurs with NO coding skills who built a tech startup with paying customers all in one weekend.
I only recently discovered that Kansas City has a young and thriving entrepreneurial community. It happened by accident while searching for a developer at a networking event.
Two weeks into exploring the entrepreneurial community, I received an email about a workshop in Kauffman Labs. Two clicks later I was looking at a Google form asking me difficult questions about what problem I was trying to solve, my vision, and why I should be at the workshop. These guys were serious about who attends the workshop. So after being grilled about why I deserve to be in a room full of entrepreneurs at the Lean Startup Machine, it was exciting to learn I had made it.
As I understood from my little research, The Lean Startup method applies a scientific method to building a product or a service while keeping you from wasting time and resources building things people don't need or wouldn't pay for. In my case, as it later turns out, that is exactly what I was about to do. Spend $25,000 and six months developing a "solution" for my hypothesized "customer" to solve what I assumed was a "problem". Real money. Real time. All on guesswork.
What's the Problem?
On the day of the workshop there were around 35 fellow entrepreneurs. Our solutions were immediately thrown out, so we could focus on the problem and identifying whether it was indeed a "problem" for our assumed "customer". We were to focus on the problem and work our way to solutions, not the other way around. My solution was to eliminate paperwork in trucking. That of course is a solution, so in form of a problem it is "administrative paperwork such as invoices and delivery confirmations rely heavily on paper and faxing, thus creating a bottleneck."
Once everyone had pitched their “problem”, we voted on the ones we were most excited about solving and formed eight teams. Paperwork in Trucking was one of them.
Using the Validation Board, a roadmap to help us navigate, we started with our most important hypothesis, our Problem and our Customer. It's the paperwork and the truck driver. Each of those came with our set of assumptions, such as that Paperwork was indeed a problem for truck drivers or that they would pay for a solution.
It was time to learn whether those assumptions were truly valid. Because if your assumptions are wrong, they will break your business. To achieve that, we got kicked out of the building. A process known as GOOB - Get Out Of Building. Our goal was to locate our potential customers and to speak to them in a non-leading way to see whether the customer would validate our assumptions: whether they truly found the paperwork to be as problematic as we assumed it to be. More importantly, was it bad enough that they would pay to make it go away?
Validating Your Assumption
I was convinced this would be easy, because it would be foolish not to think paperwork was a problem and not to pay to make it easier. So we got out of the building in search of our truck drivers. After some scouting, we were able to track down a few car haulers at a local Auto Auction. We posed as college students writing a paper about car hauling so that they wouldn't think we were selling a product. It worked, turns out truck drivers love educating students about their line of work. We discussed their daily operation at length and not once did they mention the paperwork as an issue. Their biggest headaches did not revolve around the paperwork at all. Not only would they not pay for a solution, but they also didn't think it was a problem to begin with.
Both of our riskiest assumptions were invalidated. I was shocked! I was convinced about the problem, customer and the solution I had in mind. Convinced without talking to a single customer and ready to pay a developer $25,000, wait six months and build a product my customers didn't even care about.
We went back to the validation board to re-group. It was time to pivot. Our assumed customer was not our customer and our assumed problem was not a problem. We were at a loss at first, but once everyone shared the feedback obtained from the interaction with truck drivers, we noticed a trend. They weren't saying its not a problem, they were mostly saying it is not their problem. They submit it and don't care what happens. They get paid regardless. It was the owners or the offices that had to make sure the paperwork process was handled properly. It was the owners who paid the price of inefficiency and who had the headache of dealing with this.
Our new assumption led us to our first pivot. We changed our customer from the driver to the owner of the truck / fleet, kept the problem and went back out to test our new assumption. This time it was different, truck owners and small fleet owners did have stacks of papers on their desks, they did have a bottleneck with the payment process, they did find it challenging to collect reports from drivers on time. Without us mentioning that we may be working on a solution, they said, "I wish there was a way to not have to deal with that." Asked if they would pay, nine out of nine owners said yes. Assumption validated!
Once you have a validated customer and a problem, it's time to work on a solution. Our solution: a mobile application to eliminate paperwork in trucking. Based on customer comments we wireframed the product to display its functionality. At this stage of the workshop we were performing what Lean refers to as "Concierge", a process of simulating what the solution would do to show a customer how it works. Few hours later, 100 percent of customers concierged were converted to paying customers. We charged their cards for a monthly recurring service that, by the time we presented, totaled $3,240.
Ladies and Gentlemen…
At 4pm on Sunday, it was time for presentations. In addition to the other teams in attendance, we had the honor of having the faculty and guests from UMKC, CEO of Lean Startup Machine, Kauffman Global Scholars, and my heroes of entrepreneurship Thom Ruhe and Diana Kander watch our presentation.
Presentations revealed many surprising findings by each team as a result of getting out of the building and interacting with their customers. The judges picked us as the winners based on the application of the Lean method and the success we had in such a short time.
Winning is great, but what's greater is seeing most of us from the workshop move forward with our products, implementing Lean at our startups, running experiments, and invalidating assumptions.
At Lean Startup Machine, not only did we build a tech product and make money in less than 48 hours, but also we are now disrupting the way the trucking industry operates.
Disruption is fun to talk about, but it can be difficult to implement. Many do not accept change "because that's how [they've] always done things". My business professors never mentioned disruption as a means for progress or development. Media taught me that it was only the teenage-hacker-geniuses who engaged in disruptive innovation. I know better now, to rephrase what Spiderman was once told: "there is a [teenage-hacker-genius] in all of us".
Nodir Abdullayev - BEK
To learn more: Follow me on this journey as I begin a blog, journaling my lean experience, its role in our community, local startups it has helped launch, and my journey from aspiring entrepreneur to lean entrepreneur at noda3k.wordpress.com. (It's just beginning, but come back for more as I grow my content.)