(Lean) Startup Lessons from my 11-month old baby! (UPDATED)

Ryan B&W

(UPDATED 10/06 WITH LESSON #3 : Einstein was wrong!)

Bringing up a baby is like working in a startup – lots of late nights, you have no choice but to deal with crap and often your only reward is a gurgle and a charming smile!

Not a surprise therefore that some of the most valuable lessons I’ve learnt have been watching my baby boy grow up alongside my startup (this is actually quite literal as he spends most of his time playing in my basement office).

Lesson 1: Learn to fall before you learn to walk

In the last few weeks my baby has gone from exclusively crawling to standing while holding onto his playpen to taking a few unaided steps. Eventually he falls – mostly, but not always, he’s ready to try again. His willingness to immediately walk again has been a function of how well he fell! If he managed to fall on his bottom, it’s usually painless and he’s up within a few minutes. If he falls on his knees , it’s a bit painful and you can see him take longer to try again.

This feels like the #1 maxim for startup success … if your cost of failure is minimal to non-existent (i.e. you’ve learnt to fall on your bottom) then you can keep trying until you succeed (as all babies eventually learn to walk) – it’s that simple. And the cost of failure can be a multitude of things – some of it is time and money spent but much of it is emotional (what you’ve vested in the idea). The real challenge is to keep this minimal so you can try again and again – this is the basic principle of the lean startup idea. So what’s the most effective way of keeping costs to the minimum – to quote Eric Ries, lean startup guru : “Sell it, then build it”.

Lesson 2 : Eat your baby’s food

Feeding the baby is a whole other learning experience & the fun started when he graduated to solid food. Initially he would try anything (he clearly didn’t know any better), so we managed to get him to eat veggies we wouldn’t eat ourselves (I’m vegetarian btw so I can eat a variety of veggies but it surprises me how awful some of the babyfood veggies can be).

But it didn’t take him long to figure out that green peas suck (you should try the baby food variety), rice and oat cereal were acceptable when he’s really hungry but given a choice he would prefer to eat fruit and yoghurt (i.e. the sweet stuff).

Predicting what he would like was actually quite easy – if we liked it he liked it too! This kind of brings me to fundamental startup maxim #2 – if you can’t / don’t use your own product no one else is going to – the best way to build a product that others might use is to ‘eat your own baby food’!  Many successful products (Facebook, iPhone) were creations that essentially were designed to please their creators. Of course if your tastes are very unique, you are in real trouble … but if you can find something about yourself that is universally applicable (like a love of sweet things) – you’ll also find it easy to build a great product by just building stuff you like.

Lesson 3 : Einstein was wrong! 

I just realized that my baby might be insane – at least according to Einstein’s famous definition of insanity, i.e “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Ever since he learnt to crawl he’s been curious about what’s inside the fridge. So every time any of us open the fridge door he rushes to it (regardless of where he is) and tries to get his hands on the cold and interesting stuff inside. And when we see him doing that we being good parents shut the fridge door on him before he can get his paws on the stuff inside. And he keeps trying again and again regardless of outcome!

Recently though I’ve noticed a curious thing — there are a few occasions when he actually manages to get inside. I’ve either got a lot of things in my hands from a shopping trip or I’m cooking and rushing back to the stove from the fridge with stuff. These are usually rare (I don’t cook or shop very often!) but it does happen and in seconds the lower layer of the fridge is on the floor and he’s sitting there with a wicked smile having proven Einstein wrong!

Maxim #3 is therefore really simple – just keep trying. Stop worrying about how well you’re doing or wasting time trying to figure out the perfect strategy –  in an uncertain world where you are handicapped by being a startup trying repeatedly is a much better approach to success. And for a startup a single act of success is often all that’s necessary to survive for a bit longer.

Are you / have you worked in a startup while bringing up a baby … did you learn anything valuable? Don’t be shy to share your experiences in the comments section below.

[This is Week 2 of participating in Lean Startup Challenge Boston 2013 and I’m beginning to see Lean Startup Lessons everywhere!. You can read about my Week 1 experience here.]

How to Measure Your Metabolic Health (with some help from Apple)

From the poll I ran last week it looks like people really want to understand their “metabolic health” Below are the first set of wireframes that show you how the app could look.

So what is Metabolic Health?

In simple terms its the efficiency with which your body is able to supply the necessary fuel for your energy needs.

MetabolicFitness_UI_v9_5

MetabolicFitness_UI_v9_ActivityProfile_Update MetabolicFitness_UI_v9_7Low metabolic health puts you at increased risk for heart disease or diabetes. High metabolic health has a protective effect that to some extent can compensate for higher body weight.

The screen on the left shows you the 5 different levels of Metabolic Health – the lower your level, the higher your risk of getting diabetes or heart disease.

How will the app measure my Metabolic Health?

The first step is to enter a few basic details (height, weight, etc.). Next the app runs an analysis of your last week’s activity with the help of the iPhone 5s’ motion sensor to calculate your metabolic profile. (The middle screen shows your activity profile including how intensely you are moving).

This is based on pretty cool work done by NASA & UMass – we’ve modified this to accept the kind of data that the iPhone can provide. Accuracy is about 82% compared to going to a lab – which is useful if you’re trying to get a broad sense of where you stand and want to have a tool that can help you assess if you’re making improvements.

You can also see how active you’ve been versus clinical guidelines & use that as a tool to drive your metabolic health higher (screen on the right). Interestingly, increasing intensity of your activity is likely to have a bigger impact on your metabolic health than increasing the amount of time you spend being active.

Love to hear your comments / thoughts / suggestions below on what you personally find useful and how we could improve this app.

Want to be the first to test it or download it ? Sign up below :

[This is Week 2 of my involvement in the Lean Startup Challenge, Boston – applying lean principles to health technology product development You can read about my Week 1 experience here].

Lean Startup Challenge Boston 2013!

Hurrah! We got accepted into the Lean Startup Challenge Boston as one of ~25 teams selected to participate in the contest. The goal of the Lean Startup Movement is to help you quickly & cost-effectively identify your ‘Minimum Viable Product’ through repeated hypothesis testing until you’re reached the point where you know your idea is actually going to work!

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Last Friday was the kick-off at the Boston Globe HQ and we had a great crowd. As a Rochester based startup I find its really helpful to get out & meet people whenever you can in Boston and other cities – gives you a broader perspective. Also given our relationship with UMass Amherst and other emerging partnerships in the Boston area, we’ve begun to feel part of the Boston community & there’s no better place to incubate a health tech startup.

Within a few minutes of arriving there we were all busy being fed and getting to know the other teams. Admit I don’t remember every startup but some ideas stood out – particularly those from teams I had the chance to meet.

Artistbomb : which is trying to make it easier for event locations to host a band Smart360Biz : which is trying to improve organizational efficiency

Runparty : helping runners real-time sync music with their friends

We finished the evening with a 60-second pitch including one I did for Revvo (yes that’s the name of the startup I’m working on!) – exercise therapy for diabetes patients that could potentially help stop or reverse the progression of the condition.

The next couple of days were busy with grounding in the foundations of the lean startup idea – useful even for someone who had read Eric Ries’ book on the topic and applied it to product development in a big healthcare organisation.

I’ve shared a couple of the presentations here and here. In fact what I personally found most useful (& practical to boot) was the 1-page Lean Canvas that you can use to define your idea across a number of dimensions. Its simple, easy to do & really a living / working document that you can share with others in your startup + potentially use for investor discussions etc.

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So over the next few weeks I’m hoping to use the lean startup challenge as an opportunity to test if we can actually find a group of people who have lower than average levels of metabolic health, who are concerned about their metabolic health and are willing to take action to address that. I’m going to test this via an iphone app (the iPhone 5s’ new M7 co-processor creates the capability to actually measure metabolic health simply & easily).

Last week’s poll was a great starting point (thanks to all of you who participated) – to my slight (but pleasant) surprise – out of the app ideas listed, people were in fact most interested in measuring their metabolic health (45% picked this as their top idea) – so at least we have a strong foundation to build on.

Next step is to get a bit more granular on what kind of info (within the constraints of an iPhone screen size & measurement capability) is going to be most relevant & interesting – so you should shortly see a few draft wireframes on this blog! Look out for that and don’t forget to give me your feedback.