SXSW 2011 day 2. The Lean Startup Phenomenon

Scott Francis
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The Lean Startup is a phenomenon.  Day 2 proved it.  Day 2 was not a typical SXSW experience. Instead of scrambling all over downtown Austin to get to sessions, I stayed in one place all day at the lovely AT&T Center.  Eric Ries (@ericries) acted as emcee for the all-day event, which was literally packed wall-to-wall with people and content all day long. I took copious notes throughout the day.  This day’s sessions were the highlight for me.  The concepts in lean startups and minimum viable product are so relevant for BPM, and not as well understood by our BPM community as you might think. After all, the Lean Startup is focused on areas where the problem is unknown or uncertain, and the solution is also unknown.  In BPM, we face a similar problem – it might be more accurate to say that the problems are “estimated” and the solution is “estimated” – but the point is, we don’t know for sure that we’re solving the right problem before we start the BPM journey, and we don’t know for sure that each solution we iterate is the right solution.  It takes iterations of customer discovery and agile development to get us to a better hypothesis about the problem and solution.  If this sounds like crazy talk, bear with me and read blog posts I’ll put up over the next few days that dig into this further. Overall the sessions violated one aspect of the spirit of SXSW – there were very few breaks (I counted 2, and one was 30 minutes for lunch), no time for hallway conversation, and no breaks to get out of your middle row seat so that you could have such a hallway conversation.  All of these fantastic entrepreneurs in one space, one room, and we could hardly talk, except via the backchannel of twitter and the like. I think it only worked at SXSW because the sessions were at the AT&T Conference Center, far removed from the center of gravity for SXSW, the Austin Convention Center. The content was first rate, and there’s too much for one blog post to cover!  But they could have split some of the sessions into two rooms to really make the feel more like SXSW.  It would have forced choices – you can’t go to everything- but the choices would have been good choices, and twitter and blogs allow us to follow content in another session if we’re motivated to. And it would have allowed the schedule to BREATHE a little bit.  Trust me, it needed it.  Finally, it would have allowed for the people who couldn’t get into the sessions in the afternoon to actually participate or watch at least a relevant session, if not the one they were hoping for.  I felt that there was a lot of value pent up in the entrepreneurs in the room, that wasn’t unlocked because there just wasn’t any time at all for the sidebar conversations. Eric “Pivot” Ries was the emcee, but we had significant appearances and contribution from Dave “Nice to #$@!ing meet you!” McClure , Steve “Epiphany” Blank, and many other entrepreneurs.  My favorite talk, and the one that I was most looking forward to, was Steve Blank’s discussion of new rules for the new bubble.  For this session, even more than the others, it was standing room only, with people sitting on the floors and standing in the hall to listen in. I had the good fortune of meeting up with fellow Austin entrepreneurs while I was there-  Jeff Chambers, and Ed Roman.  I also spent most of the day sitting with Elliot Loh (@elliotloh) visiting from SF. Later I got to introduce a couple of my friends from out of town to Garridos, a great modern Mexican restaurant downtown.  We also checked out the Frog Design SXSW Opening party, which, as usual, involved some crazy technical and interactive features, as well as massive lines to get in. Day 2 was an incredibly long day, with so many notes I knew I couldn’t hope to get my blog up-to-date by the time I finished the day. The main takeaways:
  1. The Lean Startup movement is grounded in real empirical data, real case studies, and real results.  It is no longer an “interesting idea” and seems to be on its way to being accepted as the “best way” to approach starting up your company.
  2. Entrpreneurs, investors, and academics from the Bay Area believe there is a sort of “bubble” in investing.  On the other hand, they also believe that the companies likely to go public now are companies that have real scale and make real money.
  3. There’s an incredible interest among entrepreneurs to improve their game – especially the ones that are building their companies with minimal or no outside investment.
  4. SXSW-interactive has the power to draw an amazing group of people to one spot, to even one room, in Austin, TX.
If they had added an after-party on-site, or a good strong networking break, this would have been the key place to be on Saturday.  As it was, it was the key place to be but no one else would know you were there, and you’d have to track down your like-minded entrepreneurs later in the conference (good luck finding them!).