Lean Startup Machine came first to Newark, and it may someday come to Jersey City.
Over 30 members of the two cities’ tech scenes mingled and listened to Lean speakers during the Lean Indiegrove Social, at Jersey City’s Indiegrove coworking space on October 8.
Lean Startup Machine Newark co-organizer April Peters said the group wanted to tour New Jersey and spread the new entrepreneurial philosophy throughout the state. She looked at Jersey City after meeting Indiegrove founder Zahra Amanpour this summer.
“I saw Zahra receive an award at the GNEC breakfast, and I was inspired by her and what she communicated about her shared space,” Peters said. “I thought, ‘what better place to take our next social mixer than to Indiegrove and Jersey City.’”
Amanpour was excited about hosting the social. “We said we’d be happy to. I’ve been exposed to the Lean methodology, and it’s become such a big phenomenon that I thought it was exciting to bring it to Indiegrove and to see if it can benefit the Jersey City community,” she said.
Peters said the social would also help promote the Newark group’s third annual three-day workshop, beginning November 7.
Some of the attendees of the previous two workshops will return as mentors. “We’re looking forward to bringing back the old gang to push this forward, and it’s probably going to be much larger than what we saw last year,” Peters said.
At the Indiegrove social, four special guests spoke, including cosponsor Jimi Olaghere. His company, Newark-based Geek Supply, sells sophisticated fashion and tech accessories. Olaghere spoke about his embracing the cost-effective Lean when he was starting out as a cash-strapped entrepreneur. “I was trying to start businesses, but it was hard trying to raise money, and that’s why I fell in love with Lean,” he said.
He also cited two examples of the Lean concept of pivoting away from problems. First, he recalled having to boost his original idea. “I thought people just wanted cool stuff, and as a small company people do want cool stuff, but you’re not going to sell cool stuff if no one’s ever heard of you,” he said.
To generate interest, he decided to repackage his concept as cool stuff with a cause, and Olaghere now donates ten percent of his profits to research on sickle cell anemia, a blood disorder that affects Olaghere and an estimated 90,000 to 100,000 Americans.
Olaghere also mentioned how he talked to customers to figure out how to fix a line of wood cell-phone cases that kept breaking. “They said we need to find a way to keep the beauty and make it last,” he said. With customer help, he solved the problem by designing a plastic border.
“Listen to your customers because they know exactly what they want and what will help the business as well,” Olaghere said.
After Olaghere spoke, Todd Nakamura, of GDG North Jersey, gave a quick demo on building websites through Google Cloud. “I just wanted to show you how the barrier to entry with tech and getting your business started with tech has lowered so much lately,” he said.
In ten minutes he launched a site connected to a global server of his choice. “You’re hosting it yourself, so there’s complete control to do anything you need to do,” he said. Nakamura estimated the cost at $6 monthly and said that Google goes even cheaper with multiple sites.
Next, Clark Lagemann, organizer of Scarlett Startups (New Brunswick and Newark), presented his favorite “bad ass” startup hacks. “Three years ago, I was in corporate America, but I didn’t like it, and I had a really big ambition to do something amazing and become an entrepreneur,” he said. “I made a boatload of mistakes and had the idea that good guys do not finish first, and I became passionate about learning hacks to improve my business on a daily basis.”
Lagemann mentioned his favorite apps and programs, matching each to a famous fictional antihero, such as Walter White of Breaking Bad and Omar Little of The Wire. He touted YouCanBook.Me for scheduling, Join.me for online meetings, Checker Plus (only available on Chrome) for reading Gmail, SlideShark for presentations, LastPass for passwords, and a few others. Most of the apps Lagemann listed are free. “We love free things. This is Lean, baby. We want free,” he said.
Lagemann also mentioned Humin, a new app launched just weeks ago that had beta testers as diverse as Richard Branson, Hollywood super-agent Ari Emanuel, and Black Eyed Peas rapper and activist will.i.am. Humin stores data whenever a user meets someone, helping the user to remember that person later on. The app also adds digital contact and social media information.
“It’s a great way to reengage your old contacts,” Lagemann said. “It tracks all of your interactions so you can see all the times you talked to someone in person or through email. It’s so efficient, especially if you’re trying to sell things.”
Finally, Mark Annett, of Snack Builder, gave a fun “Lean in Fifteen” (minutes) presentation that previewed the upcoming Newark workshop. Annett was the winner of the first Lean Startup Machine Newark event.
“What makes Lean Startup special is the teams that form,” he said. “It’s a different class of people willing to come for a whole weekend, a marathon 48 hours. Anyone can come to a meetup and say that they plan on doing this, but people that pay money to invest in a weekend are the kind of people that you want to be working with.”
Annett showed Lean in action by leading the attendees in creating a fake company, “Cat-tastic.” He played a video of a cat sitting on a couch and staring at a fish tank before leaping at the tank but instead falling hard onto the floor. Using Lean techniques, Annett interviewed three “cats” (attendees pretending to be cats) about their interest in different ideas for getting fish.
Annett’s point was to show how talking to customers about their needs, as Lean suggests, can help entrepreneurs refine their ideas or save them from disaster. He said that, like the cat, entrepreneurs risk falling.
“We fall flat on our face, but not because there isn’t a market out there. It’s that we don’t know how to reach it,” he said. “We don’t know our customers’ pain points. Too often we have an idea and we know that this is our business. The problem is that we’re not solving our customers’ problems.”
During the last portion of the social, several attendees practiced pitching, just as they would at the beginning of a Lean workshop. Peters then gave every attendee a promo code entitling them to a discount for the Newark group’s November workshop.
She also challenged Jersey City entrepreneurs to start their own workshop. “If you are a part of Indiegrove, I want to see Lean Startup Machine in Jersey City,” she said. “We want you guys to expand it and have it here next year. I would love to see you guys do it.”
[Ed note: NJTechWeekly.com attended a previous Lean social, at the pop-up coworking space Equal Space (=SPACE), in Newark. That inspiring space will also host the Lean Startup Machine Newark workshop on Nov. 7-9.]