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Justin Wilcox preaches on Lean Startup movement in Lincoln

Justin Wilcox learned the hard way how to fail fast. 

He worked for Microsoft for five years, helping to create technology behind its Vista operating system before venturing out on his own with Nimbus, a health startup he created that lasted a year and a half.

It took him 18 months to realize he built a product that no one wanted, he said. He tried something else and it failed after six months. 

That happens to a lot of startups—so Wilcox told a group of about 20 entrepreneurs in Lincoln Tuesday during Catalyst‘s hour-long Spark Series

Since, Wilcox has been an evangelist for the Lean Startup movement, speaking at Startup Weekends, Startup Weekend NEXT and mentoring for Lean Startup Machine. He also has a blog, Customer Development Lab, devoted to the applying the theory of lean startups. 

On his blog, Wilcox takes the abstract idea of the lean startup and puts it into tangible execution.

“It’s identifying pain points, learning from customers and turning it into something that isn’t going to fail,” he said.  

Lean Startup is the idea of business engineering, but it’s more about facing failure to find successes, he said. Three out of four funded startups fail because instead of asking customers what their problems are and helping solve them, entrepreneurs assume their solution is the right one. They garner investment and press attention but don’t address their own stress test of failure points, he said. 

“It sounds kinda hippy, but our job as entrepreneurs is to serve our customers,” he said. “Few entrepreneurs really get rich off of it.”

He asked the entrepreneurs to take 10 note cards and write down as many failure points as they could come up with in their business model.

Among the answers: cash flow, lack of cooperation/buy in from stakeholders, money, lack of consistent processes, lack of leads, not understanding customer needs, not having the right team, being crippled by fear, having too many distractions or visions at once.

Wilcox said there are five typical “fails” when it comes to startups:

  1. Having an awesome idea, but no early adopters to use it. The early adopters usually buy solutions to problems they have. “Most people assume early adopters are out there and don’t talk to them because they assume they’ll find you. If you build it, they will come. But that’s bullshit.”
  2. Trouble finding customers and testing the market. “It’s difficult to get in front of people and get their attention.” 
  3. Getting something valuable from customers for solving their problem. “It can be money, it can be time trying out a product, or using an app that has an ad-supported revenue model.”
  4. Finding the right solution.
  5. Scaling and growing the product.

Some things don’t fit in those five categories, Wilcox said, but for the most part, customer development and finding early adopters can help validate your idea as quickly as possible. 

Wilcox said more information on lean startups is on Customer Development Lab. It also has a social component where other entrepreneurs help each other out with areas like focus, accountability, mentorship, networking and customers.

Next Spark Series is Aug. 7

Catalyst’s Spark Series resumes Aug. 7 with a talk from Nebraska Angels Executive Director Laura Classen. She’ll discuss how startups raise angel funding, valuation of an early stage company and factors for determining when capital is needed.

RSVP for the next Spark Series online.