lean launchpad lessons

Lean Launchpad Graduating Teams Delivered!

Earlier this month we graduated the first cohort from our Lean Launchpad:Pioneer Valley course.  The results were extraordinary.  

Compared to similar types of intro-to-entrepreneurship courses the same instructors have taught before graduates of the Lean Launchpad were 10x more likely to be generating revenue!  Angel investors walking out of the graduation ceremony remaked that they had never seen first-time entrepreneurs make so much progress so quickly.

The awesome entrepreneurs behind one of our graduating teams, uChampion, made this rock'n video about how their idea has evolved and how the class helped them.  They kindly gave us permission to share.

Our thanks go out to all the awesome people who helped make this first run of the Lean Launchpad Pioneer Valley such a success: Rick FeldmanThom FoxJim MummJoe GensheimerTom PorterAimen Khan, and our lead instructor Paul G. Silva.

Lean Launchpad Lessons: RSI's Pivots Help Nonprofits

advocacy by KDH0521.jpg

This post is a part of our Lean Launchpad Lessons series, where we share lessons learned by the entrepreneurs enrolled in our Lean Launchpad: Pioneer Valley course.

RSI's founder is passionate for helping social change organizations, has a "brown belt" in tech, years of experience working directly with social change movements, and deep knowledge of Change.org's technology.

Initial Concept

Idea: Immigration attorneys, innocence attorneys & projects, and some defense attorneys frequently need to get lots of people to sign petitions.  This market is generally not tech savvy, has zero time to learn new tech, and does not know how to use social media to promote their petitions.  RSI will leverage Change.org's amazing (but technically tricky to set up) platform to help its clients quickly and easily get world-class petitions up, running, and promoted. 

What Happened: After speaking with about two dozen potential customers RSI learned... 

  • Good news: all of the potential customers called agreed they had the pain points RSI identified. YES!
  • Bad news: not a single one seemed at all interested in paying someone to make those problems go away.  DOH!

The bad news was a deal killer!  Luckily, it only took RSI about a dozen hours to find that out.  And so they went on to their first pivot...

Pivot 1

Idea: RSI's founder is one of a fairly small number of people in the nonprofit sector who have a deep knowledge of how to rapidly design, execute, analyze, and iterate email marketing campaigns to dramatically increase their success rates.  The Obama campaign did this to great effect and caused a stir in the nonprofit sector.  So perhaps RVI could help progressive advocacy organizations optimize their websites and email communications to find supporters and raise more money online.   

What Happened: 

  • Good news: The Obama campaign has made medium-sized nonprofits start actively considering these techniques, the people at the nonprofits in charge of making these decisions have good economic incentives to try out a service like RSI's (it could get them a raise or a better job at another nonprofit), it was clear RSI could dramatically increase the effectiveness of many potential client's email efforts, some interviewees begged RSI to deliver the product to them NOW.  Wow, pretty good stuff!
  • Bad news: "No way to make money while you sleep."  This is a consultancy where RSI can only make money while its team is working for a client.  There is no long-term recurring revenue so the company would have to spend a significant portion of its time "hunting" for new business.   The fee nonprofits seemed willing to pay made the economics of the venture look dicey.  No upside for delivering awesome results.  Expensive sales process requiring a dedicated sales force.  Ug.
  • Delightful surprise: An instructor introduced RSI to one nonprofit leader who moved the conversation away from mailing lists to something else... which led to the next pivot. Yay referrals!

The business might very well be workable, but RSI decided to explore the delightful surprise to see if they could create a venture that could help nonprofits a heck of a lot more AND let RSI earn money in a much more sustainable way.

Pivot 2

Idea: Most nonprofits collecting donations online use retched donation pages that manage to convert only 3-5% of the visitors (all of whom decided to click on the DONATE page).  The providers of these donation pages make their money by charging a premium on top of the credit card processing fee.  Well designed pages can convert 5x as many visitors!  RSI has the skills needed to create donation pages that can deliver 5x better results and will use the same revenue model as its competitors. 

What Happened 

  • RSI started with just the one interview from the last pivot.  They quickly followed up with lots of interviews of other nonprofits and verified that the pain and opportunity were real.
  • They created a Low Fidelity Minimum Viable Product (a fancy way of saying a non-functional, storyboard-style prototype that communicates what a product might do) - a simple video demonstrating what their product might look like.  In showing it to a small set of potential customers RSI learned that they had more features than they needed.  In other words, they could simplify their product and launch sooned!
  • They THOUGHT that their High-Fidelity Minimum Viable Product (a very cheap to build, functional prototype that delivers value to your customers, but probably in a highly labor-intensive way), would require a few weeks to code up.  Instead they realized they could leverage existing technologies like WordPress and have a saleable product ready in a day or two.
  • So far nonprofits are saying "If you can deliver better conversion results, we're happy to pay you the same % fee as we pay your competitors." Meaning that, if successful, RSI can dramatically increase nonprofits's donation revenue AND will have created a sustainable revenue model that allows the RSI team to support their families. Nice!

And that is where the company is today.  Next they will interview a lot more potential customers to make sure their learnings about the minimum viable product are right.  Then they will SELL that minimum viable product to a handful of customers and start learning.. and get PAID to do it :). 

Wish them luck! 

If you would like to learn more about enrolling in the next session of Lean Launchpad: Pioneer Valley (Feb, 2014), let us know. 

Lean Launchpad Lessons: uChampion's Radical Change


The Lean Launchpad's greatest strength is its ability to help entrepreneurs convert their passions into a viable business model... before they run out of money!  But we preach "show, don't tell" so let us show you what we mean :).

The uChampion co-founders joined the Lean Launchpad class with a passion for fitness, mobile technology, and video games.  They felt there was some way to bring these things together in such a way to help people achieve fitness goals more effectively.  

Initial Concept

Idea: Create a mobile app that tracks your progress towards physical fitness goals and displays your progress towards goals via a 3D avatar.  The 3D avatar would be displayed not only in the app, but also via social networks and - if possible - in massively multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft. 

What Happened: The co-founders interviewed a bunch of potential customers and experts in the various fields needed to make their concept go.  Key take-aways:

  • # of people who would actually find this interesting and worth paying for was not measurable.
  • Cost to implement concept was daunting and required code-level collaboration from top-tier game companies... deemed not likely to happen. 
  • People WERE interested in a better way to track goals, progress towards them, and get help from friends to achieve goals. 

Pivot 1

With this learning in hand, they tossed their idea and executed their first pivot.

Idea: Create an app that employs gamification techniques to help individuals better select and achieve personal fitness goals.

What Happened: more interviews ensued and they learned...  

  • Good news: lots of demand and validation of gamification as a way to help people improve fitness results.
  • Bad news: this space is very crowded by big, well-funded competitors.  There was nothing the co-founders had in mind that would let them compete head-to-head.
  • Interesting news: Gurus (defined by our entrepreneurs as a subject matter expert in any field who maintains a personal following of students) were interested in gamification.  Gurus interviewed seem to struggle getting their students to achieve goals, and felt gamification could help them.  But existing gamification solutions are targeted either to individuals or to large enterprises.  There are no solutions to help gurus!

So in other words, Pivot 1 wasn't going to work, but it provided some very interesting data about... 

Pivot 2

Idea: A platform that allows even non-tech-savvy gurus to quickly and easily create their own branded apps.  These apps use gamification to help students better achieve success and communicate progress/challenges between student and guru.

Results of next round of interviews and help from instructors and mentors in Lean Launchpad class: 

  • Good news: lots of potential market verticals, plenty of potential customers, gurus become a channel for distribution of app to consumers, gurus may be willing to pay if they can see tangible business results.
  • Bad news: lots of verticals, WHERE to start?  Also, the gurus are a highly fragmented target market, so cost to acquire each customer could be very high yet the revenue from each customer might be small.
  • Existential moment: team realized they are not passionate about gurus, they are passionate about fitness.  And without passion, you've got noth'n so... 

Pivot 3

Idea: Create apps that help gyms better serve their members, increasing retention and market differentiation through the use of gamification to increase motivation, follow-through, and social engagement.

What they learned: 

  • Many gyms, especially YMCAs, have high attrition rates in their gym memberships.  Keeping those people on as members would add significantly to their bottom line.
  • Gyms are in vicious competition with each other and, often, struggle to differentiate themselves.   Gym owners that had hard data on the health impact they've had on their members would help them stand out from competitors.
  • YMCAs and many other gyms are using clipboards and are not using mobile apps.  The apps they do know of are targeted to consumers and do not allow easy sharing of data between member and trainer (aka fitness guru). 
  • Gym owners agree that motivation, data tracking, and social engagement are all problems their existing technology solution (paper) do not address. 
  • After a 20 minute phone call one gym CEO was begging them to do their beta at his facility :).


Most of the startups I know (including my first startup!) took years to do that much learning.  uChampion did it in 5 weeks.  Will they succeed?  It is still far too early to tell.  But damn if they don't have a hell of a head start! 

Wish them luck! 

If you would like to learn more about enrolling in the next session of Lean Launchpad: Pioneer Valley (Feb, 2014), let us know.


This post is a part of our Lean Launchpad Lessons series