The role of passion, choice and humility — top Lean Startup moments

I had the pleasure of speaking at and attending the annual Lean Startup conference last week.

For the uninitiated, I recommend this clip as a great starting point (also, the book!).

What follows is my primer on some of the most compelling stories and impactful takeaways.


When Shift Happens – Cathryn Posey

I spoke about Project Open Judge and how our team had to shift focus from tackling technical challenges to validating the market risk in order to succeed. For more on the project, start here:


Practice over passion for success – Keya J. Dannenbaum

Keya’s talk was provocatively titled “When it comes to entrepreneurship, don’t follow your passion” and what followed was a masterful demonstration of storytelling with a compelling moral — put practice over passion for success.

Given that Lean Startup is all about managerial discipline, I think she is on to something significant.

How you can start the next Zipcar – Robin Chase

Successful serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Zipcar, Robin Chase is an authority on innovation and her talk is well worth the watch.

I loved her take on the game changer that is the sharing economy. She put into focus the fact that AirBnB has amassed 650,000 rooms in 198 countries in four years, compared with the 645,000 rooms in 100 countries that the largest hotel brand took 60 years to amass.

Plus, she ends with Banny Banerjee’s awesome quote.


Risk, information, time and money – Dan Milstein

This was my favorite talk and a must watch.

Here are just a few of the gems from Dan:

“A startup is an information-gathering organization.”

What you chose to work on is your biggest lever, be terrified of working on the wrong things [and ignore managing the optics of appearing to do nothing].”

“Velocity is determined by organizational response to the changing nature of risk.”


Build a new product, infect a whole organization – Catherine Bracy

Catherine Bracy gave an insightful talk about how to build a startup within a startup.

This is a great case study about how and when to pivot.

One of my favorite takeaways? “Open is always better than closed and experimentation is almost always a good idea.”


Be humble, be hungry and be happy – Ramli John

Do yourself a favor and watch Ramil’s humorous and important take on the attitudes you need to run lean sustainably.


Bureaucracies don’t change easily, by design – Steve Hodas

One of the toughest sectors to change is Education. But Steve Hodas with the New York City Department of Education iZone is doing it and he gave a fantastic breakdown on what it takes to bring about change in a bureaucracy.

My favorite takeaway:

“Bureaucracies don’t change easily, by design…Policy changes only go so far, policy changes do not change how a bureaucracy behaves, how it works. To do that,  you have to change processes as well.”


How to avoid the graveyard of good ideas – Patrick Vlaskovits

Growth hacking is a much buzzed about term in the industry right now, Patrick Vlaskovits, author of the New York Times bestseller “The Lean Entrepreneur,” gave it some historical weight:

“How your customers learn about your product is a part of your product, the medium is the message.”

Brownie Wise was the original growth-hacker, Tupperware did not take off till she invented the Tupperware party.”


Using lean startup to do plenty with very little – Kimberly Bryant

Kimberly Bryant, an engineer turned social entrepreneur and non-profit founder, gave an incredible look at how she supercharged trajectory of Black Girls Code.

What drives her? Making sure young women become creators, not just consumers, of technology.

We all got to see her mission in action when the best ignite talk was delivered by three black girls who code — all  under the age of 16 (the youngest was 10!).

Respect for all people –  Eric Ries and Sarah Milstein


“The foundation for Lean Startup is respect for all people,” Eric Ries stated this as he and Sarah Milstein kicked off the conference. And it was evident. The speakers and attendees were all incredibly smart and diverse by design.

Be sure to read Sarah Milstein’s blog post about her innovative meritocratic process to increase diversity.

Did you attend? What where your favorite moments?


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