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Ash Maurya has been an entrepreneur for more than a decade, and throughout that time has been in search of a better, faster way for building successful products. He bootstrapped his last company, WiredReach, in 2002 which he sold in late 2010. 

In late 2009, he discovered the ideas of the Lean Startup. That started his own rigorous testing and adaptation of these ideas. He started sharing his learning on his blog, which then turned into a book  - which sold over 10,000 copies as a self-published book and subsequently into a series of products aimed at helping entrepreneurs raise their odds of success.

He sold his last company to start Spark59 – with a mission of helping other startups raise their odds of success. By way of writing his book and teaching workshops, Ash got the unique opportunity to work with hundreds of startups which helped refine the Running Lean methodology and identify several problems worth solving that are now being turned into products.

He also holds several mentor roles with startup accelerators around the world including: Mozilla Foundation (San Francisco), Year One Labs (Montreal), MARs (Toronto), Ideally (Brussels), and Capital Factory (Austin).

  • EY

    Eslam Yosef

    about 5 years ago #

    Hi Ash, your name makes me remember two characters I really love (Ash Pokemon & Ash the archer)

    Starting a website in 2015 is not like starting up a website 10 years ago - things have changed a lot.

    So, using the same methods, old tips & guides is something like creating a "great" black and white & black movie that nobody is going to watch.

    At the same time, it's a very hard thing to find the most current method(s) to use to market your startup (unless you're in the startup marketing space)
    So, my question is:

    How do you really grow a new website, blog, or a community in 2015?
    What would you be doing differently with growing your website/blog etc today vs what you did earlier?

    Thank you for doing this.

    • AM

      Ash Maurya

      about 5 years ago #

      While tactics to evolve over time, basic principles are timeless.

      The lowest common denominator for starting a blog or community is *great content*. That never changes. To do that you have to understand your audience often even better than they understand themselves.

      Tactics-wise, if I were starting up again, I would borrow other people’s networks a lot more, such as through guest blogging, versus trying to stack each domino one post at a time on my own blog.

      • HH

        Hussein Hallak

        about 5 years ago #

        Hi Ash,

        Thank you for making time for this.

        How would you use the Running Lean and Lean Canvas in a running startup? they already built a product in the market? they are selling to customers? They did the the traditional way, using a business plan, or "build it and they will come" kind of thing.

        The reason I'm asking is because these startups haven't achieved product<>market fit.

        What would change in the Running Lean Process, what would your advise to them.

        Thank you

      • EY

        Eslam Yosef

        about 5 years ago #

        Those are two exclusive points I should keep in mind.

        Thank you so much.

  • JL

    Jesús Lucas

    about 5 years ago #

    Hi Ask,

    At first, congratulations about your book Running Lean, it helped me very much.

    Mi question is about Advisors Board:

    - How important do you think is to build an Advisors Board in a startup? Do you think that all startups should have one?
    - At what point should I spend time to it ( before getting my first round or later)?
    - What characteristic should have a good advisor?

    Thank you very much for your answer.

    • AM

      Ash Maurya

      about 5 years ago #

      Thanks!

      Yes, I am a big fan of finding good advisors that can call your BS and hold you externally accountable to your own plan. Finding good advisors unfortunately, like early adopters, is not easy.

      The best advisors typically ask the right questions versus give you the right answer. Here’s a recent short post I did on this:
      http://ashmaurya.com/advisor-whiplash/

      I start by sharing my business model story with potential advisors and listen for their objections and advice without defending my model. I internalize the advice and use a few small, fast, additive experiments to test it. If it works, I then double down on the advisor.

  • TS

    Terence Strong

    about 5 years ago #

    Hi Ash:

    After achieving product market fit? What is your systematic process for testing and choosing a customer acquisition channel?

    • AM

      Ash Maurya

      about 5 years ago #

      It starts with baselining metrics. I am a fan of the AARRR model and only use these 5 metrics for identifying bottlenecks or opportunities for growth.

      We then formulating a few strategies to test often by studying other analogs or trying new stuff on our own. The key next step is breaking these strategies into a series of small, fast, additive experiments (~2 weeks). If the experiment validates the strategy, we double down. Otherwise, we move on to the next one.

  • AA

    Anuj Adhiya

    about 5 years ago #

    Hi Ash,

    Thanks for doing this- Amongst all your great writing, your "10x product launch" post has been one of those life-saving reads for me.

    My questions have to do with the oft written about limitation of the Lean Startup Methodology in that rapid iteration helps you optimize for local maxima, not global maxima.

    Is that something you agree with?
    In either case, from you experience what advice would you have for understanding/analyzing whether you've optimized for a local vs global maximum?
    Is there a way of at least having an inkling, based on the type of test/iteration whether it's going to get you to one vs the other?

    Thanks!

    • AM

      Ash Maurya

      about 5 years ago #

      First, thanks Anuj for hosting this AMA.

      Yes I agree that in our exuberance for action, we jumped on the build/measure/learn cycle which can often lead to local optimas. The original “lean” thinking is built on a similar but slightly different PDCA loop - Plan, Do, Check, Act.

      Notice the additional Plan step.

      My older self does value the right kind of planning before doing.

      This entails
      - building not one, but multiple business model stories - Lean Canvases
      - creating a staged traction model for each
      - formulating a high-level strategy to achieve it

      And then running split business model experiments in parallel to test the model with the best traction.

      A lot of this thinking, by the way, is going into my next book appropriately titled: Scaling Lean.

  • SE

    Sean Ellis

    about 5 years ago #

    Hey Ash, really excited you are doing this AMA with us. I've always thought that you are the most articulate speaker and writer about the lean startup. I'm curious if you ever hear criticism about a lean approach that is particularly hard to counter. If so what is that criticism?

    • AM

      Ash Maurya

      about 5 years ago #

      Thanks for building this community @Sean and the kind words.
      I think we’ve learned the art of deflecting specific criticisms by relying on a very broad reaching set of principles :)

      More seriously though, the biggest challenges I see is not getting people to nod their heads, but taking the next step.

      Take any new methodology and the Achilles' heel is behavior change.

      The biggest criticisms are usually around culture and/or environment. There too there are a bag of tricks to utilize but specifics can often be challenging.

      • SE

        Sean Ellis

        about 5 years ago #

        What about the criticism that "it doesn't work for truly break through innovation". I have my own answer when people say that, but I'm curious what your answer is. Thanks!

        • AM

          Ash Maurya

          about 5 years ago #

          Anuj asked a related question on local maxima which I answered with what I feel has been a missing step with just positioning Lean Startup as Build/Measure/Learn.

          What lean is very efficient at is taking a big vision or big plan and breaking it down into smaller steps. But that requires some planning.

          Tesla's multi-product staged strategy is one example of how we can achieve breakthrough innovation through similar thinking. Elon Musk, of course, planning his whole life when he has in high school.

          • AM

            Ash Maurya

            about 5 years ago #

            What's your answer?

            • SE

              Sean Ellis

              about 5 years ago #

              My answer is that "the lean startup" approach begins with problem validation. If your premise for needing a solution is wrong, then an innovative solution to that non-existent problem will likely fail. Once you've validated the problem, then your next major validation comes with the release of your MVP. The pushback I recently had was that MVPs need to be small and that sometimes the solution is a bigger system that requires faith as you build it. My counter was that the bigger system can often consist of several MVP components. As you look for validation on each component, you may find that a single component solves the problem as a "must have" solution. But even if it doesn't, you can eventually connect all of the components and see if the broader system solves the problem in a "must have" way.

              I have an example from a specific company that I worked with where they invested the time to build a big complicated system that wasn't a must have. But when we carved out just one component of that system that was resonating the most with people, that individual component had product market fit. Today that company is worth billions and has grown primarily around the value proposition of that single component.

  • BP

    Betsy Peters

    about 5 years ago #

    Hi Ash!
    I've experimented with the Lean Canvas App + Strategyzer for myself and some of the startups I work with and I'm curious:

    What does the data tell you is the biggest hurdle in getting entrepreneurs to use your apps? What do you find is the biggest value-add component for them and/or their investors?

    • AM

      Ash Maurya

      about 5 years ago #

      The biggest value add is that in 20-30 mins you have a 1-page business model story. You put that in front of anyone and they can’t help but have an opinion. Conversation is key to success and that's what’s addictive about the canvas. The alternative is spending weeks writing a longer business plan that probably no one will read. That's the easy win.

      The bigger hurdle is what comes next. Turing the business model into a validation strategy and experiments requires more thinking processes and discipline. It requires behavior change which is something we are still working through.

      • AM

        Ash Maurya

        about 5 years ago #

        The value add angle for the next hurdle is giving entrepreneurs tools to run better advisor and investor board meetings AND investors tools to track their portfolio.

        We have stuff in the works for this.

  • AV

    Andreas Voniatis

    about 5 years ago #

    Hi Ash,

    Why aren't start ups making more use of data and maths to grow their website presence and revenue?

    With cloud computing, data products like Alchemy API and data science methods, it's quite astonishing how marketing decisions are being made without scientific analysis - don't you think?

    • AM

      Ash Maurya

      about 5 years ago #

      Yes I agree we could be using data a lot better. The reason though is that we are living in a world where we can measure almost anything. With a few lines of JS, you can start collecting thousands of data points.

      Too much data (like too much information) is paralyzing.

      Most people don’t know where to start and specifically, what they are looking for. Without a needle to look for, you just get lost in the haystack.

  • XZ

    xikai zhao

    about 5 years ago #

    Hi Ash, thank you for doing AMA.

    I am working for a startup. We are a e-commerce platform sells event tickets.

    Right now, we are working on a lot of UI to improve conversion rate. Also, we are trying to do referral(give $10 for both) and retargeting.

    My question: what would be the best way to boost referral program? as well as tracking it.

    • AM

      Ash Maurya

      about 5 years ago #

      Maybe nothing radically new to add… but I would start by mapping out the customer job (flow) of buying a ticket and inject the referral incentive at key touchpoints. Referrals usually correlate with a happy experience so make sure to incorporate emotion too.

      Tracking should be a matter of integrating with your favorite analytics tool. Here, I am a bigger fan of tracking raw events versus using pre-built funnels. It makes it easier to analyze the data later. We use Keen IO ourselves to collect events and they have a neat tool to build funnels and do cohort analysis later.

  • AM

    Ash Maurya

    about 5 years ago #

    Hello everyone - This is Ash.

    Lets begin!

    • AM

      Ash Maurya

      about 5 years ago #

      Thanks for all the questions...Signing off now but will check in later in the day for any more questions.

      Cheers.

  • PW

    Phil Wolff

    about 5 years ago #

    The role of growth professional is evolving rapidly. What do you see our roles becoming at small and larger companies over the next five years? Increased specialization? New team structures?

  • LR

    Laura Roeder

    about 5 years ago #

    Hi Ash, have you ever applied agile or kanban-style task management to a marketing team? Are you a fan of this approach?

    • AM

      Ash Maurya

      about 5 years ago #

      Hi Laura -

      Yes, I am a fan of this approach. I see a lot of people using Trello, even in marketing, which is essentially a simple step towards kanban thinking.

      In my consulting, we get small cross-functional teams made up of marketers, developers, and designers to meet regularly and use a slightly modified board for lean.

      The steps here are plan, build, measure, learn and it works quite well.

  • AM

    Andreas Mahringer

    about 5 years ago #

    Hi Ash,
    in any startup there's a seemingly infinite number of metrics to measure and optimise. Even if a startup identified and starts optimising few core metrics, there seems to be an infinite number of features, product aspects, external factors that can potentially influence any outcome/metric.

    How did you personally prioritise:
    a) what to measure
    b) how to measure
    c) when to measure

    Or briefly, how did you setup and run your core-metrics tests?

    Thanks

    • AM

      Ash Maurya

      about 5 years ago #

      I am tackling this topic in the next book but here are some general concepts.

      1. Creating a company wide dashboard with 3-5 metrics is key. I am a fan of Dave Mclure's AARRR model. I've modified it into something I call the Customer Factory (which you can google)

      2. Having a few metrics helps you pinpoint your 1-2 bottlenecks and constraints which we then zoom into with secondary metrics.

      3. We are fans of cohorts and collect the macro events all the time. We incrementally add to our list of micro metrics but don't always use them beyond the immediate need.

      So in short, the macro view helps us drive focus,
      The micro metrics helps us get to root causes.

  • TS

    Terence Strong

    about 5 years ago #

    Hi Ash:

    If you scale your startup on a paid channel. Let's say Google Adwords but the price of the channel increases, how do you effectively switch to another channel without taking a hit in top line revenue?

    Is it "safe" to scale on paid channels? How do you know keep the sales volume up?

    -Terence

    • AM

      Ash Maurya

      about 5 years ago #

      Think of channels as firing rockets that get you from one orbit to the next. Each of these firing rockets or growth hacks eventually burn out and need to constantly replaced with new ones.

      Paid channels are no different and will inevitably burn out as competitors bid up CAC.

      Finding and switching to other channels is one option but consider this. CAC has a theoretical lower bound of zero. Increasing revenue or LTV is unbounded. While channel finding is the short term focus, a more strategic long term focus should be increasing your LTV.

      Hope that helps.

  • HL

    Heberto López Macias

    about 5 years ago #

    Hi Ash, the purpose of my startup is to add value to the daily work of people so that companies can focus on what they do the best and can become more competitive. We are advisors in cloud computing that help other businesses become more competitive.

    Currently we are working on finding a scalable business model based on services. But we need to answer some questions first:
    How do we acquire prospects in a systematic, repeatable and inexpensively manner?
    How do we build value for hundreds of customers without requiring too many employees to provide advice?
    How can we reduce the time a prospect passes through the sales funnel?

    I would like to ask you:
    Can you give us some tips for designing experiments to seek answers to those questions?
    What other questions we need to answer?
    Do you know some examples of services startups that have found a scalable business model?

    Thank you for answer.

    • AM

      Ash Maurya

      about 5 years ago #

      The way you build for scale is by taking a staged rollout approach. In my book, Running Lean, I offer up 3 stages: Problem/Solution Fit, Product/Market Fit, and Scale.

      By embracing smaller batches of customers, you can validate a business model at micro-scale first. Before you dismiss, this consider that Facebook wasn’t first to social networking. Yes they had a different product strategy, but their methodical staged rollout from a few colleges was also a big part of their story.

      • HL

        Heberto López Macias

        about 5 years ago #

        Thanks again, that's very useful.

        What about scalability in service startups like us? What should we avoid?

        • AM

          Ash Maurya

          about 5 years ago #

          My company does quite a bit of services too but one of the decisions I made early was NOT to scale with people. When you sell your time, you have a finite resource.

          The answer for us is selling products. We do a combination of software and online courses, for instance.

          We use services to on the front end to learn what to productize and also have some high dollar coaching services (which makes time more scalable)..

          The alternative, of course, is building a services company but most I've seen can't do better linear scale and you are constantly at the whim of the market and constantly chasing billable hours.

          In my book a scalable business is one where you can make money while you sleep.

          Hope that helps.

  • MS

    Matt Saperstein

    about 5 years ago #

    Thanks for the AMA Ash !

    I'm curious about how you stay focused with so much going on. Do you have any tips on balancing so many projects? Any daily "productivity hacks" you do?

  • AM

    Andreas Mahringer

    about 5 years ago #

    Top 3 books you'd recommend every entrepreneur to read?

    • AM

      Ash Maurya

      about 5 years ago #

      I'm a very deliberate reader and recommend others do the same. I only read to solve a current problem which helps me both read a lot (because we always have problems) and apply what I read.

      So to answer your question, I'd ask what problems do these entrepreneurs have...

  • NS

    Niki Sadeghi

    about 5 years ago #

    Hi Ash,
    I have a chicken and egg situation; in a marketplace business model, where business owners and brands are on one side, and social media “influencers” (people with reach and following online) on the other side, in its broadest sense, which side would you recommend me to approach first?

    • AM

      Ash Maurya

      about 5 years ago #

      The sad reality is that marketplace models are particularly hard because value is created when a transaction occurs between buyers and sellers. You can't just have one in the system. Sometimes one side is easier to approach, but you have to get both to validate the model.

      A good pattern is to narrow down looking for ideal early adopters on both the buyer and seller side. While they could be completely different segments, their incentives should align. Another commonly used validation pattern is taking a concierge approach where you work really hard to match make both sides behind the scenes. This is how Angel List launched.

  • AA

    Anuj Adhiya

    about 5 years ago #

    One more..

    Assume a startup that has a once-twice a year use case (eg,travel) on an individual basis. If retention is really all that matters pre PMF - how in a rapid iteration environment could you be testing for retention given the time it takes for any user to return? What sort of cohort reports would you be building?

    • AM

      Ash Maurya

      about 5 years ago #

      To make this model work, what you'd be losing on more frequent recurring revenue, you'd have to make up with more numbers of customers. So the bigger risk to the model is not so much the second purchase initially, but can we get enough people to purchase once. How long is that funnel? Can we shorten it and build other proxies of retention like getting them on an email list where we stay in the background till they are ready for the next purchase.

  • HH

    Hussein Hallak

    about 5 years ago #

    Hi Ash,

    Thank you for the AMA

    What would you advise running startups, with a product in the market, already hired sales teams, but were not built using the lean canvas, so no concept of product<>market fit or validation.

    How would they start the Running Lean process and use Lean Canvas?

    What would they differently?

    Thank you

    • AM

      Ash Maurya

      about 5 years ago #

      I obviously get this question a lot :)

      1. I would start by documenting your current business model using a Lean Canvas. Should take you 20-30 mins.

      2. I would baseline what is working against some traction model and to locate yourself in one of the 3 stages: Problem/Solution Fit, Product/Market Fit, Scale.

      3. Each has a different strategy that I would then inject using experiments.

      Most often the first step at any of these stages is segmenting your existing customers and talking to them. You want to understand why your best customers hired you and why customers that cancel fire you.

      From there, it's a process of identifying constraints (or risks), formulating strategies, and testing with small, fast, additive experiments.

  • SF

    Sebastian Franco

    about 5 years ago #

    Hello @AshMaurya,

    We have seen the rise of new project/product management frameworks in the last few years. Some of them came from the industry, others from business, academia or empiric observation and more frequently a savvy mix of many "disciplines".

    What are for you the three key ideas that will shape the future of outstanding products and companies ?

    Many thanks for sharing your insights with the community here !

    • AM

      Ash Maurya

      about 5 years ago #

      I think this is a constantly evolving body of work that will yes keep on getting remixed over time - which is a form of innovation.

      My 3 big current influences (which is how I read your question) are:

      1. Jobs-to-be-done thinking: It simplifies the search of problems without falling into the innovator's bias for the solution.

      2. Theory of Constraints: It drives focus on the right actions that stand to deliver the greatest impact.

      3. The Scientific Method: It brings empirical learning to the process.

  • AA

    Anuj Adhiya

    about 5 years ago #

    And now for something different...

    What do you do for fun, Ash? :)

    • AM

      Ash Maurya

      about 5 years ago #

      Once you have "young" kids, fun is seeing them have fun :)

      But I do enjoy
      - traveling (which I do once a month a week at a time)
      - good food (both cooking and eating)
      - yoga (mostly as a pitstop but it's fun too)

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