Sometime around hearing the umpteenth pitch for a location-aware, mobile, social events recommendation tool, one starts to wonder if the founders ever really questioned their basic assumption: that anyone would download yet another one of those apps when none of their friends are on it.
Lean Startup Machine CEO Trevor Owens wants to help with that. Today, he’s launching a free product development tool called the Validation Board that help startups crystallize things like their “Riskiest Assumption,” which ideas have been “Invalidated,” and what constitutes a “Minimum Success Criterion.”
It’s already being used by Salesforce, NewsCorp, and Singularity University. Within the next couple weeks, it will also be employed by the White House Innovation Fellows, where Mr. Owens offers coaching services to budding entrepreneurs.
The Validation Board is essentially a souped-up whiteboard with sections for important stages in the testing process–all mapped out according to the Lean Startup methodology codified by Eric Ries, who developed the plan of action after carefully studying 500 startups.
Mr. Owens, a familiar face in New York startup circles, has expanded Lean Startup Machine–his workshops on launching a company–globally to 30 cities, including Shanghai and Sao Paulo. “We were testing it for about six months at our workshops,” he told Betabeat by email. “We knew after our first test that it worked well in the context of a workshop but it needed to be improved so that anyone could download it and learn it on their own.”
After feedback from Mr. Ries, along with experts like Hiten Shah from KISSmetrics, Tom Eisenmann from Harvard Business School, Lane Halley from Cooper Design, and John Kembel from Stanford d.school, Mr. Owens released the board, which can be printed out as a poster for $4 or used virtually via Google Docs.
The hope, Mr. Owens said, is that “by making it easier and faster for new entrepreneurs to follow through this process that took serial entrepreneurs years to figure out, we will see the accelerated rise of more innovative products and companies.”
Aside from the nominal $4 fee, “We’re not asking for any money,” he said, adding, “but if you hockey-stick because of our Validation Board, we would love a case study,” marking the first time we’ve heard “hockey-stick” as a verb.
There are similar tools on the market already, he noted, pointing to Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas. (Mr. Osterwalder also offered feedback on the tool’s design.) “Business Model Canvas is a tool better suited for strategy than process, and isn’t focused on product development like ours,” Mr. Owens explained. “The barrier to adopting process-based tools is always education, which is why we have over 200 workshops planned in 2013 around the world to teach this process.”
With all the data from his workshops, Mr. Owens said the Validation Board was fairly easy to develop. But be warned, this could mean you’ll be hearing more of the dreaded p-word, albeit with a pedagogical bent. “The main idea was around how important it is to pivot,” he said. “Pivot is the most overused word and the most underused concept. People are afraid to admit when they pivot and would rather reframe their story.”
Rather, Mr. Owens emphasizes getting feedback as soon as possible. “One of our goals was to be able to get a team outside of the building and talking to customers as fast as possible. I can usually coach a team through the process in ten minutes to get all of the assumptions out and leave the building.”
If it sounds too easy to be true, perhaps Mr. Owens students can attest to its practicality. We noticed Union Square Ventures analyst Brian Watson pop up in the Validation Board’s promotional video. “He was at the same workshop as Josh Miller and Hursh Agrawal when they had the idea for Branch,” Mr. Owens noted proudly.
If you want to try out the product but don’t yet have a billion dollar idea to vet, you could test it out in our personal life. “This is random, but we’ve even seen people use the VBoard for stock trading and their dating life,” offered Mr. Owens. “If you think about it, almost anything can be put in the frame of a ‘product.'”
Let’s not make product the next p-word, shall we?