How I apply Lean Startup to Event Management

After my six months internship at fotograf.de, a German startup, I started organizing monthly Lean Startup Meetups here in Karlsruhe, Germany. Returning to my studies (Economics and Business Engineering at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology), I really missed the responsibility and independency working at a startup – I will share some thoughts about being intern at an early stage startup in one of my next posts. I used the meetups to “keep in touch” with the topic, but although I prepared some talks, read articles, tweeted stuff, it was really hard diving deeply into the product management world without working on something “real”.

A few days ago I decided it doesn’t matter. The point is that you just have to do something. Not just talking about entrepreneurship and probably never finding the idea. It’s all about gathering experience. So I chose the Lean Startup Meetup Karlsruhe as my product to improve. And that’s the great thing about the Lean Startup methodology: It’s not only about software startups, you can use so many parts of it for anything. In the following I will describe my approach to improve the Karlsruhe Lean Startup Meetups.

Status quo

Next monday there will be the sixth Lean Startup Meetup here. Usually there is one more specific talk about a topic in the Lean Startup sphere and a talk by a founder who is trying to apply some Customer Development / Lean Startup principles to his startup. I always tried to move the spotlight to interesting discussions, not only talks. I still don’t know if this is the right format, but most of the participants seemed content after the evenings. For a metrics-driven guy like me one of the first things to think about are numbers: Get some metrics to see if your event is improving – or not.

Metrics

It is quite a challenge to find a way to get some quantitative data about an offline event. I am excitedly waiting for Alistair Croll and Ben Yoskovitz’ book “Lean Analytics” to be released and I already read the sneak peek (you can find it here). In a blog post they are talking about The One Metric That Matters, that it is critical to find a specific metric to see if your product is satisfying the needs of your customers. Here are my thoughts about this: In the beginning I have been a bit disappointed that the number of visitors per event would not increase. But it is just a vanity metric. I want great discussions during the meetups and the larger the event is, the harder it gets to achieve this goal. Obviously, my One Metric That Matters here is Retention. I want the participants to be so excited and fascinated about the event that they want nothing more than attend the next one. Of course, startup calendars are full, but I haven’t been content with the retention rate so far. It seems like there are always a lot of new people, but the total amount of participants stays the same. Why is that? My hypothesis is that the meetups in their current form are a “nice-to-have” for a lot of them: It is quite a good event to leave the desk for a few hours, but you will not miss that much when you are not attending.

No, I want more! I want the Meetups to be a “must-have” to at least 50 percent of the participants. But how do I get the data for examination? With attendance sheets I will try to get a feel for the retention from event to event. I feel kind of nerdy, but I think I will hack together some Cohort Analysis with Excel to see if the meetups are improving. I will also try to collect a Net Promoter Score after each event, like Tristan does ist with his workshops. Just knowing my One Metric That Matters is is not enough, though. How do I improve retention? I found out that I never spent a thought about what the main reason for the participants to attend to the meetups is. I think it is time for some Customer Development here.

Customer Development Interviews

Talking about retention (again), there have indeed been a few people attending almost every event. So why? I will try to schedule meetings first with them (as early adopters) to find out what their main reason to attend was. I stated three hypotheses yesterday which I want them to rank: Networking, learning about the methodology and sharing experiences and knowledge. At fotograf.de I was strictly following Ash Maurya‘s scripts he describes in his book “Running Lean” (which is by the way in my opinion the best Lean Startup read!), and it worked. Here’s my interview template I want to fill out after every interview (in German):

Customer Development Interview Template

After interviewing the early adopters I will try to meet with the ones who attended from time to time or just once. But I will surely share some thoughts about this later.

What are your thoughts? Any suggestions how I could improve the way I go? I would love to get some comments, mails or twitter messages. This is my first (real) blog post and I enjoyed writing. Let’s see where this is going. Glad to hear from you!

Regards from Germany,

Jan