A lot is said on how to plan a huge launch for your startup, then get a lot of people to see it and after this figure out if you are providing something that is valuable. I have unsuccessfully tried that before. Having wasted a lot of time and money I decided to try a different approach. I wanted to be a faster and more agile entrepreneur. Researching on how to be be more efficient I learned about Lean Startup, a simple but compelling concept. I decided to give it a try. I am currently trying to apply the Lean Startup principles in my own way in a hope to find the desired product-market fit.

With that in mind, I am testing my startup ideas in small cycles, talking to the real users/customers from the beginning, creating minimum viable products (MVP), measuring and taking decisions fast.

My last experiment was “Ututo.me,”. I want to share the process from the idea conception to the MVP, results and ultimate failure, and how all that happened in 5 weeks.

1) Idea

A website to find in-person startup mentorship. Entrepreneurs visit the site and apply to receive in-person advice sessions. Sessions can be free or paid. Advice sessions are hosted by experienced entrepreneurs.

Assumptions:

-Entrepreneurs will be eager to request advice sessions with successful entrepreneurs.

-Successful entrepreneurs will be happy to provide in-person advice session in a one-on-one basis

The latter would be my riskiest assumption

Time to develop: 2 hours

Money spent: $0

2) Product Pitching

Talking to people at meetups and sharing my idea with friends. Most people seemed to be interested.

Time: 1 week

Money spent: $20 to attend a couple of meetups

3) Buying a domain and building a landing page

I used Launchrock, a very easy-to-use landing page builder.

Time: 1 day

Money spent: $12 to pay the domain

4) Collecting emails inviting friends to the landing page

I used twitter to promote it and set up a small campaign with Facebook ads. I collected 45 emails with a over 30% conversion rate.

Time: 1 week

Money spent: $20 in facebook ads

5) Building the MVP.

Using Python/Django and Heroku I built a site meant fo two type of users: Mentors could login and set availability dates/times to host an advice session. Mentees were able to request advice sessions with mentors.

Time: 1 week

Money spent: $0

6) Getting the mentors/advisors

I persuaded three renowned entrepreneurs to offer at least one in-person advice session.

Time: 1 week

Money: $0

7) Getting first people to try it

I emailed the 45 leads I got from the landing page. 3 users applied to have advice sessions with the mentors in the first 48 hours. Conversion rate was 8%.

Time: 2 days

Later, the first mentor-mentee meeting occurred.

Time: 1 week

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Total experiment duration: 5 weeks

Total money spent: $52

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What I learned

– Entrepreneurs were happy to meet successful entrepreneurs.

– It was very hard to persuade mentors to host an advice session. Good mentors don’t have time.

– After taking advice sessions, the mentees were really happy with the service. However, on the other hand, mentors didn’t see the value, and were not sure about hosting additional advice sessions. I believe they want to help others, but they prefer to do it in other larger-scale ways such as blogging, speeches, etc. – some way they can get more out of it. Their desire is to reach a lot of people at the same time, so they increase their karma and reputation at a higher level.

Pivot or persevere

My riskiest assumption was invalidated: “Mentors will be happy to host in-person advice sessions on a regular basis” was false.

Congratulations! It’s time to do something else! I understand that at this point I could make a customer pivot, but at least for this project I wanted to serve and help entrepreneurs, so for now I don’t think I will move forward with this idea as it is.

Soon after Ututo.me, I have started working on something else, something that I feel passion for and hopefully can turn into a business. For the next project I will keep talking to users from day 0 and creating simple experiments, I will try to validate my assumptions as fast as possible. My rule #1 : Don’t waste time building something nobody wants.

Jefrey Bulla: In case you are interested in my upcoming startup experiments, join my personal email list.