Lean for Social Impact – June 23rd

I’m thrilled to announce that on June 23rd I’ll be the lead instructor, together with Bob Dorf as Chief Mentor, for the new +Acumen course Lean for Social Change.  This is our first large-scale launch of this course, after a very successful pilot late last year.  Sabrina and Afzal wrote a great post sharing what they got out of the first course.

You can sign up for the course here.

Bob is a startup guru, and having the opportunity to partner with him is incredible.  In case you don’t now Bob, he’s the co-author, with Steve Blank, of The Startup Owner’s Manual: A Step–By–Step Guide to Building a Great Companyand he’s a serial entrepreneur who has started seven companies (he describes them as “two home runs, two base hits, and three great tax losses”) and coached or invested in dozens more. More than just an expert who travels the world helping startups, incubators, big companies and governments, Bob is exceptionally kind and humble, he’s an incredible coach who is quick with a smile. And, lucky for us, he’s bribable with Diet Cokes.

This is going to be a fun, rubber-hits-the-road course – highly practical and hands on, and intensive.  It will push you to take the steps you need to take to get out of the building, talk to customers, put your minimum viable product in their hands, and get the real feedback you need to make your social venture a success.

No expertise required!  But like everything you’ll get out what you put in.  If you have a social venture that you’re working on, or planning to work on, this course will kick you out of first gear.  It’s hands-on. You’ll take powerful frameworks and put them into practice.

Here’s the deal, so you know what to expect going in:

  • It’s an intensive, eight week course.  Best guess is that you’ll need to put in 10 hours per week.   (The time you put in for this course will be highly leveraged, so think of this in terms of time saved not time lost.)
  • You’ll be using the business model canvas to map out your business; you’ll build out a real prototype; and you’ll get of the building to get the feedback you need from customers, suppliers, partners, and competitors etc.
  • Work is done in teams.  You’ll be learning from and supporting each other, not sitting alone in front of a computer.
  • Course participants will have an idea for a social venture tackling an issue of poverty.  If you don’t have a fully formed idea yet that’s OK, the course will help you form and shape one.

This course is a chance for you to take a big leap forward.  It’s an opportunity to use tools that have revolutionized Silicon Valley and apply them to your social venture.  It’s kind of the start of a revolution.  Be part of it.

Bob Dorf – Two customers

Recently I, together with Acumen’s Global Fellows, had the chance to spend the day in a training session with Bob Dorf. Bob, together with Steve Blank (who writes a must-read blog), is the author of The Startup Owner’s Manual: a step-by-step guide to Building a Great Company.   Steve, in turn, was an investor in Eric Reiss’ (author of Lean Startup) startup IMVU which I blogged about here.

Bob, Steve and Eric have done incredible work in demystifying and breaking down what it really takes to create a startup – yes drive, vision, tireless devotion, but most importantly it’s about finding customers, talking to those customers, figuring out what they really want and how they’ll really behave with your product.  It’s the opposite of sitting in a garage, having a eureka moment, investing time and energy and way too much money in that idea and then figuring out if people want the thing that you’ve built.

I learned a ton from Bob, and am still processing most of it, but there was one piece that really jumped out at me as being hugely important in the nonprofit space, in particular to fundraisers.

One of the stories we tell ourselves is that our work is different and hard(er) because the beneficiary of our work and the customer from whom we are fundraising are rarely one and the same person.  It’s this disconnect that can make everything so tricky, because just because you deliver transformative impact for your beneficiary doesn’t mean your fundraising goes through the roof.

Bob made the simple point that there’s nothing particularly new about this.  Google, for example, is free to you and me and anyone as customers.  We get the best search in the world served up instantly with an ever-improving suite of accompanying products.  The service that pays for it all is Google AdWords which has a completely different customer set.  In Bob’s language, Google needs two separate business model canvases, one for me (user of Google Search) and one for whoever buys Google AdWords.

“But wait!” you protest.  “That’s different!  Google AdWords only works because Google Search works.  Their growth goes hand-in-hand.  Not so in the nonprofit world where I can deliver a world-class product/service and it has no connection to whether or not I can raise another dollar from a funder!”


But also perhaps not.  True, funding decisions are not typically made as objectively or in a data-driven way, whereas Google Adwords purchases surely are.

Then again, when was the last time we really rolled up our sleeves and found a way to monitor how good our nonprofit service delivery really is, how satisfied customers really are.  When was the last time we presented clear compelling metrics from the front lines – metrics that proved out hypotheses, metrics that drove to real insights?  And when was the last time we took those metrics and showed them to our funders and said, “THIS is what we’re doing!”

Sure, it’s not exactly the same, but it’s also not so different.  And it’s nice to know that we’re not so special, that having two (or many) customer sets isn’t novel.  And it’s a helpful reminder that building a value proposition and finding customers (aka “funders”) is just as core to everything we do as whatever service delivery work we do.