TL;DR – After “failing fast” using crowdfunding, we’re pausing Lean Impact to explore other sources of funding. If you supported the crowdfunding campaign, you’ll get a full refund. We’re also having a Lean Impact track at the Social Good Tech Summit, so teams can start implementing Lean. Social Good Tech is November 7-9 in San Francisco: socialgoodtech.org.
In January 2013, we started on a journey to help social good organizations use Lean Startup principles.
In true Lean form, we are now pivoting. We’d like to share a bit about how we got here, and the future of Lean Impact.
The Build Phase – Our Minimum Viable Product
As Leanne shared in her keynote speech at the Lean for Social Good Summits, Lean Impact came out of our work for social good, our experiences with startups, and a deep desire to help impact organizations achieve greater effectiveness. We thought, if we could take the Lean approach that works so well for startups and apply it to the social good space, taking into account the unique needs of social good organizations, what incredible gains could we help organizations make?
As a Lean organization ourselves, we started with a Minimum Viable Product: a telesummit to allow people and teams to learn about Lean for Social Good. We assembled speakers, set up registration on Eventbrite, launched a basic website, and started promoting it.
When we only sold a handful of tickets, we reached out to potential attendees and found out that they needed more information, including an in-person experience, before purchasing anything from Lean Impact online.
The Measure Phase – Exploring Where to Take Lean Impact
In response to the feedback, we quickly pivoted: we scrapped the telesummit and instead planned three launch parties in New York, DC and San Francisco. Each party had over 600 people register and over 300 through the door.
The amazing moments at each party were when we invited social good organizations to share their Lean story in front of the crowd. When they spoke, the light bulb really went on for attendees. People could start envisioning Lean in their own organization.
After the launch parties, we focused on the Lean Impact blog, and creating rich educational content to provide true value to our community. We created The Ultimate Dictionary of Lean for Social Good, which is still to this day the only Lean guide specifically written for social good organizations.
We also continued to do customer development in order to learn how to deliver value to our audience. Sadly what we heard gave us pause:
People wanted small, in-person events with high value speakers… for free. Unfortunately, it’s the least scalable business model ever.
We had some hard conversations about whether to continue Lean Impact, but we remembered the incredible “ah ha” moments from the launch parties. So we tried to iterate that on a grander scale, by launching the Lean for Social Good Summits.
The Lean for Social Good Summits
The Lean for Social Good Summits brought together 1,000 people for half-day, educational and inspiring events in New York, DC and San Francisco. Over 40 organizations shared their Lean stories, and we had funder panels in which funders and grantees discussed the opportunities and challenges of implementing Lean for Social Good.
While the Summits were fantastic, they also were not scalable long term, and we didn’t feel we could grow them while maintaining the standard of quality and education that our audience deserves.
We began to explore the next step of making Lean Impact scalable to a wider audience, and sustainable from a business perspective. To test the market, we embarked on a crowdfunding campaign.
In order to make Lean Impact scalable, we needed a way to more widely distribute education and implementation using technology. To truly do this, we started sketching out an online curriculum, which would enable the most number of people to really engage with Lean in their organization.
Before investing in it, we wanted to test the market (as we had in all other steps of this journey). This time we chose crowdfunding as our test.
We set up the campaign, created a video, developed perks, and launched it to the world using our newsletter, social media, blog posts and other means.
After 30 days, we had only raised $500.
We had failed fast, and we had the answer to our test.
The Learn Phase – Where is the Disconnect?
Since our crowdfunding campaign, we’ve done a lot of questioning and soul searching. Where is the disconnect between social good and Lean?
It’s clear that there’s interest around the topic, as evidenced by the over 1,800 people who registered for the launch parties, and over 1,000 who attended the Lean for Social Good Summits.
It’s clear that there are people and organizations practicing Lean Impact already. In fact, when we opened speaking applications for the Lean for Social Good Summit, over 600 people applied to speak.
It’s clear that the industry believes we’ve hit on something that the social good sector needs. In every conversation, we heard people express frustration at the way things had traditionally been done, and an eagerness to use Lean to try something new.
The disconnect is between what people say they want and what they’re willing to pay for.
On the whole, the social good sector is very price sensitive, as they’re working with limited funds. But so are startups – not every startup is Snapchat, and the vast majority of startups are operating on very limited funds.
The difference is that startups are willing to invest to grow and social good organizations, on the whole, are not.
Simply put, if you want something, you have to pay for it. But that’s not how the social good sector typically operates. For so long social good organizations have relied on in-kind donations, sponsored items, and hand-me downs from corporate. Added to that is the external pressure to keep “overhead” costs low, as outsiders erroneously focus on that one metric as a measure for organization effectiveness. As a result, there’s fear of spending money, and there’s not a culture of investing to grow. But when you’re an entrepreneur trying to create something for the social good sector, you need to think about scalability and growth in order to make your idea sustainable.
We think a lot about product-market fit, meaning that you’re in a market, the market has a need, and that need will be fulfilled by the first and best available product.
Investor Marc Andreessen puts it eloquently:
“You can always feel when product/market fit isn’t happening. The customers aren’t quite getting value out of the product, word of mouth isn’t spreading, usage isn’t growing that fast, press reviews are kind of “blah”, the sales cycle takes too long, and lots of deals never close.
And you can always feel product/market fit when it’s happening. The customers are buying the product just as fast as you can make it — or usage is growing just as fast as you can add more servers. Money from customers is piling up in your company checking account. You’re hiring sales and customer support staff as fast as you can. Reporters are calling because they’ve heard about your hot new thing and they want to talk to you about it…. (stanford.edu)”
An important part of product-market fit is the concept that the market will pay to satisfy the need, by purchasing the product.
It’s clear that there’s no product-market fit for Lean Impact. And for that reason, we are pivoting.
We’re putting Lean Impact on pause temporarily in order to explore other avenues of funding. We’re in talks with the organizers of the Lean Startup Conference, to create programming dedicated to Lean for social good. We’re also hosting a Lean Impact track at the Social Good Tech Summit. We’re additionally in talks with funders around bringing Lean methodology to life in other ways.
To everyone who supported our crowdfunding campaign, we truly appreciate your contribution. You will get a full refund.
We have great video content from the Lean for Social Good Summits, we’ll post that content on Leanimpact.org on a regular basis. We hope that it inspires those of you watching online, the way it inspired attendees at the Summits.
Though we’re disappointed that our crowdfunding campaign wasn’t successful, we’re glad that — in true Lean form — we got an answer without extensive investment or time, and we could make a data-informed decision.
It’s been a fantastic journey. Thanks for being a part of Lean Impact and please stay tuned for the next phase!
Leanne and Leah