Favorite Lessons Learned from Lean at ITP Speakers

We just wrapped up our second Lean experiment at ITP last night with a Lessons Learned dinner party.

We had extraordinarily candid speakers this semester who humbly told us of their successes and failures, pivots and turnarounds, origin stories and the truth behind their funding and scale.

A few of my favorite wisdom pickings from the line up of guest speakers:

Britta Riley: Know the contours and flows of the dominant business model in your industry. Know the limits of direct e-commerce sales if you are selling hardware and how retail happens. Don’t deliberately limit your business by not understanding these parameters going in.

Albert Lee, All Tomorrows Lab who recently launched Emoji App:

Zero mental calories: users should have to learn nothing when they use your app. Nothing.

Toothbrush test: can you find a reason why they would use your app 2x a day, to create those reasons to engage.

Trojan Horse it: you can’t always give people what you think they need, especially if you are meeting a need they are uncomfortable talking about. So find out what their discrete top level painpoint is, and create the front door that meets that need. You can solve for deeper emotional needs not at the value proposition level, but in the product design. **** (This one gets extra stars)

Julie Berkun Fajgenbaum, Tweed Wolf. Come up with the 10 reasons why it won’t work and then develop tests to prove the contrary.

Chris Milne, IDEO: Design it so it looks unfinished – and people will give you more honest and useful feedback because they will not feel like they are hurting your feelings. They will truly co-create with you.

John Bachir, Medstro: Kill Features!

Christine Lemke, Evidation Health: Be comfortable with pivoting between consumer and B:B, and don’t get too attached to what the actual product is on either side – your strengths in one will benefit you for the other.

Angad Singh, Lolly Wolly Doodle: When you are in scale mode and hiring developers, learn to work together before hiring. Determine a project that you estimate to be about 20 hours over 2-3 weeks, and then assess not just coding skills but problem solving, decision making, and communication skills.

Scott Miller, Dragon Innovation and Bolt Ventures: Learn how to pick a factory, and validate that your project could succeed through crowdfunding or preording before you begin.

Lean at NYU ITP

Starting next Monday – (one week defer thanks to the blizzard) – an open invitation to any entrepreneur, funder, or advisor to startups to visit our Lean class at ITP.

This year we focus not just on lean but on the actual efforts required to develop a product to MVP – and the students will all launch a business while still in school.

Syllabus For Lean at NYU ITP

Instructors: Jen van der Meer, Josh Knowles
Days and Times: Mondays, 6:30 PM-9:00 PM
Location: ITP NYU 721 Broadway at Waverly, 4th Floor Room A/B
Text: Business Model Generation

We embrace a creative, iterative, and collaborative approach to making things — but launching a product out into the world takes a somewhat different set of skills. How does one make sure people want to use what they make? How does one create a business plan to support the idea? Is the idea strong enough to turn into a job — or a career? Enter Lean LaunchPad, at NYU ITP – the experiential course in entrepreneurship.

Based on Steve Blank’s Lean LaunchPad and the NYU Summer LaunchPad Accelerator, we are applying the curriculum developed at Stanford and Berkeley for the NYU community. This course has been developed with support from the NYU Entrepreneurship Initiative, and aims at mixing the best of the methods from the Lean LaunchPad methodology with the best of ITP’s methods. Over the spring semester, student teams participate in an iterative approach to startup development, a combination of business model design + customer development + agile development.

Alexander Osterwalder’s Business Model Generation is used as the basic framework for business model development, and we utilize UX methods and tools to ground students in an understanding of how to successfully move through the early stages of product development. Students work in self-formed teams of 3-4 to develop their business model and product/service over the course of the semester. The primary focus of the course is the work of customer development, speaking directly to potential customer to help define opportunities that the startup is designed to solve, and early stage product development. The ITP curriculum will augment the LeanLaunchpad method with additional approaches from design thinking, UX, and ethnography to accelerate the understanding of both explicit pain points and more latent or hidden challenges that people face, in their jobs and their lives.

Learn more on the class blog and contact me if you want to advise, mentor, or tell your story.

Lean at ITP Spring 2015

Apply as a team, launch an MVP in one semester.

NYU ITP is offering for the second time a for-credit Lean class designed to get your team to a minimum viable product launch within one semester. This course is open to all enrolled NYU students, and you are invited to join a team or submit a team for consideration. We embrace a creative, iterative, and collaborative approach to making things: software, hardware, and things in between.

Our method: we offer equal parts Lean Startup/Lean LaunchPad methodology, with a hands-on approach to learning user experience design (even if you have only sketched wireframes in your mind before taking the class). We have re-designed the course for Spring 2015 to get you to value proposition fit by the end of the semester. The course is taught by adjuncts Josh Knolwes and Jen van der Meer, and is supported by a tremendous network of mentors and advisors who are actively involved in the class.

2014 Syllabus

2014 Mentors and Advisors

Course text: Business Model Generation

How to apply:

Come to the Lean at ITP Team Building Info Session:

Saturday, November 15, 2015 at 3:00

We’ll introduce you to likeminded entrepreneurial teams who are forming to apply for the course, and give you an overview of the lean method as it has been adapted for ITP, and the mentors, and advisors signing up for the spring semester. We recommend team members with core skills of entrepreneurship and making including design, code/engineering, ethnography, and customer development/networking.  Come if you are an individual looking to join a team, or you have a fully developed team and are curious about how the course will be structured.

Apply as a Team by December 5, 2015


  •      An initial concept, well articulated
  •      At least three team members
  •      At least one team member with “making” skills – design, code, engineering, hardware (related to the concept)

Remember to Sign up for the NOVEMBER 15TH Info Session (Required):  http://lean-in-at-itp-info-session.eventbrite.com

Team Interview Day for consideration: Scheduled before December 19, 2015

Teams will be invited to present concepts and participate in an interview with the course instructors and mentors. We will curate a mix of concepts and teams for maximum diversity of ideas, skills, and collaborative team member experiences.

Contact Jen van der Meer – jd1159@nyu.edu to for questions about how to apply, or watch for updates on the class blog.


Better by Measure Class at SVA’s Products of Design

Rebecca Silver and I are evolving our Products of Design experiment. From… teaching sustainable design as a silo… to teaching social, civic, and environmental design into startups and entrepreneurship.



Syllabus below:

Better by Measure 


Shaping new business models to address environmental outcomes, social justice, and civil society


  • Jen van der Meer: @jenvandermeer
  • Rebecca Silver: @rgsilver

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Lean Customer Discovery Needs Design Research

When you are in a startup, under the gun, trying to execute – how do you find time for empathy?

Lean launchpad simulates entrepreneurship by requiring founders to get out of the building…and into their customer’s world.

Teams succeed when they start talking to people, and find the magic in actually validating their hypotheses with customers, potential partners, and even fellow founders who may have tried to pursue the same dream. But it’s hard to get underneath.

What we heard:

“I think I only scratched the surface, and never really got to the core problems.”

“I don’t know if my customers really understand what they need enough to articulate it to me.”

“Customers said they would pay, but then they didn’t when it came time to pay.”

The truth is that when you are just TALKING – you fail to yield anything but the obvious facts, the surface level insights. For greater learning, Ajay Revels and I reviewed all of the design research literature. Not all of ethnography or design research is relevant for a startup founder – but there are critical skills and techniques that will radically accelerate your ability to understand the pain for which you are trying to solve.

In this slideshare, we highlight the core techniques we’ve curated from D-School, Steve Portigal’s great source, Interviewing Users, Universal Methods of Design, and Ajay herself from Polite Machines.

Have you used design research techniques have you used to get to the underlying needs of your customers?

The NYC Ecosystem is Real, Growing Fast, but Different

What happens when you ask your network for help?

Here’s the first thing I learned when teaching Lean LaunchPad at NYU ITP. The structure and blueprint as taught at Stanford was essential to strengthening the ecosystem: a large group of Advisors as lecturers and helpful participants, and individual Mentors assigned to each team. The Mentor ask was big in a town filled with busy people – come each week for the full 3 hour class, and then host additional time with the teams to keep them progressing through the Business Model Canvas, and the course.
There was skepticism that NYC, and NYU, and ITP was ready for this level of commitment, on a volunteer basis. Would we really get people to show up every week? I was skeptical of my own network – I had spent my career based in NY, but often tethered to the Bay Area. Did I have in my own network the former founders, investors, and experts we’d need to structure the course? Could I compel these people to give so much time?

Learn more on our class blog – and a big thank you to all of the mentors and advisors who joined us!

NYU ITP Lean LaunchPad Class 11

First – we’re excited for next week’s lessons learned session – here are the recommendations for both the video and presentation from class 9’s slideshare.

Thank you Peter Fusco of Lowenstein Sandler, for braving broken ribs to teach us about the essentials of startup law, having seen 480+ pre Series A companies:

(thanks to John Bachir for detailed notes)

The benefits of the Delaware-based C Corp:
If your company plan is to be a tech company, incentivizing with options, looking for venture investors, you want to be a Delaware C Corp to start.
Investors understand the structure —officers, directors, shareholders. Becoming a Delaware C corp is the easiest process, and it’s the most common.

Why do some NYC companies opt for LLC?
This is only optimal if they are services-oriented, such as consulting.
For the technology-based company wanting to raise capital and incentivize with options – they are tricky.
The promised big advantage is that the LLC is not taxed as an entity. The members are taxed, usually in ratio to their ownership percentages. But for a negligible profit technology company, by the time you take advantage of pass-through taxation, you’ve been funded and converted anyway.
There are significant complications with convertible debt deals and any seed or VC money raised outside of the US
For a group of people that are talented consultants, who also create products – then structure an LLC, and when you are serious about a product build, spin out a C Corp subsidiary, or spin it out completely.

Why you should figure out who owns what, early
This is the top thing founders don’t do but they should: don’t figure out who owns what.
Conversations are had, but not formalized, and 6 months later, people remember things differently.
The first thing you do, talk about who has what equity/percentages. the earlier you get your stock, the less value there is, and the valuation from a tax perspective is more honest.

83(b)! 83(b)! If there is one thing to remember!!
First, figure out how you are going to split the company.
Then, issue equity agreements.
Then stock restriction agreements, and file your 83B!!!
An 83(b) election lets you decide at the start of your vesting agreement to be taxed for the entire amount that will eventually vest at the present value.
83(b) is important! otherwise the IRS taxes you every time restriction lapses. The company is worth little today, but the company could be worth a lot of money later.
Vesting is good to protect founders against one another in beginning. 2, 3, or 4 years vesting. longer vesting is more in investors’ favor. Investors are investing in a team mostly — they have to see that everyone is appropriately motivated. With restricted stock you have it all up front, but company has the right to buy it back..

If you file 83(b), then you either pay tax on gain, or fair market value, then you don’t pay tax again until you pay tax on capital gains from sold stock.

How do we deal with some founders putting in money, while others are working?
If someone puts in money for server space, incubator space, put it in as a convertible note. A simple 1-page founder notes with a grid on the back, and note the expenses to pay off the contributing founder when you are funded.

For further questions – reach out to Peter and join him and his team at the various NYU Incubator office hours sessions.

NYU ITP Lean LaunchPad Class 9

Thanks to the Drip.fm and Ghostly founding team – Sam and Miguel for telling their story as it is unfolding.

And to Corie Hardee telling us about what it took to get Little Borrowed Dress off the ground, from deconstructing the dress making industry, finding pattern makers, and the value of Net Promoter Score in determining the assortment and style type and finding high quality funders for growth.

We’re getting to the end of class so teams should be working with Josh to nail down the translation of Customer Validation data into feature set for MVP build.


NYU ITP Lean LaunchPad Class 8

Thanks so much to our guest speakers –

Ben Borodach founder of Hublished and Michal Krasnodebski at Shutterstock.

From Ben we learned about the software selling cycle of enterprise, and useful tips for how to A/B test everything, even LinkedIn outreach.Lean

From Michal we saw how Shutterstock experiments with new product types to fit key personas, and then brings them into the fold of the main product to generate revenue for the core.

Here are the current batch of student team updates:


Sam Slover, Shilpan Bhagat, Max Ma

The team pivoted from a mobile in-store product information app to become “nybl is ‘Consumer Reports’ re-imagined for the Millennial generation” and launched their prototype this week.

Blog overview: http://launching-nybl.tumblr.com/post/81121720774/introducing-nybl

Landing page: http://www.nybl.io/

Demo video: https://vimeo.com/90037176


Sergio A Majluf, Su Hyun Kim, Christina Yugai

The team has pivoted from an online learning discovery tool to a very specific focus – the visual syllabus – and pivoted with a first pass prototype in one week. Their first prototype solves a unique problem for many professors – both traditional and those involved in the flipped classroom approach in Lean Launchpad – how do you capturelearning-along-the way of a syllabus, and encourage student contribution.

Cognitive Toy Box:

Lindsey Jones, Tammy Kwan, and Shun Huang

Cognitive ToyBox develops toys backed by science, bringing cutting edge academic research from the lab, to the marketplace, and to the home. Their first product – a toy that introduces the concept of shape bias. This team of Stern students has made use of ITP to build multiple prototypes, and expand beyond their original form factor.



Rodrigo Derteano, Maximo Sica, Alejandro Puentes, Alon Chitayat

The team is pivoting from a 2 way marketplace connecting traveler insiders to solving the needs of international travelers relocating to a new city. Here is their latest customer discovery class presentation.