The Lean Startups presentation today was astoundingly good — even across all the intertubes between SF and NY, through justin.tv servers to a 3G network to an iphone to a laptop to an LCD in the McKinsey building on 485 Madison Ave, the guiding principles of lean startups shined through. And I learned a few nice tricks in the process.

I would summarize the guiding mantra of lean startups as “finding what the user wants quickly and cheaply”. Often, products are built before knowing what the user wants, while the costs run high. Lean Startupers preach that your business must focus around asking the user what he or she wants, getting good estimates that many people want this, and keeping users by your side during the design and development of the actual product. There is a whole agile mantra to the development side of things as well, but here I just share thoughts on higher level hacks and tricks.

Its a constant user-feedback loop. Iterate iterate iterate in small steps, keep evolving your idea and keep your codebase lean and small — and never guess what you think users will need or want.

Easy right? Are you going to build your whole product and then buy ads to drive traffic so people can just SEE your product and hope that someone out their likes it? No need!

The FlowTown (flowtown.com) guys were awesome, I feel like they are true hustlers of the net and paradigms of the lean startup movement, and they shared a really nice trick to getting feedback before you have a product — simply mock everything out — instead of building the entire backend for your product, just build the front end and make it look nice, and measure user actions. So craft some html and throw it up on a web page and measure how many times people click the ‘Buy’ button on your website, or how many times people even read your about description. Maybe try to capture their e-mail address in the process. This gives you estimates toward measuring the demand of your market and your product, without having written a single line of code! (HTML isn’t code, remember)

I really respected the Aardvark presentation — I enjoy seeing ‘true’ and ‘real’ people showing exactly how they came upon their ideas, and I felt this resonating sense with Aardvark when they showed us their 8 or so starting ideas written down on a piece of paper; it was awesome to see that they do it just like anyone else, write down your ideas, decide on the best one, and go with it!

The KISSMetrics (kissmetrics.com) team had an awesome presentation as well - I enjoyed the sense I got from their founder talking about ‘pivoting’ — a decision to change the overall vision and product focus of the company — which many would think a daunting task, they had already pivoted their web analytics product twice to better suit the needs of their clients.

In fact, pivoting seems scary, but in reality the closer you stay with possible clients and listen to what they need, the less scary it becomes — people are saying to you ‘this is what i need’, so you go out and build that. The problem arises when people don’t know what they need, or think they need something when they need something entirely different. I haven’t figured this one out, but I imagine that if you listen closely enough, you will hear the true need and solve that problem, as opposed to the possibly superficial problem that may come from a naive client’s lips.

The other thing that I liked about KMs presentation was their focus on defining the archetype of their customer, basically they would take a picture of a person they thought would use the product, write his or her job description, and then append a few ‘truisms’ why this person liked the product. For example, their first product was built for a ’social application developer’ — this caption was appended to a picture of a 20-something guy with long hair, and they said something like ‘needs metrics to measure actions on his webapp’. Simply small quips defining the need they were filling.

I think its extremely important to define who you are serving and why they use your product, and they hit this one out of the park.

I do have some questions still though:

When trying to judge the merits of an idea:
- How do you get people to view your product by spending very little money, say, driving traffic to a website? After all, views don’t come easy, especially if you have a more niche target audience.
- How much data does one need before he/she can be sure that its enough to move forward and develop?

When deciding whether to pivot:
- How do you know when your business isn’t working? How long?
- If you only have mild success, do you need to pivot or is that the extent of your business?