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Incubator Session 2: The Lean Startup

On March 2, 2017, the second in a series of six sessions of the Reconstructionist Learning Networks Innovators Incubator took place. In this second session, guest facilitator Douglas Heifetz guided a discussion on the lean startup. Below are highlights from the session, with links to resources discussed.

Background on the Lean Startup Method

Explore this website to learn more about the Lean Startup Method.

Who We Are

The survey we distributed to Incubator participants received 7 out of 21 responses (so far!). What we found:

Our group is composed of: 50% entrepreneurs 50% intrapreneurs.

What are our obstacles?

  1. Money!
  2. Burnout
  3. Geography/real estate
  4. Finding the right partnerships

Words of Torah

Josh shared a teaching on the theme of Entrepreneurial Torah

(With inspiration from Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi)

Moses parting the Red Sea

In Parashat Bo Pharoh says to Moshe that the Israelites are free to leave Mizrayim, but they must leave their livestock there. Moshe says that they need to take everything with them. Why? We know we need to leave Mizrayim and take all our stuff with us, but we don’t know what we’re going to do when we get to our destination. “Have a sense of lightness, comfort, and trust” while being in a place of not knowing.

Douglas Heifetz Introduction

Cartoon of people as nodes in a network

Society has completely changed because of the way that the internet allows to form groups. We used to need shared space to bring people together, but the internet now allows us to form groups far more easily and less expensively. Yet Jewish life has not made this leap. There’s no place where studying ancient Jewish writings is the center of a group. Doug has been working for a few years to develop a web service for studying Jewish texts.

Premise: 90% of startups fail

Why do so many startups fail? Because we make certain assumptions that are wrong. You can’t guarantee that you will succeed. The more constructive question is: What is the cost of my next failure? How can I limit the cost of my next failure? In terms of time, money, or relationship capital.

Experiment in Sustainability

3-Part Hypothesis

  1. Market/Demographic – spiritual community, tangible product, online service
  2. Problem – Where are they feeling unfulfilled?
  3. Solution – What do I have to offer that will improve on what is already out there?

Testing these Hypotheses

Talk to your beneficiaries (both people you know and don’t know)

Have as deep a conversation with them as possible

  • The problem
  • Your proposed solution – Is it of value to them?
  • Materials you’ve developed – Show them some material and ask what appeals to them.

Methods of Customer Inquiry

Best method is face to face conversation

Two women conversing

(Least effective method is a landing page on the internet, followed by survey, phone call, and Skype)

Marla: At Adat Shalom they did parlor meetings, 125-30 people responded, facilitated by a few rabbis. Ended with survey. This was a lot of work and time commitment, and felt like a small percentage of the population they serve.

Doug: Why might a one-on-one meeting go deeper than a parlor meeting?

Marla: One on one is really delicious. You can stay focused on the individual customer. But can this be aggregated? Parlor meeting is more like a focus group.

Elliot: One on one, you can get a better idea of individual self-interest, level of desire to participate in a particular vision.

Doug: One on one, you can gauge a person’s personal investment better. A parlor meeting has the possibility of groupthink. One-on-one meetings can be easier to schedule than coordinating many schedules. What else prevents us from planning one-on-one meetings?

Josh: It never feels absolutely pressing. Might help to treat this as a priority to be able to regularly carve out the time for these meetings.

Sigal: One-on-one meetings were very helpful in developing my business. When I do it in the context of a congregation or group, the expectation is that I will apply their feedback.

Doug: You mean managing their expectations. You can remind them that you are getting a lot of feedback from different people.

Cyd: How do you manage the data from all these meetings?

Doug: Notes (can be private), file away by name/date. Some teams use Basecamp, Trello, and other software.

Lean Materials

Logo, Name, Landing Page

Example: Wisdom Rabbis

Questions for Beneficiary Development

  • What have you always wanted to ask a rabbi?
  • What would you hope to hear or learn?
  • How would you like the conversation to impact your life?
  • Why haven’t you initiated the conversation already?
  • Wisdom Rabbis idea: Like? Dislike? Explain!
  • Individual vs group?
  • What topics most interest you?
  • When is your free time?
  • What do you like/dislike about our logo? Landing page?

Conversation Role Play

Jacob as prospective beneficiary, Doug as interviewer

Doug: So nice to meet you. I’m Doug Chaifetz from Wisdom Rabbis. We want to learn about how people might use our service. Jacob, what is the best you could hope for in having a service like this in your life?

Jacob: I saw your Facebook ad and I was struck by the answer to suffering. It’s hard to know why things happen in my life the way they do. I thought it was worth a conversation.

Doug: In the past, when this question has come up, where have you gone?

Jacob: Sometimes it’s awkward to talk about these things to people in my life. It can turn people away. I thought I needed to talk to someone I don’t already know.

Doug: what format for these conversations would be most helpful? Phone, skype?

Jacob: Skype would be good to see the person I’m talking to.

Doug: What would be freeing? Having other people on the call or just you and the teacher?

Jacob: I might be more inhibited with other people there. Might not feel as free.

Doug: What if there were a combination? Once a week you meet one on one, and then at the end of the month there would be a group discussion. What would that be like?

Jacob: I was thinking about this as maybe 3 or 4 sessions, but not necessarily week to week. Maybe meet up in a group locally to discuss.

Doug: I love that idea. When was the last time that you had a conversation that was especially deep? Was it in a Jewish context or not?

Jacob: Probably at the gym.

Doug: How would this be different in a Jewish context?

Jacob: That’s what I’d like you to tell me.

Doug: It grounds us in something ancient, eternal, connected to many others in different places and times.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs introducing the iPhone

He represents the opposite of the lean method. He was able to figure out what the customer wanted more than the customer. We don’t know if Apple actually involved customers in their process. Their process was secret. In the lean method we risk openness in order to dialogue with more people and get feedback. There is the risk that someone could steal your idea, but the risk would be even greater foregoing that dialogue. The lean method introduces an imperfect idea, a minimal viable product. Steve Jobs was more about the reveal of the perfect product.

Jacob: How does one safeguard one’s ideas with the lean method?

Doug: Other entrepreneurs are usually working on their own ideas. It’s unlikely going to change what I’m working on. If it’s a really good idea, it’s likely other people are already working on it.

You can’t completely eliminate this risk. And it’s not likely we’d first be talking to people who could be our competitors.


Elliot: Good reminder to seek feedback before moving ahead with implementation.

Fred: Reminder that 200-300 coffees with congregants, while ideal, are up against many other urgent things.

Doug: Maybe it’s just 20 or 30, and you pick the right people. Also important to note: The lean method should be used at every stage, not just the beginning. Something else to think about: Sometimes we are not the right people to do certain things. Sometimes we need a parallel mini-structure that can’t be in competition with the main structure.

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