Long before Slidebean even existed, Trevor Owens co-founded a company called Lean Startup Machine that, through YouTube videos and other media, looked at helping startups get started. Their most powerful and well-known tool is the Lean Validation Board which helped founders validate and pivot their assumptions, and tracked the success or failure of those pivots.
It is a tool that we used when we were started Slidebean to de-risk our business ideas. So, with the blessing of Trevor, we created our version of the Lean Validation Board with some tweaks and changes based on what we’ve learned from using it.
The Lean Validation Board is a fantastic tool because it allows you to organize and structure your thoughts and ideas in one place and understand if your product can be a good market-fit. It helps validate your ideas and makes sure that what you are building makes sense before you start building it (which is something that I think many entrepreneurs often forget about).
On the left side of the board there are three sections that represent a stage in your company idea development stage:
Brainstorming what you are gonna build,
Building your first MVPs
Creating products that have business models and paying customers
On the right side of the board you have the core assumptions landing box and how to validate each of these assumptions.
How to use the Lean Validation Board
The most important thing to know about the Lean Validation Board is that for every single stage of the product you need to validate your assumptions of that stage, and you start with the most the riskiest assumption of your product (i.e. if you can’t validate that idea your whole product fails) and then work your way through your assumptions until they are all validated.
To help me explain this I’ll use Slidebean as an example.
Back in 2013, when we decided to start Slidebean, we had the assumption that PowerPoint sucks and that people hated it, and we thought our ideal user base would be office employee in a company that had 100-500 employers. This gives us a audience assumption and a pain point assumption.
Most founders will take this combination of audience and pain point and instantly build a product without validating these assumptions. Don’t do that. You can make lots of mistakes and it’ll be more expensive. Instead, you can validate wether these two assumptions are correct by asking yourself questions and finding the answers from some research.
With these two assumptions we come up with core assumptions (which go on the right side of your sheet) that, if they were invalidated, would break our business:
Do people really hate PowerPoint?
Will people switch from PowerPoint?
Will companies that already use a presentation builder allow for additional products?
From here you pick the riskiest assumption and try and validate it. In our case we needed to know if people really hated PowerPoint. To validate it you need to decide a method (asking 100 people) and a minimum success criteria (at least 50% of the audience hates the product) and then you get out building and start asking people.
If it is a success you move to the next riskiest core assumption you made, but if you can’t validate it you must pivot by changing one of your assumptions: audience or pain point. You keep doing this until you’ve validated each core assumption and then you move to the next stage: building an MVP.
Building, and validating, your startup MVP
For ease I’ll let you know that we pivoted our audience to startups and validated all of our core assumptions so that we would be ready to build an MVP.
The “start building” section has three categories: audience, paint point, and a solution. In our case we focused on startups who were struggling with their pitch decks and came up with a solution that helped them make beautiful slides every time. We set a limitation that only allowed one element on each slide to ensure that each slide was beautiful - that’s why we called it the rigid builder.
You now repeat the same validation process of core assumptions as the first section. This was where we found out that people wanted to be able to have more than one element on their slides and risk them not being as beautiful. So we built Slidebean 2.0 which allowed users to do just that - have multiple elements on each slide.
At this point we were just building (we weren’t charging our customers) so one of the riskiest things for us to validate was if the product could be a subscription.
We experimented by only allowing people to export if they had a “paid account,” but we hadn't built that functionality yet so we put our users through a fake checkout page to see if they were willing to pay. Guess what? It worked! It helped us validate that people would subscribe to the product, and we did this all without having to integrate Stripe and other products.
We didn't even have to functionality to export slides so, for a while, we had to export the slides ourselves taking screenshots of the slides, compiling them into a PDF, and sending them to users.
So hopefully by now you've understood the dynamic of coming up with a set of assumptions, coming up with a combination of variables, and running your assumptions of those variables through this method while being strict about it.
Start selling your product
The three categories in the final section are the same as before but now the solution should have business model. After all, a startup is will fail without paying customers.
For us we continued on the path of focusing on startups that we knew were having problems with pitch decks and we thought it could be a SaaS product. We repeated the same steps as before - validating core assumptions - but we forgot about this sheet (to our own detriment) and it wasn’t until about a year later that we noticed that we needed to change from a month-to-month payment model to an annual subscription service. This was when we saw significant improvement in churn.
We’ve gone back to this board a few more times as our product has changed from a pitch deck first platform to a ecosystem of tools that help startup founders and early stage entrepreneurs raise capital but each time the core principle remains the same: audience, pain point, solution - validate - repeat.