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Service for startups busts boardrooms, embraces blogs

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Entrepreneur Steve Blank has spent a lot of time thinking (and writing) about how ineffective old-fashioned board meetings are when it comes to building and scaling startups.

This is the Internet age, yet founders and investors are still waiting six weeks to discuss progress over a long mahogany table? Startups aren’t small versions of large, slow-moving corporations. So why, Blank asks, do we treat still them that way?

The question was on his mind this spring, when Blank met with coder, entrepreneur and founder of Techcofounder Ben Mappen. Mappen came to pitch Blank an idea for a startup. But by the time the check arrived, Blank, one the biggest names in the lean startup movement was pitching Mappen on his vision for offering startups a more efficient, productive way to direct and measure their search for a profitable business model.

“The minute I heard his idea, I thought ‘Wow. Not only is this a great idea but this is really right up my alley,” Mappen said. “I asked him if he was doing anything with it and he said no. So he gave me his blessing. Driving home from that meeting I was like, ‘Holy cr** what just happened? I’m working with one of my heroes.” Mappen put his own idea on hold.

The result of that lunch meeting is LeanLaunchLab — a startup-building software based on lean startup principles and the customer development method of searching for a business model.

The blog-like software will allow startups to instantly record their progress and issues and serve as a narrative by allowing them to post customer interviews, surveys, videos and prototypes. Board members, investors, advisers and others will be able to view the project and add their input instantly. No need to wait for board meetings or coffee shop get-togethers.

“It’s a tool that completely shortens the feedback loop,” Mappen said. “Founders wish investors spent more time with them and shockingly, the investors I’ve surveyed feel they aren’t doing enough for their companies. The number one reason is lack of time. They don’t have time to for all the coffee meetings and phone calls and board meetings. Now, they can give advice on their own time. One hour a week per company is all it takes.”

The product has received seed funding from Shawn Carolan of Menlo Ventures. More than 700 startups signed up to participate after it was first demoed in May at the Startup Lessons Learned conference in San Francisco. Now, Mappen is about to launch a beta version of the software, with an initial group of 20 early-stage companies to serve as participants.

While Mappen sees LeanLaunchLab as providing founders with a way to communicate complex information and get feedback and guidance for startups in between board meetings, he believes the product could really be revolutionary for early-stage and angel-funded startups — which typically don’t have formal boards or directors — as well as companies outside the tech orbs of Silicon Valley or New York City. For them, there’s no formal way to get advice and no great way for advisers, investors and potential advisers to actually see what progress the startups are making. Even those valuable Starbucks (s sbux) meetings are impossible.

“In places like Pittsburgh and Anchorage, [the] founders are no less smart. They’re no less passionate. They just have no access to capital,” Mappen said.

But for more established, venture-backed startups, Mappen said the boardroom will always have some value.

“We aren’t trying to completely replace the board meetings,” Mappen said. “There are somethings you need to do in a board meeting, like hiring and administrative details. But you shouldn’t have to sit back and rely on them for everything.”

8 Responses to “Service for startups busts boardrooms, embraces blogs”

  1. WIthout having seen the software, this sounds like a great idea for keeping boards informed and any others who are not part of the everyday operations of a business. However, even with interim updates, face to face boards are for far more than hiring and administrative details. I’m sure that it is difficult for young business to find/build effective and experienced boards or even to know what skills they need on a board. It is critically important for board members to have a good relationship with each other as well as the CEO/founders/executive team. Board members must be able to hold each other to account in their role of taking fiduciary responsibility for the company. That doesn’t happen through operational updates and regular virtual feedback alone.

    That said, this is a critically important step towards facilitating communication and regular updates that allow the valuable face to face time around the mahogany board table (must admit that for all the board meetings i’ve attended I’ve yet to sit at a mahogany table!) to be as productive as possible. Good luck to the team and I can’t wait to see what they produce.

  2. Andrew Silva

    But what’s to stop people from simply utilizing services already in place? I’m in the process of building a small start up, and my co founders and I just use Google Docs and a blog where most of the posts are kept private. That and Skype keeps us pretty connected. Centralization, admittedly, sounds cool though.

  3. Hi Sjoerd. For the most part, you’re right, buuut, you’ll also be able to add/edit items directly on an interactive business model canvas diagram, keep track of which items are still hypothesis and which are validated learnings, AND link these items to individual blog posts. Based on Steve’s work and my conversations with entrepreneurs and investors, this is what they want for version 1.

    • For a sec. there it did look like just a blog with better acl support. But if you think about it, this makes a lot of sense. The blog would just be one part of this platform, which could then be augmented by all of these other parts…like document collaboration, media sharing… The best ideas tend to be simple and this one’s no different. Why didn’t *I* think of it? Grrr.

    • Hi Ben,

      Thanks for the reply. Well, that already makes more sense, a centralized tool that would combine the best of Basecamp, Google Docs, Tumblr, Dropbox and Evernotes or something, actually sounds pretty awesome. :) Good luck anyway. I signed up for Beta.

  4. Sjoerd

    I really don’t want to be a dick, cause I am a big fan of Blank’s work. Also, I completely subscribe the idea for start-ups to document progress by blogging e.g. Buuuut this “startup-building software” just sounds like a blog, with some privacy/security layer.