I'm Salim Virani. I used to design peer learning programs, and these days I'm having fun building stuff.

Founder-centric workshop notes /by @maxua
May 14, 2012

Lately, I’ve been doing one-day workshops, based on the Foundation Skills day at Founder-Centric, with different accelerators around Europe. The goal of this day is to teach the principles behind Lean, Lean Startup and Business Model Generation, with a particular focus on practical application and “gotchas” for startups.

Max, founder of DOU, participated at Startup Wiseguys in Estonia, and shared his notes from the day. Thanks Max!


From Max’s blog:

Part 1.

  1. [tweetable hashtag="#leanstartup"]Do less. More constraints are better, so you grow with efficiency.
  2. Sometimes you don’t see movement; failed tests allowed us to learn; thats how we succeeded
  3. [tweetable hashtag="#leanstartup"]An entrepreneur is NOT an inventor.
  4. [tweetable hashtag="#leanstartup"]Stealth mode and “coming soon” misses an important litmus test for success - market feedback.
  5. [tweetable hashtag="#leanstartup"]Capital efficiency – are you front-loading your costs unnecessarily?
  6. [tweetable hashtag="#custdev"]"There are no VPs and CxOs in a startup" - Steve Blank< /li>
  7. “I wish I knew that sooner!”
  8. you DONT know what will work or not
  9. there different path to get to the goal
  10. [tweetable hashtag="#custdev"]Customers are full of shit; they lie to us because we ask them to.
  11. [tweetable hashtag="#custdev"]When you ask “would you buy?” you're invite your customer to lie to you.
  12. Ask questions in the right way. it really matters.
  13. [tweetable hashtag="#custdev"]Do 5-10 interviews to know what DOESN'T resonate.
  14. track actual phrases used by customers, you can use it for copy/ads
  15. ask them about the problem and how they solve it in their context
  16. earlyvangelists.
    • have the problem
    • know they have a problem
    • have budget to solve the problem
    • tried to solve it themselves
  17. Choose biz models that are faster to validate, even if it is not the “best”
  18. clay christensen 9/10 fail. “jobs” approach. “You hire a product to …”
  19. market pull. if there is hesitation – keep looking. that’s the stage you can test. when you start scaling you’re committed
  20. “fail fast” = learn. everything you do must help you to get closer to ultimiate business
  21. what is the fastest way to invalidate my hypothesis?
Part 2.
  1. [tweetable hashtag="#bmgen"]Choose your customer. You are NOT Evernote yet. Find your very specific niche you can saturate and show traction.
  2. Commitment. It’s a good thing until it’s a bad thing. Have commitment about your vision but allow million variations in terms how you get there.
  3. Vague customer definition.
  4. Multiple customer definitions.
  5. Clear definitions speed progress.
  6. Find early adopters & find specific value prop. Help to communicate and get in front of those people.
  7. [tweetable hashtag="#bmgen"]“One word” customer segments enable you to invalidate your ideas fast.
Part 3. Business model canvas
  1. [tweetable hashtag="#bmgen"]What do I test? You can’t test everything. Local maxima problem.
  2. Starting point matters.
  3. Being able to see all the different possibilities to choose a starting point (business model).
  4. [tweetable hashtag="#bmgen"]Really great product is not enough. You have to build a business model to support the product.
  5. [tweetable hashtag="#bmgen"]Architects prototype so they don't get attached to bad ideas. There is a infinite number of b.model canvases.
  6. Mckinsey proved funnels is wrong. What matters is timing when asking your customer to pay.
  7. Snapshots and navigating a space.
  8. Four actions framework: remove, reduce, increase, broad.
  9. Take away something you think you need.
  10. 5 rev. streams means 0 rev streams.
  11. Learning is progress. Data is a tool.
  12. We look for data that validates what we believe. “Torture the data long enough and it tell you everything”.
  13. [tweetable hashtag="#custdev"]If this problem really crucial, I’ll find 5 people spending money to solve it now.
  14. Get interviewing – 3 poor interviews is much better than 1 very good one. [because you can learn and adapt your interview approach faster by actually DOING the interviews sooner. - Sal]
Part 4.
  1. [tweetable hashtag="#leanstartup"]What's the thing the really worries me? Now what do I need to build to test it?
  2. MVP: incremental or piece by piece. Start with a riskiest part.
  3. Growth engines
    • sticky. subscription, marketplace. Are my customers coming back?
    • paid acqusition. transactional biz.
    • viral
  4. MVP. [tweetable hashtag="#leanstartup"]Action is not intent. Test actual customer behaviour, rather than asking them to state their intentions.
  5. Landing page, Paper prototype, customer interviews.
  6. Kickstarter, Dropbox video.
  7. Holistic approach – look at the ultimate number that makes sense for the business as a whole.

It’s interesting to see how things get interpreted. Sometimes what seem like quick points to me really resonated.  I also thought of this as a kind of guide to Lean Startup and related thinking, trying to communicate the context in which a lot of Lean Startup leaders operate, but realise from this that I’m contributing more than just a guide.  Seems that it will be useful to expand on some of the quick points I made that didn’t come from the regular suspects.

If you find this useful, please let me know. And also check out Founder-centric, which I’m running with Rob Fitzpatrick.

What am I up to these days?

I’m working on a communication tool for loose community groups and unconference-style interactions. It focuses on individual autonomy rather than top-down coordination.

I recently became a Kernel fellow, where I was exploring models for self-directing communities of care, the history of economic cultural norms, and the connection between mimicry, memes and our sense of belonging.

I did a few advisory gigs too - for Polygon, Limechain and Bankless on education and support programs.

In the past, I designed peer learning programs for Oxford, UCL, Techstars, Microsoft Ventures and The Royal Academy Of Engineering. I also played a role in creating the Lean Startup methodology, and the European startup ecosystem. You can read about this here.


  • Cuppa - decentralised collaboration protocol (WIP)
  • Nonfungo - completely on-chain NFT sale notification bot for Discord. (Look ma! No Opensea API!)
  • Powerplays - real-time token launches


  • Peer Learning Is - a broad look at peer learning around the world, and how to design peer learning to outperform traditional education
  • Mentor Impact - researched the practices used by the startup mentors that really make a difference

Collected practices

  • Source Institute - skunkworks I founded with open peer learning formats and ops guides, and our internal guide on decentralised teams
  • DAOistry - practices and mindsets that work in blockchain communities
  • Decision Hacks - early-stage startup decisions distilled