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This article was published on November 2, 2011

Pakistani startups get a boost as Lean Startup Machine lands in Lahore

Pakistani startups get a boost as Lean Startup Machine lands in Lahore
Nancy Messieh
Story by

Nancy Messieh

Lesotho-born and raised, Nancy Messieh, The Next Web's Middle East Editor, is an Egyptian writer and photographer based in Cairo, Egypt. Fol Lesotho-born and raised, Nancy Messieh, The Next Web's Middle East Editor, is an Egyptian writer and photographer based in Cairo, Egypt. Follow her on Twitter, her site or Google+ or get in touch at [email protected]

Founded a year ago by Trevor Owens, Lean Startup Machine is an organization similar to Startup Weekend and shares a common goal, but one that takes a slightly different approach. With Startup Weekend, the aim is to get a prototype or product up and running 3 days, whereas LSM takes entrepreneurs one step back, by helping them validate their ideas before they begin to build the product or service.

Based in New York, LSM has hosted events in London, Boston, New York, and most recently, ventured to Lahore, Pakistan to hold the first event of its kind in the city.

Speaking to Trevor, he gave The Next Web some insight into how things work at an LSM event:

“We’ve taken an educational approach. In addition to helping entrepreneurs start a new company over the weekend, we actually try to ingrain within them the things that a lot of startup founders do wrong, currently, and try to help them learn from other people.”

With the help of mentors, LSM guides participants through the process of pitching an idea, researching it, conducting market research by connecting directly with the potential customer, and finally, if the idea is validated, offering some mentorship when going forward to turn the concept into reality.

Trevor explains:

“We’re a combination of a competition where people can launch new startups but also a mentorship and educational bootcamp where they can learn about the right things to do and the wrong things that other entrepreneurs have done in the past when launching a company.”

The roots of LSM lie within one of Trevor’s personal experiences as an entrepreneur:

“Part of the genesis goes back to the fact that I’ve had five failed companies before I started Lean Startup Machine. My second company I imported scooters from China to the US.”

Trevor spent 3 months working on the business, working on the website, designing the product and working with an import company, and once he had the product ready for sale – he found that it had no market.

After several months of trying to figure out why the product wasn’t selling, Trevor tried a different tactic.

“By using Lean Startup methodology, I realized why it was a bad idea and why no one would buy these products.”

He put up an ad on Craigs List for a Vespa – and thought he could convince callers to go for the cheaper, more environmentally friendly Chinese alternative. But not a single person was interested.

“The most memorable response was ‘I just want the Vespa because all I want to do is wear a skinny tie and ride the vespa all over the city.’  The value to them was the lifestyle and it had nothing to do with the utility. I thought the utility would make it a better product. This is the kind of thing that can trip up an entrepreneur. When they have a totally different impression of how the customer psychology works.”

Lean Startup Machine Goes to Pakistan

Umair Moheet Khan, the Pakistani organizer, is no stranger to the LSM methodology having not only taken part in LSM’s Boston event, but also emerged a winner. Umair is a firm believer in LSM

“When I went to boston it was a life changing experience for me. Although I have an MBA, I would take the Lean Startup methodology over an MBA, any day.”

But bringing Lean Startup to Pakistan did have its challenges, where the concept of validation was new to many of the entrepreneurs taking part in the process.

Umair’s initial attempts to spread the word about LSM and its methodology were met with some resistance.

“The initial reaction was – what’s validation? Pakistanis still believe that you should build something and then people will come. We build the product and the later find out there’s no one willing to use it. The mentality that entrepreunership can be taught – they weren’t open to that idea at first.”

But that didn’t last long, and soon Umair had enough signatures to bring LSM to Lahore.

He goes on:

“Pakistan has a very vibrant tech community, and the talent is comparable to anywhere else in the world but the mindset is on a services mode. They have no clue how to validate ideas for their products – they work for London and New York based clients, and they know the industry but don’t know how to validate their ideas.

I thought it would be great if we could bring it to Pakistan, and the sooner we bring it, the more we can show the world that we can also adopt new things quicker. That was the biggest motivation for me.”

Speaking about the difference in experience from New York to Lahore, the main stumbling block was conveying the concept that failure is nothing to be feared,  but rather to be expected. Trevor explained

“Some of the major differences that I’ve noticed is that it was definitely harder to get the entrepreneurs  over the hurdle of being willing to be vulnerable, to let their idea fail, because part of the whole concept behind Lean Startup is that the fastest way to be a success is to fail. Lean Startup is rooted in this idea of failing quickly and failing cheaply.

They did a great job validating their ideas, they did all the customer development, went out and talked to customers, got letters of intent, but even in their presentations, they were less upfront about the failures that they had.”

Trevor compares Pakistan to New York, where admitting failure is part of the process, he goes on

“I’d say that London is even more honest about their failures, than either New York or Pakistan. That was a challenge, to get them to look at failure in a positive light.”

As part of the validation process, LSM encourages participants to approach potential customers and talk to them about their project. Participants approached potential customers both online and offline, locally and internationally, and many of them were able to get the validation needed to take their concepts to the next level.

Umair goes on,

Pakistan is an untapped country – we have one of the largest populations, largest internet penetration and a growing literacy rate. Broadband is growing at 30 to 40 per cent per year and people are getting more and more tech savvy.

Trevor adds,

There’s a lot of opportunity here. Pakistan is a clean slate in terms of the fact that web companies like Paypal doesn’t work, as soon as they type of stuff is happening, there’s going to be a lot of opportunity for new innovation here.

Meet the Winners

With about 40 entrepreneurs taking part, among them many university undergraduates, the three winning teams will benefit from additional mentorships with Umair, Trevor, as well as several New York CEOs who took part in a mentorship session by Skyping in from the US.

The three winning projects addressed the health, educational and media sectors.

Meri Taaleem is an online service catering to universities and prospective students. The site provides an interface for students and universities to connect, and in the process facilitates the admissions process.

Sahara Brain Controlled Limb Prosthesis: The 3 man team working on this project are all undergraduates at NUST in Islamabad. Fahad Islam, Syed Muhammad Bilal Khalid and Muhammad Nouman are developing a chip which would allow them to create a fully functional and cost effective brain controlled prosthesis.

Scripton: The service provided by the team would cater to PR companies and web designers who want an easy way to customize their campaigns to be used with any platform or medium. The produce would include an HTML to PHP converter, a user management system and cloud based storage mechanism.

The end of Lahore’s Lean Startup Machine event, one of the winners quit his day job the next day, which Trevor tells us is a common occurrence at their events, having happened twice before in New York.

Do you want Lean Startup Machine to come to your city? If you can get 50 signatures or 500 email addresses, you can unlock your city.

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