This post was first published on The Croydon Citizen on 07/07/2016
We need to bring a lean startup methodology to Croydon
As the founder of Croydon Tech City, I have spent the past few years immersed with local entrepreneurs who are using Lean Startup methodology to build companies.
For those of you who haven’t read The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, the basic concept behind it is that we have been going about the startup process all wrong. Instead of writing long business plans, raising early funding, and building initial prototypes over the course of a year, we need to foster startups that constantly learn and iterate around a minimal viable product. By constantly tweaking, or occasionally pivoting the product, service, and business model in response to early customer feedback, startups can improve their likelihood of success or at least fail faster and cheaper.
To my great pride, a Croydon team won ‘Lean Startup Machine London’ in 2014, and since then I’ve been thinking about how to merge the concept of lean methodology with Croydon’s own attempts to reconstitute itself as the “modern European city” and “smart city” that is being championed by the current Labour council.
Learning how other cities are using lean startup principles
Lean startup principles suggest that innovators should develop a hypothesis about likely reactions to a minimum viable product and be prepared to rigorously measure the results. Smart city solutions frequently involve the use of sensors and real-time data to enable city staff to monitor key metrics and modify systems to improve performance. For example, I recently read about a new city development in Portugal that will make use of over 100 million sensors for a planned population of only 225,000.
Another key component of lean startups is the creation and iteration of minimum viable products. A minimum viable product (MVP) is the most efficient, minimum product or service that can be developed to test a hypothesis about how users will interact with the innovation.
Cities are increasingly making use of MVPs, although they are commonly referred to as “pilot projects”. For example, San José’s framework for demonstration projects seeks to streamline the use of pilot projects (MVPs) to help the city innovate and support local sustainable economic development.
Applying lean startup methodology to Croydon: an example
Let’s quickly apply these tenets of lean startups – hypothesis testing and measurement, and the use of MVPs – to the context of Croydon.
If Croydon Council and its citizens were to implement lean startup methodologies, it might look something like this.
Develop a hypothesis: “By systematically and strategically removing parking spaces throughout the town and replacing them with green spaces and/or community spaces, we will increase the amount of residents interacting with each other on this street”.
Determine a set of metrics to test the hypothesis: Measure at different times of the day, on weekdays and weekends, the number of residents on the street before and after the test project. They could also measure the amount of time residents stay in the area before and after.
Develop an MVP: Cover a parking space in rollout astroturf and cover all signs with the message “public green”.
Measure the results: Using low-cost sensors and perhaps observers or even using a mobile app, apply the metrics in step two.
Iterate: Leveraging the analysis from step four, experiment with similar models. For example, what would happen in the same location if they converted the space to a few stationary bikes or a mini art exhibit?
Measure the results and create another MVP.
Once the process has achieved the target improvement in community interaction, it may be time to expand the programme to other parts of the borough.
The benefit of lean startup for Croydon
Lean startup is all about being efficient with capital and resources – similarly, the council has to be efficient with taxpayer pounds and resources. Applying lean startup thinking to Croydon could be a useful tool to achieve increased efficiency and to improve the quality of life of the borough’s residents. It could also support innovation in procurement practices, which have the potential to encourage local innovation by reducing the bureaucracy that small companies have to deal with to participate in municipal innovation.
The lean startup methodology will hopefully give Citizen readers a framework which they can use to make or suggest their own improvements to the borough. To my mind, this is a much more useful means to achieving positive change than attending a public consultation or relying on politicians – although, in the spirit of lean startup, I’ll concede that this belief is another hypothesis that should be tested and iterated, too!
The Croydon Tech City organisation would like to bring Lean Startup Machine to Croydon. To prove demand, we need to reach 300 email signups. Go here to help us to reach the target!