Highlights from the 2014 Lean Startup Conference

December 17th, 2014 by Rebecca Todd

Since 2013, Lean Startup Productions has offered an annual event focused on managing for innovation – the Lean Startup Conference. Founded by Sarah Milstein and Eric Ries, LSP teaches people how to build and scale high-growth startups.

The 2014 Lean Startup Conference was held from Dec. 8-12 in San Francisco. The event was attended by entrepreneurs of all types from around the world. Although many of the sessions focused on growth and development of virtual companies and software-based apps, the conceptual thinking and planning strategies could be applied to any startup team or organization as they explore new ways to address the product or service needs of their end users.

A great deal of information about this recent conference can be found through the Lean Startup Twitter news feed (@leanstartup) and on the program website. Here were some of the session highlights:

Create a Culture of Experimentation

(Led by Manuel Rosso, Scripps Network Interactive) – This session described the process by which Scripps Network Interactive developed the Food on the Table app, after the Food Network and parent company Scripps Network Interactive bought this Austin startup. The 4.5 star app allows people to effectively plan and shop for weekly meals using weekly recipe and grocery lists based on local store sales.

Scripps conducted extensive data gathering from their potential users to determine app features that would best consumer address their needs for meal planning. The team then conducted simple internal experiments and tests involving all constraints and shared discussed outcomes and needed improvements. In total, there were 8-9 pre-releases of their experiments. Rosso acknowledged that the distance between the Austin-based startup and their parent company in New York did allow for more flexibility during app development. Rosso also noted that a culture of experimentation can only exist without a culture of being risk adverse.

Integrate Customer Feedback Into Your Product

(Led by Greg Nelson, Hudl) – This talk focused on the difference between user data and user feedback and described why both are critical to new product development.

Nelson described how his team builds user feedback loops around their work flow processes and even attaches video clips that demonstrate them in action. He has found that Hudl receives great feedback if they talk to users in context and ask really specific questions. Hudl uses both Facebook and Twitter to gather feedback from potential users in real time.

Everyone on the company’s work team is responsible for owning a piece of the feedback process, which promotes pride of ownership in the end product. The team uses the Wufoo tracking system to gather user forms and distribute among their members to provide responses. Hudl’s roadmap adjusts frequently depending on user feedback they receive. Nelson noted that his team strives to validate their product ideas before building them. They frequently hold brainstorm seminars real-time using Google Hangouts and having early conversations and surveys with users to recognize “buy-in” problems.

A Conversation with Melissa Bell and Sarah Milstein

(Featuring Melissa Bell of Vox) – This talk centered on the strategies Vox used to launch their general interest news site within 9 weeks. Bell noted that the team frequently examined internal processes as well as consumer feedback. Google Analytics and social media allowed them to assess user feedback.

The team also measured how long people stayed on their various news sites and continued to watch posted videos. Bell found that it was necessary to identify the team’s measurement of success before product launch. During day-to-day operations, Vox also makes a point to allow space for silliness, which in turn stimulated team members’ creative processes (Bell referred to this as the “chaos theory”). For instance, the team created a Taylor Swift chatroom that has since evolved into a live blog.


The closing session of the 2014 Lean Startup Conference was a conversation between Bob Sutton of Stanford and Ries that addressed how to scale up quickly and effectively. More information about their presentation can be found on Twitter by going to @leanstartup and on the conference website.

The 2015 Lean Startup Conference is set for Dec. 7-11.