IDSE301 Product Evaluation and Lean Development

About this course

The harsh reality is that most startups fail. Not because they couldn’t build their product, most overbuild, but rather because they couldn’t find a problem worth solving with a sustainable business model. In this course, students will learn how to transform an idea into an offer and validate for paying customers.

Throughout the course, students will run experiments to test their assumptions -- can I get people’s attention, is my offer compelling, what is the smallest solution I can build, and will people pay me? These experiments, along with the business model artifacts they create, will ground students in reality and benchmark their traction which will be shared in a weekly email with stakeholders and the AC4D community.

Outcomes and competencies

The following outcome statements articulate the competencies, abilities, and skills a student will have as a result of completing this class. Students will...

  • Be able to turn ideas into functional business models with revenue stories
  • Be able to triage and run experiments to derisk challenges
  • Be able to validate customer demand without a functional product built
  • Be able to translate customer insights from interviews into compelling messaging
  • Be able to identify the smallest feature set for an MVP and its early adopters

Core concepts and ideas

This class emphasizes the following main ideas, themes, and concepts:

  • Big ideas can be divided into smaller stages and systematically derisked via experimentation
  • A business needs to have a repeatable process, aka a model, for delivering value and capturing it from customers
  • Entrepreneurs are in the business of creating happy customers




In Class

Out of Class

Thurs, Jan 3

Business Modeling

Why an MVP?

As a group, transform ideas into BM Blueprints via: 1) Lean Canvas, 2) Revenue Story & 3) Success Criteria

Assignment 1 - Defining your Plan A
Transform 3 ideas into business models. Write out your Success Criteria, define the Revenue Story, and diagram the workflow.

Read: Excerpt from Scaling Lean by Ash Maurya.

Document lessons learned and send your stakeholder newsletter by 9 am Monday

Tue, Jan 8

Derisking Ideas Through Experiments

Cover the why, what & how of successful experimentation

Discuss case studies

Work session: Draft the messaging of your website, with words only, in a text editor

Turn your copy into a landing page

Read: Copyhackers PDF & Instant Headline Formula by Dane Maxwell

Thurs, Jan 10

Mentors Session

Guest mentors

Students pitch their landing page and business model for mentor critique

Work session to refine landing page

Experiment #1 - 72 hours to drive as many visitors as possible and capture email addresses

Create an experiment report with hypothesis

Send stakeholder newsletter

Tue, Jan 15

Finding Leads

Pinup experiment results

Discuss techniques for finding leads, and how to run problem interviews to uncover JBTDs

Role play as a group

Create your script, and conduct five interviews

Read: 99U’s How To Ask People for Things Via Email

Thurs, Jan 17

Driving Leads via Campaigns

Introduce CAC, conversion funnels, and campaigns

Work session to craft ad campaign

Review at the end of class

Assignment 2 - Pay for Some Eyeballs
Create and launch a $15 ad campaign

Experiment #2 - Run your ad campaign to generate visitors and capture email addresses

Create an experiment report with hypothesis

Send stakeholder newsletter

Tue, Jan 22

JBTD & Benefits

Pinup experiment results and share lessons learned from ad campaign

Discussion on how customers don’t care about your solution, they care about the progress they want to make

Continue interviewing people

Thurs, Jan 24


Work session to create a new iteration of the landing page that incorporates lessons learned and shoots to increase the conversion rate

Send stakeholder newsletter

Tue, Jan 29

MVP Definition

Scenario circus

Case studies on MVPs, 20% learning tool concept, and defining what goes into version 1.0

Assignment 3 - Customers’ World
Tell a story about the improvements your customers wants, what solutions they consider, the forces that speed up or slow down their actions, and how your solution fits in

Thurs, Jan 31

Creating Your Demo

Discuss what makes a compelling offer

Work session to outline your demo

Run another $15 ad campaign and create an experiment report with hypothesis

Send stakeholder newsletter

Tue, Feb 5


Scenario circus

Deep dive into inbound channels and other ways of attracting people

1-2-4 group exercise to generate inbound content ideas

Incorporate your demo into your landing page

Thurs, Feb 7

Mentors Session

Guest mentors

Test your site, with your demo incorporated, with three prospects by EOD Sunday

Send stakeholder newsletter

Tue, Feb 12

Product / Market Fit

Discussion on how iterating is key to achieving product / market fit

Continue testing your demo while trying to gain more leads and traffic

Thurs, Feb 14

Work Session

Revisit Lean Canvas, MVP, and customer segments

Update your business model and customer forces

Send stakeholder newsletter

Tue, Feb 19

Wrapping Up

Persevering, pivoting, or peacing out

Assignment 4 - Lessons Learned
Wrap this journey up with a recap of your 8 weeks of actions, achievements, and insights

Thurs, Feb 21


Feasibility presentation & celebration

Final weekly report to external stakeholders