How Lean Startup Forced Me To Leave My Country

Working in an isolated environment without any external interaction can be a really dangerous thing. I developed my product in such an environment believing i knew everything, creating the equivalent to a Vogon spaceship for my startup. When i realized how wrong i was, not talking to people about it, i went on the other side, over-extroverting, hitting a wall and deciding to leave my country. This is my lean startup story.

About The Lean Startup Model

There is much talk today about the Lean Startup Model. Tell you the truth, i didn’t quite get it in the beginning. So much noise around it that i was missing the essence. Yet i persisted on trying to grasp the concept as i saw every prominent person in the startup industry praising it. For all of you not familiar with the term like i was, i will try to boil it down into a few bullets for you:

  1. Don’t write a single line of code
  2. Don’t assume you know the problem, or that you know the solution
  3. Tell your idea to 20 people
  4. Re-write your idea based on what you heard, repeat step 3 three times
  5. Write a few lines of code, create you Minimum Viable Product
  6. Get feedback
  7. GoTo step 3

If you believe your idea is so important that no one can know about it, you are an idiot, you don’t know what you are doing, stop now.

How I Efed It Up

Well i was that idiot guy, believing my idea was so important that once i told it to someone he would right away run to his home, take a 24hour course programming lesson and start implementing it. Funny.

So off i went and started implementing my important idea, perfecting it, inventing wheels, 12 months developing deep in the cave! In the meantime foursquare became a multi-million company, facebook implemented places and pretty much everyone and their pets got into location services.

How I Got It

So it was October of 2010, the single, yearly, Startup Weekend event in Greece took place, i communicated with the organizers, asked them to plug me in the event and they were cool enough to do so! (Hey James and Fotis, thank you!).

I polished and shined my service, rushed a few things into completion and there i was at the event talking with real people and exchanging ideas! Yet there was a caveat, i didn’t get any valuable feedback. People would either not get it or simply didn’t care on anything but their thing. [except like two or three people with whom i really connected].


Sunday was presentation day, as i said, the organizers where kind enough to allow me to present my project in front of the best audience the Greek startup scene could offer, and so i did. People congratulated me, handshakes, contact exchanges, wow!

Next day, website spikes in visits and i got my first 100 users! Yeaayyy it’s working! [...] Days pass and i see traffic falling back to zero. Not a single user used the service, didn’t receive a single feedback. Nothing, no “Hey you suck” or “You need to fix this and that”, “This is awesome i love you”, nothing, land of the dead, had i launched the service or not, same thing. Needless to say the virality coefficient multiplied to the power of zero. No more signups.

Enlightenment Come!

It was about that time that i first got familiar with the lean startup model and its principals. Read about all the clever examples that were implemented following the L.S. model and the kind of results they had. So i figured why not hack the model? I’ve done it all wrong anyway, i couldn’t screw it up more…

No sign-ups on my open beta? No feedback? Feeling awful about it? No problem, i reversed the Lean Startup Model! i figured “Hey, why not close the sign-up and name it a Closed Alpha?” That would sound cool and i’ll no longer have to worry about not getting new users!

And so i did, closed the open registration and found my peace of mind. Now i could take my time and understand what was going on… was my product that crappy? Did i do something terribly wrong? Was there a lack of early adopter culture in the Greek community? Hmmm that blinked… Hey, i believe in my idea, it solves a pain i have which is not yet solved by any of the superstars out there, what gives?

Embracing The Lean Startup Model

By the time i realized that the feedback loop was broken in the environment i was venturing and i really couldn’t get any type of advice a process started to take place in my mind. If this gig was to be a success i had to fix the feedback loop. I had to challenge my idea with likeminded people and move the concept forward. I had to go lean.

I wouldn’t write a single line of code before that feedback loop was in place and i had a very good understanding of how my customers perceive the product and what their pain was. But where would i find my customers?

Today i am in the San Francisco Bay Area and each day that passes equals to four months of brainstorming back in Greece. I’ve been here for just two weeks and the amount of feedback i get daily is crazy! In that pace i will accomplish my 3rd product iteration in just a few days!

So this is how instinctively craving for the Lean Startup’s feedback loop, i decided to leave my home country and get to the place where internet startups are built.

1st photo courtesy of Franz EricBabushka
2nd photo from personal collection

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22 Responses to How Lean Startup Forced Me To Leave My Country

  1. I wonder if the lack of feedback reflects a national characteristic of avoidance in taking a stand and a position. The spirit of community has a completely different meaning in Greece. It is sad yet we all experience it. The key is to perpetuate the knowledge. Be vocal. Be loud. And let those who want to listen, learn through you. In the end, everyone does what he/she has to. Your story is one of persistence, perseverance and determination. Keep it up – and good luck:-)

    • Leda these are issues we have to solve by taking a deep dive into our psyche. The joke of the lucky guy who could have one wish from the jeanie; And instead of asking for his own goat asked for his neighbor’s one to die has a lot to tell… United we stand, divided we fall.

    • Henrique Nunes says:

      Funny, in Portugal we have a similar saying… and we are also in a similar situation.

  2. Getting better and better , Thanasis . Glad that self acknowledgement touched you so fast.

  3. Talent is universal, while opportunity is not.

  4. Henrique Nunes says:

    Hi! Looking to do the same thing. How are you managing visa issues? What kind of visa did you get?

  5. Horacio says:

    “Hey, why not close the sign-up and name it a Closed Alpha?”

    That’s better than a Coke in the desert. :)

    Very inspiring Than and I’m glad you moved to SF. We did it a little different as we decided to iterate basically using social media. It worked smoothly. :)

  6. Brad Mills says:

    Hey, like Horacio I’m a fellow Lean Startup Challenge contestant =P I’m reading everyone’s posts, and I notice there are a couple of others who have entered so far who are in the same vein as you!

    Perhaps you should have a read and try to reach out to them and work together!

    http://matchbookit.tumblr.com/post/3965672288/lean-startup-guide-to-building-software-for-normals

    http://blog.zekout.com/check-out-zekout

  7. Brad Mills says:

    Hey, like Horacio I’m a fellow Lean Startup Challenge contestant =P I’m reading everyone’s posts, and I notice there are a couple of others who have entered so far who are in the same vein as you!

    Perhaps you should have a read and try to reach out to them and work together!

    http://matchbookit.tumblr.com/post/3965672288/lean-startup-guide-to-building-software-for-normals

    http://blog.zekout.com/check-out-zekout

  8. Thank you for this post! I will adopt the LS model myself for developing Sustainablr and post like this are very instructive. I have question Thanasis, are you living from savings or got a job before going to the Bay? Thank you again.

  9. Katerina Stroponiati says:

    Hi Thanasis! Your post describes exactly our path too until now! We are a team of two (http://milkybay.org),
    and we are planning to come to the states before this summer. So, we will drop you an email when we come to the bay area.

    Wish you luck!

  10. giorgos kounenis says:

    Just curiuous on what visa are you staying in the US?

  11. Mayel says:

    Thanks for sharing Thanasis, and good luck!

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