My Latest Lean Startup Adventure

I just (quietly) debuted a new product last week: Brand Lattice, a web-based tool for creating mood boards to better express brand strategy. Have you ever experienced the problem where creatives/designers have trouble connecting with businesspeople on what they want out of a deliverable? Maybe you’ve seen Mad Men? Well, that’s basically what Brand Lattice is about. These storyboards describe what we think life is like before and after the use of Brand Lattice:



Why build go build a product and attempt to build a business around this problem? Even though our team is familiar with design thinking and Lean Startup, among other practices, the venture is and will be a ton of work . I’ve got a few reasons:

  1. The core problem scenario is well understood and testable.
    The venture loaned itself to a compact MVP (minimum viable product) with clear focal assumptions to test.
  2. The central mission is about helping people be more creative.
    This interests and motivates me and it’s basically what my book is about.
  3. A great team was ready to work on it.
    Rich Collins, founder of Lean Startup Circle and CoFactor Software, as lead developer and Jane Groulx, designer without a pause, who I’ve worked with on several projects, as design lead. It’s also a great way to exercise and improve my material on Venture Design. Teaching and advising is great, but there’s no substitute for hands-on practice.


As with any Lean startup, we started out by laying out our pivotal assumptions, the assumptions which absolutely have to be proven true to make the business work in its current form:

Designers will find the tool useful and compelling. They’ll prefer it over using their own custom techniques and materials or doing nothing at all. – Customer interviews – Organic editorial and word-of-mouth – AdWords tests – Site tweaks and A/B tests – Site analytics
We can reach the designers at an acceptable customer acquisition cost. (see above)
Marketers and managers will find the tool a valuable way to improve creative briefs (aka marketing briefs). Ditto above but for the marketer/manager segment.
Users will ultimately be willing to pay a small fee for use of enhanced features and/or high usage. Introduction of premium features and functions

Note: I left out an assumption that doesn’t need proving as such, which is ‘Mood boards are an effective way to describe brand strategy.’ Mood boards are an established practice so we’re not trying to create a new behavior there.

We started out with a combination of paper prototypes and a concierge MVP (taking users through the process by hand). That validated our early assumptions and the next set required an actual working MVP.

Now that we have an MVP, we have some customer validation to do and we’re constantly refining our key personas and problem scenarios. One of the virtues of Lean Startup, though, is that the focal assumptions above give us a great litmus test for our activities- ‘Are they helping us prove (or disprove) the key assumptions above?’.

What’s next?

We’re 100% focused on validating the assumptions above using the types of experiments you see in the table above. We have a relatively tightly defined target customer (designers who don’t currently do a lot of brand strategy work) and so the experimentation is about immersing ourselves in their world and seeing what we can do to make a little better.

I’m really proud of what we’ve done so far- the MVP’s already come in handy for designers we know. What I’m most happy with, though, is that we’ve taken a thoughtful, disciplined approach to moving the venture along.

And you?

Do you have these problems? Would you like to talk about them? Try Brand Lattice? If so, please drop me an email ( or a Tweet (@cowanSF).

Are you a Lean Startup practitioner, design, thinker, growth hacker or other product enthusiast? Please consider getting in touch if you have ideas you think we should know about.