Lean Product Development: Schedule for one week General Assembly & 500 Startups pre-accelerator

General Assembly recently partnered with 500 Startups to provide a pre-accelerator prep program for new graduates of of GA immersion programs. During the four week program, the startups will spend one week at GA’s SF campus learning the ins and out of lean product development. Here is the syllabus I’ve prepared for the week.

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Monday – We start by pairing each startup with a small group of GA students who are currently in the Product Management Immersive. The goal for each team is to create their Kanban board (or todo list) of ideas/products/features that need to be tested during the week.

After creating the list, the teams need to decide 2-5 things that they want to accomplish during the week, and 1 thing they want to have done by Tuesday morning.My core teaching principle is GA’s “learning by doing” so we will be operating on one-day sprints during the week. This is because the main takeaway from the week will be to set specific learning goals and achieve them in a specified window of time (a sprint).

We will then walk through a rapid prototyping cycle to decide how to test that one thing. Each team will present, in 60 second or less, their product, what they want to test, how they will test it, and what a pass/fail looks like (pre-commitment).

Slides for day 1 – 500 Startups Day 1

Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday – The group of ten is broken into sub-groups of two or three. Each mini-group presents the experiment they ran, the results, and their learnings. The teams then take a 20 minute break to setup new experiments for the day. They re-convene, present their experiments, refine, and prepare their pitch. We end each day with the same thing – each team gets 60 seconds to present their experiment.

Wednesday – We will partner with the current User Experience Design Immersive students to give the startups a huge, 50+ pool of users for their afternoon testing. Since the students aren’t necessarily part of each team’s target audience, the test will have to be about some general principle of UX, versus demand for a particular feature. We will focus on usability of the product.

Slides from UX presentation – Usability walkthroughs for 500 Startups

Friday – After the teams present the results of their Thursday experiments in mini-groups, we send them into a 30 minute break to prepare a lessons-learned presentation. The presentation can be max 2-3 minutes. I love Steve Blank’s format from Lean Launchpad and the students will follow that rough guideline, but very compressed and without a video.


The following section is taken from my book “Lean Accelerator” and discusses Steve Blank’s lesson learned prep guide.


Lessons Learned

Steve Blank uses the last official class session to have the teams present their lessons learned. Here are his exact instructions on how to prepare a lessons-learned video, copied directly from the Lean Launchpad. I thought the instructions were so good that I could not further improve on them. And from the quality of the responses, it seems that was a good instinct to have.

Note: The following is taken from Blank’s Lean Launchpad Educator’s Guide, which you can find in its entirety here.

Loads of examples and info for lessons learned




1. RedOx team from Yale:


2. NeonLabs from Carnegie Mellon University:


3. Phioptics from the University of Illinois:


  1. OmegaChem Iowa State University:


  1. City Climber team from City University of New York:


  1. Soliculture team from UC Santa Cruz:


Story Video Details (2 minutes)

If I can replace your team name and get the same story, that is BAD! Be unique! Be very specific! (note: my addition, the rest is from Steve Blank’s curriculum)

Think of the story video as the heart of the team presentation as told through video.

Suggested Story Video outline:

  • What are your names and what is your team’s name? Introduce yourselves. Pan the camera around your office so we can see where you work.
  • How many customers did you talk to?
  • Did you find this easy? Hard at first?
  • When you started the class, what was the most important thing you thought you would have to do to successfully launch a scalable startup?
  • How do you feel about that now?
  • Thinking back across the class, who was the most interesting customer you met and where did you meet them?
  • What happened?
  • Why, specifically, was this your most interesting customer conversation?
  • And how, specifically, did your business model change as a result?
  • Now that the class is over, what was the most surprising thing you learned in the class?

Lessons Learned PowerPoint Presentation (8 minutes)

The “lessons learned” slide deck is a very short list of definitions and simple declaratives that are intended to increase the quality of the presentations. Here it is, in full:

  • Story.
  • Be specific.
  • Show me, don’t tell me.
  • Arcs.
  • Beginning, middle, end.
  • Character, setting, plot.
  • Editing.
  • Notes.
  • Look before…
  • Practice!
  • Be specific.
  • Use (or enhance) the diagrams you developed in weekly presentations to illustrate these points.

Common Student Errors: Presentation and Video

Students often make very bland story videos:

  • They don’t naturally hone in and choose very specific details of their technology, their customers, and their learning process. This is essential — the more specific, the better. (Note: I overemphasized this part. I wanted very specific details about what the students did over the summer.)
  • It is only through the specificity of a storyteller that an audience can extrapolate to generality, which is what teams would want an investor to do. Students often spend time thanking instructors, speaking excitedly about the Lean Launchpad program, or making cheeky references or inside jokes. This is a huge mistake, and can make their presentation feel like a junior high school Science Fair project. Students should spend absolutely zero time on any of these topics, and all meta references to how important teamwork is should be aggressively cut. This is very hard for many students to internalize.
  • None of that has any place in a 2-minute video about a real company that is actually trying to raise real money from real investors. Investors will ascertain team dynamics for themselves when they meet a company and get to know the people involved. Students think they need to tell a whitewashed success story: This is another big mistake, and will damage their attempts at getting subsequent financing.
  • Students must strive to tell the authentic, honest story of their successes and mistakes, pitfalls, discoveries, and pivots.
  • Most importantly, students must talk in the most specific terms possible about the customers they actually met, what they actually said, and how that changed their Business Model Canvases.

Lessons-Learned Presentations

The links below will take you to the videos the students prepared for their lessons-learned presentations, the actual lessons-learned presentations themselves, and the Demo Day presentations. For a collection of these videos in one easy-to-watch place on the web, please visit my blog.

Posted in Lean Startup, Startup

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