“Start with Why” – Interview with Kickstart Advisor Oliver Durrer

Every year, Kickstart works together with a wide network of top-class advisors and experts, who support our startups and scale-ups with their broad specialist knowledge in deep tech, innovation and entrepreneurship. One of them is Oliver Durrer, Managing Director of our program partner SwissLEAP, who supports both the Intrapreneurship and the EdTech & Learning Vertical. In this interview, he shares how Lean Startup methods can be used to enhance both customer-centric learning as well as organizational learning.

First and foremost: Do you have a morning routine?

I do indeed have a morning ritual that I try to cultivate and follow:

First, right after waking up, I go for a 15 minutes sitting meditation session. I use Emily Fletcher’s method of the “3 Ms”: Mindfulness (all about being fully present in the moment with all your senses), Meditation (giving your body deep rest and sort of purging the stress of the past) and Manifestation (practising gratitude and vividly envisioning the future, combining it with actual emotions as if you have already experienced it). 

Second, I do a breathing exercise inspired by Wim “the Iceman” Hof. It’s a form of abdominal and chest mouth-breathing hyperventilation combined with holding your breath for as long as you can after completely exhaling. This makes me feel alert but calm and focused at the same time.

Third, a short morning workout routine of 20-30 minutes and I am ready to win the day. 

What are your key recommendations for startups?

First, I like to ask them about the company’s purpose (the why) and learn whether the teams are clear and aligned on the deeper motivation and its roots. This is crucial for the company’s vision and values as well as a key driver of individual intrinsic motivation to help them get through the tough times to realize their company’s mission. To structure the startup team’s challenges, I like to use a simple but powerful curated framework we have dubbed the SwissLEAP Diamond – a combination of 2 Golden Triangles:

  1. Customer – Problem – Solution
    Make sure that you understand the problem you want to solve by deeply understanding your customer having that very problem, before obsessing about your solution or product. In other terms, citing Ash Maurya: “Be in love with the problem, not with your solution.”
  2. Desirability (Is there a need?) – Feasibility (Can we build it?) – Viability (Can we profitably and sustainably scale it?)
    Once you have confirmed the need/demand for your solution, you can shift your focus on building the solution in a sustainably scalable way. Focus on solving the customer-problems with the highest impact on your business’ success and with the highest remaining uncertainty. This is a great way to de-risk your enterprise.

In combination with this framework, we use powerful problem-solving techniques and methods for accelerated customer-centric learning and de-risking, such as Lean Innovation. As my friend Brant Cooper, co-author of The Lean Entrepreneur, taught me, the base are the 3 Es: Empathy, Experiments and Evidence

  • Having Empathy with your customers is decisive to deeply understand their motivation, drivers, needs and challenges. 
  • Explicit your assumptions and test them by designing Experiments.
  • This allows to verify and gain Evidence of actual customer behavior (which is often very different from their intentions – as what we humans say is not always what we do…) for data-informed decision-making about your solution and product.

An example of such an experiment is the one Dropbox used: Before even writing a single line of code for their product, they used a video to illustrate the problem and their solution and asked people to sign up if they were interested in such a cloud-storage product. If memory serves they received something like 70’000 sign-ups in very little time. The Dropbox team generated Evidence from this Experiment that there was a need for this kind of solution.

This accelerated customer-centric learning is extremely valuable for startups – also in a corporate startup context for intrapreneurs. For sustainable success with lean startup and lean innovation practices, the culture and context of a larger organization most often need to holistically evolve, though. The core common denominators are learning and collaboration, whether we are in a pure startup setting or in a corporate context. It is like Yin&Yang: both startups and established enterprises can and should learn from each other, a blend of their respective best practices is the likely combination for success. Here, adopting a learning mindset and practices, in combination with the adequate structure, systems, strategies and culture is crucial – also when it comes to corporate-startup collaborations.

What does “Lean Startup” mean for you personally? 

Lean Startup emphasizes learning as much and as fast as possible with as little resources as possible to avoid or reduce “waste”. The build-measure-learn and innovation accounting approaches beautifully combine creativity with a scientific structured approach for effectiveness and efficiency in problem-solving and designing products and services. 

Personally, I like to use Lean Startup methods to drive customer-centric learning as well as to enhance stakeholder-centric organizational learning. I even use it as a personal development tool by applying experimentation and learning loops to my own life – for example to my morning routine ;-).


About the author:

A certified lean innovation coach, Oliver’s 15+ years track-record of catalysing a culture of organizational learning, intrapreneurship and innovation, as intrapreneur and entrepreneur, spans across large enterprises, SMB and tech startups in Europe, Asia and the US, over a broad range of functions and fields. He started, scaled and integrated an EdTech startup and created an InnoLab for Migros Club School, Switzerland’s biggest further-education institution. Oliver founded SwissLEAP to empower purpose-driven pioneers to increase impact by evolving corporate culture with lean innovation, intrapreneurship and organizational learning to create shared value.