Startup Drill as a way to solve a problemTo suggest a correction please Login

detailed description of the lean startup drill

We had a great opportunity in Oslo at the Tøyen Startup Village, to participate in the Lean Startup Drill. We started with introductions and talking to each other. Not everybody was there to present. As it turned out that we were seven people who had a pitch for a startup idea. Each of us who pitched could use only 45 seconds to explain what kind of problem we wanted to address. After we heard all the pitches, we had five teams. So each team had two or three people.

It was great that I was among those who had a pitch for a startup idea and I was happy to have the experience of having two people who had enough interest in my idea to participate on my team.

Pitch about the problem not about solution

Each one of us who pitches needs to present about a problem. For example, there was a pitch saying that in Oslo people pay too much money to real estate agencies every time they sell an apartment and the idea was to find a way for those who are selling their apartments to avoid paying so much to middlemen so they could keep more money for themselves.

My idea was that there are lots of people who would like to write better in a second language.  Our team used the Startup Drill board to discuss the problem and to analyze it. We first started to tell what is the problem. Suddenly the problem was different from the one I had been thinking of before I learned how to use the Startup Drill board. That’s because discussing the problem with the team allows us to see the problem differently. We said that people would like to speak and write to a professional level in a second language because the ability in a second language hinders career advancement.

At this point in the article, I must confess that before attending the Startup Drill, I had made a common mistake of creating a solution to people’s problem. The solution I dreamed up is this website. It’s a platform where people can publish articles. Yozzi is there to help people practice their writing and to get feedback from native speakers. So I had to forget about Yozzi for the entire workshop and focus on the problem, not on my pre-conceived idea of the solution.

Analyzing the problem

After laying out the problem on the Startup Drill board, we could talk about three parts to the problem:

  1. why this problem exists
  2. what are the consequences of the problem
  3. why hasn’t an acceptable solution to the problem already been found

We wrote that the problem exists because people come to other countries to live and often need a new language now they live in a new place. We wrote that people’s opportunities are limited by lack of language skills in three different ways: 1) academic, 2) business, 3) social and integration. We wrote that there isn’t a solution yet because of the time and money needed to learn a language to a high level.

Startup Drill Board

Afterwards, on the Startup Drill Board, we started discussing who has the problem. Here we had three places to divide customers into three different profiles.

  1. The first profile was Norwegian students between the ages of 22 and 45 who had the ambition to build a good career, but feel pressure for time to improve their English or other languages.
  2. The next profile was people from outside Norway, between the ages of 25 and 50, who are looking for jobs in Norway. They already have some knowledge of Norwegian but not enough to use it in all professional settings.
  3. The last profile were people between the ages of 30 and 55 with businesses. We also decided to include companies with employees that they felt should have a higher level ability in a second language because of lost business opportunities and for improved negotiations.

The next step was to give a score for each profile, based on three points:

  1. How serious is the problem
  2. How accessible is it for the team to speak directly to the customers
  3. Customers’ inclination to pay

Of the three profiles the second one scored the highest. This profile is: people from outside Norway between the ages of 25 and 50 who are looking for jobs in Norway. They already have some knowledge of Norwegian but not enough to use it in all professional settings. So the best opportunities were to find foreigners that we already knew as well as those we could meet in the area near the Tøyen Startup Village.

Then we began to experiment our assumptions. It was on Saturday that we made our first experiment, where we asked questions to people we thought matched the profile. We hoped to understand their perceptions of the problems better.

How we tested the assumptions about the problem

We tested three main assumptions about the problem:

  1. foreigners in Norway need to learn Norwegian
  2. career and social opportunities for foreigners in Norway are reduced if they do not learn Norwegian well
  3. there is not presently an acceptable solution already to the problem

Before we start talking to potential customers, we felt it would be a good idea to conduct a test interview with a mentor. One of the mentors could also fit the profile and help us on our way to testing these assumptions. Luckily, Mentor Bruno Pešec was available on Saturday morning to chat with us. Before we conducted our first interview, we had thought about which questions could be effective. One thing is that it’s important not to ask leading questions. It’s also vital not to tell or to ask about the future or any specific ideas. The point is to learn about how people see the problem and deal with it as it is now.

Examples of Good Questions to Find a Solution

Here are some examples of how to ask the kinds of questions which can help lead to a solution for an existing problem:

Do you have any …? Tell me about the last time …. How did you find a solution to …? Why, how did you do …? Tell me more about the experience with …. What is this best – worst part of ….? Can you describe the situation ….? Can you demonstrate how to solve it? Did I forget to ask something? Can you recommend other people who can talk to me about the topic?

We tested these three assumptions with specific questions following the above model.

For example, to find out more about whether foreigners need to learn Norwegian, we asked … ‘Why do you need Norwegian?’ ‘How do you use Norwegian?’ ‘How much Norwegian do you need?’ and ‘What do you think about learning Norwegian?’

To find out more about time, money and what solutions already exist for the problem, we asked a question … ‘How do you seek help with Norwegian?’ ‘Have you ever paid to learn Norwegian before?’ ‘Tell me about the last time you paid to learn Norwegian’ and ‘can you describe how you study Norwegian? ‘

Our first interview

We had the first interview with Bruno Pešec and our mentor Filip Stipancic stood to observe. After the interview, Filip said that our technique was not so bad, but it’s a good idea to have two or three people write down impressions and answers to each question because each team member has a unique way of look at something and a unique understanding of how a somebody answers a question. While we did the interview, we should note the behavior, beliefs, actions and feelings of each person interviewed. We should also note the most interesting thing about the problem. What do they care about most? What do they think is most frustrating?

Validating Assumptions

All together we had six interviews, four of which validated our assumptions. That means we could proceed with a second experiment to gather more details and to learn more about the problem. Then we discussed what insights we had learned. We could see that people say that if you already had a solid background in another Germanic language, such as German, Dutch, English or a Scandinavian language, it was easier to learn Norwegian. We also saw that in the IT and oil industries, it was less important to learn Norwegian. In the public sector, employees felt the greatest need to learn Norwegian.

Another thing is that Norwegian courses were a limited way to learn the language. Once people reach a certain level it is more important to have contact with Norwegians who speak Norwegian with you than to attend Norwegian courses. Additionally, courses can be canceled if there are not enough people to go. We also saw that it is true that people would like to learn Norwegian to have better job opportunities in Norway. Another thing is that motivation is greater if you have a second person to help you learn. Another thing we learned is that people try to come up with their own methods and tricks in order to keep learning Norwegian. For example, some will look for apps or build up flashcards to study Norwegian on their own. Another thing is that people who already have an intermediate level in Norwegian and who are happy with their jobs will not feel so bad if they do not improve Norwegian. We also learned that at the Norwegian courses in Oslo, teachers try to correct the students who had learned a Norwegian dialect before. So it’s not productive for the students who find themselves in such a situation.

Experiment Number Two

So with these insights, we were back to do a second experiment. This time we had three assumptions to test:

  1. a better level of Norwegian means better integration in society
  2. in order to learn Norwegian, people are looking for a flexible solution that does not cost much
  3. the industry in which people work impacts the extent to which people find it important to learn and improve their Norwegian

Then we tried to build up new questions to find out if these three assumptions were true. We asked about the following:

1) people’s experience with life in Norway

2) the experience of getting to know Norwegian friends

3) challenges to try to learn a language at an advanced level

4) motivation to learn Norwegian

5) the biggest challenge to learn Norwegian

6) what it feels like when people learn Norwegian

7) whether people have paid to learn Norwegian

8) whether Norwegian is important in the industry where people work and in what industry people work.

After the new interviews, we felt that we had shown two out of three of our assumptions:


  1. a better knowledge of Norwegian means better integration into society
  2. the industry in which people work impacts the extent to which people find it important to learn and improve their Norwegian

After all of these insights, we tried to find a good fit to test it in the market, a so-called problem-solution fit. It wasn’t easy to do so with the limited time. We did begin to talk about a way to try to match Norwegians with foreigners who seek to have contact with native speakers, but we weren’t able to present a detailed, proven solution by the end of the workshop.

Conclusions and Next Steps

And what about Yozzi? As I mentioned earlier, the point of the Startup Drill was to focus on the problem, not on the solution. Once I had a team of three to work with, even my understanding of the problem began to change and the issue of writing faded into the background. The problem instead became to focus on learning Norwegian in general and in all skills: reading, writing speaking and listening. In this regard, since the Startup Drill, I began to look further into existing solutions to the problem. On an advert in Hi Native, that’s where I discovered LingU. Recently I enrolled in an advanced intermediate online Norwegian course there. This helps on several levels: 1) my Norwegian is improving 2) relationship-building with potential partners 3) a growing understanding of the various dimensions of the problem.

So what next? The Startup Drill workshop is just the beginning. After conceptualizing the next solution, we must test it again. The next step to take is to learn the customers’ values.

In this way, we can develop a minimum viable product (MVP) that early adopters (people who are first trying the product or service and paying for a solution because they need the most and they need It immediately and they feel more pain from the problem) could use. Once we have an MVP, the next thing to consider is how to collect feedback to develop a product that appeals to the greater numbers.

Thanks to teammate Diana Nechita who also wrote about her experience with the Startup Drill.

This article is based on the original article about Startup Drill in Norwegian. For more details Startup Drill stories, see the Startup Drill page on Medium.

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