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14 Reasons you should (and 5 reasons you shouldn’t) sign-up for the Chicago Lean Startup Challenge

Applications have opened for this summer’s Chicago Lean Startup Challenge, the 14-week program where early stage startups work to find their repeatable and scalable business model. If you are considering applying, here are the top 14 reasons you should apply for the Challenge. The first 9 come from your business model canvas:

You haven’t validated your customer segments
You haven’t validated your value propositions
You haven’t validated your sales channels
You haven’t validated your customer relationships
You haven’t validated your revenue streams
You haven’t validated your key resources
You haven’t validated your key activities
You haven’t validated your key partnerships
You haven’t validated your cost structure
If any of these are still major open questions, you will benefit from this program. Each week you’ll address a different component of your model to drive through the major open questions. But these questions can be addressed outside of the challenge, so how does the Chicago Lean Startup Challenge help?

You’ll learn about each topic during weekly classroom sessions that will set you up to address your open question
You’ll be driven by the structure of the course to quickly conduct interviews and tests to answer validate your major hypotheses
You’ll have opportunities to present your progress to other challengers for feedback and provide your own feedback to others
You’ll receive guidance from Todd Wyder, Bernhard Kappe, and several other great Chicago entrepreneurs and mentors
You’ll have the opportunity to win amazing prizes including cash, office space, and legal help!
I’m assuming I’ve already convince you. This program probably sounds incredible and too good to be true, but it’s not for everyone. If you are considering applying, stop now if any of these describe you:

You aren’t passionate about your project or just kind of like the idea
You “don’t have time” or plan to do this part-time, in the evening, or a few hours a weekend
You aren’t focused or dedicated to the program
You don’t like interviewing or speaking with people
You are afraid of failure or don’t like being wrong
This challenge is difficult. It takes an immense amount of time, effort, and brain power. You’ll spend hours upon hours getting out of the building to interview customers and partners.

You’ll be wrong numerous times. Your model at the end of the program will be drastically different from your model in week 1. Decide now if you have skin thick enough to deal with failure. In fact, ask yourself if you’re the type of person that can embrace your failure and keep driving forward. If not, this program isn’t for you. But if so, apply now. The Challenge starts on June 22 with an all day Lean Startup bootcamp. Stick to the program, listen to the mentors, work with the other challengers, and find your repeatable and scalable business model.

Samer Saab and Sameer Dohadwala

Co-Founders, Unbranded Designs

Unbranded Designs won the 2012 Chicago Lean Startup Challenge by validating a two-sided model of consumers and furniture designers while building a network of manufacturing partners. Unbranded Designs was able to develop its first design and even earn its first revenue dollars by the end of the 14-week program.

Chicago Lean Startup Challenge: Best $250 You’ll Spend This Summer

We joined the 2012 Chicago Lean Startup Challenge because we thought it would help us to execute our brilliant idea – an online wine education platform. The original idea started when we noticed the gap between people’s love of wine and their knowledge of it. We decided to create a fun, easy, and inexpensive way for people to learn about wine; which we thought was exactly what the market needed. All that was left was to do it, right?

By going through the Challenge, we learned many valuable lessons. The first was that we were wrong! The Challenge forced us to conduct problem and solution interviews with hundreds of potential customers and look at our business model in an objective manner. During the first ten weeks we validated that “people” do love wine and that they wish they knew more about it. However, we discovered that our solution wasn’t what the market really wanted. Our initial concept’s “failure” was the best thing that could have happened to us; it allowed us to focus on the bigger problem and come up with a better solution.

Instead of teaching people more about wine, we found a way to “just make wine easier.” Our new concept was aimed at helping people find the right wine for them. It also solved a huge problem for the wine suppliers – acquiring new customers. Born was our new company “savvo digital sommelier solutions,” a digital wine matchmaker with the ability to drive wine sales where it is most important – in the aisle. Our Digital Sommeliers™ are touchscreen kiosks placed in grocery store wine aisle to do just that. Today, we have successfully developed a commercially viable version of our software, recruited our first customers, and are generating revenue from some of the biggest names in the wine industry.

The Challenge truly saved us from wasting time on our original (“wrong”) plan. It forced us to see a greater opportunity that we would not have realized on our own, and it taught us the methodology needed to identify the true product-market fit. Moreover, the connections we made through the Challenge have been invaluable. The program provided structure, forced discipline, and gave the additional drive to push through the process at an accelerated pace. No matter how motivated you are, I guarantee that you will move faster and harder if you have the CLSC team measuring your progress!

The Challenge is all about learning, so if you have an open mind and are really interested in creating a startup, joining the CLSC will be the best thing you can do for yourself. Even after almost a full year working on our startup, we continue to utilize the Lean principles that we learned from the Challenge. Creating a startup is hard work. Why waste your time going down the wrong path from the beginning.

Dominic Blank and Joseph Sheahan

Co-founders, savvo digital sommelier solutions

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