Message Thread Between Tristan Kromer & Dave Linhardt On The FounderSensei Lean Startup Challenge

Tristan Romer had some good questions for me on the FounderSensei Lean Startup Challenge. Here's the thread which I hope will help answer some questions about the program.



Would you be willing to sent a message to all entrepreneurs you know about this contest? 

My goal is to get 5K teams to signup from around the world so I can write the winner a $700K check. How cool would that be if we could make it happen!

Dave Linhardt
Founder & CEO

Hi Dave,

Sounds like a fun idea.

I'm not sure I can support a LS driven competition based on a pitch and without a clear judging criteria. I've been on enough SW judging panels to see that even when given clear judging criteria, a polished pitch still wins.



It’s not based on a pitch. Come on, I’m a lean startup practitioner.

Here’s the criteria. I’m about to add this to the website.

1. How well the team was able to capture customer insights and put the insights back into the business model

2. Quantity and quality of customer interviews and other experiments 

3. How much traction they achieved as measured by paying customers, revenues & gross profits 

Does that change your impression enough to get you on board?

I’d be happy to discuss with you in person as well. I’ll be back in the Bay Area next week.


from: Tristan

Hi Dave,

Below is the type of feedback session I love. It's an event with a very clear value prop...get feedback based on LS principles. The value prop is clearly tied to the pain point. (could it be better, of course, always)

With this sort of thing I don't worry about people sneaking in with code complete and tests already run (like at Angel Hack and LSM.) I don't have to ask "who are the judges" (although that still helps) and I don't have to wonder about LSC Int neutrality (which is like a plague on my house) because no one is going to both to try and game this. No one is just coming for the prize money.

I don't have any big objection to running competitions, I just don't see a big benefit. LSC Chicago has been doing this for ages.

The strong disadvantage I see is that if it succeeds (which I think it will) then the best way to grow your business is not to improve your program, but to increase your marketing and the prize money.

But for god's sake don't listen to me about making money. I am notoriously bad about it. I could be earning a lot more money if I spent time on marketing. As is I haven't even blogged in ages. I have no doubt you'll get a ton of signups and you'll make a ton of cash here. So just go for it and post it on the linkedin group.

I also recommend you blog prolifically about process or get your startups to blog because those posts will get picked up and spread on all the LSC channels.


Begin forwarded message:

From: StartLabs <>
Subject: Open Mentoring Hour - Meetup by Lean Startup Circle Belgrade
Date: March 13, 2014 at 4:44:40 AM PDT
Reply-To: StartLabs <>

StartLabs News & Updates
View this email in your browser

Open Mentoring Hour
March, 28th, 6pm-7:30pm

Cultural center “Parobrod”, Belgrade

We are excited to announce a third meetup in a series of Lean Startup Circle Belgrade gatherings - an Open Mentoring Hour with mentors, friends and special guests of StartLabs. The event will take place on March, 28th in Cultural center “Parobrod” in Belgrade, 6pm-7:30pm.

If you have a startup or venture of your own that you would like to push forward, we are inviting you to apply for presenting it on the event. To apply for presenting at the meetup, simply email your Lean Canvas or Business Model Canvas to us

Based on great feedback we got from you on the past two LSC meetups, we have decided to take a different approach this time: instead of having keynotes and speakers, this time we are leaving the stage to you - startup founders and entrepreneurs. You will have a chance to pitch your startup to our mentors and receive feedback, help and comments on your idea and achievements. We will also make sure to reserve some more time after the meetup for networking and connecting with peer entrepreneurs and mentors.

We are going to have five startups, pitching their projects to our mentors, friends and audience at the meetup. This isn’t pitching for money - this is pitching for feedback. Also, this isn’t the “startup beauty contest”. There will be no judges, no prizes, no competition. What you can expect to get is a load of competent advices from prominent startup mentors, advisors, investors and entrepreneurs from US and UK that will be our special guests at the event.

We are looking forward to seeing you at the event!


Thank you for your thoughtful comments. 

I appreciate what you are saying, that it's not about the money. I agree with you. 

You don't know me, but if we get to know each other, I think you will find I am aligned with you in this view. 

When I started working on FounderSensei about 1.5 years ago, it was clear to me that I'm out of the norm among the venture "establishment." Of the six startups I've created, 5 were profitable with no outside capital. In fact, the only venture that failed was my first one that was backed by a $10MM seed round in late 1999. So, my data set clearly suggests the best way to get to profitability is to not get funding. This is completely against existing startup culture. 

Raising money is not core to what we do at FounderSensei. In fact, I spend a painful amount of time trying to discourage entrepreneurs from fundraising. In my experience, Founders sometimes replace customer development with fundraising when they get caught up in the hype. This is a big mistake. 

Instead, we focus on helping entrepreneurs find and validate a scalable, repeatable business model. We focus on this because, in the end, that's all that matters. 

On Chicago LSC, I know Bernhard and Todd well. I respect their program and they do a great job. I've met with them several times to partner up. I've never got the feeling they wanted to work together. I think we both enjoy the pleasure of designing our own products, testing and iterating to find success. That is the fun part for both of us! That's ok and I wish them well. 

I think so much of their program that I've replicated some of it in my plans. I think I've made some improvements, but time will tell if that is true. Our program is different in significant ways, but it was inspired by their success. 

The crowdfunded cash prize was something I came up with just for fun. Our focus is providing a ridiculous amount of value on the Bootcamp that costs startup teams only $199. To maximize the value for entrepreneurs, I decided to throw 70% of the fees into a pot for the winner. If we deliver more than $199 in value in the Bootcamp, the prize money is simply icing on the cake for one team. 

I'm not sure you've noticed this, but I think it's notable that 100% of the cash in the prize comes from the entrepreneur community. There are no investors involved. No venture capitalists, no media mongols, no academics and no famous personalities. There are only lean entrepreneurs. FounderSensei is a program created by lean entrepreneurs for lean entrepreneurs. I believe this is the key to making our program great. I only hope that in the end, we make a meaningful contribution to the lean startup movement. 

Thank you for your suggestions and supportive comments. I take them to heart. I'm glad you are bullish on our prospects. Since the Challenge launched yesterday, I am cautiously optimistic we will find a way to attract serious entrepreneurs into the program. If we can, I know we will have fun helping them learn the truth about themselves and the businesses they create. 


Dave Linhardt