What I Learned from the Consultancy Experiment

Ever wanted to be a mad scientist? As a Biomedical Engineer, my version of this involved lab coats, organs, and Southern accents.

If you drive North from Boston on I-95, before you get to New Hampshire, you’ll see on your right an Alfalfa farm. You’ll know because it is written out in what should be wrought iron.

If you take a Systems Physiology class in college, you’ll learn how the kidney’s mostly passive filtration system is truly magical. You’ll know because your kidneys will vibrate warmly. Giving you a hug. From the inside.

If you put those 2 together, you logically derive the motivation for studying Tissue Engineering in grad school: the commercial for Merrill’s Kidney Farm.

Picture folks in thick-rimmed glasses, wearing overalls, and white lab coats. Cue that Southern accent…

Come on down to Merrill’s Kidney Farm! We’ve got kidneys of all shapes, colors, sizes, blood types, and tissue types! Had issues with organ rejection in the past? Well, never again! We have certified installation specialists with many months of experience under their utility belts! Ever mysteriously wake up in an ice bath? We’ve got your filtration needs covered! Call within the next 15 minutes, and we’ll throw in a second kidney for free! That’s right! Two kidneys for the price of one! Call 1-800-KIDNEYS! That’s 1-800-KIDNEYS! Operators are standing by.

Between jobs, I ran an experiment, not like a mad scientist, but like a start-up entrepreneur.

Pulling straight from The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, I wanted to practice using the Build-Measure-Learn cycle to validate a hypothesis around my idea of starting a consultancy. Now, to use the cycle, we start backwards: what do I want to Learn?

  • Learn: Can I quickly & easily get a full-time job by having people come to me?

Great. Now which metric(s) will I use to test this?

  • Measure: Quantity & quality of leads.

Alrighty. Now what’s a minimal “product” I can make to conduct a test?

  • Build: First write copy on a dedicated site, and a message in LinkedIn. Then use the message to reach out to close LinkedIn contacts, like former team mates, ultimately pointing to the website.

Was that the most minimal (“most minimal”… wow… oddly more clear a phrase to me than “minimalist”)? Probably not. I could’ve gone with just messaging friends; however, the website stands around for longer than this groveling communication, and it has a form that will email me at a dedicated address, so from a quality perspective, this “product” was more professional.

Bravo. Minimal Viable Product built. Time to see what was measured.

  • Measured: 6 leads of varying strength.

That’s right. A measly six. Up until I got my current job, I had recruiters note the change in my LinkedIn profile (oh yeah: as of February 2017, I am the Founder & Principal at AgileByTheHour. “Conspire with us on your Agile Journey! We’re a pretty fun group. Of one.”), staffing agencies looking to beef up their bench, and buddies connecting me with folks who might find me useful.

Build? Done. Measure? Done. Learn? Let’s complete the cycle.

  • Learned: No.

With just what I ‘built’, up until full-time employment, and judging on how it was not the source of my current gig, I could safely invalidate my hypothesis.

Being honest, this experiment could’ve been conducted better. I could’ve set the conditions for the pivot/persevere decision. (How many leads, of a certain quality, and by when, would binarily demonstrate if this was a success or failure?) This, however, wasn’t the only way I was seeking a solid revenue stream, so I was content with keeping this experiment open.

Also, I’m not convinced this MVP was the best idea! Honestly, I was more motivated by inspiration than by solving a problem. The investment wasn’t that large, and the return could’ve been huge. And I had time.

Thus, we complete the Build-Measure-Learn cycle. Outcome? Essentially: pivot.

Along the way, though, I felt something stirring: a sense of unease. While I did not set out to measure this, tuning into my body, I got the following.

  • Measured: It did not feel good to target so broadly.

This informed what I wanted to learn next.

  • Learn: Does it feel better to have a more focused target audience?

Already with the metric to sway, I have a couple of MVP ideas.

  • Build: A service for smaller companies in the non-software space.
  • Build: A Product for teaching how to do your own ScrumOfOne. (effort is way more than minimal)
  • Build: A service for teaching how to do your own ScrumOfOne.

By the time I was to start the next iteration of the Build-Measure-Learn cycle, interviewing got busy.

That’s not to say the above ideas won’t come to fruition.

[Insert mad scientist's maniacal laugh.]

This is more to say I’m comfortable keeping the experiment open to see what fruit it does bear.

Go to AgileByTheHour.com! That’s AgileByTheHour.com! Operator is standing by.