Thank you to everybody that attended our LEANARTS information session at MaRS on Friday, September 12.
Almost 40 people from a diverse range of performing arts organizations came out to hear about the program, which is accepting applications until October 1.
Looking at the audience mix, it really feels like the pilot has caught the attention of a broad range of people in the industry. Representatives from pop-up theatre collectives right the way up to established companies like the Canadian Opera Company were in attendance.
After introducing our team, the program and our goals for the pilot, we spent around an hour taking questions from attendees. We learned that it would have been valuable to record these as the session progressed (noted for next time), but we've captured as many as we could. These are shared below for the benefit of those unable to attend. If you still have unanswered questions please feel free to get in touch.
Q: Can collectives apply?
A: Yes, collectives can apply. We are open to applications from performing arts organizations of all shapes and sizes, whether you are formally recognized as a company or not.
Q. You spend a lot of time talking about customers. Is this program suitable for non-profit organizations?
Yes. When we talk about "customers" what we mean is anyone who contributes financially to your organization. This might be paying audience members, but groups like donors and funders are also equally important and valid customer segments.
Q. You talked about techniques for "identifying customer pain points." How does this function in an art context, when you are creating something designed to bring joy to an audience?
Looking for pain points is one way to think about what motivates your customer, but there are multiple reasons why people choose to do things. Try thinking about it like this - what job is someone hiring your organization to do for them when they choose to engage with one of your programs or performances?
(This video, which we showed at the info session, will help to explain what that means.)
Q. Does The Working Group provide technical mentorship for projects that have a software component?
A. Yes. We will make sure that our program mentors are selected based on the skills and experience that will provide the most value to our participants. This includes support with any of the technical aspects of your project.
Q. Can we apply with an older project that wasn't working or needs rejuvenating?
Q. You are accepting applications from teams in Toronto. Does that mean the GTA?
Yes, as long as you are easily able to travel to and from the sessions.
Q. Do you have your selection criteria posted online?
A. No. We don't yet have a formal selection process established, other than to say that the decision will be reached collaboratively via a jury made of members of the Performing Arts Alliance and the LEANARTS program leads. Our aim is to be fully transparent as possible about this process, with the understanding that we will be using this pilot to establish the best way to identify the most promising teams.
Q. My project is boring. Can I still apply?
Why do you think your project is boring? We are looking for people who are excited to be a part of this program, open to learning and flexible enough to experiment with the approaches we are teaching. If you fit the bill, and the project has value to you, you should apply!
Q. Do you have to be a Canadian citizen to apply?
Q. When you talk about Lean, do you mean Lean Manufacturing?
The Lean Startup Method has its roos in Lean Manufacturing and Management methodologies, applied specifically to companies or ideas that are still in a 'liquid state' of being. The principles of efficiency and making things happen using limited resources still apply. You can learn more about Lean Startup Methodology here.
Q. How are we going to find customers?
We are putting some thought into the best way of connecting you with potential customers to interview. One idea we are exploring is inviting customers to participate in one or more of the sessions. Mentors and program organizers will also be able to leverage their networks to connect you with the right groups of people.
Q. You mentioned inviting funders to observe the program and to watch teams present at the LEANARTS demo night. Who are they?
We will be inviting both public- and private-sector funders.
Q. Will this work if I want to create something for an international audience?
A. Yes. In today's Internet-driven, globally connected society it should be completely possible to identify and engage with your customer segments wherever they are located.
Q. How many members should my team have?
A. We are asking for two representatives from your organization to participate in the program. However, your project team can be larger, with representatives reporting back to the wider group.
Q. Is LEANARTS better suited for large or small companies?
A. We believe that this program will be equally valuable for small companies and for teams working on projects within larger organizations. We are seeking applications from both.
Q. What is the MVP for something like a festival?
A. An MVP, or minimum viable product, is a version of that product that allows your team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least amount of effort. Learn more about MVPs here. In an events context, that could be something like a pop-up, meetup group or the smallest, cheapest version of the festival you are envisioning, or perhaps it's something like a simple landing page to test customer engagement.
Q. What happens when the program ends?
A. Good question. We will be tracking the progress of the teams and their projects in the months following the program and using that data to evaluate the program's success. We are still establishing exactly how this will happen, but we believe that the ideas shared have the power to impact the organizations taking part in the longterm, beyond the initially proposed project. We want to be able to validate that assumption.
Margaret Lam, writing for Musical Toronto, reported back on the info session, identifying some of the challenges with the language used to describe LEANARTS.
"Common startup tools such as the business model and value proposition canvas uses language such as “customers” and “removing their pain points”, which is very jarring for an industry that is more used to language such as “patrons” and “bringing them joy”, as was poignantly pointed out from the audience.
The Q&A offered a glimpse of what the session at last year’s Opera.ca AGM must have been like: resistance to the language, patience from both sides, until eventually everyone in the room realizes what an invigorating process this can be, even if ends up being just a thought experiment for some."
LEANARTS, a program of the Performing Arts Alliance, is an experimental pilot program designed to support promising performing arts initiatives in Toronto by introducing them to the tools and methodologies used by technology startups. LEANARTS is designed and delivered by The Working Group in association with MaRS.
Ten teams from a variety of performing arts disciplines will be selected to work with experienced mentors and instructors to shape project ideas by applying techniques focussed on customer validated feedback and learning. The program duration is five weeks, beginning January 2015, and is structured through a mix of collaborative weekly sessions, one-on-one mentorship and assignments.