Mentor Spotlight: Ben Yoskovitz (Co-Author of Lean Analytics)

Editor’s Note: Ben Yoskovitz is an entrepreneur, angel investor and author, with 20+ years of experience in the Web and technology space.  Currently, Ben is Founding Partner at Highline BETA (http://highlinebeta.com), a startup co-creation company. Highline BETA works with large companies to create and invest in new ventures and startups. Previously, he was VP Product at VarageSale and GoInstant (which was acquired by Salesforce.)  

Ben is the co-author of Lean Analytics, a book about using data to build your startup faster. He’s a recognized leader on Lean Startup and product management.  Ben was the co-founder of Year One Labs, an early stage startup accelerator based in Montreal, which exited Localmind to Airbnb. He’s invested in 15+ startups including Breather, LANDR, Mirametrix, CareGuide, Sendwithus and others. You can find Ben on Twitter @byosko.

He was also a judge during the Semi-Finals of this year’s McGill Dobson Cup in the Innovation-Driven Enterprise Track, where we got a chance to interview him.


What do you think about the McGill Dobson Cup?

I think it’s cool! Everybody who pitches today is already in the 1% of the population that may have what it takes to company. I don’t believe that everybody has what it takes, but I’m glad these people have the courage to take a shot. I started my first company when I was still in university. Maybe starting something is the answer, instead of a mediocre job at a mediocre company – hoping that it will work out somehow. So I’m a big fan of encouraging more entrepreneurship, and I think The McGill Dobson Centre is doing a good job at it. I think college is the time to try this stuff out and figure out what the hell you’re going to do with your life.

Business as a domain can be nebulous – nobody needs to go to school for 4 years to learn how to run a business. And I think that’s where initiatives like the McGill Dobson Centre comes in – teaching the application of the lessons, and helping people learn through doing.

What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last 12 months?

I love books. There’s a sci-fi novel I read at the beginning of the year: “Ready Player One.”  If you are a child of the 80s, this book was written 100% for you. Read it. (Editor’s Note: Comic-Con San Diego this week revealed the trailer for the upcoming movie based on the book – click here to see it)

Thoughts on schooling, and becoming a sports doctor for the Habs

I didn’t go to business school – I was doing a psych degree at McGill and started my first company in my 3rd year. I learned it on the fly. I had no idea what I wanted to do but I met some guys over the summer and we talked about an online magazine – this was in 1996. They were techies, and I offered my help. I still went to school, but that’s when I fell into entrepreneurship and realized I want to do some form of this for the rest of my life. I actually did apply for an MBA as a backup after my BSc. in psychology, and just never went. University was super fun, but I didn’t have a direction: some people go in thinking “After studying four years of Engineering, I will become an Engineer”, and I didn’t have that sort of mentality. I suspect most people are like me. They see the value of the education, but they haven’t carved their destiny in stone – the world doesn’t spin that way.

I realized that if I want to be a doctor, I would have to be in school for the next thousand years

In fact, if you had asked me what I wanted to become during my first or second year, I would have told you “sports doctor for the Montreal Canadiens” – that was my dream in grade 5. Then I realized that if I want to be a doctor, I would have to be in school for the next thousand years – this is mental. That’s where me and university had a falling out. I am not spending the next 8+ years of my life memorizing shit and regurgitating it for you; I’m gonna go do something else.

I have kids in school, so I think about this a lot. They ask me “Why do I need to know my timetables?” And I say “Trust me, it’s useful later on.” They reply “Doesn’t the computer do it?” And it gets harder and harder to answer these questions. If they ask “Why do I have to go to school for 4 years to get X job if I’m not even sure I want to do that?”,  I have no answer.

Why’d you write Lean Analytics?

When I was working at Year One Labs, which was an accelerator in Montreal, we were helping startups right around the time that Eric Ries popularized the notion of The Lean Startup. It was still pretty theoretical and not a lot of people were applying the principles to their business, and so that’s what we were trying to help businesses do.

So Alistair Croll (who was working with me at the time) and I decided to take Lean Startup and what we learned in the accelerator, and write a book about it. Where the lean startup really breaks down is the analytics part of it. People were having trouble with questions like “What should I measure? Why should I measure it? How does that help me learn and do things quickly?”

So we decided to literally write the book on it: Lean Analytics helps bridge the gap between theory and application for new startups. It’s a reference guide, as opposed to a motivational pageturner.

 

Any advice for the McGill Dobson Centre?

Show people that there’s the possibility of starting a company. It could also simply be teaching people to be more entrepreneurial in general – not everyone needs to start a company. The McGill Dobson Centre is there to help people become more entrepreneurial. And the most effective way to “convert” people is proof – case studies, stories, and personal journeys of the entrepreneurs who have gone through the McGill Dobson programs. Where are they now? How did they get there?

When I was in college, this didn’t exist – so it wasn’t a publicized path to take.

You don’t need a business background, you don’t need an MBA. Making entrepreneurship more accessible as a legitimate opportunity for students, is important work.

The first thing I would do is figure out where the smart people doing interesting things hang out, and then go there.

Imagine you woke up tomorrow morning in a brand new world, identical to earth, but you knew nobody. You still have all the experience and knowledge you currently have, and your food and shelter was taken care of.  All you have is a laptop and $500 – what would you do in the next 7 days?

The first thing I would do is figure out where the smart people doing interesting things hang out, and then go there. Find the entrepreneurs and the startups! Then I’d sneak into a conference or something. I’d save the money until I knew how to best spend it, which I would figure out by making friends and talking to people at the conference.


If you’re looking for a way to measure or quantify what your startup is doing so that you can use that data to iterate more quickly, but don’t know where to start, buy Ben’s book today on Amazon.

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Mo Akif

The Editor-in-Chief of the Dobson Chronicles, Mo is a U1 Arts student at McGill majoring in Economics and minoring in everything else. Never having started a lemonade stand as a child and tired of reading blog posts about entrepreneurship without actually doing anything, he was on the verge of giving up and joining a pyramid scheme. Luckily the McGill Dobson Centre decided to adopt him, allowing him to get a closer look at what it takes to build something valuable.