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From PO to Entrepreneur – My CoFounders Retreat Experience

In this blog post, I want to tell you about my journey in the last years. It starts as a software engineer at Bosch and led to joining the CoFounders Retreat (an entrepreneurial program in Bali). I want to share the things I learned and the steps I took before I joined this 1-month program. As well as tell you about my CoFounders Retreat experience in Bali. Continue reading to enjoy it! 🙂

CoWorking at the Komune Resort in Bali - Credits: CoFoundersRetreat Limited - All rights reserved.

Slowly but steady

Everything started in April 2018 when I attended the Entrepreneur University, a german conference about entrepreneurship, marketing & personal growth. During two intense days, I came in touch for the first time with topics like social media marketing, split-testing using landing pages, a grateful mindset, and other topics. Actually, I didn’t even hear about most of these topics before. My mind was blown. And a new world of cool things to learn opened up to me.

After this, I started to jump into the digital (business) world and share my knowledge about product ownership with other people. The fact that people can make money online by writing their own blog amazed me. At the same time, it was a great way to share my thoughts with my colleagues in our parts of the world.

To learn more about the tools & techniques that help entrepreneurs to launch businesses, I signed about for a startup competition at Bosch. The competition included workshops about the value proposition and business model canvas. As a person that is always looking for the best tools & techniques, I used these to improve my skills as a product owner.

In the second half of 2018, I started to read more books about creating value with your products. Out of these, Lean Startup from Eric Ries and Strategize from Roman Pichler were my favorite reads.

This boosted my motivation as I was learning many new things and tried them out as a product owner at Bosch. It helped me to grow from a technical product owner role into a more strategic one as well.

Why embrace entrepreneurship?

You may ask why am I doing all this? My motivation is to work in a fast-paced & flexible environment. Working on a purely digital solution amazes me as it allows a much faster integration of user feedback into your product compared to creating physical products like a car or laptop.

In my opinion, building something people actually need and to improve it continuously is very rewarding. I love to work together with interesting people and to build a solution that creates value to its users. To follow up on this dream and find like-minded people, I applied for the CoFounders Retreat. I joined the 1-month program to learn more about how I am today and what I what is my role in a startup team. One month seemed reasonably fast to figure this out.

Vollgas! My CoFounders Retreat Experience

The CoFoundersRetreat is a 4-week program that combines working on a startup idea in small teams and mentoring sessions to develop your personality. Yoga, meditation & fitness sessions are provided in addition to stay focused during the intense 4 weeks. The program takes place on the wonderful island Bali.

Week 1 – Idea Pitches & Forming Teams

The Arrival

After a 20 hour journey, I arrived at the Pertiwi Bisma 1 resort. The resort is embedded well into the jungle. The view from the lower pool is amazing as it really feels like you have the jungle on your fingertips.

The kickoff of the program was Monday afternoon. After a delicious & healthy lunch, all participants met the founders of the CoFounders Retreat: Narcis, Tirsa, Fyo & Tommy. They started with a short introduction session by themselves and it was our turn afterward. Every participant gave a short introduction about themselves. Getting to know each other was really cool. I think the most common point was that everybody wants to approach their life differently. Not following the predefined paths society has ready for us.

After the quick start, everybody moved into their rooms to get ready for the first tribe night including “speed dating” to get to know each other. Because of the long travels, we went to bed early to get ready for the exciting days in front of us. And most importantly, for our first Yoga session at 7:30 am.

Pitching our ideas

The first three days started with a lot of networking. Still, we were a group of many different people. Basically, we were a melting pot of different talents, personalities, and goals and it was up to us to get to know each other. Preparing our idea pitches for Wednesday morning was our first challenge. The goal was to form teams around the “best” ideas by voting after the pitches. As my personal goal was to figure out my role in a founding team, I decided to pitch myself and rather join the idea of somebody else. You can see the slides of my pitch below.

My pitch

I explained why keeping software development simple is so important. With new technology trends like blockchain, artificial intelligence, robotics, big data, etc. the complexity of our software solutions increases continuously. This is great from a developer point of view because it raises new challenges. Nevertheless, this means a huge investment for a company during development until a shippable product is available. For me, the solution to this problem has two components:

One is software craftsmanship. In the last years, I saw a few projects with huge codebases that were hard to maintain. Excellence in software engineering helps here to reduce the risk of unexpectedly high costs during software development.

The best code you can write is no code!

The other component is to build products iteratively and focus on the essential needs of a customer. If we keep the customer in mind, we can reduce the numbers of build features, spend less money on development and launch a service or app much faster.

Forming Teams

After the pitches, we voted for four ideas out of the circa 14 pitches. The selected ideas were:

  • A platform for real estate developers & investors
  • A sustainability project with the idea to deploy artificial reefs into the ocean
  • A platform for creatives, models & companies in the fashion industry
  • A customer experience focused CRM tool.

As I was looking for a purely digital started to build from scratch I decided to join the last projects. With Gita, Kirsten, and Liz we had a great interdisciplinary team with backgrounds from event management, customer experience & sales.

A CoWorking dream – Komune Resort

On our first day as a team, we went to the Komune Resort which is approx. 1 hour away from Ubud. This was a great co-working experience as we were sitting directly at the beach and drinking fresh smoothies. Our first step was to think about the commercial viability of our idea. This we discussed in our first session with our business mentor Chris Robb on Friday ( )

Komune Resort in Bali. Here we spent our first day working on our idea.

Learnings Week 1

  • If you surround yourself with like-minded people, the energy you experience is really powerful.
  • Although I am not into Yoga / Meditation, it helped me to balance my mind and body for the first intense days. Especially, while talking to many different people, it helps to stay focused.

Week 2 – It’s not all roses

The second week started with some communication problems in the team. While Kirsten, Liz and myself, were really motivated to work on our idea, we ignore that Gita was not able to follow us. Tuckman’s storming phase hit us hard. After a relieving conversation on Wednesday, we continued to work on our idea. Fortunately, we were able to intensify our discussions with a workshop about our team values led by Narcis & Tirsa from the CoFoundersRetreat team. In the workshop we decided that our most important values are:

  • Enthusiasm
  • Transparency / Openness / Truthfulness
  • Respect
  • Trust
  • Ownership
  • Fun & Joy
  • and sharing a common vision

Seek Discomfort: Record a Workshop

Actually, I wanted to introduce the whole tribe to story mapping because I think it helps you break down your idea into its essential parts. This is especially important for the short time we have in Bali. On the other side, I was always afraid of recording a lesson about user story mapping and upload it to YouTube afterward. Thanks to Tirsa, who pushed me to actually record a video of it, you can re-cap this moment on YouTube:

Learnings Week 2

  • Sharing the same team values and a similar work attitude are important to keep a team running smoothly.
  • A balanced interdisciplinary team makes things much easier as everybody can bring in his/her own strength. It helps to get a complete picture of your idea.
  • Creating a survey isn’t simple. And it’s even harder to make people fill it out.

Week 3 – So many things to do

With the beginning of the third week, it was clear that there was still a long path to go. We started to split up the team to work simultaneously on different things. Kirsten worked on our marketing plan. Liz created a Google spreadsheet on a 4-year budget plan. And I worked on defining our core features, a simple mockup and calculating the required IT budget for the first 4 years. All these activities were supplemented with short masterclasses on the Bullseye Framework of Marketing, Sales, Community Management & collaboration techniques for remote teams.

Designing my dream life – A private break-through

There was still an important point on my CoFounders Retreat experience bucket list. I wanted to find out how I imagine my perfect life:

  • What things would I like to do?
  • What is important to me?
  • What’s irrelevant?

I already figured out one of my strength is to help other people structure their thoughts. When it comes to developing a business from an idea, I feel really comfortable as it something that regularly is required in software development. At the same time, my “German” attitude plays its strength and I am really enthusiastic about cleaning up chaos. I figured out that for a new team with a new idea this can be really useful.

Now, the question was how does this connect to my life?

A digital native – not a digital nomad?

For me, the major step was to find a title for the person I want to be. The term digital native incorporates many things for me. As a tech guy, the first thing that comes to my mind is that I fancy digital solutions. Distributed teams, online investing, new apps (e.g. for meditation, managing your bank account or communication) are just a few examples.

At the same time, I always struggled to perceive myself as a digital nomad. In the last 6 years, I list at 10 different locations which made it hard to really feel home somewhere. Instead, I am looking for a more permanent home base. In my perception, this desire doesn’t go with calling yourself a digital nomad. The good thing is a digital native can be whatever I want it to be. If you are thinking now: “Why is this now so important for this guy. It’s just a phrase!”. I totally agree but at this moment it made a difference to me.

Building my digital native life gives me the opportunity to make my own decisions. One example is investing money in real-estate. As it cannot be done completely digital in Germany, I decided to rather invest in other assets that can be managed just with a computer (and knowledge about the asset for sure). The term digital native helps me as a tiebreaker if I need to make important decisions in life.

Learnings Week 3

  • Getting all numbers for a budget plan is so much work
  • If you don’t find a competitor, you didn’t do enough research
  • Don’t lose yourself while working on your startup. Take time for yourself to reflect what is going on.

Week 4 – Pitch day

The last week was all about the upcoming pitch. On Wednesday afternoon we had the chance for feedback from an investor from Portugal. This helped us to refine our pitches for the next day. Two and a half days to prepare the pitch would have been enough time. As usual, there were classes in the last week which we didn’t calculate with. On the other side, the classes were about fund-raising and structuring the pitch. Two very helpful topics for Thursday.

In the end, the time past by so fast. We woke up on Thursday. Pitched our ideas and the CoFounders Retreat found it’s ending. Despite the pitch, there were two highlights in the last week. First, we took the time to sit down and write letters to everybody. Everybody in the group took an hour to write positive things about each tribe member. As a result, everybody got his personal “love letter” with feedback from everybody. Second, the pitch day ended with an amazing party at “La Brisa” in Seminyak.

My CoFounders Retreat Experience – Summary

Looking back to my time in Bali it was totally worth it. For me, it was the right program at the right time. While I don’t want to brag with the work I put into my personal development in the last year, it was an important foundation. All the books, podcasts and blog posts I consumed and created gave me the pole position to make the best experience out of the CoFounders Retreat. At the same time, the whole group was a major part of this and I am happy to be a part of this community!

Finally, I want to thank Fyo, Tirsa, Narcis & Tommy for the great time and all the best success for future retreats! #tribe1

Credits: –

  • Title Image: CoFounders Retreat Ltd. – All rights reserved


An Introduction to User Story Mapping

I think you will agree with me when I tell you…


A product roadmap is essential to explain your product strategy to your stakeholders.


Nevertheless, it is not that easy for product owners to create a product roadmap from scratch.


When I started as a product owner, I had the same problem. First, I didn't understand the value of a roadmap. Second, I wasn't able to create one out of a huge backlog.


In my first year as a PO, I learned how to create a product roadmap from the backlog using story mapping. Since this point I am using story mapping to introduce major features in my software tools and to kick off private side projects, e.g. for an Alexa skill for Amazon Echo.. And I totally love it!


In this blog post, I summarized all basic steps on how to create a user story map for your project, software, product or app.

Each chapter ends with an exercise and shows a story mapping example. This will help you to create your first agile user story map.

P.S.: There are also resources for story mapping examples if you don't want to start with your own project!

1. What's User Story Mapping?

Story Mapping Definition

User Story Mapping is the activity of breaking down big things into small things. A user story map helps to visualize a complex product. If created within a team it, helps to create shared understanding much better than classic requirement documents. Ordering user stories according to their importance and assigning it to specific user interaction with the product helps to discover dependencies and to remove unnecessary features.  

The Benefits of User Story Mapping

Story mapping is an effective yet simple technique which helps you to:

  • Create a better understanding in your team about your product, project, feature or app.
  • Quickly get to your customers defining reasonable product increments.
  • Analyze user stories according to their real value proposition.
  • Validate assumptions to create the right product for your audience.
  • Silence your stakeholders by deducting a feature roadmap
  • Use many, many Post-It's 😉

I honestly think that story mapping is one of the most valuable techniques for product prioritization.


Why am I so sure? 

Because, it is one of the most effective and comprehensive tools I learned in the last years. It is simple and effective at the same time. I got to know user story mapping in my first year as a PO. Since then, I am creating story maps for everything! Ok, you might think this is exaggerated? Actually, it's not! I am always considering to create a story map if I have to break something down.

Building feature after feature is not enough.

That's the reason I created this blog post on how to create a user story map. 

So, whether or not you’ve heard about user story mapping, the story mapping example will help you to apply user story mapping on a real-world problem. Never forget! Putting something into practice is the key to learning. You’ll want to pay attention and do the exercise for each chapter. In case of any questions, don't hesitate to  send me your questions.

Just a heads-up though. The lessons are pretty packed with information, so you might want to set aside some time to go through the lessons. Each lesson should take you 10 to 30 minutes to complete.

2. My Favorite Story Mapping Tools

Get Your Supplies!

This is a short introduction into the story mapping tools you need. If you are working for a bigger company, you will probably have your supplies already available. Otherwise, I recommend to order some on the internet right now or go to your local office supplies store to get them.


For story mapping you will need these three things:

  • Sticky notes
  • A thick marker pen (e.g. Sharpie)
  • Free space on the floor, wall or whiteboard

As you see, I am a big fan of creating user story maps in the real world. I didn't use any online tools for story mapping yet.

Nevertheless, here are some story mapping software / websites I know:

Personally, I really like the Realtime Board as I am using it for Retrospectives as well and it is quite flexible. 

Some more story mapping tool tips for the real world 😉 

Get at least 3 different colors of sticky notes.

It helps you to structure the story map and looks nice.

Size matters! (at least for sticky notes)

Don't pick too small ones. Even if you want to create a user story map on your desk, I recommend you to use at least a size of 15 x 10 cm.

3. Pick Your Story Mapping Topic

Okay, now it is time to create your first user story map. To get started you need to define the topic of your story map. Don't worry about what to pick. You can create story maps for various things.


Most important: Your starting point should be the main user activity you would like to solve with your product, app or service.


The first story map I created was about making a reservation in a restaurant. The challenge was to create a minimal viable product that included the most important features.


You can also pick a bigger feature, epic or app you will start soon to create your personal story mapping example. 


In the next chapter, you will learn how to break this user activity into a sequence of user actions similar to a Customer Journey Map.


You don't have a topic to create a user story map?

No problem! You can also start with an story mapping example created by Jeff Paton, the inventor of story mapping. The example is about creating a to-do list app. You can find the download link on his page.

Exercise 1

Now it's time to get started!


Your mission for today, is to come up with a topic for creating a user  story map.


Create a list of 3-5 topics you are currently working on and pick one to create your first story map.


Once you’ve picked a topic, you can send me your topic to get feedback.


If you are having trouble deciding, send me a few ideas and I’ll pick one for you.


Don't be afraid to pick a topic right now. I guarantee you will get some new insights, no matter which topic you choose.

4. Create Your Personal User Story Map + Example

Ok, are you ready?

Getting started

Today you are going to create the backbone for your story map. We required two things:

  1. A sequence of user actions
  2. User stories / features (as many as possible!)

The result will be a simple user story map that sorts user stories according to their corresponding user actions.

First we nee

Story Mapping Example: First, the user activity: "Using the To-Do Lists App" is broken down into user actions

Define User Actions

The starting point of every story map is a user journey, process or a sequence of user actions.


For example, you could differentiate the overall activity of doing laundry into three actions:


  1. Sorting laundry according to color
  2. Cleaning the clothes and
  3. Drying them


Now, start with breaking down your activity into 3 to 5 user actions. These actions will frame the skeleton of your story map. Ideally, the user actions complete the activity in an end-to-end fashion.


If you picked a problem or feature, you need to think about how your users would use your application. Define the 3 to 5 user interactions with your application. Don't bother about different users right now. Pick one example user and use it for creating a story map from this user perspective.


Initially, you might struggle to identify the right activities. This is not a problem as you can add, remove, split or merge activities while creating the story map.

Story Mapping Example: Second, refine the bigger user activities into smaller user actions (if required)

Brainstorm User Stories


In the next step, you need to think about user stories. Brainstorm potential features your user demands. Don't decide if features are important or "nice-to-have". Think about functionality your user needs, to solve the problem end-to-end. Focus on stories that are required to complete the defined user actions.


A simple schema for writing user stories is: 

As a blog author, I want a fast editor to write posts quickly.

Personally, I leave out the user group  "As a blog author" on sticky notes to save space. Anyway, you should really focus on one user group right now.

Story Mapping Example: Third, brainstorm user stories and assign them to specific user actions

Exercise 2

Now, brainstorm at least 15 user stories and write them on sticky notes.

Take your user stories and assign them to the user actions.


Put all user actions next to each other (left to right) and sort your user stories according to the user actions they belong to.


For inspiration, you can check out an example I created for an Alexa skill.


Your homework for today's lesson is to send me the user actions you defined. Please, tell me if you experienced any other difficulties doing this lesson. I will be happy to help you.

5. Define Your Next Product Iteration Using Story Mapping

Now, we’ll start prioritizing the user stories in your story map. The goal is to define your first minimal viable product (MVP).

What's an MVP?

 "The minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort." - Eric Ries (Author of "Lean Startup")

Defining your first MVP gives you the opportunity to validate whether if you are building the right thing. Define a version of your product that provides benefit to its users but requires minimal effort to build.

After building a simple version of your product, you can use it to do a test run. In the end the user decides what's working for him.

In fact, even a single user can give you important feedback about your product. This helps you to fine-tune your product idea.

In general, a minimal viable product can be helpful for multiple scenarios:

  • You can test trail your idea with real customers
  • It helps you to prioritize features or user stories
  • It reduces your time-to-market
  • Test if your assumptions about your target customers are valid
  • Verify technical feasibility of your product (Only if you validated that there is a market for your idea)

Let's define the 1st increment

For this course, I recommend you to define a "traditional" minimal viable product. Focus on providing an essential benefit for your target user.

Step 1: Effort estimation

First, we need to estimate the effort required to build a user stories. This is important for the ranking later.

A very common way to estimate user stories is to assign a number to each of them. These numbers are so called story points.

The best practice in the Scrum community is to give story points with values from 0.5 to 100.

Story points are no absolute numbers. Pick a reference user story and estimate it with 3 story points. Now you can iterate through all user stories and assign story points.  Common values are 0.5, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 20, 40, 100.

Side Note:

The increasing distance between the estimates considers that big features can't be estimated precisely.

Hint: Write down the estimate for each user story on the sticky note

Step 2: Ranking user stories

Let's do a short ranking exercise.

Rank all user stories within their user action according to their effort. The fewer the effort the higher you need to rank the user story.

If you would pick the user story with the least effort for each action, would you be able to build a great product?

  • Yes? This is great. You are very lucky!
  • No? No problem. It is quite unlikely that the smallest features of your product to create a reasonable MVP.

Here are some of my learnings about MVPs:

  • User story maps point out easily that a little effort spend at the first and last user actions helps you to achieve a simple but good usability of your product
  • Spending the most effort to implement the key benefit of you product is totally fine

Step 3: Define the MVP

In the end, you need to find the trade off between minimal effort and providing benefit to your user.

This is the point were you need to experiment a little.

If you are struggling, it can be helpful to recall what is the core of the problem you want to solve. Don't focus on to much of the surroundings. Keep it as simple as possible on a technical level.

Story Mapping Example: Fourth, sort the stories according to their size, priority and end-user value into product increments to define your MVP.

Exercise 3

  1. Update your user story map to visualize your MVP.
    Simply, visually separate the user stories you need for the MVP from the others by leaving some vertical distances.
  2. You can also add another color of sticky notes titled "MVP" and "Rest".
    Basically, you have two product increments now. The first one is a small MVP and the other one the full product or feature.
  3. Take a picture of your story map and send it to me to get feedback about your MVP. You can either send me a mail or send it using Facebook Messenger.

I am also interested what was YOUR motivation to learn about user story mapping or building an MVP? How is your experience with this course?

Markus Kühn

Markus is a product owner of a distributed Scrum team where he experiences the daily struggles between user needs, software craftsmanship and actually delivering software. He wants to share what makes software development more reliable, efficient, fun and easier to deliver. Read more about his story on the About page.