Tag Archives: Blank

The book that launched the Lean Startup revolution

There is nothing really new with Steve Blank’s 5th edition of The Four Steps to the Epiphany. But first I lost my first copy (who has it?) and second I thought I should read again this bible for entrepreneurs. So why not a second look.

Four-Steps-to-the-Epiphany-5th-edition

Ten years after the 1st edition, Blank is as right as ever. His Customer Development model is a great lesson about the dangers of business plans and of product development without some validation form early customers and the Market. You can read my post from 2011, Steve Blank and Customer Development. You should, as I will not say again what I said then. I do not have much to change. Let me just say again a few key elements:

– “The good new is these customer and market milestones can be defined and measured. The bad news is achieving these milestones is an art. It’s an art embodied in the passion and vision of the individuals who work to make their vision a reality. That’s what makes startups exciting.” [Page 22 and see note (1) below]
– Start-ups are not early versions of established companies. they have nothing to do with them in fact. “Startups are temporary organizations designed to search for a scalable and repeatable business model.” As a consequence, people running start-ups (product, sales, marketing, management) need to understand the start-up culture and dynamics. “Traditional functional organizations [Sales, Marketing and Business Development] and the job titles and the job descriptions that work in a large company are worse than useless in a startup. They are dangerous and dysfunctional in the first phases of a startup.”[Appendix A, “The Death of the Departments”.]

Blank’s Four Steps to the Epiphany is not easy to read but it is a must have and a must read for any entrepreneur!

(1) In another interview Balnk explained: Over the last decade we assumed that once we found repeatable methodologies (Agile and Customer Development, Business Model Design) to build early stage ventures, entrepreneurship would become a “science,” and anyone could do it. I’m beginning to suspect this assumption may be wrong. It’s not that the tools are wrong. Where I think we have gone wrong is the belief that anyone can use these tools equally well.” In the same way that word processing has never replaced a writer, a thoughtful innovation process will not guarantee success. Blank added that ” until we truly understand how to teach creativity, their numbers are limited. Not everyone is an artist, after all.”

The challenge(s) of innovation

Entreprise Romande asked me to write a short article about Innovation. It was published on March 2, here is my quick (and dirty) translation

Two famous quotes are worth recalling: in 1899, Charles Duel proposed to close the patent office he headed the U.S. stating that “everything that has to be invented has already been.” Less than a century later, Bill Gates stated with conviction that “a computer did not need the equivalent of more than a memory disk.”If these two predictions show that the difficulties of innovation are linked to the difficulty in predicting the future too far, they are unfortunately only legends! It remains no less true that innovators face many obstacles, the first of them being the permanent uncertainty in which swims the one who wants to offer something new.

The difficulties do not stop at the door of the future. In a famous book, Professor Clayton Christensen explains the dilemma of large companies toward innovation. Christensen uses the term Great and not Large because he speaks of the best managed corporations: by being attentive to their customers, they constantly seek to serve them better by improving the constant changes in the quality of their products and services. In doing so, it is extremely difficult to see coming revolutions, all the more difficult to identify that they often start very humbly, with products of inferior quality and very incomplete. Christensen cites numerous examples, but simply note that Microsoft almost missed the turn to a web that did not generate income, Nokia has missed the market for smart phones and I remind you this famous quote by Henry Ford: “If I had asked consumers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”

Any smart player quickly learns from those mistakes. Christensen, who has become an icon in innovation, explains that the major players must simply create spin-offs away from customers and development centers. Despite some initial mistakes, Nespresso has become a flagship product of Nestle. Perhaps less known is the fact that Cisco has become a major player in the world of servers thanks to a start-up it had funded in its infancy and then acquired. The lessons were digested; Christensen and other experts today have become popes of innovation with more refined models

The spin-off concept is nowadays obvious, and good news, there is no need for significant resources, at least initially. Experts advocate rapid iterations in constant contact with potential customers, from the start of a project. It was also understood that one must first find customers willing to test visionary products, even promising but incomplete. Adjustments can be made continuously and avoid unnecessary investments in directions that the market would refuse later. Finally, the transition for visionary customers to more conservative customers will require a specific strategy and often a new team for product development. Systematic procedures that would ensure the success of future innovations? Unfortunately not. In a recent interview to the Finnish press, Steve Blank who believed he had developed a scientific theory of innovation said, ” Over the last decade we assumed that once we found repeatable methodologies (Agile and Customer Development, Business Model Design) to build early stage ventures, entrepreneurship would become a “science,” and anyone could do it. I’m beginning to suspect this assumption may be wrong. It’s not that the tools are wrong. Where I think we have gone wrong is the belief that anyone can use these tools equally well.” In the same way that word processing has never replaced a writer, a thoughtful innovation process will not guarantee success. Blank added that ” until we truly understand how to teach creativity, their numbers are limited. Not everyone is an artist, after all.”

Steve Blank and Customer Development

Although I had mentioned him in previous posts such as The Art of Selling and his Views on Entrepreneurship, I had never read Steve Blank’s until now. I just finished reading The Four Steps to the Epiphany and I must just say it is a great book.

I will explain into some details his theory but the main reason I love this book is how he explains why founders are critical in all the decisions of the early phases of a start-up. Not the usual “hire business people”, but “learn and become an expert until you reach your limits”. I should immediately add that it is not an easy book to read and certainly mostly useful to people in the process of launching a start-up or developing new products. His web site steveblank.com is also very informative, you will find tons of slides of his teachings on the web and I particularly recommend the list of books he suggests reading.

Steve Blank is famous worldwide (mea culpa for not mentioning him more before) for his theory on the Customer Developement. Whereas we all know that the high-tech world is not about technology (no it’s not; ideas and technologies are far from sufficient to explain this world), we have a tendency to focus on products (much more important than technologies) and markets (business vs. technology). But Steve Blank explains how products can be an illusion (if never sold to customers) and how markets can be extremely dangerous if not well understood; whereas what counts are the users of products, the people which make markets, i.e. the customers. He explains how important it is to interact with potential customers in an iterative manner (bottom-up) even before designing and developing the product, then while developing them and be careful about a top-bottom-only analysis of the markets.

This is one of his famous slides where he explains that Product Development in isolation is deathly and should be done in parallel with Customer Developement only. Start-ups do not need teams in Marketing, Sales or Business Development, but only two teams, in Product Development and Customer Development, each headed by one of the Founder(s)/CEO. Below is another detailed description of this process (also available online). Then when they become large, they can switch to the traditional models.

You should absolutely read this if you are in a start-up mode. This may help you avoid many (possibly deathly) mistakes.

Steve Blank’s on entrepreneurship

Steve Blank is famous in Silicon Valley as an entrepreneur and teacher of entrepreneurship. In particular, he has a Secret History of Silicon Valley which shows the importance of the military and cold war in its development.

He recently published a very optimistic blog When It’s Darkest Men See the Stars.

He claims entrepreneurship barriers are changing. These were:
1. long technology development cycles (how long it takes from idea to product),
2. the high cost of getting to first customers (how many dollars to build the product),
3. the structure of the venture capital industry (a limited number of VC firms each needing to invest millions per startups),
4. the expertise about how to build startups (clustered in specific regions like Silicon Valley, Boston, New York, etc.),
5. the failure rate of new ventures (startups had no formal rules and were a hit or miss proposition),
6. the slow adoption rate of new technologies by the government and large companies.

And we are facing a new world he calls “The Democratization of Entrepreneurship” and he sees
– A Compression of the Product Development Cycle
– Startups Built For Thousands Rather than Millions of Dollars
– A New Structure of the Venture Capital industry
– Entrepreneurship as Its Own Management Science
– Consumer Internet Driving Innovation

I reacted on his blog and wrote this: I have to admit I am puzzled. Let me elaborate.
On the positive side, the optimism expressed is very refreshing and I felt really good after reading it. I tend to agree with the lower barriers to entrepreneurship, and probably I kept my sun glasses in the dark too long, so I do not see the stars. (But I will think this is a great article that I want to mention to my own little network.) But on the other side, I am concerned that the same barriers still exist in biotech, semiconductor (and most hardware products if they embed radical innovations) or even in cleantech/greentech (which by the way maybe be more a bubble than a real new field). In these fields, product development is as long, VCs are afraid sometimes of the capital requirements, Richard Newton, the Berkeley professor (http://www.eecs.berkeley.edu/~newton/presentations), had noticed a long time ago, that most talents go out of these tough fields to easier or more promising fields (it was from electronics to internet in the 90s). It might be that we do not (have to) innovate as much in these classical fields anymore, in which case you are totally right. But if not, we are just moving to the low hanging fruits of innovation, and we are blinded by superstars but do not see the myriads of others (needs, opportunities) we should also focus on…