Steve Blank Podcast
Summary: Steve Blank, eight-time entrepreneur and now a business school professor at Stanford, Columbia and Berkeley, shares his hard-won wisdom as he pioneers entrepreneurship as a management science, combining Customer Development, Business Model Design and Agile Development. The conclusion? Startups are simply not small versions of large companies! Startups are actually temporary organizations designed to search for a scalable and repeatable business model.
About a month ago I had one of the strangest phones call of my life. “Steve my name is Donald xx, and I’m the head of external affairs of the CIA’s venture capital firm and we’d like you to keynote our conference.” CIA?
With insight into our customers, the first part of our strategy was to understand what kind of positioning problem we had. Was SuperMac attempting to introduce radically new products and create a new market? No, not really.
After my first month we knew a lot, we knew more about our customers than anyone in the company. In this one month we had learned more about desktop publishing on the Mac than any one of our competitors. Now the question was what to do with it. First I need to make sure what we really learned was information we could base a company strategy on.
A week before I started I got inkling of really how deep I was in. While I was waiting in the lobby to pick up my offer letter, the head of marketing communications (who was to be one of my direct reports) came up to me as I held my just signed employment agreement. She said, “Oh I’m glad you’re coming, and I wanted to grab you before you started because we need to resolve the company’s biggest marketing problem.” I was impressed; this was something so important that she couldn’t wait for my first day. Was she going to propose a coherent communications strategy? An in-depth reseller survey? Or offer some real insights into our customers? No. “We need to decide immediately between which version of the new logo to use.” Ignoring my dropping jaw, she pointed out the key differences in the Pantone colors between what appeared to me o be the two indistinguishable alternatives.
Henry Chesbrough is known as the father of Open Innovation and wrote the book that defined the practice. Henry is the Faculty Director of the Garwood Center for Corporate Innovation, at U.C. Berkeley in the Haas Business School. Henry and I teach a corporate innovation class together.
Why Internal Ventures are Different from External Startups
After leaving Ardent (a supercomputer company I’ll blog about later) in 1988, I consulted for Pixar when they were still in San Rafael and were a hardware company trying to make software and commercials. While I was consulting for them, I got a call from a recruiter for a company called SuperMac, which made add-on products for the Macintosh.
After my eighth and likely final startup, E.piphany, sitting in a ski cabin, it became clear that there is a better a way to manage startups. Joseph Campbell’s insight of the repeatable patterns in mythology is equally applicable to building a successful startup.
“Customer Development” was born four years earlier and 200 miles away on Sandhill Road. I was between my 7th and 8th and final startup; licking my wounds from Rocket Science, the company I had cratered as my first and last attempt as a startup CEO. I was consulting for the two venture capital firms who between them put $12 million into my last failed startup.
I realized that traditional ways to think about startups – have an idea, raise some money, do product development, go through an alpha test, beta test and first customer ship was the canonical model of how entrepreneurs thought about early stage ventures.
In 1999 I retired and began to reflect about my career and what had happened in the previous 21 years and eight startups in Silicon Valley. Alone in a ski cabin with the snow coming down outside, and my wife and daughters out on the slopes all day, I started collecting my thoughts by writing a series of “lessons learned” stories that I had hoped would become my memoirs.
At times VC’s forget who their business is built on. Last week in a car showroom of all places I ran into a VC who I hadn’t seen in ten years. He had sat on the board of my last company and we chatted and made small talk as he was admiring a new car. It was clear that he had no memory of a phone conversation my partner and I have never forgotten.
With a ~$2 billion endowment the Kauffman Foundation is the largest non-profit focused on entrepreneurship in the world. Giving away $80 million to every year (~$25 million to entrepreneurial causes) makes Kauffman the dominant player in the entrepreneurship space.
I’m sitting next to the fireplace in my favorite chair listening to holiday music, looking at the ocean and making occasional attempts to “help” get ready for Christmas dinner. We went for a hike checking out our new trail signs and playing “spot the bobcat.” Our kids are home for the school break, some friends are visiting from the east coast and we have everything for the holidays but snow on the California coast.
Get the Heck Out of the Building in Founder’s School: Part 2