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.
We just had our third week of our new national security class at Stanford – Technology, Innovation and Great Power Competition. Joe Felter, Raj Shah and I designed the class to cover how technology will shape all the elements of national power (our influence and footprint on the world stage). In class 1, we learned that national power is the combination of a country’s diplomacy (soft power and alliances), information/intelligence, its military, economic strength, finance, intelligence, and law enforcement. This “whole of government approach” is known by the acronym DIME-FIL. And after two decades focused on counter terrorism the U.S. is engaged in great power competition with both China and Russia. In class 2, we learned how China is using all elements of national power: diplomacy (soft power, alliances, coercion), information/intelligence (using its economic leverage over Hollywood, controlling the Covid narrative), its military might and economic strength (Belt and Road Initiative,) to exploit Western finance and technology. This has resulted in Western democracies prioritizing economic cooperation and trade with China above all else. China’s goal is to challenge and overturn the U.S.-led liberal international order and replace it with a neo-totalitarian model. Going forward, coexistence with China will involve competition but also cooperation. But it’s going to take the demonstrated resolve of the U.S. and its allies to continue to uphold a rules-based order where nations share a vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific where the sovereignty of all countries are respected. All which leads to today’s topic, the other great power – Russia.
We just had our second week of our new national security class at Stanford – Technology, Innovation and Great Power Competition. Joe Felter, Raj Shah and I designed the class to cover how technology will shape all the elements of national power (our influence and footprint on the world stage). A key focus of the class is the return of Great Power competition. This isn’t an issue of which nation comes in first, it’s about what the world-order will look like for the rest of the century and beyond. Will it be a rules-based order where states cooperate to pursue a shared vision for a free and open region and where the sovereignty of all countries large and small is protected under international law? Or will an alternative vision for an autocratic and dystopian future be coerced and imposed by revisionist powers set on disrupting the U.S. led international order- an order that has brought the world unprecedented peace and prosperity since the end of the Second World War? All of which leads to today’s topic – China.
For 25 years as the sole Superpower, the U.S. neglected strategic threats from China and a rearmed Russia. The country, our elected officials, and our military committed to a decades-long battle to ensure that terrorists like those that executed the 9/11 attacks are not able to attack us on that scale again. Meanwhile, our country’s legacy weapons systems have too many entrenched and interlocking interests (Congress, lobbyists, DOD/contractor revolving door, service promotion of executors versus innovators) that inhibit radical change. Our economic and foreign policy officials didn’t notice the four-alarm fire as we first gutted our manufacturing infrastructure and sent it to China (profits are better when you outsource); then passively stood by as our intellectual property was being siphoned off; and had no answer to China’s web of trade deals (China’s Belt and Road). The 2018 National Defense Strategy became a wakeup call for our nation.
You think startups are hard? Try innovating inside a large company where 99% of the company is executing the current business model, while you’re trying to figure out and build what comes next. Charles O’Reilly and Michael Tushman coined the term an “Ambidextrous Organization” to describe how some companies get this simultaneous execution and innovation process right. Their book Lead and Disrupt describes how others can learn how to do so. I was honored to write the forward to their second edition. Here it is in its entirety.
A week ago I got invited to an “innovation hero” award ceremony at a government agency. I don’t know how many of these I’ve been to in the last couple years, but this one just made my head explode.
Revolutions start by overturning the status quo. By the end of the 20th century, case studies and business plans had reached an evolutionary dead-end for entrepreneurs. Here’s why and what we did about it.
We just finished the 11th annual Lean LaunchPad class at Stanford — our first version focused on deep science and technology. I’ve always thought of the class as a minimal viable product – testing new ideas and changing the class as we learn. This year was no exception as we made some major changes, all of which we are going to keep going forward.
I was pleasantly surprised to hear from Suresh, an ex-student I’ve known for a long time. A U.S. citizen he was now the head of sales and marketing for a company in London selling medical devices to hospitals in the UK National Health Service. His boss had identified the U.S. as their next market and wanted him to set up a U.S. salesforce. Suresh understood that the U.S. health system was very different from the system in the UK, not just the regulatory regime through the FDA, but the reimbursement process and the entire sales process.
There are no facts inside your building, so get the heck outside: I just had a call with Lorenz, a former business school student who started a job at a biotech startup making bacteria to take CO2 out of the air. His job was to find new commercial markets for this bacteria at scale. And he wanted to chat about how to best enter a new market.
These Five Principles Will Accelerate Innovation by Steve Blank
The U.S. Department of Defense is coming to grips with the idea that the technologies it needs to keep the country safe and secure are no longer exclusively owned by the military or its prime contractors. AI, machine learning, autonomy, cyber, quantum, access to space, semiconductors, biotech are all being driven by commercial companies. At the front-end of these innovations are startups – organizations the Department of Defense hasn’t previously dealt with at scale. They’re now learning how.
I first met Shawn Carolan and his wife Jennifer at the turn of the century at 11,000 feet. I was hiking with my kids between the Yosemite High Sierra camps. Having just retired from a career as an entrepreneur I had started thinking about why startups were different from large companies. The ideas were bouncing around my head so hard that I shared them with these strangers around a campfire, drawing out the four steps with a stick in the dirt. Shawn immediately said the name I had given the four steps was confusing – I had called it market development – he suggested that I call it Customer Development – and the name stuck. What I didn’t realize was that both were graduate students at Stanford and later both would become great VCs – Shawn at Menlo Ventures and Jennifer at Reach Capital. (And Jennifer is now my co-instructor in the Stanford Lean LaunchPad class.)
The Latin phrase E Pluribus Unum – Out of Many, One – is our de facto national motto. It was a rallying cry of our founders as they built a single unified nation from a collection of states. It’s a good reminder of where we need to go. Today as our country struggles to find the common threads that bind us, we need unifying, cohesive, collective, and shared national experiences to bring the country together again. Here’s what we’ve done to get started. And why I did it.
The story of RYAN and Able Archer is an oft-told lesson of a U.S. intelligence failure, miscalculation, and two superpowers unaware they were on the brink of an accidental nuclear war — all because the Soviet Union relied on a software program to make predictions that were based on false assumptions. As more of our weapons systems and analytical and predictive systems become enabled by AI and Machine Learning, the lessons of RYAN and Able Archer is a cautionary tale for the DoD.
During the Cold War U.S. diplomatic and military alliances existed to defend freedom around the world. Today, these alliances are being reshaped to respond to Russian threats to the Baltics and Eastern Europe and to China’s economic, military, and technological influence worldwide.