Put to a vote, I might have been chosen “least likely to succeed” in my New York City high school class. My path has taken me from repairing fighter planes in Thailand during the Vietnam War (a member of the Society of Wild Weasels), to spook stuff in undisclosed location(s), and I was lucky enough to arrive at the beginning of the boom times of Silicon Valley in 1978.
After 21 years in 8 high technology companies, I retired in 1999. I co-founded my last company, E.piphany, in my living room in 1996. My other startups include two semiconductor companies, Zilog and MIPS Computers, a workstation company Convergent Technologies, a consulting stint for a graphics hardware/software spinout Pixar, a supercomputer firm, Ardent, a computer peripheral supplier, SuperMac, a military intelligence systems supplier, ESL and a video game company, Rocket Science Games.
Total score: two large craters (Rocket Science and Ardent), one dot.com bubble home run (E.piphany) and several base hits.
After I retired, I took some time to reflect on my experience and wrote a book (actually my class text) about building early stage companies called Four Steps to the Epiphany. It’s been called the book that launched the Lean Startup movement. My latest book, co-authored with Bob Dorf, The Startup Owners Manual integrates 10 years of new knowledge (and fixes lots of typos.)
I moved from being an entrepreneur to teaching entrepreneurship to both undergraduate and graduate students at U.C. Berkeley, Stanford University, Columbia University, NYU and UCSF. The “Customer Development” model that I developed in my book is one of the core themes in these classes and the core of the Lean Startup movement. In 2009, I was awarded the Stanford University Undergraduate Teaching Award in the department of Management Science and Engineering. The same year, the San Jose Mercury News listed me as one of the 10 Influencers in Silicon Valley. In 2010, I was awarded the Earl F. Cheit Outstanding Teaching Award at U.C. Berkeley Haas School of Business.
In 2011 at the request of the National Science Foundation I modified my Lean Launchpad class and it became the curriculum for the NSF I-Corps. Science wrote an article about the I-Corps and so did Nature, the Economist, and Forbes. National Public Radio did a story on the class here and so did the San Jose Mercury. I testified in front of Congress about the success and future of the program.
In 2012 the Harvard Business Review listed me as one of the “Masters of Innovation” and I was the keynote at the National Governors Conference. My talk was on C-Span here, slides are here. I write weekly for the Wall Street Journal Accelerators blog and occasionally for Forbes, the Huffington Post and in Japan for NikkeiBP.
In 2013 Forbes listed me as one of the 30 most influential people in Tech. The May 2013 Harvard Business Review cover story was my article, “Why the Lean Startup Changes Everything” and in June I won the 2013 Silicon Valley Visionary Forum award, and the same month my wife and I were honored with the 2013 Northern California Environmental Leadership award.
In 2013 I partnered with UCSF and the National Science Foundation to offer the Lean LaunchPad class for Life Science and Healthcare (therapeutics, diagnostics, devices and digital health.) In 2014 the National Science Foundation and NCIIA awarded me the Outstanding Leadership Award for my work on developing the Innovation Corps curriculum.
In 2014 I took the UCSF Life Science curriculum, and in conjunction with the National Science Foundation, we developed and launched the I-Corps@NIH program. Four National Institutes of Health divisions; NCI, NHBLI, NCATS and NINDS sponsored 21 teams in therapeutics, diagnostics and medical devices to accelerate how research gets from the lab bench to the bedside.
In 2015 I helped launch the Lean LaunchPad for Synthetic Biology in the UK at Imperial College in London.
I also followed my curiosity about why entrepreneurship blossomed in Silicon Valley and was stillborn elsewhere. It has led to several talks on The Secret History of Silicon Valley.
I served on the California Coastal Commission, (the public body which regulates land use and public access on the California coast,) California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV), the Expert Advisory Panel for the California Ocean Protection Council as well as on the boards of Audubon California (and its past chair), the Audubon National Board as well as the Peninsula Open Space Land Trust (POST) and as a trustee of the U.C. Santa Cruz foundation.
I was the commencement speaker at Philadelphia University in 2011. Text of the speech is here. In 2013 I was the commencement speaker at the University of Minnesota. Text of the speech is here. In 2014 I was the commencement speaker at ESADE Business School in Barcelona. Text of the speech is here. NPR selected the Philadelphia University speech as one of the 300 best commencement speeches in the last 300 years.