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The Lean LaunchPad Online

You may have read my previous posts about the Lean LaunchPad class taught at Stanford, Berkeley, Columbia, Caltech and for the National Science Foundation.

Now you too can take this course.

I’ve worked with the Udacity, the best online digital university on a mission to democratize education, to produce the course. They’ve done an awesome job.

The course includes lecture videos, quizzes and homework assignments. Multiple short video modules make up each 20-30 minute Lecture. Each module is roughly three minutes or less, giving you the chance to learn piece by piece and re-watch short lesson portions with ease. Quizzes are embedded within the lectures and are meant to let you check-in with how completely you are digesting the course information. Once you take a quiz, which could be a multiple-choice quiz or a fill in the blank quiz, you will receive immediate feedback.

Sign up here

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Why This Class?

Ten years ago I started thinking about why startups are different from existing companies.  I wondered if business plans and 5-year forecasts were the right way to plan a startup.  I asked, “Is execution all there is to starting a company?”

Experienced entrepreneurs kept finding that no business plan survived first contact with customers. It dawned on me that the plans were a symptom of a larger problem: we were executing business plans when we should first be searching for business models. We were putting the plan before the planning.

So what would a search process for a business model look like? I read a ton of existing literature and came up with a formal methodology for search I called Customer Development.

That resulted in a new process for Search: Customer Development + traditional product management/Waterfall Engineering. It looked like this:

This meant that the Search for a business model as a process now could come before execution. So I wrote a book about this called the Four Steps to the Epiphany.

And in 2003 the Haas Business School at U.C. Berkeley asked me to teach a class in Customer Development.  With Rob Majteles as a co-instructor, I started a tradition of teaching all my classes with venture capitalists as co-instructors.

In 2004 I funded IMVU, a startup by Will Harvey and Eric Ries. As a condition of my investment I insisted Will and Eric take my Customer Development class at Berkeley. Having Eric in the class was the best investment I ever made. Eric’s insight was that traditional product management and Waterfall development should be replaced by Agile Development.  He called it the “Lean Startup.”

Meanwhile, I had said startups were “Searching” for a business model, I had been purposefully a bit vague about what exactly a business model looked like. For the last two decades there was no standard definition.  That is until Alexander Osterwalder wrote Business Model Generation.

This book was a real breakthrough. Now we understood that the strategy for startups was to first search for a business model and then after you found it, put together an operating plan.

Now we had a definition of what it was startups were searching for. So business model design + customer and agile development is the process that startups use to search for a business model.

And the organization to implement all this was not through traditional sales, marketing and business development groups on day one. Instead the founders need to lead a customer development team.

And then to get things organized Bob Dorf and I wrote a book, The Startup Owners Manual that put all these pieces together.

But then I realized rather than just writing about it, or lecturing on Customer Development, we should have a hands-on experiential class. So my book and Berkeley class turned into the Lean LaunchPad class in the Stanford Engineering school, co-taught with two VC’s – Jon Feiber and Ann Miura-Ko. And we provided dedicated mentors for each team.

Then in the fall of 2011, the National Science Foundation read my blog posts on the Stanford version of the Lean LaunchPad class.  They said scientists had already made a career out of hypotheses testing, and the Lean LaunchPad was simply a scientific method for entrepreneurship. They asked if I could adapt the class to teach scientists who want to commercialize their basic research. I modified the class and recruited another great group of VC’s and entrepreneurs – Jim Hornthal, John Burke, Jerry Engel,Bhavik Joshi and Oren Jacob – to teach with me.

We taught the first two classes of 25 teams each, and then in March of 2012 trained faculty from Georgia Tech and the University of Michigan how to teach the class at their universities. Georgia Tech and the University of Michigan faculty then taught 54 teams each in July of this year and will teach another 54 teams in October.

We then added four more schools – Columbia, Caltech, Princeton and Hosei – where our team taught the Lean LaunchPad. We also developed a 5-day version of the class to complement the full semester and quarter versions.

Then last month we partnered with NCIIA and taught 62 college and university educators in our first Lean LaunchPad Educators Program.

And now we’ve spent weeks in the Udacity studio putting the lecture portion of the Lean LaunchPad class online.

Sign up and find out how to start a company!

Listen to the post here: Download the Podcast here

Five Days to Change the World – The Columbia Lean LaunchPad Class

We’ve taught our Lean LaunchPad entrepreneurship class at Stanford, Berkeley, Columbia and the National Science Foundation in 8 week, 10 week and 12 week versions.  We decided to find out what was the Minimum Viable Product for our Lean LaunchPad class.

Could students get value out of a 5-day version of the class?

The Setup
At the invitation of Murray Low at the Entrepreneurship Center in the Columbia Business School, we went to New York to find out.  We were going to teach the Lean LaunchPad class in 5-days.   I was joined by my Startup Owners Manual co-author Bob Dorf, Alexander Osterwalder (author of Business Model Generation) and Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures.

As we’ve done in previous classes, the students form teams and come up with an idea before the class.

Potential students watched an on-line video of Osterwalder explaining the Business Model Canvas and then applied for admission to the class with a fully completed business model canvas. Here are two examples:

If you can’t see the presentation above, click here.

If you can’t see the presentation above, click here.

The Class
We had 69 students in 13 teams. Instead of going around the room introducing themselves, each group hit the ground running by presenting their canvas.

The class organization was pretty simple:

  • textbooks were The Startup Owners Manual and Business Model Generation
  • team presentations 9-12:30 (with continual instructor critiques)
  • working lunch 12:30-1:30 (with office hours)
  • lecture 1:30-3:00
  • get out of the building 3:00-on
  • repeat for 5-days

Resources
The 5-day syllabus is here.

All 13 teams Day 1 presentations are here.
Day 2 presentations here.
Day 3 presentations here.
Day 4 presentations here.
Day 5 presentations here.

The Outcome
After 5 days the teams collectively had ~1,200 face-to-face customer interviews, with another 1,000+ potential customers surveyed on-line.

Take a look at the same two teams presentations (compare it to their slides above):

If you can’t see the presentation above, click here.

If you can’t see the presentation above, click here.

Lessons Learned:

  • A five day Lean Launchpad Class is definitely worth doing.
  • The Business Model Canvas + Customer Development works even in this short amount of time
    • However we were in NYC where customer density was high.
  • As we’ve already found, this class needs to be taught as a joint engineering/mba class
  • Next time we teach we will complete the transition to a flipped classroom:
    • Have no lectures during class. We’ll offer video lectures, and use the time for class labs built around detailed analysis of 2 or 3 canvas pivots
    • Make teams use Salesforce, or some similar package, to track all contacts/customer calls

Listen to the post here: Download the Podcast here

Stanford 2012 Lean LaunchPad Presentations – part 2 of 2

Today, the second half of the Stanford Engineering Lean LaunchPad Class gave their final presentations. Here are the final four (the first five are here.)

Team ParkPoint Capital
This team spoke face-to-face with 326 customers. As often happens, this team came into class convinced that their market research proved that their business was providing credit to underbanked customers.  8 weeks later they ended up as a financial service provider for immigrants.  Lots of learning and pivots on the way.

If you can’t see the slide presentation above, click here.

The ParkPoint Capital customer discovery narrative blog is here.

We thought the team summarized their lessons learned well:

If you can’t see the image above, click here.

Team DentalOptics
Team DentalOptics spoke face-to-face with 72 customers.  Their journey was from a lighting solution for dentists to an automated way to test for periodontal disease. How they got to their destination was truly amazing.

If you can’t see the slide presentation above, click here.

The DentalOptics customer discovery narrative blog is here.

Team MiCasa
They spoke to 105 customers and surveyed 98 more.

You can watch as this team pivots through Customer Segments by clicking through their business model canvases at the end of presentation. It is the first film-strip of entrepreneurship in action.

If you can’t see the slide presentation above, click here.

The MiCasa customer discovery narrative blog is here

Team ZiiLion
Interviewed 154 customers in China plus surveyed another 48.

This team was trying to do something extremely difficult. Create an app for Renren (a Chinese version of Facebook) for event planning.  And do it while in school in the U.S.  Lots of learning and Pivots here.

If you can’t see the slide presentation above, click here.

The Ziilion customer discovery narrative blog is here.

———

Congratulations to all the teams.  They taught us a lot.

Stanford e245 2012 class photo

Next week the Lean LaunchPad class will be taught to 25 teams for the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps. And later in the week we’ll be sharing what we learned with other entrepreneurial educators it at the NCIIA conference. Then in April we’ll be teaching Corporate Entrepreneurship at Columbia University.

Lessons Learned

  • Class is a mix of engineering students and MBA’s
  • Students apply as preformed teams
  • Application to the class is the teams business model canvas
  • Curriculum = business model canvas + customer development
  • Minimal lecture, maximum experiential immersion
  • Relentless customer visits (10-20 a week)
  • On-line journal to document their customer discovery narrative
  • One mentor (VC or experienced entrepreneur) per team
  • Mandatory office hours
  • Weekly in-class presentations for all teams
  • Weekly critiques of team customer discovery progress
  • Workshop on how to present a story-arc and narrative
  • Lean LaunchPad teaching guide

Stanford 2012 Lean LaunchPad Presentations – part 1 of 2

Today, the first half of the Stanford Engineering Lean LaunchPad Class gave their final presentations. Here are the first five. (Part two is here.)

It Feels Like 20 Years Ago Today
It’s hard to believe it’s only been a year since we taught the first 10 teams in the Stanford Lean LaunchPad class. To share what we learned, we blogged each of those class sessions, (all the slides can be found here.)  Since then we’ve taught an additional 50 Lean LaunchPad teams: 21 teams for the National Science Foundation (NSF) Innovation Corps, 11 teams for a joint Berkeley/Columbia MBA class, another 9 for a Berkeley MBA/Engineering class, and now 9 more teams in this Stanford Engineering Lean LaunchPad Class class.

Later this month, the next 25 National Science Foundation Innovation Corps teams will show up – but this time with reinforcements. The NSF has selected the best entrepreneurship teaching teams from two major universities and they will be joining the class. The goal is for them is to observe this class, then host and teach the next round of 50 NSF Innovation Corps scientist/engineer teams in July.  The process will repeat itself, quarter by quarter – new students, new University entrepreneurship teaching teams.

We’ll teach over 175 NSF Innovation Corps teams in the Lean LaunchPad course in 2012. While at the same time spreading the Lean LaunchPad entrepreneurship curriculum to campuses across the United States.

The 2012 Stanford Lean LaunchPad Presentations
The class is intensely and deliberately experiential to develop the mindset, reflexes, agility and resilience an entrepreneur needs to search for certainty in a chaotic world. Students were going to get a hands-on experience in how to start a new company. The premise of the class is that startups, are not about executing a plan where the product, customers, channel are known. Startups are in fact only temporary organizations, organized to search–not execute–for a scalable and repeatable business model.

Yet this isn’t an incubator. We trying to teach students a methodology that combines customer development, agile development, business models and pivots. (The slides and syllabus here describe the details of the class.) Our goal is to teach them the art, science and strategy of entrepreneurship that will forever change how they view early stage ventures.

And do it in 8 weeks.

Team EngineKites
A kite-boarding startup? Only in California! This team spoke face-to-face with 50+ end users, 3 manufacturers, 25 potential partners, 22 domain experts and surveyed an additional 115 customers. And they got to the beach a lot. Don’t miss their video of the product below.

If you can’t see the slide presentation above, click here.

If you can’t see the video above, click here

The EngineKites customer discovery narrative blog is here.

Team Sync
Team Sync spoke face-to-face with 74 customers, 10 experts and surveyed another 103 customers.

If you can’t see the slide presentation above, click here.

The Sync customer discovery narrative blog is here.

Team Nudge/Dynamo
This team won the award for the most pivots in the class. They had face-to-face interviews with 252 customers + 10 partner interviews + 76 surveyed.

Loved the “evolution” slide.

If you can’t see the slide presentation above, click here.

The Nudge/Dyanmo customer discovery narrative blog is here

Team GameSpeed
These guys hold the record for the number of customers touched 4,000!  147 face-to-face or phone interviews.

If you can’t see the slide presentation above, click here.

The GameSpeed customer discovery narrative blog is here.

Team ColorWheels
This team was trying to solve a hard problem – getting girls engaged in science and engineering. They spoke to 294 people: 69 parents, 110 kids, 6 high school girls 32 experts, 6 manufacturers, and surveyed an addtional 68 parents.

If you can’t see the presentation above, click here.

The ColorWheels customer discovery narrative blog is here.

We Got Smarter Too
One of the great things about the class is that the curriculum is evolving as fast as the teams are learning. As a teaching team we’ve learned a ton of how to best select teams, so we now insist that they come in as preformed teams. We hold mixers a month or two in advance to help facilitate the process. It has made a dramatic difference in team efficiency and cohesion

We have the students formally apply for the class by filling out a business model canvas. And at the first class they introduce themselves and their teams by presenting the canvas. This moved the learning up by one entire class session since we can now hit the ground running.

Given how important the students work in customer discovery outside the building was, we made each team keep an online journal on each step of their progress. Since the teaching team read each of their narrative before class and office hours, it made their in-class presentations short and efficient.

We realized that students needed help turning all that they were learning from customers into a coherent and crisp presentation. So we offered a special evening workshop on how to present a story-arc and narrative.

We’ve been experimenting in other ways – trying to figure out how to “bubble-up” some of the customer discovery data onto the canvas with red/yellow/green dots you see on some of the business model canvas slides. We suggested that teams talk about their hypothesis tests, draw diagrams of product flows through the channel and let us know who the customer segment is with a “customer archetype” slide.

We’re about to move our class text to The Startup Owners Manual and put together a draft of a standard Lean LaunchPad teaching guide.

Finally, we’ve been paring the lectures back to the absolute minimum to impart the information necessary for the teams to move forward, but leaving more time for us to provide feedback and critique of their weekly presentations. We’re actively considering running an experiment of making the lectures an on-line homework requirement (with on-line quizzes to make sure they view the material.)

None of this would be possible without the two VC’s who volunteer their time to teach this Stanford class with me: Jon Feiber of Mohr Davidow Ventures and Ann Miura-ko of Floodgate,

And we had the help of Lisa Forssell, director of technical artists from Pixar, who taught the “how to present class” and Thomas Haymore our indefatigable Teaching Assistant and our team of mentors.

And hats off to Kathy Eisenhardt and Tom Byers of the Stanford Technology Ventures Program who gave us the freedom to invent and teach the class.

—–

The rest of the teams present next week.  We’ll post their slides in part 2.
Listen to the post here: Download the Podcast here

Search versus Execute

One of the confusing things to entrepreneurs, investors and educators is the relationship between customer development and business model design and business planning and execution.

When does a new venture focus on customer development and business models? And when do business planning and execution come into play?

Here’s an attempt to put this all in context.

Don’t Throw the Tomatoes
I was in Washington D.C. last week presenting at the ARPA-E conference. I spent the next day working with the National Science Foundation on the Innovation Corps, and talking to congressional staffs about how entrepreneurial educational programs can reshape our economy. (And I even found time to go to the Spy Museum.)

One of the issues that came up is whether the new lexicon of entrepreneurial ideas – Customer Development, Business Model Design, Lean, Lean LaunchPad class, etc. – replace all the tools and classes that are currently being taught in entrepreneurship curriculums and business schools.  I was a bit surprised since most of what I’ve been advocating is complementary to existing courses. However, I realize I’ve primarily written about business model design and customer development. Given that I’m speaking this month in front of entrepreneurship educators at the NCIIA conference, I thought I should put it in context before they throw tomatoes at me.

Search Versus Execution
One of the things startups have lacked is a definition of who they were. For years we’ve treated startups like they are just smaller versions of a large company. However, we now know that a startup is a temporary organization designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business modelWithin this definition, a startup can be a new venture or it can be a new division or business unit in an existing company.

If your business model is unknown – that is just a set of untested hypotheses- you are a startup searching for a repeatable business model. Once your business model (market, customers, features, channels, pricing, Get/Keep/Grow strategy, etc.) is known, you will be executing it. Search versus execution is what differentiates a new venture from an existing business unit.

Strategy


The primary objective of a startup is to validate its business model hypotheses (and iterate and pivot until it does.) Then it moves into execution mode. It’s at this point the business needs an operating plan, financial forecasts and other well-understood management tools.

Process

The processes used to organize and implement the search for the business model are Customer Development and Agile Development. A search for a business model can be in any new business – in a brand new startup new or in a new division of an existing company.

In search, you want a process designed to be dynamic, so you work with a rough business model description knowing it will change. The model changes because startups use customer development to run experiments to test the hypotheses that make up the model. And most of the time these experiments fail. Search embraces failure as a natural part of the startup process. Unlike existing companies that fire executives when they fail to match a plan, we keep the founders and change the model.

Once a company has found a business model (it knows its market, customers, product/service, channel, pricing, etc.), the organization moves from search to execution.

The product execution process – managing the lifecycle of existing products and the launch of follow-on products – is the job of the product management and engineering organizations. It results in a linear process where you make a plan and refine it into detail. The more granularity you add to a plan, the better people can execute it: a Business Requirement document (BRD) leads to a Market Requirements Document (MRD) and then gets handed off to engineering as a Functional Specifications Document (FSD) implemented via Agile or Waterfall development.

Organization

Searching for a business model requires a different organization than the one used to execute a plan. Searching requires the company to be organized around a customer development team led by the founders. In contrast, execution, (which follows search) requires the company to be organized by function (product management, sales, marketing, business development, etc.)

Companies in execution suffer from a “fear of failure culture“, (quite understandable since they were hired to execute a known job spec.) Startups with Customer Development Teams have a “learning and discovery” culture for search. The fear of making a move before the last detail is nailed down is one of the biggest problems existing companies have when they need to learn how to search.

The idea of not having a functional organization until the organization has found a proven business model is one of the hardest things for new startups to grasp. There are no sales, marketing or business development departments when you are searching for a business model.  If you’ve organized your startup with those departments, you are not really doing customer development.  (It’s like trying to implement a startup using Waterfall engineering.)

Education
Entrepreneurship curriculums are only a few decades old. First taught as electives and now part of core business school curriculums, the field is still struggling to escape from the bounds of the business plan-centric view that startups are “smaller versions of a large company.” VC’s who’ve watched as no startup business plan survived first contact with customers continue to insist that startups write business plans as the price of entry to venture funding. Even as many of the best VCs understand that the business ‘planning’ and not the ‘plan’ itself, are what is important.

The trouble is that over time – this key message has gotten lost. As business school professors, many of whom lack venture experience, studied how VCs made decisions, they observed the apparently central role of the business plan and proceeded to make the plan [not the planning], the central framework for teaching entrepreneurship. As new generations of VCs with MBA’s came into the business, they compounded the problem (“that’s how we always done it” or “that’s what I learned (or the senior partners learned) in business school.”)

Entrepreneurship educators have realized that plan-centric curriculum may get by for teaching incremental innovation but they’re not turning out students prepared for the realities of building new ventures. Educators are now beginning to build their own E-School curriculum with a new class of management tools built around “search and discovery.” Business Model Design, Product/Service Development, Customer Development, Startup Team-Building, Entrepreneurial Finance, Marketing, Founder Transition, etc. all provide the startup equivalent of the management tools MBAs learn for execution.

Instructional Strategy

Entrepreneurial education is also changing the focus of the class experience from case method to hands-on experience. Invented at Harvard, the case method approach assumes that knowledge is gained when students actively participate in a discussion of a situation that may be faced by decision makers.

The search for a repeatable business model for a new product or service is not a predictable pattern. An entrepreneur must start with the belief that all her assumptions are simply hypotheses that will undoubtedly be challenged by what she learns from customers. Analyzing a case in the classroom removed from the realities of chaos and conflicting customer responses adds little to an entrepreneur’s knowledge. Cases can’t be replicated because the world of a startup too chaotic and complicated. The case method is the antithesis of how entrepreneurs build startups – it teaches pattern recognition tools for the wrong patterns –  and therefore has limited value as an entrepreneurship teaching tool.

The replacement for cases are not better cases written for startups. Instead, it would be business model design – using the business model canvas as a way to 1) capture and visualize the evolution of business learning in a company, and 2) see what patterns match real world iterations and pivots. It is a tool that better matches the real-world search for the business model.

An entrepreneurial curriculum obviously will have some core classes based on theory, lecture and mentorship. There’s embarrassing little research on entrepreneurship education and outcomes, but we do know that students learn best when they can connect with the material in a hands-on way – personally making the mistakes and learning from them directly.

As much as possible the emphasis ought to be on experiential, learner-centric and inquiry-based classes that help to develop the mindset, reflexes, agility and resilience an entrepreneur needs to search for certainty in a chaotic world.

Lessons Learned

  • The search for the business model is the front end of the startup process
  • This is true in the smallest startup or largest company
  • The goal is to find a repeatable/scalable model, and then execute
  • Execution requires operating plans and financial forecasts
  • Customer and Agile Development are the processes to search and build the model
  • Product management is the process for executing the model
  • Entrepreneurial education needs to develop its own management stack
    • Starting with how to design and search for a business model
    • Adding all the other skills startups needs
    • The case-method is the antitheses of an entrepreneurial teaching method

Listen to the post here: Download the Podcast here

Killing Your Startup By Listening to Customers

The art of entrepreneurship and the science of Customer Development is not just getting out of the building and listening to prospective customers. It’s understanding who to listen to and why.

Five Cups of Coffee
I got a call from Satish, one of my ex-students last week. He got my attention when he said, “following your customer development stuff is making my company fail.” The rest of the conversation sounded too confusing for me to figure out over the phone, so I invited him out to the ranch to chat.

When he arrived, Satish sounded like he had 5 cups of coffee. Normally when I have students over, we’d sit in the house and we’d look at the fields trying to catch a glimpse of a bobcat hunting.  But in this case, I suggested we take a hike out to Potato Patch pond.

Potato Patch Pond
We took the trail behind the house down the hill, through the forest, and emerged into the bright sun in the lower valley. (Like many parts of the ranch this valley has its own micro-climate and today was one of those days when it was ten degrees warmer than up at the house.)

As we walked up the valley Satish kept up a running dialog catching me up on six years of family, classmates and how he started his consumer web company. It had recently rained and about every 50 feet we’d see another 3″ salamander ambling across the trail. When the valley dead-ended in the canyon, we climbed 30-foot up a set of stairs and emerged looking at the water. A “hanging pond” is always a surprise to visitors. All of a sudden Satish’s stream of words slowed to a trickle and just stopped. He stood at the end of the small dock for a while taking it all in. I dragged him away and we followed the trail through the woods, around the pond, through the shadows of the trees.

As we circled the pond I tried to both keep my eyes on the dirt trail while glancing sideways for pond turtles and red-legged frogs. When I’m out here alone it’s quiet enough to hear the wind through the trees, and after awhile the sound of your own heartbeat. We sat on the bench staring across the water, with the only noise coming from ducks tracing patterns on the flat water. Sitting there Satish described his experience.

We Did Everything Customers Asked For
“We did every thing you said, we got out of the building and talked to potential customers. We surveyed a ton of them online, ran A/B tests, brought a segment of those who used the product in-house for face-to-face meetings. ” Yep, sound good.

“Next, we built a minimum viable product.”  Ok, still sounds good.

“And then we built everything our prospective customers asked for.”  That took me aback. Everything?  I asked?  “Yes, we added all their feature requests and we priced the product just like they requested.  We had a ton of people come to our website and a healthy number actually activated.”  That’s great I said, “but what’s your pricing model?’  “Freemium,” came the reply.

Oh, oh. I bet I knew the answer to the next question, but I asked it anyway.  “So, what’s the problem?”

“Well everyone uses the product for awhile, but no one is upgrading to our paid product. We spent all this time building what customers asked for. And now most of the early users have stopped coming back.”

I looked at hard at Satish trying to remember where he had sat in my class.  Then I asked, “Satish, what’s your business model?

What’s your business model?
“Business model?  I guess I was just trying to get as many people to my site as I could and make them happy. Then I thought I could charge them for something later and sell advertising based on the users I had.”

I pushed a bit harder.

“Your strategy counted on a freemium-to-paid upgrade path. What experiments did you run that convinced you that this was the right pricing tactic? Your attrition numbers mean users weren’t engaged with the product. What did you do about it?”

“Did you think you were trying to get large networks of engaged users that can disrupt big markets? Large” is usually measured in millions of users. What experiments did you run that convinced you could get to that scale?”

I realized by the look in his eyes that none of this was making sense. “Well I got out of the building and listened to customers.”

The wind was picking up over the pond so I suggested we start walking.

We stopped at the overlook a top of the waterfall, after the recent rain I had to shout over the noise of the rushing water. I offered that it sounded like he had done a great job listening to customers. And better, he had translated what he had heard into experiments and tests to acquire more users and get a higher percentage of those to activate.

But he was missing the bigger picture. The idea of the tests he ran wasn’t just to get data – it was to get insight.  All of those activities – talking to customers, A/B testing, etc. needed to fit into his business model – how his company will find a repeatable and scalable business model and ultimately make money.  And this is the step he had missed.

Customer Development = The pursuit of customer understanding
Part of Customer Development is understanding which customers make sense for your business.  The goal of listening to customers is not please every one of them.  It’s to figure out which customer segment served his needs – both short and long term. And giving your product away, as he was discovering, is often a going out of business strategy.

The work he had done acquiring and activating customers were just one part of the entire buisness model.

As we started the long climb up the driveway, I suggested his fix might be simpler than he thought.  He needed to start thinking about what a repeatable and scalable business model looked like.

I offered that getting acquiring users and then making money by finding payers assumed a multi-sided market (users/payers). But a freemium model assumed a single-sided market – one where the users became the payers.

He really needed to think through his Revenue Model (the strategy his company uses to generate cash from each customer segment). And how was he going to use Pricing, (the tactics of what he charged in each customer segment) to achieve that Revenue Model.  Freemium was just one of many tactics. Single or multi-sided market? And which customers did he want to help him get there?

My guess was that he was going to end up firing a bunch of his customers – and that was OK.

As we sat back in the living room, I gave him a copy of The Startup Owners Manual and we watched a bobcat catch a gopher.

Lessons Learned

  • Getting out of the building is a great first step
  • Listening to potential customers is even better
  • Getting users to visit your site and try your product feels great
  • Your job is not to make every possible customer happy
  • Pick the customer segments and pricing tactics that drive your business model

Listen to the post here: Download the Podcast here

Who Dares Wins – The 2nd Annual International Business Model Competition

Alexander Osterwalder and I spent last week in Salt Lake City, Utah as judges at the 2nd Annual International Business Model Competition, hosted by Professor Nathan Furr, and his team at the BYU Center for Entrepreneurship.

The idea of a Business Model competition first emerged when I realized that Business Plan writing ought to be taught in English Departments – as they’re the best example of creative writing entrepreneurs will ever do.

The Business Plan 
- a roadmap for execution
When venture capital teamed up with technology entrepreneurs in the 1960’s they brought with them the canonical MBA planning tool – the business plan.

The business plan is a wonderful document for organizing and planning for existing companies to launch follow-on products. In an existing corporation, the business plan is the execution document for sustaining innovation.

The problem is that once a plan is written it’s static and assumes minimal new learning. This makes sense in a company where your customers, channel and competition are known. And your revenue plan is something more than a hallucination.  But for startups, business plans fail to match the chaotic reality they encounter in the real world. Yet year after year, decade after decade, VC’s would watch as no startup business plan survived first contact with customers. So what did the venture industry do? They kept insisting startups write business plans as the price of entry to venture funding.

Why?

VC’s thought of startups as smaller versions of large companies.  Large companies wrote business plans, so VC’s made startups write business plans.  Large companies had VP’s of Sales and Marketing, so VC’s made startups organize that way as well. Large companies executed plans well and when they didn’t work, they fired the executives who screwed up.  So VC’s assumed that startups should equally unfold per the plan – firing executives when reality intruded.

The reality is that startups needed a new class of management tools. Tools to help them manage the search for a repeatable and scalable business model. Startups needed tools to help them organize their hypotheses, and then needed a process to rapidly test those hypotheses. And they needed tools that recognized that most startups go from failure to failure as they searched for, and discovered, product/market fit. And that instead of firing executives to match a plan, it was the plan itself that needed to rapidly iterate.

Business Plan vs. Business Model + Customer Development
The term business model first appeared ~50 years ago, but the concept didn’t catch on until the 1990’s. It wasn’t until 2010 when Alexander Osterwalder published his book Business Model Generation that it became clear that this was the tool to organize startup hypotheses.

It wasn’t long before Alexander and I realized that organizing hypotheses with his canvas was just the first step in building a business. The next step was getting out of the building and testing the business model in a formal process – and that process is Customer Development.

We’ve blogged about the combined methodologies here and here.  Our Lean LaunchPad class at Stanford, Berkeley, Columbia and the National Science Foundation teach the combined Business Model Canvas + Customer Development tools.  My new book, The Startup Owners Manual integrates the two.

Three years ago, after watching my nth business plan competition I realized this was simply wrong.  Rather than having students invest months writing a 100-page tome and polishing slides that taught them almost nothing about what it was really like to build a company, I thought there had to be a better way.

I suggested that we hold competitions that actually emulated the real world (rather than what’s easy to grade) and hold competitions that emulate what entrepreneurs actually encounter – chaos, uncertainty and unknowns. A business model competition would emulate the “out of the building” experience of real entrepreneurs executing the customer development / business model / agile development stack.

You can write a business plan slide deck in your dorm or library.  But you can’t fake a business model/customer development presentation. It takes a ton of face-face customer interactions.

The International Business Model Competition
From the seed of this initial idea Professor Nathan Furr at BYU did the hard work and created a global business model competition, this year receiving over 100 submissions. The finals were held in the packed 1,000 seat BYU auditorium with lines of students outside unable to get in.

(I love walking around the BYU campus. It feels like being at a giant Eagle Scout convention.)

It was an eye-opener to see each of the teams take the stage to describe their journey in trying to validate each of the 9 parts of a business model, rather than the static theory of a business plan.

Each team used the business model canvas and customer development stack to go from initial hypotheses, getting outside the building to validate their ideas with customers, and going through multiple pivots to find a validated business model.

All of the Business Model finalists were pretty amazing.   Each one of these presentations moved the teams closer to building a real company.

This years winner were:

1. XoomPark, BYU

The XoomPark team spoke to over 300 people (customers and channel partners,) ended up with 2 partners, 30 parking lot customers, a working website and a validated revenue model.
If you can’t see the slide deck above, click here.
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3. AutoBid, BYU

AutoBid’s pivots were pure artistry.

If you can’t see the slide deck above, click here.

4. FlexLeg, BYU 

FlexLeg got to experience first-hand the complexity of a multi-sided market – something the Business Model Canvas illustrates with startling clarity.

If you can’t see the slide deck above, click here.

Business Plan competitions are for those want to write PowerPoint slides. Business Model competitions are for entrepreneurs who want to learn how to build companies. Harvard will be hosting the 2013 International Business Model Competition and Stanford in 2014.

Come join us.

Lessons Learned

  • Business Plan competitions offer VC’s a PowerPoint beauty contest.
  • They teach entrepreneurs little about how to build a company.
  • You can’t fake a Business Model/Customer Development presentation.
  • It tough, grueling and relentless, requiring a ton of face-face customer interactions.
  • It what winners do.

Listen to the post here: Download the Podcast here

Two Giant Steps Forward For Entrepreneurs

While entrepreneurship is in the news fairly regularly, I seldom make news myself.  Today, however there are two important updates for entrepreneurs everywhere.  Let me be brief…

The “Startup Owner’s Manual” goes On Press Tuesday 2/14
Two years in the making and literally ten years in development, I’m proud to announce that my new book, The Startup Owners Manual, goes onto the printing press next Tuesday.  This 608-page work is, as its subtitle says, “the step-by-step guide for building a great company.”  It’s the result of a decade of me learning from 1,000’s of entrepreneurs, corporate partners, students and scientists the best practices of what wins in startups. I’ve spent the last two years cramming knowledge into this new book.

In brief, the The Startup Owners Manual is far more detailed and more readable than Four Steps to the Epiphany, (most of the sentences are even finished!).  In fact, you could say that all that remains from my last book are the four steps of Customer Development.  Briefly, the new book:

  • Integrates Alexander Osterwalders “Business Model Canvas” as the front-end and “scorecard” for the customer discovery process.
  • Provides separate paths and advice for web/mobile products versus physical products
  • Offers a ton of detail and great tips on how to get, keep, and grow customers, recognizing that this happens very differently between web and physical channels.
  • and finally it teaches a “new math” for startups: “metrics that matter.”
While MBA’s have had a stack of texts to help them “execute” a business model, this book joins the growing library of books for practitioners for the “search” for the business model.

The Lean LaunchPad Online Class
My online Lean LaunchPad class has created a lot of buzz this week. As you may have heard, I was deep into the production of the lectures when I realized I was producing the wrong class.  The online class was originally based on my book The Four Steps to the Epiphany.

Only when I held the draft of my latest book, The Startup Owners Manual, in my hands, did it dawn on me that my online students deserved all the latest best practices of entrepreneurship and Customer Development. Not the stuff I taught a decade ago, but all that I’ve learned teaching the Lean LaunchPad in front of students at Stanford, Berkeley, Columbia and the National Science Foundation in the last year.  And I particularly wanted to incorporate everything I’ve spent two years integrating into The Startup Owners Manual into the class.

So apologies to all of you who were expecting the class this month.  I hope to get the updated version online in the next 60 days.  I’ll keep you updated on this blog as we record our lectures.

In the meantime, if you want to prepare for the class…or get a jump on your startup competition, you can start reading the “recommended text” for the online class right now by ordering my new book.  It is recommended—not required—reading for the free online course, and I believe it will be immensely helpful to the startup community at large.

Lessons Learned

  • Startups search for business models, exisitng companies execute them
  • There are tons of texts about execution, but a paucity of practical ones for founders on how to search
  • The Startup Owners Manual is the definitive reference book for founders, investors and everyone interested in startups
  • The Lean Launchpad on-line class will be based on the new book

American Entrepreneur Radio Interview

I was lucky enough to get interviewed by Ron Morris of American Entrepreneur Radio.

Ron Morris has a great “radio voice,” and actually seemed to understand what the heck I was talking about.  It made for a fun interview.

Click here to listen to the interview: Steve Blank American Entrepreneur Radio interview

The following week Ron Morris interviewed Regis McKenna, who for decades was the “gold standard” for high tech Public Relations in Silicon Valley. Click here to listen to the Regis interview.

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Scientists Unleashed

Some men see things as they are and ask why.
Others dream things that never were and ask why not.

George Bernard Shaw

We’re in the middle of our National Science Foundation Innovation Corps class – taking the most promising research projects in American university laboratories and teaching these scientists the basics of entrepreneurship. Our goal is to accelerate the commercialization of their inventions. Our Lean LaunchPad class teaches scientists and engineers that starting a company is another research project that can be solved by an iterative process of hypotheses testing and experimentation built around the business model / customer development / agile development solution stack. It’s “the scientific method” applied to startups.

Although I typically don’t write about a class while it’s going on, I had to share this extraordinary reflection that Satish Kandlikar, one of the National Science Foundation principal investigators, posted to our Lean LaunchPad class blog.

Satish Kandlikar – The Spirit of Entrepreneurship
Satish Kandlikar has been a professor in the mechanical engineering department at the Rochester Institute of Technology for the past twenty-one years. His research is focused in the areas of flow boiling, critical heat flux, contact line heat transfer, and advanced cooling techniques

His team, Akara Lighting, wants to build a device for LED lights that gets rid of heat 50% better than anything on the market. This would result in LED’s having a higher performance at a reduced cost.

Here’s what he had to say about his experience in the Lean LaunchPad class ….

“It is quite an eye-opening experience to transition from an academic “PI” (Principal Investigator) to someone who wants to run a technology start-up. The change in the mindset is perhaps the important factor on the path to success…

The teaching team is simply phenomenal in identifying the pitfalls in our path and guiding us in finding the solutions. They have shown us the other side of the equation from technology to market acceptability. We have been extremely fortunate in having this kind of guidance and support.

A key finding I would like to report is that we just had another “pivot” two days ago when our mentor brought to our attention that we can succeed as a heat pipe company providing thermal solutions to various LED products as well as other applications. I visited two companies, one providing data center cooling solutions, and other providing control panel cooling systems. Key alliances are expected to occur through these initial, very positive, contacts.

One fundamental change that I see in my approach going forward is that I am looking at the research in a totally different way. It is no longer, in my mind, a means to publishing papers and simply graduating students. It means now, to me, how the research can be applied to make products that are accepted in marketplace. Making students understand the entire process, to whatever extent I can influence them, and inspiring them to aspire for transferring their knowledge to products is becoming an important thrust in my classroom interactions.

Another eye-opener was on understanding communications. While making presentations in academic setting, it was more of a paper-based research with extension of knowledge, without too much understanding of its application. Knowing the audience was really not a factor. Now after making “cold-calls”, and seeing that there is a certain way to get them interested in just a few opening sentences, was simply amazing. Knowing what their needs are is a crucial step.

Now it is becoming clear what Steve meant when he said, “get out of the building”. It is clear that the building referred to our mindset more than the physical act of going out or simply contacting someone outside.

The purpose of this posting was to document my beginning of the transformation process from an academician to an entrepreneur. And I am definitely enjoying it.”

Scientists Unleashed
Over fifty years ago Silicon Valley was born in an era of applied experimentation driven by scientists and engineers. Fifty years from now, we’ll look back to this current decade as the beginning of another revolution, where scientific discoveries and technological breakthroughs were integrated into the fabric of society faster than they had ever been before, unleashing a new era for a new American economy built on entrepreneurship and innovation.

And scientists like Satish Kandlikar and the National Science Foundation will lead the way.
Listen to the post here: Download the Podcast here

Nokia as “He Who Must Not Be Named” and the Helsinki Spring

I was invited to Finland as part of Stanford’s Engineering Technology Venture Program partnership with Aalto University. (Thanks to Kristo Ovaska and team for the fabulous logistics!) I presented to 1,000’s of entrepreneurs, talked to 17 startups, gave 12 lectures, had 9 interviews, chatted with 8 VC’s, sat on 4 panels, talked policy with 2 government ministers, 2 members of parliament, 1 head of a public pension fund and was in 1 TV-documentary.  More details can be found at www.steveblank.fi

This is part 2 of 2 of what I found. Part 1 can be found here.

Toxic Business Press and Contradictory Government Incentives
Unique to Finland with its strong cultural emphasis on equality and the redistribution of wealth is a business press that doesn’t understand startups and is overtly hostile to their success. When MySQL was sold for $1B and the cleantech company the Switch got acquired for $250M, one would have expected the country to celebrate that they had built these world-class companies. Instead the business press dumped on the founders for “selling out.” In 2010 it got worse with an Act in parliament about the Monitoring of Foreigners’ Corporate Acquisitions. Many founders mentioned this as a reason not to incorporate or grow their companies in Finland.

While the government says they love startups, the first thing they did this year is raise the capital gains tax. While it might have been politically expedient, it was not a welcome sign for long-term investment. I suggested they consider an investment tax credit for pension funds that invest in Finnish based VC firms.

Nokia as “He Who Must Not Be Named”
I was in Finland three days before I realized that no one had mentioned the word “Nokia.”  After I brought it up in a meeting, you could have heard a pin drop.  Nokia was Finland’s symbol of national competence. Most Finns take their failure as a personal embarrassment. (Note to Finland – lighten up. Nokia was blind-sided in a classic disruptive innovation. 50% the fault of a Nokia management that didn’t see it coming, while 50% was due to brilliant Apple execution.) Ultimately, Nokia’s difficulties will turn out to be good news for Finnish entrepreneurs. They’ve stopped hiring the best talent, and startups are not looking so risky compared to large companies.

Nanny-Culture, Lack of Risk Taking, Not Sharing
What makes Finland such a wonderful place to live and raise a family may ultimately be what kills it as a startup hub. There’s a safety net in almost every part of one’s public and private life – health insurance, free college tuition, unions, collective bargaining, fixed work hours, etc. And what’s great for the mass of society – a government safety net verging on the ultimate nanny state – makes it impossible to fail. You find early stage employees expecting to work normal hours, to get paid a regular salary, and not asking or expecting equity. There isn’t much of a killer instinct among the masses.

It’s the rare region where risk equals experience. By nature Finns are not good at tolerating risk. This gets compounded by the cultural tendency not to share or talk in meetings, sometimes to the point of silence. This is a fundamental challenge in creating an entrepreneurial culture.  This extends to sharing among startups. The insular nature of the culture hasn’t yet created a “pay it forward” culture.

Summary
The young entrepreneurs I met are bringing impressive energy and intelligence to their goal of building one of Europe’s leading technology hubs in Helsinki. Finland itself has significant engineering talent, and is also attracting entrepreneurs from Russia and the former USSR. It will be fascinating to see if they can lead the cultural change and secure the political support (in a government run by an older generation) to support their vision.

Lessons Learned

  • Finland is trying to engineer an entrepreneurial cluster as a National policy to drive economic growth through entrepreneurial ventures
  • They’ve gotten off to a good start with a start around Aalto University with passionate students
  • Startup incubators, business angels and VCs are starting to emerge
  • The country needs to figure out a long term privatization strategy for Venture investing
  • Finnish culture makes risk-taking and sharing hard

Listen to the post here: Download the Podcast here

The Helsinki Spring

I spent the month of September lecturing, and interacting with (literally) thousands of entrepreneurs in two emerging startup markets, Finland and Russia. This is the first of two posts about Finland and entrepreneurship.

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I was invited to Finland as part of Stanford’s Engineering Technology Venture Program partnership with Aalto University. (Thanks to Kristo Ovaska and team for the fabulous logistics!) I presented to 1,000’s of entrepreneurs, talked to 17 startups, gave 12 lectures, had 9 interviews, chatted with 8 VC’s, sat on 4 panels, talked policy with 2 government ministers, 2 members of parliament, 1 head of a public pension fund and was in 1 TV-documentary.

What I found in Finland was:
  • a whole lot of smart, passionate entrepreneurs who want to build a startup hub in Helsinki
  • a government that’s trying to help, but gets in the way
  • a number of exciting startups, but most with a narrow, too-local view of the world
  • and the sense that, before too long, they may well get it right!

While a week is not enough time to understand a country this post – the first of two – looks at the Finnish entrepreneurial ecosystem and its strengths and weaknesses.

The Helsinki Spring
Entrepreneurship and innovation are bubbling around Helsinki and Aalto University. There are thousands of excited students, and Aalto university is working hard to become an outward facing institution. Having a critical mass of people who think startups are cool in the same location is a key indicator of whether a cluster can catch fire. Finnish startup successes on a global stage include MySQL, F-Secure, Rovio, Habbo, PlayfishThe Switch, TectiaTrulia and Linux. While it’s not clear yet whether the numbers of startups in Helsinki are sufficient to ignite, it feels like it’s getting there, (and given the risk-averse and paternal nature of Finland that by itself is a miracle.)

The good news is that for a 5 million person country, there’s an emerging entrepreneurial ecosystem that looks like something this:

9-to-5 Venture Capital
Ironically one of the things that’s holding back the Finnish cluster is Tekes, the government organization for financing research, development and innovation in Finland. It’s hard enough to pick which existing companies with known business models to aid. Yet Tekes does that and is trying to act like a government-run Venture Capital firm. At Tekes, government employees (and their hired consultants) – with no equity, no risk or reward, no startup or venture capital experience – try to pick startup winners and losers.

Tekes has ended up competing with and stifling the nascent VC industry, indiscriminately handing out checks to entrepreneurs like an entitlement. (To be fair this is an extension of the government’s role in almost all parts of Finnish life.)

In addition to Tekes, Vigo, the government’s attempt at funding private business accelerators, started with good intentions and got hijacked by government bureaucrats. The accelerators I met with (the ones the government pointed to as their success stories) said they were leaving the program.

Tekes lacks a long-term plan of what the Finnish government’s role should be in funding startups. I suggested that they might want to consider putting themselves out of the public funding business by using public capital to kick-start private venture capital firms, incubators and accelerators. And they should give themselves a 5-10 year plan to do so.  Instead they seem to be stuck in the twilight zone of not having a long-term vision of their role. (There has been tons of reports on what to do, all seemingly ignored by an entrenched bureaucracy.)

Lack of Business Experience
Direct government funding of startups has also delayed the maturation of business experience of local angels and VC’s. Finnish private investors don’t yet have enough time-in-grade to have developed good pattern recognition skills, and most lack operating backgrounds. I have no doubt they’ll get there by themselves, but in wouldn’t take much imagination to attempt to recruit some seasoned overseas investors to add to the mix.

Even a more serious challenge is the lack of global business competence. The number of serial entrepreneurs is very low and until recently most of the talented sales and marketing professionals choose to work for Nokia.

Part 2 with more observations about Finland and the Lessons Learned is here.
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How To Build a Web Startup – Lean LaunchPad Edition

If you’re an experienced coder and user interface designer you think nothing is easier than diving into Ruby on Rails, Node.js and Balsamiq and throwing together a web site. (Heck, in Silicon Valley even the waiters can do it.)

But for the rest of us mortals whose eyes glaze over at the buzzwords, the questions are, “How do I get my great idea on the web? What are the steps in building a web site?”  And the most important question is, “How do I use the business model canvas and Customer Development to test whether this is a real business?”

My first attempt at helping students answer these questions was by putting together the Startup Tools Page – a compilation of available web development tools. While it was a handy reference, it still didn’t help the novice.

So today, I offer my next attempt.

How To Build a Web Startup – The Lean LaunchPad Edition

Here’s the step-by-step process we suggest our students use in our Lean LaunchPad classes.

  1. Set up the logistics to manage your team
  2. Craft company hypotheses
  3. Write a value proposition statement that other people understand
  4. Set up the Website Logistics
  5. Build a “low-fidelity” web site
  6. Get customers to the site
  7. Add the backend code to make the site work
  8. Test the “problem” with customer data
  9. Test the “solution” by building the “high-fidelity” website
  10. Ask for money

(Use the Startup Tools Page as the resource for tool choices)

Step 1: Set Up Team Logistics

Step 2. Craft Your Company Hypotheses (use the Lean LaunchLab)

Step 3: Write a value proposition statement that other people understand

  • If you can’t easily explain why you exist, none of the subsequent steps matter.  A good format is “We help X do Y by doing Z”.
  • Once you have a statement in that format, find a few other people (doesn’t matter if they’re your target market) and ask them if it makes sense.
  • If not, give them a longer explanation and ask them to summarize that back to you.  Other people are often better than you at crafting an understandable value proposition.

Step 4: Website Logistics

  • Get a domain name for your company. To find an available domain quickly, try Domize or Domainr
  • Then use godaddy or namecheap to register the name. (RetailMeNot usually has ~ $8/year discount coupons for Godaddy You may want to register many different domains (different possible brand names, or different misspellings and variations of a brand name.)
  • Once you have a domain, set up Google Apps on that domain (for free!) to host your company name, email, calendar, etc
  • Read Learning how to code

 For coders: set up a web host

  • Use virtual private servers (VPS) like Slicehost or Linode (cheapest plans ~$20/month, and you can run multiple apps and websites)
  • You can install Apache or Nginx with virtual hosting, and run several sites plus other various tools of your choice (assuming you have the technical skills of course) like a MySQL database
  • If you are actually coding a real app, (rather than for class) use a “Platform As A Service” (PAAS) like Heroku, DotCloud or Amazon Web Services if your app development stack fits their offerings
  • BTW: You can see the hosting choices of YCombinator startups here

Customer Discovery for the Web

Step 5: Build a Low-Fidelity Web Site

  • Depending on your product, this may be as simple as a splash page with: your value proposition, benefits summary, and a call-to-action to learn more, answer a short survey, or pre-order.)
  • For surveys and pre-order forms, Wufoo and Google Forms can easily be embedded within your site with minimal coding.

 For non-coders:

For coders: build the User Interface

Step 6: Customer Engagement (drive traffic to your preliminary website)

  • Start showing the site to potential customers, testing customer segment and value proposition
  • Use Ads, textlinks or Google AdWords, Facebook ads and natural search to drive people to your Minimally Viable web site
  • Use your network to find target customers – ask your contacts, “Do you know someone with problem X? If so, can you forward this message on to them?” and provide a 2-3 sentence description
  • For B2B products, Twitter, Quora, and industry mailing lists are a good place to find target customers. Don’t spam these areas, but if you’re already an active participant you can sprinkle in some references to your site or you can ask a contact who is already an active participant to do outreach for you.
  • Use MailchimpPostmark or Google Groups to send out emails and create groups
  • Create online surveys with Wufoo or Zoomerang
  • Get feedback on your Minimum Viable Product (MVP) features and User Interface

Step 7: Build a more complete solution (Connect the User Interface to code)

Step 8: Test the “Customer Problem” by collecting Customer Data

  • Use Web Analytics to track hits, time on site, source.  For your initial site, Google Analytics provides adequate information with the fastest setup.  Once you’ve moved beyond your initial MVP, you’ll want to consider a more advanced analytic platform (Kissmetrics, Mixpanel, Kontagent, etc)
  • Create an account to measure user satisfaction (GetSatisfaction, UserVoice, etc.) from your product and get feedback and suggestions on new features
  • Specific questions, such as “Is there anything preventing you from signing up?” or “What else would you need to know to consider this solution?” tend to yield richer customer feedback than generic feedback requests.
  • If possible, collect email addresses so that you have a way to contact individuals for more in-depth conversations.

Step 9: Test the “Customer Solution” by building a full featured High Fidelity version of your website

  • Update the Website with information learned in Step 5-8
  • Remember that “High Fidelity” still does not mean “complete product”. You need to look professional and credible, while building the smallest possible product in order to continue to validate.
  • Keep collecting customer analytics
  • Hearing “This is great, but when are you going to add X?” is your goal!

Step 10: Ask for money

  • Put a “pre-order” form in place (collecting billing information) even before you’re ready to collect money or have a full product.
  • When you’re ready to start charging – which is probably earlier than you think – find a billing provider such as Recurly, Chargify, or PayPal to collect fees and subscriptions.

For all Steps: Monitor and record changes week by week using the Lean LaunchLab

For Class: Use the Lean LaunchLab to produce a 7-minute weekly progress presentation

  • Start by putting up your business model canvas
  • Changes from the prior week should be highlighted in red
  • Lessons Learned.  This informs the group of what you learned and changed week by week – Slides should describe:
  1. Here’s what we thought (going into the week)
  2. Here’s what we found (Customer Discovery during the week)
  3. Here’s what we’re going to do (for next week)
  4. Emphasis should be on the discovery done for that weeks assigned canvas component (channel, customer, revenue model) but include other things you learned about the business model.

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If you’re Building a Company Rather Than a Class Project

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Thanks for the comments, suggestions, corrections, and additions. Updates added.
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Why Governments Don’t Get Startups

Not understanding and agreeing what “Entrepreneur” and “Startup” mean can sink an entire country’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

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I’m getting ready to go overseas to teach, and I’ve spent the last week reviewing several countries’ ambitious attempts to kick-start entrepreneurship.  After poring through stacks of reports, white papers and position papers, I’ve come to a couple of conclusions.

1) They sure killed a ton of trees

2) With one noticeable exception, governmental entrepreneurship policies and initiatives appear to be less than optimal, with capital deployed inefficiently (read “They would have done better throwing the money in the street.”) Why? Because they haven’t defined the basics:

What’s a startup?  Who’s an entrepreneur? How do the ecosystems differ for each one? What’s the role of public versus private funding?

Six Types of Startups – Pick One
There are six distinct organizational paths for entrepreneurs: lifestyle business, small business, scalable startup, buyable startup, large company, and social entrepreneur. All of the individuals who start these organizations are “entrepreneurs” yet not understanding their differences screws up public policy because the ecosystem in supporting each type is radically different.

For policy makers, the first order of business is to methodically think through which of these entrepreneurial paths they want to help and grow.

Lifestyle Startups: Work to Live their Passion
On the California coast where I live, we see lifestyle entrepreneurs like surfers and divers who own small surf or dive shop or teach surfing and diving lessons to pay the bills so they can surf and dive some more.  A lifestyle entrepreneur is living the life they love, works for no one but themselves, while pursuing their personal passion. In Silicon Valley the equivalent is the journeyman coder or web designer who loves the technology, and takes coding and U/I jobs because it’s a passion.

Small Business Startups: Work to Feed the Family
Today, the overwhelming number of entrepreneurs and startups in the United States are still small businesses. There are 5.7 million small businesses in the U.S. They make up 99.7% of all companies and employ 50% of all non-governmental workers.

Small businesses are grocery stores, hairdressers, consultants, travel agents, Internet commerce storefronts, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, etc. They are anyone who runs his/her own business.

They work as hard as any Silicon Valley entrepreneur. They hire local employees or family. Most are barely profitable. Small business entrepreneurship is not designed for scale, the owners want to own their own business and “feed the family.” The only capital available to them is their own savings, bank and small business loans and what they can borrow from relatives. Small business entrepreneurs don’t become billionaires and (not coincidentally) don’t make many appearances on magazine covers. But in sheer numbers, they are infinitely more representative of “entrepreneurship” than entrepreneurs in other categories—and their enterprises create local jobs.

Scalable Startups: Born to Be Big
Scalable startups are what Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and their venture investors aspire to build. Google, Skype, Facebook, Twitter are just the latest examples. From day one, the founders believe that their vision can change the world. Unlike small business entrepreneurs, their interest is not in earning a living but rather in creating equity in a company that eventually will become publicly traded or acquired, generating a multi-million-dollar payoff.

Scalable startups require risk capital to fund their search for a business model, and they attract investment from equally crazy financial investors – venture capitalists. They hire the best and the brightest. Their job is to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.  When they find it, their focus on scale requires even more venture capital to fuel rapid expansion.

Scalable startups tend to group together in innovation clusters (Silicon Valley, Shanghai, New York, Boston, Israel, etc.) They make up a small percentage of the six types of startups, but because of the outsize returns, attract all the risk capital (and press.)

Just in the last few years we’ve come to see that we had been building scalable startups inefficiently. Investors (and educators) treated startups as smaller versions of large companies. We now understand that’s just not true.  While large companies execute known business models, startups are temporary organizations designed to search for a scalable and repeatable business model.

This insight has begun to change how we teach entrepreneurship, incubate startups and fund them.

Buyable Startups: Born to Flip
In the last five years, web and mobile app startups that are founded to be sold to larger companies have become popular. The plummeting cost required to build a product, the radically reduced time to bring a product to market and the availability of angel capital willing to invest less than a traditional VCs– $100K – $1M versus $4M on up – has allowed these companies to proliferate – and their investors to make money. Their goal is not to build a billion dollar business, but to be sold to a larger company for $5-$50M.

Large Company Startups: Innovate or Evaporate
Large companies have finite life cycles. And over the last decade those cycles have grown shorter. Most grow through sustaining innovation, offering new products that are variants around their core products. Changes in customer tastes, new technologies, legislation, new competitors, etc. can create pressure for more disruptive innovation – requiring large companies to create entirely new products sold to new customers in new markets. (i.e. Google and Android.) Existing companies do this by either acquiring innovative companies (see Buyable Startups above) or attempting to build a disruptive product internally. Ironically, large company size and culture make disruptive innovation extremely difficult to execute.

Social Startups: Driven to Make a Difference
Social entrepreneurs are no less ambitious, passionate, or driven to make an impact than any other type of founder. But unlike scalable startups, their goal is to make the world a better place, not to take market share or to create to wealth for the founders. They may be organized as a nonprofit, a for-profit, or hybrid.

So What?
When I read policy papers by government organizations trying to replicate the lessons from the valley, I’m struck how they seem to miss some basic lessons.

  • Each of these six very different startups requires very different ecosystems, unique educational tools, economic incentives (tax breaks, paperwork/regulation reduction, incentives), incubators and risk capital.
  • Regions building a cluster around scalable startups fail to understand that a government agency simply giving money to entrepreneurs who want it is an exercise in failure. It is not a “jobs program” for the local populace. Any attempt to make it so dooms it to failure.
  • A scalable startup ecosystems is the ultimate capitalist exercise. It is not an exercise in “fairness” or patronage. While it’s a meritocracy, it takes equal parts of risk, greed, vision and obscene financial returns. And those can only thrive in a regional or national culture that supports an equal mix of all those.
  • Building an scalable startup innovation cluster requires an ecosystem of private not government-run incubators and venture capital firms, outward-facing universities, and a rigorous startup selection process.
  • Any government that starts public financing entrepreneurship better have a plan to get out of it by building a private VC industry. If they’re still publically funding startups after five to ten years they’ve failed.

To date, Israel is only country that has engineered a successful entrepreneurship cluster from the ground up. It’s Yozma program kick-started a private venture capital industry with government funds, (emulating the U.S. lesson of using SBIC funds.), but then the government got out of the way.

In addition, the Israeli government originally funded 23 early stage incubators but turned them over to the VC’s to own and manage. They’re run by business professionals (not real-estate managers looking to rent out excess office space) and entry is not for life-style entrepreneurs, but is a bootcamp for VC funding.

Unless the people who actually make policy understand the difference between the types of startups and the ecosystem necessary to support their growth, the chance that any government policies will have a substantive effect on innovation, jobs or the gross domestic product is low.
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