Woodstock for Entrepreneurs – the Startup Lessons Learned Conference

Entrepreneurs see things before others do. They recognize patterns, form hypotheses and act long before all the data is in. Von Clausewitz described this as seeing through the “fog of war.” When their hypotheses are wrong we say they were hallucinating. When they are right we call them visionaries. (The best entrepreneurs pivot on each hallucination until they get it right – then we call them practitioners of the Lean Startup.)

Woodstock for Entrepreneurs
Last Friday’s Startup Lessons Learned Conference may go down as the Woodstock of entrepreneurship. It was an all day event devoted to the theory and practice of Lean Startups and Customer Development.

There’s a growing realization that startups with market and customer risk can be built in a radically different way than have been done before – not just cheaper, or faster – but potentially with something more profound – a greater probability of success.

The 400 people who filled the conference room in San Francisco and thousands who watched it across the world shared this belief.

But what was more remarkable were the list of speakers who have embraced (all or part of ) this methodology; Kent Beck (creator of Extreme Programming and Test Driven Development), Brett Durrett of IMVU (the first Lean Implementation), Randy Komisar partner at Kleiner Perkins, Hiten Shah of KISSmetrics, Drew Houston of Dropbox, Farbood Nivi of Grockit, David Weekly of PBworks and on and on. The full list of great speakers is here and links to their presentations are here and videos of all the presentations can be found here.

Two tests for any successful conference are: a) to see how many seats are empty by the end of the day. After 8 full hours at this one there seemed to be more people in the hall at the end then when we started and b) if everyone thought they got their money’s worth. It wasn’t my show, but I think they’ll be renting a much bigger hall next year.

This was one of those events that if you weren’t there you will say you were.

Eric Ries’s Show
This conference and the Lean Startup was the work of one amazing individual – Eric Ries. It was both satisfying and a bit surrealistic to sit in the back of the hall looking at the sea of heads and listening to speakers extend, embellish and expand on a topic that a scant five years ago was just my theory in my U.C. Berkeley classroom.

It wasn’t until Eric Ries sat in my class and had the insight – that to actually implement Customer Development engineers needed to couple it with an agile methodology – that the theory turned into practice. It was then that Customer Development became one of the building blocks of the Lean Startup. Eric left my classroom, and with his partner Will Harvey implemented the Lean Startup at IMVU. He since traveled the world becoming the Johnny Appleseed of the Lean Startup principles.

Thanks Eric.

Why Accountants Don’t Run Startups
If you wanted to know what I’ve been thinking about after Customer Development, you can see and hear it in the talk I gave at the conference.  Watch the expanded version of “Why Accountants Don’t Run Startups below.

  • The first story, Shifts in Entrepreneurship starts at 4:20
  • Not All Startups Are Equal starts at 7:30
  • What VC’s Don’t Tell You starts at 12:00
  • Business Plans Versus Business Models at 14:08
  • Startups Search Companies Execute at 17:05
  • Leadership Versus Management at 24:50
  • Durant Versus Sloan at 30:13
  • E-School Versus B-School at 33:41

[vodpod id=Video.3483534&w=425&h=350&fv=allowFullScreen%3Dtrue%26auto_play%3Dfalse%26start_volume%3D25%26title%3DView+the+live+stream+from+the+Startup+Lessons+Learned+Conference+in+San+Francisco+on+April+23%2C+2010%21+Apr+23+2010+at+3%3A49PM+PDT%26channel%3Dstartuplessonslearned%26archive_id%3D262670582%26]

All The News That’s Fit to Print
The New York Times also thought the Lean Startup was a good idea. Their story in the Sunday Times Business Section is here. NY Times columnist Steve Lohr expands on the article in his Bits blog here.

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19 Responses

  1. I attended a simulcast in Minneapolis. Thanks for your upbeat summary of the event.

    I’m following this community with great interest, but forgive me for saying that your Woodstock reference is a bit hyperbolic.

    The most important thing I learned was the concept of Minimum *Desirable* Product (Andrew Chen I think). *Desirable* resonates with me more than *Viable* or *Feasible* because it implies an emotional reaction. Emotions spark viral movements. Startups, like viral movements, are predicated on reaching a Gladwellian Tipping Point. Sorry…but Viable implies bean counters and Feasible implies over-propellered. The language we use helps us frame the startup, but I digress.

    Kent Beck’s recognition that we need to make engineering trade-offs depending on whether we’re “Learning” or “Building” was cathartic for coders with an engineering bent. Such a key recognition from someone with such well-established engineering chops, allows post-Agilists to free themselves to consider more than rapid delivery & embracing change.

    Retrospectively, WHAT WORKED for me was discovering more about the Learning phase and Customer Discovery. What DIDN’T WORK for me was a regurgitation Agile principles like continuous integration. Any team worth its salt has the Agility thing down — Agilists are adept at Delivery. The salient question is for post-Agilists and for entrepreneurs is, “How do we build shit that inspires people?”

    • Bob, I think what’s new about continuous integration in a customer development context is that the team identifies metrics, and in many cases automates their collection through a variety of means, that are useful proxies not only for code quality but customer uptake, adoption, and use of new functionality.

  2. Hey Steve, it was great hearing you and all the other speakers. Thanks so much for putting your time and efforts into improving the startup community.


    Mike Buckbee

  3. I have to admit – I missed this one – but will be glued to the screen until I finish watching all the recordings of the speakers.

  4. […] Steve Blank “Woodstock for Entrepreneurs: the Startup Lessons Learned Conference“ […]

  5. […] composto por palestras, estudos de casos e painéis diversos. Steve Blank batizou a conferência de Woodstock para empreendedores, e até veículos tradicionais como o New York Times mostraram como a natureza da criação e […]

  6. The systematic approach to founding a startup is commendable from the perspective of a fellow engineer gone founder. I’m not confident you can boil out the requirement for creative leadership and decision making, but minimizing risk due to failure to execute is certainly worthwhile.

    I came across Eric recently in an interview done by Robert Scoble (great hour but expensive time wise). As usual Steve, thanks for the share (link organizing) and influencing Erik a few years back. I hadn’t realized he was one of your students.

    Looking forward to the videos and slide decks.

    Are there any interesting events happening in the June 12-14th window, I’ll be travelling back from Maui and convinced my fiance to stop in the Bay Area (we’re considering moving to the west coast).

  7. It was great being at the event and hearing all the incredible talks!

    If you missed any of it we posted a recap of the event + slides from some of the speakers here: http://thestartupdigest.com/2010/04/24/startup-lessons-learned-woodstock-for-entrepreneurs/

  8. I just saw your video on Sean Ellis’ Startup Marketing Blog and it struck a cord with me. As a student, at a B-School who went through the Entrepreneurship program — I really wished our Entrepreneurship program was built out more. I’m definitely a Durant — I love the search. It’s kind of disheartening to hear about the transition and truths about becoming a large company, but I don’t tend to see myself being in a large company.

    Anyways, in the span of 40 minutes you encapsulated exactly why I chose to work at scalable startups en route to become an entrepreneur.

  9. […] Woodstock for Entrepreneurs – the Startup Lessons Learned Conference […]

  10. Steve, thanks for retiring! The time it has allowed you for processing and developing all of these insights will bear much fruit. I’m sure of it.

    I caught the whole second half of the SLL conference via live stream (from Ann Arbor, Michigan) and was glad I came that close to being there in person. Great job by all.

    On the topic of founders being caught off guard when fired … I suspect you’ve seen the video of Steve Jobs 2005 Stanford commencement address, in which he tells his story about being fired from Apple, but just in case, the link is below. His account about what happened immediately afterward (after he recovered from shame!) is a great illustration of your theory about scalable start-up entrepreneurs thriving in the start-up box. Before he became an exception, anyway.


    Keep up the good play! And thanks!
    -Karen Gates

  11. […] Steve Blank probably had one of the best presentations of the day, contrasting Enterprises and Startups. […]

  12. Just read your book. Great.

    But I had a hard time understanding the new market concept. Well, I understand what you mean, but I dont feel comfortable deciding in what market a startup belongs.

    What about for example http://www.odesk.com? Was odesk in a new market when it started? All it did was really to take screen shots of the freelancers. Just a new way of selling the same old stuff.

    But if you look at their growth curve it seems to fit in with the 5 year curve for startups in new markets: http://www.odesk.com/community/oconomy/odesk_growth

    Can anyone recommend any better reading on market types?

  13. […] may come fron Steve Blank’s customer development model as outlined in his book and the preso he delivered the Startup Lessons Learned conference. The principles can be applied to any type of […]

  14. Steve, I attended the simulcast in Boston. Just a terrific event, top to bottom.

    I’ve now read “The Four Steps to the Epiphany” multiple times and am on my second copy of the book (the first one was left on in the seat back on an airplane. Finding your book, for me, was like being a villager in a remote part of the world working out some basic proofs of geometry on my own, and then finding a plane ticket that takes me to MIT. “Aha!” doesn’t really do it justice.

    So I was happy to see that the people at the conference, in the room in Boston and on Twitter knew that you were the wellspring from which the Lean Startup methodology came.

    When it was your turn to speak, the energy in the room in Boston rose appreciably. People sat up straighter, stopped side conversations, came back from the bathroom or phone calls, and generally were glued to the screen.

    Also, we were monitoring the Twitter feed next to the video feed, and the energy there was appreciably different for you than for even the other terrific speakers. If you ever need a little encouragement during the “E-school not B-school” work that lies ahead, just save a copy of the Twitter feed with the #sllconf hashtag starting about 5 minutes before you started speaking and ending shortly after your presentation so you can pull it out and read it.

    Congrats again, and my sincere thanks for the book.

  15. […] I have at least piqued your curiousity about Customer Development, check out this video of Steve Blank at the Lean Startup conference (near the bottom of the […]

  16. […] full video and article can be found on Steve Blank's blog. I dont really have much more to say about it other than its a great video to […]

  17. Mr. Blank,

    May I call you Steve? I am following this with intense interest. As a candidate graduate for a Masters in Management I am learning and contemplating how it can be ported to brick and mortar businesses and make it part of my thesis. I would like ask also if there is any material in Spanish if not, I would gladly volunteer to translate and disseminate this incredible resource and revolutionary methodology.

    Respectfully yours,

    Javier A. Dominguez

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