Steve Blank Quotes

  1. The Columbia Startup Lab is a visible symbol of how the university is making entrepreneurship an integral part of all colleges at the university.
  2. A startup is not just about the idea: it’s about testing and then implementing the idea. A founding team without these skills is likely dead on arrival.
  3. One can make the case that the New York venture capital industry is rooted in the 21st century, not the 20th.
  4. Most people appear to live an unexamined life, cruising through the years without much reflection about what it means, and/or taking what life hands them and believing it’s all predestined.
  5. It’s worth noting that everything – from the Internet to electric cars, genomic sequencing, mobile apps, and social media – were pioneered by startups, not existing companies.
  6. Founders have continually struggled with and adapted the ‘big business’ tools, rules, and processes taught in business schools when startups failed to execute ‘the plan,’ never admitting to the entrepreneurs that no startup executes to its business plan.
  7. All too often, a corporate innovation initiative starts and ends with a board meeting mandate to the CEO followed by a series of memos to the staff, with lots of posters and one-day workshops. This typically creates ‘innovation theater’ but very little innovation.
  8. The Lockheed Skunk Works, led by Kelly Johnson, was responsible for its Advanced Development Projects – everything from the P-80, the first U.S. jet fighter plane, to the U-2 and A-12 spy planes.
  9. Each industry in a region should develop a playbook that expands and details the strategy and tactics of how to build a scalable startup.
  10. Watching an entrepreneur fail is sad, but watching him fail from lack of nerve is tragic.
  11. At the end of the day, VCs have to provide their limited partners with great returns, or they aren’t going to be able to raise another fund.
  12. Startups have finite time and resources to find product/market fit before they run out of money. Therefore startups trade off certainty for speed, adopting ‘good enough decision making’ and iterating and pivoting as they fail, learn, and discover their business model.
  13. What’s been missing from regions outside of Silicon Valley is a ‘playbook.’ In American football, a playbook contains a sports team’s strategies and plays. It struck me that every region needs its own industry playbook on how to compete globally.
  14. It typically takes multiple iterations and pivots to find product/market fit – the match between what you’re building and who will buy it.
  15. The convergence of digital trends, along with the rise of China and globalization, has upended the rules for almost every business in every corner of the globe.
  16. History has shown that time and market forces provide equilibrium in balancing interests, whether the new technology is a video recorder, a personal computer, an MP3 player, or now the Net.
  17. Out of electronics school, my first assignment was to a fighter base in Florida. My roommate, Glen, would become my best friend in Florida and Thailand as we were sent to different air bases in Southeast Asia.
  18. There’s nothing wrong with a business that supports you and perhaps an extended family. But if you want to build a scalable startup, you need to be asking how you can you get enough customers/users/payers to build a business that can grow revenues past several $100M/year.
  19. Normally when I have students over, we sit in the house and look at the fields to try to catch a glimpse of a bobcat hunting.
  20. Michael Bloomberg has yet to get his due for engineering the New York entrepreneurial ecosystem.
  21. Products are sold because they solve a problem or fill a need. Understanding problems and needs involves understanding customers and what makes them tick.
  22. Customer Development changes almost every aspect of startup behavior, performance, metrics, and, as often as not, success potential.
  23. The introduction of new technology is always disruptive to existing markets, particularly to content/copyright owners who sell through well-established distribution channels.
  24. Market type determines the startup’s customer feedback and acquisition activities and spending. It changes customer needs, adoption rates, product features, and positioning as well as its launch strategies, channels and activities.
  25. As an entrepreneur, my problem was that I had too many ideas.
  26. Not all startups are alike. One of the key ways they differ is in the relationship between a startup’s new product and its market.
  27. VCs like acquisitions as much as IPOs because the acquiring companies often can rationalize paying large multiples over the current valuation of the startup.
  28. Persuading employees to let go of old values and beliefs and adopt new ones can be challenging.
  29. Everyone on the founding team ought to invest the time in a coding bootcamp.
  30. Visionary CEOs are product- and business-model-centric and extremely customer focused.
  31. For busy young adults, the lure of meal substitutes is simple – it’s all about convenience – the level of effort to open a bottle or package is minimal, and the time from thinking you’re hungry to eating is almost zero.
  32. The Value Proposition Canvas functions like a plug-in to the Business Model Canvas and zooms into the value proposition and customer segment to describe the interactions between customers and product more explicitly and in more detail.
  33. The Lean Startup is a process for turning ideas into commercial ventures. Its premise is that startups begin with a series of untested hypotheses. They succeed by getting out of the building, testing those hypotheses and learning by iterating and refining minimal viable products in front of potential customers.
  34. The goal of listening to customers is not to please every one of them. It’s to figure out which customer segments serve your needs – both short and long term.
  35. Measuring how hard your team is working by counting the number of hours they work or what time they get in and leave is how amateurs run companies.
  36. Skunk works differed from advanced research groups in that they were more than just product development groups. They had direct interaction with customers and controlled a sales channel which allowed them to negotiate their own deals with customers.
  37. When your product solves a problem that costs customers sleep, revenue, or profits, things are definitely looking up.
  38. In the past, when venture-funded startups told their investors they’d found a profitable business model, the first thing VCs would do is to start looking for an ‘operating exec’ – usually an MBA who would act as the designated ‘adult’ and take over the transition from Search to Build.
  39. Schools reward their students for a combination of intelligence, perseverance, and hard work – in the classroom and on the playing fields. But these metrics don’t help kids understand that great grades are not a pass for a great life.
  40. We now understand the distinction between startups – who search for a business model – versus existing companies – that execute a business plan.
  41. Market type influences everything a company does. Strategy and tactics for one market type seldom work for another.
  42. In corporations, the penalty for repeated failure on known tasks is being reassigned to other tasks or asked to leave the company.
  43. You can get a good handle on a company’s culture before you even get inside the building. For example, when companies say, ‘We value our employees’ but have reserved parking spots, a private cafeteria, and over-the-top offices for the executives, that tells you more than any PR spin.
  44. The music and movie business has been consistently wrong in its claims that new platforms and channels would be the end of its businesses. In each case, the new technology produced a new market far larger than the impact it had on the existing market.
  45. Creating a vertically oriented regional ecosystem is a pretty amazing accomplishment for any country or industry.
  46. Great entrepreneurial DNA is comprised of leadership, technological vision, frugality, and the desire to succeed.
  47. Any dispassionate observer would recognize that on Day One, a start-up has no customers, and unless the founder is a true domain expert, he or she can only guess about the customer, problem, and business model.
  48. Commencement Day has a sobering finality in that it’s the end of the prescribed path.
  49. In winning companies, everybody pulls in the same direction.
  50. Great founders live for chaotic moments.
  51. At 19, I joined the Air Force during the Vietnam War.
  52. I have to think my success in the VC business was due in no small part to seeing Larry Ellison in action back in the day.
  53. Failure will happen. It’s a normal part of the startup process.
  54. If you’ve never founded a company, rest assured it never happens as elegantly and smoothly as articles in ‘Inc.’ and other business magazines or case studies suggest.
  55. My imagination ran 24/7, and to me, every problem was a challenge to solve and new product to create. It wasn’t until I started teaching that I realized that not everyone’s head worked the same way.
  56. The stock market clearly values companies that can deliver disruptive innovation.
  57. Face-to-face customer feedback refines or validates every component of the startup’s business model, not just the product itself.
  58. 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.
  59. Great VCs do everything they can to make you successful. But just like your bank, credit card company, mortgage holder, etc. they are not confused where their long-term loyalty lies.
  60. Companies that get started and built in New York City tend to be applied technology.
  61. Companies that acquire startups for their intellectual property, teams, or product lines are acquiring startups that are searching for a business model. If they acquire later stage companies who already have users/customers and/or a predictable revenue stream, they are acquiring companies that are executing.
  62. Unlike many other startup processes, Customer Development is deep, detailed, and rigorous.
  63. On Day One, a start-up is a faith-based initiative built on guesses.
  64. Unfortunately, as you hire more people, the casual, informal ‘do what it takes’ culture, which worked so well at less than 40 people, becomes chaotic and less effective.
  65. Very often, if a founder is waiting around for someone else to tell him what to do, the company is near death.
  66. The food replacement category is what it sounds like – companies are substituting plants or food grown in a lab to replace meat, fish, eggs, milk – or, like Soylent, to package nutritionally complete meals into a drink.
  67. Visionary CEOs are not ‘just’ great at assuring world-class execution of a tested and successful business model: they are also world-class innovators.
  68. Value Proposition Design is a ‘must have’ for anyone creating a new venture. It captures the core issues around understanding and finding customer problems and designing and validating potential solutions.
  69. Visionary CEOs don’t need someone else to demo the company’s key products for them. They deeply understand products, and they have their own coherent and consistent vision of where the industry/business models and customers are today, and where they need to take the company.
  70. In a web/mobile startup, coding is not an outsourced activity. It’s an integral part of the company’s DNA.
  71. One of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make is not understanding the relationship they have with their investors. At times, they confuse VCs with their friends.
  72. Describing something as the ‘Woodstock of…’ has taken to mean a one-of-a-kind historic gathering.
  73. Decades before we were able to articulate the value of ‘getting out of the building’ and the Lean Startup, the value in having skunk works controlling their own distribution was starkly evident.
  74. At the intersection of food science and technology, food replacement startups are creating substitutes for the basic components of meals as well as replacements for complete meals.
  75. Learning how to keep track of inventory and cash flow and creating an income statement and a balance sheet are great skills to learn for managing existing businesses.
  76. Skunk works were emblematic of corporate structures that focused on execution and devalued innovation.
  77. Customer discovery is the process of translating a founder’s vision for the company into hypotheses about each component of the business model and creating a set of experiments to test each hypothesis.
  78. For Customer Development to succeed, everyone on the team – from investor or parent company to engineers, marketers and founders – needs to understand and agree that the Customer Development process is different to its core.
  79. Innovation in an existing company is not just the sum of great technology, key acquisitions, or smart people. Corporate innovation needs a culture that matches and supports it.
  80. If you think the job of a CEO is to increase sales, then Ballmer did a spectacular job.
  81. Only by moving away from the comforts of your conference room to truly engage with and listen to your customers can you learn in depth about their problems, produce features to solve those problems, and learn what drives customers to recommend, approve, and purchase products.
  82. First and deadliest of all is a founder’s unwavering belief that he or she understands who the customers will be, what they need, and how to sell it to them.
  83. Long hours don’t necessarily mean success.
  84. The business model is both the starting point and the scorecard for Customer Development progress.
  85. Founders, presuming they know their customers, assume they know all the features customers need.
  86. Entrepreneurial education in grades K-12, if it exists at all, still focuses on teaching potential entrepreneurs small business entrepreneurship – the equivalent of ‘how to run a lemonade stand.’
  87. By the beginning of the 21st century, entrepreneurs, led by Web and mobile startups, began to seek and develop their own management tools.
  88. Startups are companies that are still in the process of searching for a business model. Ventures that are further along and executing their business models are no longer startups; they are early-stage companies.
  89. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to grips that the unexamined life is what works for most people. Most take what they learned in school, get a job, marry, buy a house, have a family, become a great parent, serve their god, community and country, hang with friends, and live a good life. And for them that’s great.
  90. The Lean Startup process builds new ventures more efficiently. It has three parts: a business model canvas to frame hypotheses, customer development to get out of the building to test those hypotheses, and agile engineering to build minimum viable products.
  91. At the commencements I attended, graduates were classified by their academic rankings. Outstanding academic performance was noted in the programs and awarded with special honors.
  92. Once you establish what activities your company needs to do, the next question is, ‘How do these activities get accomplished?’ i.e. what resources do I need to make the activities happen?
  93. While ‘The Owner’s Manual’ is not a formula for guaranteed success by any means, we’re confident it will help reduce the failure rate of most startups that use our Customer Development process.
  94. Founding a company is a sheer act of will and tenacity in the face of immense skepticism from everyone – investors, customers, friends, family, and employees, to name a few.
  95. With clear definitions and a taxonomy that illustrates their relationships, the Inventure Cycle defines the pathway from inspiration to implementation. This framework captures the skills, attitudes, and actions that are necessary to foster innovation and to bring breakthrough ideas to the world.
  96. At some major events – your birth and death, for example – while you may be the center of attention, the events are managed by others and are more important to the people around you.
  97. Part of Customer Development is understanding which customers make sense for your business.
  98. Understand that VCs are simply a sophisticated form of financial investors who, in turn, need to satisfy their own investors.
  99. Not all new ventures are at the same stage of maturity.

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