33 Startup Notes from Steve Blank

by Wendy Soon on October 27, 2014


  1. Launching a startup is an act of aggression. It is not a passive action at all!
  2. Entrepreneurs are very much like artists, who have something in their system that they strongly need to get out of them – solving a problem, or a pursuing a passion. It’s usually product/vision-driven.
  3. The drive to make something happen is what keeps the entrepreneur excited and moving ahead.
  4. Being a founder is a calling. It is not a job – you’ll probably earn more working even in Wal-Mart or McDonalds. “It is the world’s most miserable job!” You’re the customer manager, you’re the facilities manager, you’re the coffee boy, you’re everything for the startup!
  5. Entrepreneurs aren’t always natural – but having an acute learning is critical to deal with the steep learning curves inevitable to most startups.
  6. Entrepreneurs need to be infinitely curious. It is almost always about pattern recognition, about observing your surroundings and discovering the next big necessity.
  7. Adversity should be your middle name. Not just that you face adversity regularly, but you need to recover from it too!
  8. Be comfortable with chaos. When your startup becomes successful, you may be “addicted” to chaos and even be trying to keep it that way!
  9. A lean startup is NOT a cheap startup. It is not about how much cash you use, but about when you apply the cash.
  10. Embrace classes taught by practitioners. Don’t bother with classes if the teachers themselves are just teaching the theory and do not have practical experience being entrepreneurs themselves. Stanford and Berkeley have one of the best adjunct programs that are taught by faculty members with a great pool of practical experience in the area they teach.
  11. Silicon Valley startups are different. Nobody really talks about small businesses here. There are only 2 ‘main’ kinds of startups that people talk about, and teach about. Either you’re building a scalable startup that will change the world, or you’re building a startup that you will sell to large established companies such as Google or Amazon.
  12. There are 2 main types of innovation. Process innovation (larger and more matured companies) and continuous innovation (more common in startup or startup-like companies).
  13. Have your eyes always on the prize. Set long range vision and goals, and stay focused. But do not forget to also include practical, bite-sized steps to overcome obstacles along the way, and overcome them while keeping the larger goal always in sight.
  14. Relentless execution is as important as establishing the right vision.
  15. Startup are not smaller versions of larger companies. Long term business plans and balance sheets and projections are essential to large companies, but aren’t less practical for startups.
  16. Business plans for startups don’t really mean anything. 5 year plans don’t make sense, because startups pivot a lot. Startups are just a series of unknowns. Plans change whenever you interact with the customers and understand more about the evolving market needs.
  17. Startups are made up of a series of searching and execution. (Large companies have already found their goal, and are in the midst of execution)
  18. Business canvas is to help frame an idea and form an hypothesis with a testing plan. Having just a hypothesis is plainly converting your business plan into yellow sticky post-its. Converting it into a rigorous test plan is where customer development plan comes into play.
  19. An iteration is a minor change to a segment of a business plan, but a pivot is a major change to the business plan.
  20. The earlier you test your products with your customers, the better. Don’t wait. Just keep testing with whatever you have on hand. Doesn’t matter if it is just a wireframe. Just get talking with the customers. It’s not about when you test (because it’s as early as possible), but what can you test at this stage? There’s always a property you can test at every stage. Things such as stickiness of the product with the customer may not be ideal for testing at an early stage, but there are many other things that you can.
  21. Eliminate the noise and focus on your goal (sometimes, this is not necessary, because entrepreneurs find new inspiration and new opportunities when they get distracted by everything around them!)
  22. Most effective investor pitch – Initial hypotheses, what did you learn from the customers you spoke to, how did you pivot, and how did you get to this point, where do you think you are going? Help the investors understand your philosophy, your trajectory and how you think. But not every investor will want to know this, some just want to know how well your demo works, and they will tell you to go straight to the point.
  23. No business plan survives the first contact with the customer.
  24. Entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship education is experiential. You can only learn if you’re getting your hands dirty – theory itself doesn’t mean anything much. Learning to write a business plan takes only a couple of hours; learning to be an accountant is quick, but none will help you run a startup.
  25. The best entrepreneurship programs teach a dash of theory, and force you outdoors the rest of the time. Try interviewing a bunch customers, iterate, speak to more customers, and iterate again. Practicing and putting the theory into practice is where you’re actually learning true entrepreneurship.
  26. Design thinking and customer development are opposites. Neither is better than the other, but they serve different purposes. Customer development is when people tend to start their startups by building a product first, then find the funding and customers to buy the product. Design thinking’s goal is to find the customer need, before you design the product for them.
  27. Customer development / customer discovery NEVER stops, no matter what stage your company is at.
  28. Startups are run by crazy people 😛
  29. The Silicon Valley is not great because it is made up of more smart people – it is an entrepreneurship cluster that gives everyone multiple shots at the same goal.
  30. Steve Jobs read every customer email that went his way. That was his way of knowing his customers inside out. He was also known for going down personally to computer shops and watching the customers behave over extended periods of time.
  31. Don’t take anyone’s advice as the Bible. Just take it as an advice. No one single advice should serve as the one and only thing you should know and follow religiously.
  32. Growth is not necessarily viral for all businesses. Some businesses can be viral but you just haven’t found a way to make it viral. Other businesses can never be viral, and you just need to grow your customers incrementally.
  33. Pivoting while maintaining positive cash flow is not necessarily a good thing. Thinking about your new customers while having your attention being shared with the existing product and serve your old customers will limit your efforts at creating the new product and exploring the new market and new customers. Don’t be held back unless necessary.


About the Speaker:


Steve Blank is a Silicon Valley serial-entrepreneur and academician who is based in Pescadero, California. Blank is recognized for developing the Customer Development methodology, which launched the Lean Startup movement.


Blank is also the co-founder of E.piphany. Blank has spent over thirty years within the high technology industry. He has founded or worked within eight startup companies, four of which have gone public.


lank’s Google Tech talk, The Secret History of Silicon Valley, offers a widely regarded insider’s perspective on the emerging Silicon Valley’s start-up innovation. Blank has published three books: The Four Steps to the Epiphany, Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost and The Startup Owner’s Manual.


Blank teaches and writes about Customer Development and is a consulting associate professor of entrepreneurship at Stanford. He currently lectures at the Haas School of Business, University of California Berkeley, Columbia University and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Together with the Entrepreneurship Center at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), he created a version of Lean Launchpad for Life Sciences and Healthcare which he taught there in the fall 2013.


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