"Stolen from Steve"
Victor Hugo has been quoted (or misquoted, depending on who you ask) as stating that “nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” This week it was followed up with “…and the most powerful thing is entrepreneurship educators.”
This statement concluded two and a half of the most transformational days of my professional career. Steve Blank ended the Lean LaunchPad Educators Program just as powerfully as it began, with his ego-free eloquence and a challenge to us to move forward transforming the way we think and act in startup companies, and to educate others in the methodology and mindset that could support this transformation.
So what is Lean LaunchPad (LLP)? You can read more on Steve’s blog, but in a nutshell (and please know that a nutshell does not suffice) the LLP methodology utilizes the Business Model Canvas to walk through stages of Customer Discovery, a concept that pushes entrepreneurs to “get out of the building” and find out if what they THINK they should build is really what people want, really what will solve the problem at hand, and really something for which they will pay. It also teaches us that execution (something I have viewed as the most valuable thing before now) should absolutely not happen until Customer Development has been experienced and completed and there is actually something worth executing. Novel idea, right?
The methodology shows us that the business plan should not come first (and reminds us how poorly we use it in practice), a concept many other experts such as Guy Kawasaki preach. However, until now, I did not actually have a decent replacement for it.
Lean LaunchPad is not new. Steve and his evangelists have been teaching it for years now at Berkeley, Stanford, Columbia, and recently multiple other universities as well as the NSF I-Corps. The method is not trendy or short-lived; it has years of business success under its “belt,” and its track record speaks for itself. Steve has hopes and dreams of transforming the angel and venture capital circles with it and has seen progress in Silicon Valley already (hopefully Phoenix is not far behind).
This is all well and good…but you may be doubtful that this could actually be transformational. And I understand that. When I simply skimmed the book, and did not become truly invested in the conversation, I was intrigued but not yet convinced. When I had the opportunity this past week to meet and hear from the LLP “Godfather” himself, and his colleagues, Jerry Engel of Berkeley and Jim Hornthal of Travelocity, and to sit amongst some of the most innovative educators in the world, the reality of the concept hit me hard. Marek and Aga from Poland, as an example, are teaching the methodology to startups in Krakow (see the photo of our lovely dinner in Berkeley), and there are many more like them.
It IS transformational. It WILL impact the way we create startups. And I am thrilled to bring it to Arizona State student entrepreneurs (about which I will continue to blog through the semester).
On a final note, I have to make this personal because it was a truly personal event. I was honored to meet and chat with Steve Blank, hearing stories of his young prankster days and learning more about his startup experiences. Mostly because he is brilliant. But also because he is a humble, genuine, engaging human being who wants his word to spread because he believes this will transform the startup process. As we made our way through the conference Steve invited us to use all of his materials that he has spent years creating…asking us only to mark them with “Stolen from Steve.”
No problem; proud to be a thief.