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Sunday, September 13, 2009


As I've mentioned previously to the Good Dinosaur collective, I'm managing a startup and came to the realization that conceptualizing and creating the product was just the beginning in a ventures life span. I was starting to feel like I had been dropped into a large, well grown forest and told that there was a treasure chest I needed to find. And that was it. No further guidance, no hints, no nothing. In short, I was feeling a bit lost.

Well, as fate would have it, I was discussing my conundrum with a friend of mine (no, not Bad Dinosaur, we are certainly not friends! He broke my web page (look at the top right)!) and he pointed me towards The Four Steps To The Epiphany, by UCLA-Anderson professor and serial entrepreneur Steve Blank

Many startups focus all too intently on developing their idea and their product, which is to be expected and which I am certainly guilty of. However, once their vision has been refined and polished and their product has been built, now what? You start to market and sell, hoping that you can find someone who likes what you've built and, more importantly, will pay for it. This can lead to those "lost" feelings I mentioned before. You just completed creating this great new toy that does all this wonderful stuff, but have no idea who, if anyone, wants it.

Blank identifies this linear process of Product Development followed by Sales and Marketing as a systematic error that is repeated over and over again and usually results in a startup's failure.

Steve promotes the concept of "Customer Development," which advises you to get out of the lab and into the field to discover customers that find your concept compelling and, more importantly, would be willing to pay for it (once it's complete, that is). This concept is not rocket science, but believe me, very rarely practiced.

By receiving constant feedback from customers you can better guide your Product Development in real time, or, if you cannot find interested customers, decide if your new wiz-bang idea should be ditched.

This will leave you with more time and resources to pursue something more worthwhile.

One item of notice about this book: Steve definitely practices what he preaches. In an effort to discover his early adopters and find if his product is sellable, he released a "beta" version and sat back to see how it was received (this is my guess, perhaps he just has an awful editor). So while you will find great advice and guidance, you will also come across spelling mitsakes, grammar issues, clip-art diagrams, and two, count 'em, two Chapter 3's (but sadly no Chapter 4).

Aside from that, Steve Blank has great advice: find your idea, refine it, begin to develop it AND your customers at the same time right from the start. You will be a happier entrepreneur in the end.