Steve Blank, triumphant pioneer of…

It’s a video of Steve Blank’s first talk after finishing his pioneering Lean LaunchPad course at Stanford

It’s important, because it’s the first time we get to see him demonstrate how effective the Business Model Canvas was in “live action” teaching, learning and in actual startup formation. Even if you shared the high expectations that I had, you won’t be disappointed.

The results of the course?

Well, Steve hasn’t done a detailed posting on that yet, but let me just point out what I saw as the highlights from his last posting:

  • Students learned a lot more, in less time than in any entrepreneurship course that the tutors had ever taught or seen

  • The course approach worked for a wide variety of types of startups, including wind turbines, autonomous vehicles and medical devices

  • Combining the Business Model Canvas and the Customer Development approach produced a template for students whose efficiency exceeded expectations

What does this tell me?

Well, for a start we probably need to ask questions about ‘accelerators’. Do you need a startup accelerator to make scalable startups work, and to develop potential founder capabilities into actual founder capabilities that will attract VC investment, make exits feasible, create meaningful and attractive valuations?

This is the first attempt at doing this on a university course and it looks as if it will be just as successful as accelerators like Y Combinator or TechStars. What are the issues which distinguish this kind of course from an accelerator? Was it just that a course needs paying for, whereas accelerators pay you? Accelerators also take a stake in your startup, so is this just all about whether or not you are concerned about equity?

There were also things about this course that made it unique, not least of which was the fact that it was run by Steve Blank, had support from the inventor of the Business Model Canvas, was based at Stanford, had 25 hand picked mentors, and lots of other eminent help.

My take on that?

Once this whole thing gets more widely adopted, the quality will go up, not down. With a will, these courses can be run well just about anywhere, and they could just as easily create rock star entrepreneurs, rather than just require them. Best practice in scalable startup development will come from the nature of the craft, which has ‘validated learning’ at its heart.

This is a process built upon self-imposed discipline. There may well be as yet undiscovered drawbacks, but at this stage it looks like it’s the ‘conventional startup development process’ (where small businesses are taught and expected to just try to become small versions of large businesses) whose days are numbered.

What you’re geting to see in the talk is a window into the customer development process, a discovery experience that reveals the changes in assumptions that accompany the search for a scalable business model, as those changes become necessary and are implemented.

In other words, as each initial assumption is tested and found to be wrong, you can see the change as it  happens ‘one pivot at a time’. It’s graphic, it’s easily communicated, and it’s inspiring!

At last!

Pundits been talking forever about how failure (however unwelcome) can and should ultimately be an inspiration, but, in reality, all we’ve managed to communicate to most sceptics is that advocates of ‘failure as a prerequisite for success’ are either relentlessly stoical and insensitive to the point of being unfeeling and inhuman robots, or that we are just a bunch of deluded optimists, soon to disappear into the slipstream of our own hubris and hype.

From what I can see, we find now ourselves confronted with a visual tool which offers cold hard evidence of what we’ve been saying.

It begins with a dismal but all-too-predictable spectacle of what inevitably appears to be ‘doomed entrepreneurship’, based entirely upon the hopelessly naive visions of inexperienced wannabe founders.

As Steve told us, ‘he couldn’t keep a straight face’ when he heard the team (that called themselves D.C. Veritas) explain their original idea of trying to sell back-yard wind-turbines to households for domestic power generation.

Unsurprisingly, it soon proceeds to confirm all of the most sceptical suspicions of any experienced investor.

The early slides in their presentation each showcase one self-evidently disastrous failure after another, as the initial assumptions prove to be just as hilariously optimistic and totally without foundation as  they sounded.

And then, without warning, it suddenly changes.

For me (and I’m hooked, so I might be making way too much of this, the best bits may all just be going on inside my head) it all turns into a formidable, nail-biting, tension-building process, akin to the plot twists in a thriller movie, leading inexorably to an unexpected denouement.

Now the point is this: I’m not convinced you’d ever be tempted to put your ‘pivot sequence’ of Business Model Canvas-depicted assumption changes into a pitch to an investor.

But as a tool for convincing someone that this new approach (to teaching people how to go about creating scalable startups) was the right way forward, this is truly a dream.

Although I personally felt that the second of his two examples of the student presentations was by far the funniest (Steve successfully talks his eager students into pivoting out of doing something which might risk frazzling some hapless fluffy critter with a weed-whacking laser) the D.C. Veritas case study definitely stole the show.

This next video thumbnail may look as if it’s the same as the first one, but I’ve set it to start playing at about 45 minutes later into the clip, where Steve introduces D.C. Veritas and their pivoting experience.

The talk was given at:

The Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The event was a community colloquium called:

Why Accountants Don’t Run Start-ups:

Getting Eco- Entrepreneurship Right

It was hosted by Emily Chan

The talk was given by Steve Blank in his role as a California Coastal Commissioner as well as Lecturer at Stanford University, UC Berkeley, and Columbia University. It was given on Tuesday, April 12, 2011