For decades startups were managed by pretending the company would follow a predictable path (revenue plan, scale, etc.) and being continually surprised when it didn’t.
When Bob Dorf and I wrote the Startup Owners Manual we listed a series of Customer Development principles. I thought they might be worth enumerating here:
We talk a lot about Customer Development, but there’s nothing like seeing it in action to understand its power. Here’s what happened when an extraordinary Digital Health team gained several critical insights about their business model. The first was reducing what they thought was a five-sided market to a simpler two-sided one.
Investors sitting through Incubator or Accelerator demo days have three metrics to judge fledgling startups – 1) great looking product demos, 2) compelling PowerPoint slides, and 3) a world-class team. Other than “I’ll know it when I see it”, there’s no formal way for an investor to assess project maturity or quantify risks. Other than measuring engineering progress, there’s no standard language to communicate progress.
Implementing the Lean Startup in any company is hard. All the culture and incentives are designed for execution. Innovation at times seems like you’re swimming up hill. Now compound that level of effort with trying to put a Lean Startup culture in place in Japan.
I saw an article in the New York Times about Google’s hiring practices that reminded me of the differences between great big successful technology companies and small scrappy startups.
I just finished reading Donovan Campbell’s eye-opening book, “Joker One“, about his harrowing combat tour in Iraq leading a Marine platoon. This book may be the Iraq war equivalent of “Dispatches” which defined Vietnam for my generation. (Both reminded me why National Service would be a very good idea.)
Startup CEO Traits
I was having lunch with a friend who is a retired venture capitalist and we drifted into a discussion of the startups she funded. We agreed that all her founding CEOs seemed to have the same set of personality traits – tenacious, passionate, relentless, resilient, agile, and comfortable operating in chaos. I said, “well for me you’d have to add coming from a dysfunctional family.” Her response was surprising, “Steve, almost all my CEO’s came from very tough childhoods. It was one of the characteristics I specifically looked for. It’s why all of you operated so well in the unpredictable environment that all startups face.”
I’ve screwed up a lot of startups on faith.
One of the key tenets of entrepreneurship is that you start your company with insufficient resources and knowledge.
Watching my oldest daughter graduate high school this week made me think about what it was like raising a family and being an entrepreneur.