Author: steve blank

Is a Venture Studio Right for You?


This post is by steve blank from Steve Blank


This post previously appeared in the Harvard Business Review.

Three types of organizations – Incubators, Accelerators and Venture Studios – have emerged to reduce the risk of early-stage startup failure by helping teams find product/market fit and raise initial capital. Venture Studios are an “idea factory” with their own employees searching for product/market fit and a repeatable and scalable business model. They do the most to de-risk the early stages of a startup.


Outside a small university in the Midwest, I was having coffee with Carlos, a rising star inside a mid-sized manufacturing company. He had a track record of taking small teams and growing them into successful product lines. However, after a decade working for others, Carlos was interested in building and growing a company of his own. I asked how much he knew about how to get started. He said that from what he read, the path to building and funding a company seemed to be: 1) come up with an idea, 2) form a team, 3) start testing minimal viable products, 4) raise seed funding, 5) then obtain venture capital.

As he described his work in additive manufacturing and 3D printing, Carlos said he knew that there were seed investors in his town, but venture capital was still largely on the coasts, and it was hard to get their attention. He also wasn’t sure his idea was great. But he still had the itch to grow something small into a substantive company.

As we grabbed dessert, (Read more...)

Be Where Your Business Is


This post is by steve blank from Steve Blank


This post previously appeared on the readwrite blog.

 

A CEO running a B-to-B startup in needs to live in the city where their business is – or else they’ll never scale.


I was having breakfast with Erin, an ex-student, just off a red-eye flight from New York. She’s built a 65-person startup selling enterprise software to the financial services industry. Erin had previously worked in New York for one of those companies and had a stellar reputation in the industry. As one would expect, with banks and hedge funds as customers, the majority were based in the New York metropolitan area.

Where Are Your Biggest Business Deals?
Looking a bit bleary-eyed, Erin explained, “Customers love our product, and I think we’ve found product/market fit. I personally sold the first big deals and hired the VP of sales who’s building the sales team in our New York office. They’re growing the number of accounts and the deal size, but it feels like we’re incrementally growing a small business, not heading for exponential growth. I know the opportunity is much bigger, but I can’t put my finger on what’s wrong.”

Erin continued, “My investors are starting to get impatient. They’re comparing us to another startup in our space that’s growing much faster. My VP of Sales and I are running as fast as we can, but I’ve been around long enough to know I might be the ex-CEO if we can’t scale.”

While Erin’s main sales office is in New York, (Read more...)

Technology, Innovation, and Great Power Competition  – 2022 Wrap Up


This post is by steve blank from Steve Blank


We just wrapped up the second year of our Technology, Innovation, and Great Power Competition class – now part of our Stanford Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation.

Joe FelterRaj Shah and I designed the class to 1) give our students an appreciation of the challenges and opportunities for the United States in its enduring strategic competition with the People’s Republic of China, Russia and other rivals, and 2) offer insights on how commercial technology (AI, machine learning, autonomy, cyber, quantum, semiconductors, access to space, biotech, hypersonics, and others) are radically changing how we will compete across all the elements of national power e.g. diplomatic, informational, military, economic, financial, intelligence and law enforcement (our influence and footprint on the world stage).


Why This Class?
The return of strategic competition between great powers became a centerpiece of the 2017 National Security Strategy and 2018 National Defense Strategy. The 2021 Interim National Security Guidance and the administration’s recently released 2022 National Security Strategy make clear that China has rapidly become more assertive and is the only competitor potentially capable of combining its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to mount a sustained challenge to a stable and open international system. And as we’ve seen in the Ukraine, Russia remains determined to wage a brutal war to play a disruptive role on the world stage.

Prevailing in this competition will require more than merely acquiring the fruits of this technological revolution; it will require a paradigm shift in the (Read more...)

Why The Pentagon Can’t Count: It’s Time to Reinvent the Audit


This post is by steve blank from Steve Blank


This article previously appeared in War on the Rocks.

In the past, headlines about the Pentagon failing its financial audit again would never have caught my attention. But having been in the middle of this conversation when I served on one of the Defense Department’s advisory boards, I understand why the Pentagon can’t count. The experience taught me a valuable lesson about innovation and imagination in large organizations, and the difference visionary leadership – or the lack of it – can make.

With audit costs approaching a billion dollars a year the Pentagon had an opportunity to lead in modernizing auditing. Instead it opted for more of the same.

Auditing the Department of Defense
By law, the Department of Defense has to provide Congress and the public with an assessment of where it spends its money and to provide transparency of its operations. A financial audit counts what the Department of Defense has, where it has it, and if they know where its money is being spent.

Auditing the Department of Defense is a massive undertaking. For one thing, it is the country’s largest employer, with 2.9 million people (1.3 million on active duty, 800,000 in the reserve components, and 770,000 civilians.) The audit has to count the location and condition of every piece of military equipment, property, inventory, and supplies. And there are a lot of them. The department has 643,900 assets, from buildings, to pipelines, roads, and fences located on over 4,860 sites, as well (Read more...)

The 6th Lean Innovation Educators Summit – Education and Innovation in the Age of Chaos and Disruption


This post is by steve blank from Steve Blank


Join Jerry Engel, Pete Newell, and Steve Weinstein for the sixth edition of the Lean Innovation Educators Summit December 14, 1-4 pm Eastern Time, 10 am-1 pm Pacific Time. Register here.

This virtual gathering will bring together entrepreneurship educators from around the world who are putting Lean Innovation to work in their classrooms, accelerators, venture studios, and student-driven ventures.

The summit topic is “Education and Innovation in the Age of Chaos and Disruption.

Our students will be facing the challenges of a world that’s rapidly changing, chaotic and uncertain. A world undergoing climate change, supply chain disruptions, political instability and continual technology innovation and disruption. It’s incumbent on us as educators to provide the next generation of innovators with the tools and mindset to meet these challenges.

Among the questions we’ll address in this short summit:

  • How do we as entrepreneurship and innovation educators best prepare the next generation?
  • What role should our institutions help us do this?
  • What are the other systems and partnerships that we need to take advantage of?

We will have concurrent breakout sessions so participants have the opportunity to choose their own path to explore. We’ll then going to pivot to hear from colleagues across three broad categories of innovation:

  • Curriculum – We’ll discuss how best to equip educators with the tools they need to cultivate and guide student teams around solving mission-driven problems.
  • Ecosystems – We’ll explore partnerships that engage and inform positive student engagement and outcomes and (Read more...)

The Three Pillars of World-class Corporate Innovation


This post is by steve blank from Steve Blank


My good friend Alexander Osterwalder, the inventor of the business model canvas (one of foundations of the Lean Methodology) has written a playbook (along with his associate partner Tendayi Viki,) From Innovation Theater to Growth Engine to explain how to build and implement repeatable innovation processes inside a company. 

Here’s their introduction to the key concepts inside the playbook.


Over 75% of executives report that innovation is a top three priority at their companies. However, only 20% of executives indicate that their companies are ready to innovate at scale. This is the challenge for contemporary organizations: How to develop a world-class ecosystem that can drive repeatable innovation at scale.

The playbook describes the three pillars of corporate innovation: Innovation Portfolios, Innovation Programs and a Culture of Innovation. Under each pillar, the playbook describes three questions that leaders and teams can ask to evaluate whether their company has the right innovation ecosystem in place.

Innovation Portfolio: what are your company’s portfolio of innovation projects?

  • Are your company’s innovation efforts exploring or exploiting business modes?
  • Does your company have a balanced portfolio of projects that cover efficiency, sustaining and transformative innovation?
  • What is the health of your innovation funnel or pipeline?

Explore: Search for new value propositions and business models by designing and testing new business ideas rather than execution. 

Exploit: Manage existing business models by scaling emerging businesses, renovating declining ones and protecting the successful ones.


Innovation Programs: how are your company’s innovation programs are structured and managed.

A Simple Map for Innovation at Scale


This post is by steve blank from Steve Blank


An edited version of this article previously appeared in the Boston Consulting Group’s strategy think tank website.

I spent last week at a global Fortune 50 company offsite watching them grapple with disruption. This 100+-year-old company has seven major product divisions, each with hundreds of products. Currently a market leader, they’re watching a new and relentless competitor with more money, more people and more advanced technology appear seemingly out of nowhere, attempting to grab customers and gain market share.

This company was so serious about dealing with this threat (they described it as “existential to their survival”) that they had mobilized the entire corporation to come up with new solutions. This wasn’t a small undertaking, because the threats were coming from multiple areas in multiple dimensions; How do they embrace new technologies? How do they convert existing manufacturing plants (and their workforce) for a completely new set of technologies? How do they bring on new supply chains? How do they become present on new social media and communications channels? How do they connect with a new generation of customers who had no brand loyalty? How to they use the new distribution channels competitors have adopted? How do they make these transitions without alienating and losing their existing customers, distribution channels and partners? And how do they motivate their most important asset – their people – to operate with speed, urgency, and passion?

The company believed they had a handful of years to solve these problems before their decline would (Read more...)

Mapping the Unknown – The Ten Steps to Map Any Industry


This post is by steve blank from Steve Blank


A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

 Lǎozi 老子

I just had lunch with Shenwei, one of my ex-students who had just taken a job in a mid-sized consulting firm.  After a bit of catching up I offered he was looking a bit lost. “I just got handed a project to help our firm enter a new industry – semiconductors. They want me to map out the space so we can figure out where we can add value.

When I asked what they already knew about it, they tossed me a tall stack of industry and stock analyst reports, company names, web sites, blogs. I started reading through a bunch of it and I’m drowning in data but don’t know where to start. I feel like I don’t know a thing.”

I told Shenwei I was happy for him because he had just been handed an awesome learning opportunity – how to rapidly understand and then map any new market. He gave me a “easy for you to say” look, but before he could object I handed him a pen and a napkin and asked him to write down the names of companies and concepts he read about that have anything to do with the semiconductor business – in 30 seconds. He quickly came up with a list with 9 names/terms. (See Mapping – First Pass)

“Great, now we have a start. Now give me a few words that describe what they do, or mean, (Read more...)

National Industrial Policy – Private Capital and The America’s Frontier Fund Steps Up


This post is by steve blank from Steve Blank


This article previously appeared in The National Interest.

Last month the U.S. passed the CHIPS and Science Act, one of the first pieces of national industrial policy – government planning and intervention in a specific industry — in the last 50 years, in this case for semiconductors. After the celebratory champagne has been drunk and the confetti floats to the ground it’s helpful to put the CHIPS Act in context and understand the work that government and private capital have left to do.

Today the United States is in great power competition with China. It’s a contest over which nation’s diplomatic, information, military and economic system will lead the world in the 21st century. And the result is whether we face a Chinese dystopian future or a democratic one, where individuals and nations get to make their own choices. At the heart of this contest is leadership in emerging and disruptive technologies – running the gamut from semiconductors and supercomputers to biotech and blockchain and everything in between.

National Industrial Policy – U.S. versus China
Unlike the U.S., China manages its industrial policy via top-down 5-year plans. Their overall goal is to turn China into a technologically advanced and militarily powerful state that can challenge U.S. commercial and military leadership. Unlike the U.S., China has embraced the idea that national security is inexorably intertwined with commercial technology (semiconductors, drones, AI, machine learning, autonomy, biotech, cyber, semiconductors, quantum, high-performance computing, commercial access to space, et al.)  They’ve made what they (Read more...)