June 20, 2013
Book Short: Deep Dive on Customer Development
I continue to be on a tear reading books about startups as I finish and get ready for the publication of Startup CEO (now available for pre-ordering at Amazon). This week’s selection was The Startup Owners Manual: A Step-by-Step Guide for Building a Great Company, by Steve Blank and Bon Dorf. This book is a significantly more detailed version of Blank’s first book, The Four Steps to the Epiphany, which was a revolutionary book a few years ago that helped spawn the Lean Startup movement.
And when I say significantly, I mean it! The Startup Owners Manual is 600 pages of really detailed how-to around the first two steps of Blank’s four steps, Customer Discovery and Customer Validation. It doesn’t get into the last two steps at all, Customer Creation and Company Building. It has a lot of overlap with Ash Maurya’s Running Lean (post, book), although it’s significantly more detailed. And essentially, especially around the topic of “Company Building,” my book starts where this one stops.
One of Blank’s great lines in the book is that a “A startup is a temporary organization in search of a scalable, repeatable, profitable business model.” That frames the whole Lean Startup movement really, really well. The whole concept of Customer Discovery and Validation, of testing hypotheses, is critical to getting product-marketing fit right in a capital-efficient manner. If I were starting Return Path today, we’d be using these methods from the get-go.
But Lean principles are wholly compatible with larger companies, as well, and in fact we use all of these principles in our product development organization today. We adapt them for our size and scale and the fact that often we are selling either new or enhanced versions of existing product into existing customers, but our product teams have all embraced the Lean principles and the vocabulary around them, and our goal is that we should never bring a product to market that isn’t already being bought.