At FindTheBest, education is a huge priority in our team development strategy. One of the programs we have to support education is FindTheBest University – or FTBu. Basically an FTBu is when an expert comes in and talks about their area of expertise — sometimes our teammates themselves present on their areas of expertise and sometimes outside speakers come in and talk with us.
Last night’s FTBu featured Steve Blank in a fireside chat with FindTheBest founder and CEO, Kevin O’Connor. If any of you don’t know who Steve Blank is, stop reading and visit his website. (You can come back and read this blog post when you are done poking around on his site.) Steve Blank is an accomplished entrepreneur who is credited with pioneering the Lean Startup movement. In 1999, after 21 years and involvement with eight high technology companies, Steve retired. Shortly after, Steve started writing down his ideas about entrepreneurship and the way startups should operate in what eventually became his first book, The Four Steps to Epiphany. This is the book that is credited with launching the Lean Startup movement.
The Lean Startup method has three key principles:
- Entrepreneurs accept that they can’t plan and research in an unknown market. They instead make a series of untested hypotheses which make up the business model canvas.
- Entrepreneurs test their hypotheses through customer development. Entrepreneurs go out and ask potential users for feedback on all aspects of the business – this includes the product, customer segments, distribution channels, pricing, etc.
- Entrepreneurs are experts at practicing agile development, or the pivot – which is the idea that products don’t need to go through a year-long product development cycle, startups can instead incrementally develop the product and constantly test and change the products as they go.
Our talk with Steve was setup as a fireside chat — complete with a fake fire and everything. Our CEO, Kevin O’Connor, led the discussion, but employees were asked to submit questions ahead of time for Steve. Here are a few highlights from the night:
When asked about his views of the Silicon Valley, the first thing Steve said was that the Silicon Valley is no longer a geographical term that describes the area around Mountain View – the Silicon Valley has spread to include San Francisco, San Jose, Berkeley and everywhere in between. Most people use the Silicon Valley to describe a state of mind and Steve says you can’t help but get smarter by spending time in Silicon Valley and talking to the thousands of people that are there working on startups and the next big thing.
He also talked about how the Silicon Valley became the greatest hub for innovation – why wasn’t it Boston back in the 1970s? Steve credits changing culture in the Valley and stagnant culture on the East Coast. He explained that Boston was set up to be an innovation hub – it had a great university and established companies full of talent. The problem was that back in this era, it wasn’t as acceptable to leave your steady job to take a chance on starting a new business. A person’s father worked at the same company for 30 years and didn’t understand why someone would leave a steady position and take a chance in a startup. It caused a lot of family strife and discouraged many from taking that leap of faith. In the Silicon Valley, those social pressures were removed. Most people didn’t have extended family living in the Valley, and it meant that if you wanted to be a part of a startup, you had to get up and physically move away from your family and everything steady in your life. It created a community full of risk-takers and visionaries – those who were willing to make bold moves to take a chance on something unknown.
At one point in the night, Steve was asked to define a founder and talk about how a founder is different from other people. He had a brilliant response that I will quote below:
One of the best parts of Steve’s talk was that throughout the night, Steve challenged us. If there was a question that he could turn around and ask us, he did. If nobody spoke up to answer the question, he called people out. We weren’t sitting there listening to a talking head, we were sitting there, interacting with one of the most brilliant minds entrepreneurship has seen.
Here’s what some of our team members took away:
“I was fascinated by what Steve said about the importance of developing a Minimum Viable Product and getting it to market ASAP to start collecting customer feedback and adapting the product to meet the needs of your consumer.” – Mike LaFirenza, Product Lead
“I was incredibly impressed with how down to earth and genuine he was when we spoke after the talk. I introduced myself as an intern and he treated me like an executive.” – David Schmidt, Business Development Intern
“I loved hearing about the cultural factors behind the establishment of the Silicon Valley and the fact that people had to physically get away from the societal pressures that were holding them back from taking risks. The fact that it created such a culture for innovation and risk-taking is pretty incredible.” – Hillary Foss, Marketing Associate
“I enjoyed hearing about the supercomputer contract Steve ultimately lost, and how that triggered a competitive side in him that was ultimately fulfilled when he ended up buying the unit back on eBay, just so he could put it in his barn and have his animals could use it as a urinal. Competition is a huge part of my life, so it was cool to hear what sparked Steve’s competitive nature.” – Patrick Darmody, Product Associate
“Steve had a surprising sense of romanticism – his discussions of the near mystical properties of a true epiphany and his faith in one’s instincts seemed to really embody the spirit of entrepreneurship.” – Will Kornegay, Account Lead
“One of the biggest things I took away was the fact that entrepreneurs can be doing very similar and parallel things, many experience the same highs, lows, pitfalls, and challenges, but someone has to stop and observe it to really push the change forward. Steve was able to do this by writing his book, The Four Steps to Epiphany, that really started the Lean Startup movement.” – Michael Dein, New Product Lead
“What stood out the most to me was when he compared entrepreneurs to artists – they are both to see a vision that no one else can see. That really resonated with me and made me think about the entire concept differently.” – Brittney Burrows, Affiliate Marketing Intern