Steve Blank is renowned for his development of businesses tactics that emphasize customer development as the primary driver of startup product evolution. Blank’s philosophy stresses the use of actionable business tactics over more philosophically passive business strategies in guiding the startup process.
Blank's Customer Development methodology is designed to use active customer feedback and iteration to bring scientific methodology to the startup process. Simply put, Steve Blank wants startups to “get out of the building,” acquire face to face customer feedback on their product and then iterate based on that feedback.
Despite being taught at Stanford for only a year, Blank’s Lean Launchpad, taught in conjunction with Mohr Davidow General Partner Jon Feiber, is already legendary for its intensity as well as the results it has brought the teams that have endured the rigorous practicum.
Cal Tech is known in certain circles as the best university in the world. From producing 31 Nobel Laureates (so far) to the scores of patents filed every year to putting the Curiosity rover on Mars through their work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Cal Tech has established itself as the planet's premier STEM institution.
Last week saw a combination of Cal Tech’s technical know-how with Blank’s extensive business development acumen as the Cal Tech e-club, in association with several professors including Ken Pickar, sponsored a five-day Lean Launchpad Bootcamp.
The course was TA'd by Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics Ph. D and Cal Tech e-club Co-VP Betty Wong. It was attended by about thirty students, mostly postgrads, but with representation from the Cal Tech undergrad community as well. Students from as far afield as USC also took the course.
One of the goals of the course was to leverage the diverse high-level technical know-how of Cal Tech students towards commercially viable business innovation. To that end, the application process was not solely limited to teams that had already formed. Students from various specialties were allowed to apply over the summer with the understanding that the project would help them form teams at mixers held before the bootcamp began.
Things were intense from day one, where teams had three minutes to pitch their ideas using a business model canvas. Course professors Blank, Feiber and Pickar then systematically deconstructed the ideas for the students, pointing out areas where the model seemed weak or where extensive customer research was required to validate team hypotheses.
The course stressed practical application of theorems, emphasizing on the syllabus that “this class is not about how to write a business plan. It’s not an exercise on how smart you are in a classroom, or how well you use the research library to size markets. And the end result is not a PowerPoint slide deck for a VC presentation.”
Following day one presentations, students had to go out and pitch their businesses to their perceived customer base in order to acquire feedback. Based on the feedback they received the groups would then further hone their ideas to conform to the new realities as they prepared for day two presentations.
Day two presentations revolved around students explaining the market size of their business’ field, as well as what experiments they proposed to use to test their customer segment, gauge value proposition and establish a successful revenue model.
Following the day’s lectures, teams would contact potential customers and continue the feedback process.
On Friday, the teams returned to give their final pitches. At the final pitches, the teams discussed the present state of their idea, whether or not they pivoted from the initial idea and what steps led them in that direction. Additionally, teams displayed how their business model canvas changed over the course of the five-day bootcamp.
Some of groups had quite extensive pivots from their original ideas. Even so, the short duration of the bootcamp seemed to have no effect on their preparedness or ability to thoroughly conduct field research on their new markets.
The teams presented business ideas in a variety of fields from energy consumption awareness to RNA sequencing. In true Cal Tech fashion, one of the projects was space-based. The students were grateful to the instructors for bringing such a clear understanding of business realities to their attention. Most of the teams said that they will go on to iterate their products further until they are ready for release.
The Dish Daily will cover these Cal Tech startups as soon as they are ready for the media.