CTO Day 2: Go Lean, Go Now!
Business plans in aspiring ventures are amazingly fluid things. In five minutes, a team discussion can turn what was essential strategy on its head.
Steve Blank, lean start-up guru and author of “Four Steps to the Epiphany,” said entrepreneurs are visionaries in search of prospective customers who get it. But here’s the rub: There’s a fine line between being a visionary and the local nut. Some start-up founders (not to mention VCs) are stunned when the customers they designed a product or service for eschew it. Sales are flat. Heads roll. The business tanks.
What investors and founders don’t realize, says Blank, is that the start-up process is actually iterative. The problem with spending countless hours building and refining a business plan for entrepreneurs is that they start to believe the assumptions they build into it are the gospel truth—something infallible.
Says Blank: “No business plan survives first contact with customers.”
It’s not the first customers—the group the product was actually designed for—who often end up being the most valuable target market, said Blank. To find out who the most likely customer would be, organizations have to get out of the office and canvas the prospects. When you begin talking to people consistently, plans change—regularly.
Inspired by Blank’s “do-it-now!” attitude, our team made two executives decisions: First, we decided to scrap fund-raising altogether. (More on that momentarily.) Next, we decided to take an extended lunch.
No offense to the fine organizers of the Cleantech Open Academy, but opting to bootstrap means we need a customer—desperately. And being we felt our optimal target customer would be the owner of a three-to-four-story office building (San Jose is a giant, continuous business park), we wanted to get started that day. No, we didn’t start knocking doors, but we did take a lot of pictures of buildings we felt would be perfect candidates for the SolarStream Awning, so that we could later superimpose the product on these images … then knock doors.
Maybe that doesn’t seem like a big step, but it actually may be the first one in prepping to nail down that first customer—whoever he or she may be. Ultimately, we decided we’re not a good fit for VC or even angel capital, especially now: We’re just too busy figuring out who wants to buy.
- Doug Anderson, MBA ’11
You can follow Doug, Paul, and Innovative Invironments team in their Cleantech Open experience on Twitter @douglassander.
Editor’s Note: This is the third in the series of blog posts that will follow two Oregon MBA graduates from the Center for Sustainable Business Practices as they participate in the semi-final round of the Cleantech Open 2011 to commercialize the SolarStream™ Awning System.