Steve Blank’s “The Four Steps to the Epiphany” – a great manual for startups

image I finished reading Blank’s The Four Steps to the Epiphany a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been meaning to write a post about it since then.  I read a fair number of business books and I blog about a few of the best of them (e.g. Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness, Cohen’s The Second Bounce, Perez’s Technological Revolutions) but as far as the readers of this blog go this book probably tops the lot for relevance and utility.  Put simply it is a great manual for startups, and if you are an entrepreneur, work at a startup, invest in startups, or even work with startups this book will help you to understand your work better and do a better job.

Blank’s thinking has inspired many an entrepreneur (indeed the book was recommended to me by one – Josh March of iPlatform) and you regularly see references to his concepts in blog posts from people talking about their startups.  Perhaps the two most commonly referenced are his customer development methodology which stresses the importance of getting out to customers very early in the life of a company/product, and his concept of product-market fit which helps establish the point when a product is ready to go mainstream and really scale.

You might be wondering by now what the four steps are, well wonder no more:

  • Customer discovery
  • Customer validation
  • Customer creation
  • Company building

Blank’s has structured the book as a step through guide to executing on each of these stages.  As with all business books the trick is to look for the best and most relevant bits to your situation and discard the rest.  What I particularly like about this one is that there are lots of different ideas and most of them are both good and widely applicable.  To pick one small example I enjoyed his advice on how to test whether a potential customer will buy your product and at what price; first ask if they would take it if it were free, if they say ‘yes’ you next ask if they would pay $1m for it, to which people will often answer no, but I would pay $XXX – bingo.

That said, the real value of this book is in the framework Blank’s offers for knowing your customers and what they want – something it is hard to get too much of, but sometimes easy to forget to do in a startup, particularly for entrepreneurs who are yet to develop great networks.

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