A quick way into Steve Blank’s Customer Developement methodology

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A couple of months back I wrote a post explaining how Steve Blank’s Four Steps to the Epiphany is a great manual for startups.  Since I wrote that post a number of the entrepreneurs who I respect have told me how much the book has helped them.  If you are an entrepreneur you should go read it.  For me it is as simple as that.

The book does have one major drawback though, it is a  tough read – both on account of its length and the style of prose.

For that reason Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits have written a short book titled The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development which introduces Blank’s core customer development concept and how to guides in a more accessible format.  The idea, bluntly, is that more people will read it this way – either entrepreneurs who don’t like to read business books, or employees at startups whose founders are practising customer development and want a quick way to bone up on the philosophy underpinning the way their company is managed.

Patrick sent me a copy of The Entrepreneur’s Guide to  Customer Development after I wrote the post above, and I’m posting these thoughts as a review.  If after reading this post this you like the sound of it, you can get the PDF here or the paperback at Amazon.

For sure a more accessible way into Blank’s ideas is welcome.  I’ve sent or recommended the book to a few CEOs and some of them have failed to really get into it precisely because it is a tough read.

And Cooper and Vlaskovits do a good job – the book is much shorter (you could read it end to end in an hour or so) and the prose is much livelier.  They have also done a good job of bringing in the work of complementary thinkers like Eric Ries and Dave McClure and extending the thinking beyond software to internet companies.

The first third gets some important concepts across, but is possibly a little theory heavy (reflecting Blank’s heritage), and then the final two thirds, which you get to after 20-30mins, is full of powerful how-to guides.  E.g. how to tease out the assumptions your company idea rests upon, how to talk to get out of the building to validate with real market participants, how to change your ideas if the assumptions turn out to be false, how to figure out the minimum launch requirements for your product, and how to keep iterating.

The power of the customer development philosophy is that it forces rigour into your thinking and keeps you honest with yourself and my final comment is that one of the nice things about this book is that it addresses the emotional side of staying disciplined.

I found reading the Four Steps very useful at the time, and coming back to the concepts again via Cooper and Vlaskovits’ book helped to re-enforce the ideas, as do blog posts on these topics from some of the other authors above.  As I said at the beginning, if you are an entrepreneur I recommend you get some exposure to this thinking.

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  • scottsage

    I bought a second copy of the 4 steps after leaving my first copy at a cabin in colorado. I was so upset to have a 14 hour drive ahead of me without the book – but i had to replace it as soon as I got home because I found the book absolutely compelling and full of excellent ideas and advice for startups. I now have a copy on my desk which is starting to look like a preacher’s bible as it is getting a little worn around the edges. I’m glad to see that somebody has come out with a shorter version as I will try and get some of our tech and marketing team to read it.

  • I’m pleased to hear you’re also a fan of Blank.
    N

  • Anonymous

    These books are great. I think the measure of a good business book must be when they actually change the way you do things! Most books don’t come close!

    Another book worth reading, when you get chance, is “Business Model Generation” – http://www.businessmodelgeneration.com/

    Sounds a bit IBM I know! But I’ve found it really useful for thinking through the strategy for our vertical virtual world portals. It could be because I’m one of those people who likes to think in pictures, but its a quick read so there’s not much to lose. Worst case, its nicely designed and looks pretty on the bookshelf.

    Matt

  • Thanks Matt. Just bought it on the marvel that is the Amazon iPhone app.

  • This looks awesome.