Week 7 Reflection: Company Building

 

Although I typically finish a read and can bask in a sense of accomplishment, I completed Stephen Blank’s book, The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products that Win and was absolutely relieved to have simply finished such a tedious read. I’ve said from the start that Blank’s book reads more like an instructional manual, although detailed and thorough, it is rather monotonous providing precise details to implement for every…. single…. stage…. of the startup! Despite the fact that I was a little annoyed by his approach, I choose to see the best in the book; the point that Blank provides a wealth of knowledge for those looking to put their best foot forward into those business “doors” of opportunity.
I am a sucker for quotes, and I must admit that Blank does a remarkable job intertwining some memorable excerpts into his narrative. For example, he starts off this last chapter with,

“The essential thing is action. Action has three stages: the decision born of thought, the order or preparation for execution, and the execution itself. All three stages are governed by the will. The will is rooted in character, and for the man of action character is of more critical importance than intellect. Intellect without will is worthless, will without intellect is dangerous.” Sun Tzu

a critical piece of the Marine Corps War Doctrine, to inform future entrepreneurs that now is the time to implement everything they have learned to build their company (and, that this journey is certainly akin to war!). See, up until now, Blank ascertains that there was no real reason to have a standardized company complete with departments specializing in an array of functions. Although you may have had a few sales or even a few thousand sales, everything you’ve learned now culminates into whether this is a scalable project or whether you should iterate or exit. Up until now, Blank has been persistent that readers have to understand that the product development model that has typically been used for startups should be converted to a customer development model which will better prepare the enterprise to enter their selected market, use the sales of earlyvangelists (those who like to use products early on and will sing it’s praises to the high heavens) and profitably build a mainstream customer base for future success.

Blank maintains that in order to successfully scale the company for the mainstream market, entrepreneurs will not only have to build their customer base, but also, “build the company’s organization, management, and culture to support greater scale.” As leaders, business owners must be adept at not micromanaging their employees; but continue to provide support which places value on the individual and on the company’s vision. Furthermore, managers must continually encourage innovation and creativity so as not to stifle ideas and be able to implement change, when necessary, that satisfies both customers and the market (competition).
In addition, business owners must create fast-response departments to support the climate of learning that will be necessary for the venture to progress into the next phase of building the company. This “positioning” prepares the entity to be ready for the next opportunity since, “success in a startup is all about searching, finding, and exploiting ephemeral opportunities.” As he has preached throughout the book, Blank further maintains that it is fundamental to know what market the company is planning to enter because as he has stated previously, it will determine how entrepreneurs will need to proceed on the playing field. Just like each venture is unique, each market has its own set of guidelines that will need to be adhered to, to mitigate the entrepreneurial risks that ensue. Blank affirms that too many new enterprises construe growth as a call to construct, staff, and scale traditional departments corresponding to a cookie-cutter model (thinking all companies must have certain branches) rather than assembling structure from a clear strategic standpoint.

 

References
Blank, S. G. (2006). Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products that Win (3rd ed.). Cafepress.com.