As the father of the lean startup movement, whose ideas have inspired many of this generation’s most disruptive innovators, Steve Blank is well known for his advice about the need to “get out of the building”. The thinking is that you seek early customer feedback to an idea rather than locking yourself away, designing what you often mistakenly think is the perfect product or service.

Ironically, Blank says, now is the perfect time to do this. In the midst of the Covid-19 lockdown, “getting out” is by necessity a virtual experience right now, but the Silicon Valley serial tech entrepreneur, author and academic still sees it as an ideal time for innovators to garner feedback on their ideas.

“The potential people that you want to talk to are going nowhere and, more importantly, their gatekeepers are not home. With the secretaries and PAs hunkered down somewhere else, you could probably get to some very influential people you’d never usually have access to. Just be respectful and you might be pleasantly surprised,” he tells The Irish Times.

Not that Blank is in any way underestimating the scale of the unfolding crisis. Blogging a month ago, he said that businesses needed to get a handle on whether this was going to be a three-month, one-year or three-year problem for their business. This week, he says, it is clear that this is an issue that won’t go away any time soon.

“I think it is a case of preparing for a mass extinction event and this will be a nuclear winter for many sectors. It is going to be longer and deeper than many of us expect. What is worse is when the authorities say ‘all clear’ – are you going to run out and have dinner in a tightly packed restaurant? While some in their 20s might say well say ‘yes’, those of us in our 50s and over I suspect will say ‘no way’ until they find a vaccine. Will you fly economy class packed in a plane with a lot of other people? The answer to that is also likely to be age-related,” he says.

We’re in a war so don’t overthink it. Set up a war room with your chief financial officer and top management

Blank’s 21-year Silicon Valley career included multiple tech startups, in sectors as diverse as semiconductors, military intelligence systems and video games. His last startup, E.piphany, a customer relationship management solutions company, floated on NASDAQ in 1999 when Blank retired from business to concentrate on writing and teaching. He is now an adjunct professor at Stanford University and is co-author with Bob Dorf of the widely acclaimed bestseller The Startup Owner’s Manual.

Unique models

Blank is recognised for developing the customer development method that launched the lean startup movement with others such as Eric Ries. This now widely adopted approach first highlighted that startups are not smaller versions of large companies but require their own unique models and tools.

Having learned from both success and failure in his entrepreneurial career, Blank says the most important thing for established businesses to do right now is to act decisively rather than to get caught in the headlights.

“We’re in a war so don’t overthink it. Set up a war room with your chief financial officer and top management. Contact your largest customers and get a handle on where you stand with them. Most CEOs are optimistic and are designed to grow their businesses. They are often not built to handle full-time crisis so they need to rapidly reorient themselves and micromanage for survival. Rapid and urgent are key words to have in your lexicon right now.”



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