Posts from Steve Blank


I was up at Columbia University on thursday speaking to Steve Blank's students. Steve did a weeklong version his Lean LaunchPad class at Columbia last week. During the Q&A, a student asked me how I engaged with the startups we invest in. I answered that I planned to play paintball with two of our portfolio companies on the coming weekend. That got a chuckle from the class but it wasn't a joke. I don't think VCs should be meddling with the companies they invest in but I do think they should be engaged. And playing paintball is a good way to do that.

I like to stop by the offices of the companies we invest in and have lunch with the team. Over one of those lunches at a few months ago, I told the team that I had been in ROTC in college and that I still had decent skills. I described a paintball game I had played with my son and his friends a few years ago. The next thing I know, Chris Poole, the founder of emails me and tells me that he wants me on his team for a paintball throwdown with Codecademy, another USV portfolio company. How could I say no to that after bragging about my skills to the Canvas team at lunch?

So we trucked out to Staten Island yesterday morning to Cousins Paintball and spent three hours running around the woods shooting each other with paintballs. It was a blast. There are a couple photos of the event here.

I got to know everyone on both teams a lot better and got shot by most of them at least once. Chris and Zach trash talked and beefed a fair bit at the start but by the end it was all hugs.

Great day, great bonding. That's what I call engaging wtih the companies we invest in.

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Want To Be A VC? Start A Company.

Steve Blank has a great post up on his blog suggesting that VCs should require startup CEO experience in their partners' resumes. He quotes from me in that post but I'm not going to state which one came from me. You can guess if you want.

You might be surprised to know that I agree with Steve. I have never run a startup company. By Steve's measure, that is a weakness in my background and experience. And I agree that it is. I've managed to overcome that weakness, but it is a weakness nevertheless.

I particularly like this paragraph in Steve's post:

What running a company would do is give early-stage VC’s a benchmark for reality, something most newly-minted partners sorely lack. They would learn how a founding CEO turns their money into a company which becomes a learning, execution and delivery engine. They would learn that a CEO does it through the people – the day-to-day of who is going to do what, how you hold people accountable, how teams communicate, and more importantly, who you hire, how you motivate and get people to accomplish the seemingly impossible. Further, they’d experience first hand how, in a startup, the devil is in the details of execution and deliverables.

Newly-minted partners are a big problem for entrepreneurs (and VCs too). And Steve's suggestion that they get a dose of reality before opining on stuff in board rooms is great. If a super talented young person in our firm shows an interest in a partner track, I would strongly consider Steve's approach.

John Doerr famously said that it takes $30mm of losses to train a VC. I am proof of that theory. But as Steve points out, you can start a company and operate it for a year for less than $500k these days. That sure sounds like a less expensive way to learn how to be a VC.

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Steve Blank in NYC Next Friday

Are you a fan of Steve Blank's Customer Development model for startups? I am. And next friday morning (Nov 12th) from 10am to noon, Steve will be speaking up at Columbia University in the Davis Auditorium in the Schapiro Center.

This event is hosted by our friend Professor Chris Wiggins and the Columbia Entrepreneurship Program and is free. Steve will be talking about his Four Steps To The Epiphany and the Customer Development Model.

I am trying to figure out how to attend. I'm already booked at that time next friday. But I am fairly certain there will be a number of people from our firm there. If you are an entrepreneur and want to get better at launching products and companies, you really should think about spending a couple hours listening to Steve.

If you want to attend, please save your place by emailing [email protected].

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