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The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful…

The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products That…

by Steven Gary Blank

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257344,496 (4.11)None



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The best way to characterize "The Four Steps to the Epiphany" is as a guide for people who want to create products, but don't know what products they want to create, why their target customers 'must have' them, or even who their target customers are. If all these things are true, then innovators/engineers will find this a useful book that leads them through the basics that startups often neglect because they just focus on building technology without a real purpose, and those products turn out to not be very sellable.

Steve Blank is a popular professor at Stanford, and former serial entrepreneur, who is an engaging speaker and prolific blogger. This book originally started as class notes, which is why it is a bit of a disorganized and poorly written jumble. It could easily be 1/10 the volume, and impart the core of its useful knowledge much more clearly. In fact, I would recommend looking up Steve Blank on YouTube -- you'll find much of the best material from this book is better presented and more coherent in his talks than in this book. He's also an entertaining speaker whose rhetoric is easier to take in a verbal presentation than peppered throughout a text book, and in the spoken context, it (the rhetoric) also helps to make his points.

Many readers have given this book a much higher rating than my 2 stars. When this book was originally published, I would agree that it had greater value because it offered a unique viewpoint that was understood by only a few (that a startup is not a small version of a big company, but actually has a different purpose and needs different behaviors to succeed), but today there are several better books that elaborate on different elements of this much much more effectively, including Blank's own "Startup Owner's Manual", Eric Ries "Lean Startup" and Rob Fitzpatrick's "The Mom Test", especially when it comes to customer development and generic startup methodology. The weaknesses and poor writing in this book have become much more apparent over time, and even the basic thesis that this is the best way to start a startup is questionable.

I would also call out a quote that the previous reviewer has highlighted "The difference between the winners and losers is simple. Products developed with senior management out in front of customers early and often win. Products handed off to a sales and marketing organization that has only been tangentially involved in the new Product Development process lose. It's that simple". This is a rhetorical and gross over-simplification which is provably false, and it is characteristic of much of Steve's hyperbole. There are many examples of successful products that were built before the notion of customer development was articulated, where products were handed off to sales and marketing, that have won. And, having senior management out in front of customers early and often does not guarantee success -- there are many other factors that go into success, and even this statement assumes that the CEO is a good listener, a good manager, and takes the customer input to build something that can be sold in sufficient quantity at a profitable price that the business becomes a going concern. Many of today's current crop of Silicon Valley startups have employed the processes and thinking that this book describes, but even today with the benefit of these insights, 80% still fail. In general, I agree with the sentiment, but if you take statements like this at face value, you will naively increase your chances of failing.

So, my rating of 2 stars is based on these factors -- the quality of writing, the organization of the book, the fact that much of the information is dated or better articulated in more recent books, and that a well-edited and condensed version would be far more useful as a startup guide than this bloated and rhetoric-ridden text. For me, 2 stars means "Fair" -- there is some useful information, but not enough that this should be the first book you buy on the subject or a primary source. ( )
  paulpaetz | Apr 15, 2016 |
Number one book to read on entrepreneurialism. If you can practice the principles outlined in this book, you'll be a successful entrepreneur [unlike most books of this sort]. ( )
  willszal | Jan 3, 2016 |
A good book to learn how to develop, market, and sell products as a startup. Makes a very convincing case for why the product development, marketing, and sales practices used in a big, established company will not work in a new venture trying to grab a foothold. Reasonably clear guide on the proper way to do it in such an uncertain environment, including lots of great questions to ask yourself (as a startup employee) and your customers.

Downsides to the book are that parts of it feel a little dragged out and repetitive and some of the advice is only useful for enterprise and B2B products and not consumer products. Also, parts of the book can be a bit egotistical. The Creation of Adam from the Sistine Chapel ceiling on the cover? "Epiphany" in the title? The first chapter talking about the "hero journey" of a founder? Bleh.

Some fun quotes from the book:

The surprising fact is that companies large and small, established corporate giants as well as brand new startups, fail in 9 out of 10 attempts to launch their new products.

The difference between the winners and losers is simple. Products developed with senior management out in front of customers early and often - win. Products handed off to a sales and marketing organization that has only been tangentially involved in the new Product Development process lose. It's that simple.

To begin with, the Product Development diagram completely ignores the fundamental truth about startups and all new products. The greatest risk—and hence the greatest cause of failure—in startups is not in the development of the new product but in the development of customers and markets. Startups don't fail because they lack a product; they fail because they lack customers and a proven financial model.

Broadly speaking, Customer Development focuses on understanding customer problems and needs, Customer Validation on developing a sales model that can be replicated, Customer Creation on creating and driving end user demand, and Company Building on transitioning the organization from one designed for learning and discovery to a well-oiled machine engineered for execution.

A startup begins with a vision: a vision of a new product or service, a vision of how the product will reach its customers, and a vision of why lots of people will buy that product. But most of what a startup's founders initially believe about their market and potential customers are just educated guesses. To turn the vision into reality (and a profitable company), a startup must test those guesses, or hypotheses, and find out which are correct. So the general goal of Customer Discovery amounts to this: turning the founders' initial hypotheses about their market and customers into facts. And since the facts live outside the building, the primary activity is to get in front of customers. Only after the founders have performed this step will they know whether they have a valid vision or just a hallucination.

I ask them [my customers], "If the product were free, how many would you actually deploy or use?" The goal is to take pricing away as an issue and see whether the product itself gets customers excited. If it does, I follow up with my next question: "Ok, it's not free. In fact, imagine I charged you $1 million. Would you buy it?" While this may sound like a facetious dialog, I use it all the time. Why? Because more than half the time customers will say something like, "Steve, you're out of your mind. This product isn't worth more than $250,000." I've just gotten customers to tell me how much they are willing to pay. Wow.

What if a customer tells you the issues you thought were important really aren't? Realize you've just obtained great data. While it may not be what you wanted to hear, it's wonderful to have that knowledge early on. Do not, I repeat, do not, try to "convince" customers they really have the problems you describe. They are the ones with the checkbooks, and you want them to convince you.

Can you reduce your business to a single clear, compelling message that says why your company is different and your product worth buying? That's the goal of a value proposition (sometimes called a unique selling proposition).

A company creating a new market is a radically different type of company than one entering or reframing an existing market. While there are no market-share battles with competitors, there are also no existing customers. If there are no existing customers, then even an infinite demand creation budget at the point of product launch will not garner market share. Creating a new market is about long-term customer education and adoption.

Startups creating new markets will not create a market of substantial size to generate a profit until three to seven years from product launch. This sobering piece of data is derived from looking at the results of hundreds of high-tech startups in the last twenty years.

One way to nurture maturity is to transition the "superstars" found in every corner of a startup into coaches and role models. When the company was a small startup, it looked for those world-class individuals who were ten times more productive than average. Now, when you need to scale and grow, you'll find there are not enough superstars in the job market to match the caliber of your existing staff. In a traditional startup, as processes, procedures, and rules begin to get added, jobs are redefined so "average" hires can do them. The superstars, who tend to be individualist and iconoclastic, look at all this with dismay, lamenting "the company is going downhill." Like the elves in the Lord of the Rings stories, they realize that their time has passed and quietly disappear by leaving the company. One way to keep and motivate superstars is to integrate them into larger teams as role models and coaches. If they can teach, make them coaches. If they prefer isolation, let them be revered role models. And if they are outspoken, they can become the voices in the wilderness that will sometimes be prophetic—as long as your culture protects the mavericks. ( )
  brikis98 | Nov 11, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0976470705, Paperback)

The essential book for anyone bringing a product to market, writing a business plan, marketing plan or sales plan. Step-by-step strategy of how to successfully organize sales, marketing and business development for a new product or company. The book offers insight into what makes some startups successful and leaves others selling off their furniture. Packed with concrete examples, the book will leave you with new skills to organize sales, marketing and your business for success.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:13 -0400)

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