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Steve Blank

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Steve Blank
Blank, Steven Gary
Born1953 (age 70–71)
Alma materUniversity of Michigan (dropped out)
Known forcustomer development methodology

Steve Blank (born 1953) is an American entrepreneur, educator, author and speaker based in Pescadero, California.[1]

Blank created the customer development method that launched the lean startup movement, a methodology that recognized that startups are not smaller versions of large companies, but require their own set of processes and tools to be successful.[2][3] His Lean Launchpad class (taught as the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps, or I-Corps[4]) has become the standard for commercialization for all federal research[1] and has trained 1,900 teams and launched 1,000+ startups.[5] His Hacking for Defense Class has been adopted by the U.S. Department of Defense.


Blank was born to immigrant parents in the Chelsea neighborhood in New York City.[6] He attended the University of Michigan for one semester.[6] Blank spent four years in the U.S. Air Force, and spent time in Thailand during the Vietnam War, where he was maintaining electronic warfare equipment.[6]

Blank arrived in Silicon Valley in 1978. His first job in the region was with ESL, a pioneering company for National Reconnaissance founded by William Perry, later the US Secretary of Defense.[7] The company helped the government understand the Soviets' technological and arms developments during the Cold War. Blank was part of 8 startups include Zilog and MIPS Computers, Convergent Technologies, Ardent, SuperMac Technologies, ESL and Rocket Science Games.[7]

Blank co-founded his last startup, the Customer Relationship Management provider E.piphany, in 1996 and retired the day before its IPO in September 1999.[8]

In 2005, Blank published The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products that Win, which details his approach to the Customer Development process.[9][10]

In 2010, Blank released a second book, Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost which relates stories from his life as an entrepreneur. The collection of material develops a narrative about how to live life amid the fast-paced world of Silicon Valley startups.[11][12]

Blank has given commencement addresses at Philadelphia University (2011),[13] University of Minnesota (2013),[14] ESADE Business School in Barcelona (2014),[15] New York University Engineering School (2016),[16] Dalhousie University (2017)[17] and UC Santa Cruz (2019).[18]

The Startup Owner's Manual, co-authored by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf was released in March 2012.[19] The book draws on ideas from Business Model Generation and The Four Steps to the Epiphany and emphasizes the importance of rigorous and repeated testing.[20][21]

Blank served on the California Coastal Commission from 2007 until he resigned his seat in 2013.[22][23]

Blank hosted the SiriusXM radio show “Entrepreneurs are Everywhere'' from 2015-2016.[citation needed]

Blank served as a member of the Defense Business Board until December 2020, when he resigned in protest due to "[t]he abrupt termination of more than half of the Defense Business Board and their replacement with political partisans."[24]

Academic teaching career[edit]

Steve Blank standing and giving a lecture at Stanford University in 2024
Steve Blank giving a lecture at Stanford University in 2024.

Blank is an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Stanford[25][26] and is a Senior Fellow for Entrepreneurship at Columbia University.[27] He was a past lecturer at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, NYU[28] and at Imperial College in London. His Lean LaunchPad and Hacking for Defense curricula uses the customer development methodology and lean startup methods he developed throughout his career as a serial entrepreneur and academic.[6]

Philosophy and work[edit]

Customer development methodology[edit]

Blank began to develop the customer development methodology in the mid-1990s and began teaching it at UC Berkeley in 2003.[29] The concept replaced the existing method of guessing customer needs and instead details a scientific approach that can be applied by startups and entrepreneurs to improve their products‘ success by developing a better understanding of customers' problems/needs as well as the other hypotheses necessary to build a commercially successful company.[2]

Key customer development concepts[edit]

Blank's customer development method includes four steps:[30][31]

  1. There are no facts inside the building, so get outside
  2. While outside use the scientific method to test all the hypotheses about the proposed business model
    1. Hypothesis > design experiment > test > gather data > validate, invalidate or modify the hypothesis
  3. If you found the hypothesis wasn’t correct you could pivot i.e. modify the hypothesis
  4. The goal of the first two steps of customer development (Discovery and Validation) was to find the minimum feature set (also called the minimal viable product) that a startup could deliver.

None of these are original insights: Blank arranged existing concepts into an approach informed by his experiences as a product manager and entrepreneur. You can find the roots of the first step "get outside" in Taiichi Ohno's advice "go to the Gemba" and anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski advice to "Come down off the veranda, come out of your studies and join the people." The next three steps are from the Scientific Method. The concept of a minimum viable product was coined and defined earlier by Frank Robinson.

Lean startup movement[edit]

Blank's customer development methodology is a cornerstone of the lean startup movement, popularized by Eric Ries.[32] The lean startup approach relies on validated learning, scientific experimentation, and iterative product releases to shorten product development cycles, measure progress, and gain valuable customer feedback.[33] Blank developed the ideas beginning around 2004 when he was an investor and advisor to the company, IMVU, that Ries co-founded.[34] Ries observed that Customer Development was a natural pair to the Agile Development method that engineers were adopting. The lean startup has been adopted by entrepreneurs worldwide as an efficient and repeatable way to search for product/market fit.[2] Ries has integrated the customer development methodology into the lean startup practices and considers it to be one of the lean startup movement's pillars.[35][36][37]

Lean LaunchPad[edit]

In January 2011, Blank created the Lean LaunchPad class at Stanford University, Columbia Business School[38] and UC Berkeley.[39] The class is a method for teaching entrepreneurship that combines experiential learning with the three building blocks of a successful lean startup: Alexander Osterwalder's Business Model Canvas,[40][39] Blank's customer development model,[41] and agile engineering.

The Lean LaunchPad changed the way entrepreneurship is taught.[42] Instead of relying on the traditional business school practice of teaching students how to write a standard corporate business plan, or simply build a product, the course provides hands-on experience in what it takes to start a company.[39]

The course is taught in hundreds of universities worldwide including a free online version of the class at Udacity.[43][44]

National Science Foundation Innovation Corps[edit]

In July 2011 the National Science Foundation asked Blank to adapt his Lean LaunchPad class to help scientists who were applying for an SBIR grant learn how to commercialize their academic inventions. The NSF adopted Blank's Stanford class and renamed it the Innovation Corps (I-Corps).[45]

The course is now the standard for science commercialization, serving as the syllabus of the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps) that is taught in 100 universities and has been adopted by the other federal research agencies (NIH, DOE, HHS, NSA)[46] and is helping to drive innovation within the U.S. government.[47]

In 2012, Blank testified in front of congress about the program[48] and in 2017 he testified before the Committee on Science, Space and Technology.[49]

Mission-driven Entrepreneurship[edit]

In 2016, Blank along with Peter Newell, and Joe Felter co-created the first of a series of mission-driven entrepreneurship classes based on the Lean Method - Hacking for Defense at Stanford University.[50] This course teaches students to work with Defense and Intelligence communities on national security problems and develop solutions using the Lean Startup method.[51] The course allows students to serve their country in a nontraditional way.[52]

Also in 2016, the U.S. Department of State asked if Blank could create a version of the class, Hacking For Diplomacy, to have students work on State department problems.[53] Blank co-created the class at Stanford with Professor Jeremy Weinstein and State Department representative to Silicon Valley Zvika Krieger.[54]

As of 2021 the course is now offered in 55 universities in the U.S. via the National Security Innovation Network as well as in Australia and the UK.

Other mission-driven “Hacking” courses followed including Hacking for Oceans,[55] and Hacking for Local.[56]

In 2020 in the midst of the Covid pandemic Blank created a series of classes called Hacking for Recovery to help business adapt their business models in the crisis.[57] The class was subsequently adopted by the State of Hawaii.[58]

Technology, Innovation and Great Power Competition class[edit]

In 2020, Blank co-created the Technology, Innovation and Modern War class with Joe Felter and Raj Shah (the ex head of the Defense Innovation Unit) at Stanford University.[59] The class discusses how technology driven by commercial technology will create new military systems and concepts for future conflicts. In 2021 the class was expanded and renamed Technology, Innovation and Great Power Competition.[60]

Lean Innovation Educator conferences[edit]

Blank created a class to train educators to teach the Lean LaunchPad method. First hosted by the National Science Foundation, in 2019, Blank, in collaboration with the Common Mission project, hosted the first Lean Innovation Education Conference to now include educators teaching the mission-driven Hacking for Defense/Diplomacy/Oceans classes.[61] This biannual event was created to share practices for teaching entrepreneurship and draws educators from universities around the world. In 2020 and early 2021 the conference was held virtually.[61]

Awards and honors[edit]

  • 2009 Silicon Valley Mercury News Top 10 Influencers in Silicon Valley[62]
  • 2012 The Harvard Business Review "One of 12 Masters of Innovation"[63]
  • 2012 CNBC "11 Notable Entrepreneurs Teaching the Next Generation"[64]
  • 2013 SVForum Visionary Award[65]
  • 2014 National Science Foundation and the NCIIA Outstanding Leadership Award [66]
  • 2015 Columbia University Senior Fellow for Entrepreneurship[67]
  • 2015 The Thinkers50 global ranking of management thinkers[68]
  • 2017 Columbia University Senior Fellow for Entrepreneurship[67]
  • 2019 U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (USASBE) 2019 John E. Hughes Award for Entrepreneurial Achievement[69]



  • Blank, Steve (2005) The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products that Win, Wiley, ISBN 978-1119690351
  • Blank, Steve (2010) Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost, Cafepress, ISBN 978-0976470748
  • Blank, Steve; Bob Dorf (2012) The Startup Owner's Manual, Wiley, ISBN 978-1119690689
  • Blank, Steve (2014) Holding a Cat by the Tail, K&S Ranch Publishing, ISBN 978-0989200554

Selected publications[edit]


  1. ^ a b J.J. Colao (1 August 2012). "Steve Blank Introduces Scientists to a new Variable: Customers". Forbes Magazine. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
  2. ^ a b c Steve Lohr (24 April 2010). "The Rise of the Fleet-Footed Start-Up". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
  3. ^ Steve Blank (2013). "Why the Lean Start-Up Changes Everything". Archived from the original on 2014-08-26.
  4. ^ "I-Corps - NSF - National Science Foundation". www.nsf.gov. Retrieved 2020-01-10.
  5. ^ "10 years of I-Corps: NSF entrepreneurship training program impacts the economy and shapes careers". Beta site for NSF - National Science Foundation. Retrieved 2021-09-04.
  6. ^ a b c d Derek Andersen (15 April 2012). "Steve Blank Teaches Entrepreneurs How to Fail Less". Tech Crunch. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
  7. ^ a b "A DIY Curriculum for Entrepreneurs - Steve Blank's Lean Launchpad". Busted Cubicle. Retrieved 2021-07-30.
  8. ^ Stacy Cowley (2005). "SSA Global to buy Epiphany for $329M". Computer World. Retrieved 14 February 2019.
  9. ^ Pratt, Michael (7 March 2017). "5 Lessons I Learned Following Steve Blank's 'The Four Steps to the Epiphany'". Entrepreneur. Retrieved 2021-09-10.
  10. ^ Sharp, Tyler. "Council Post: Successful Marketing Is About People, Not Products". Forbes. Retrieved 2021-09-10.
  11. ^ "9780976470748: Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost - AbeBooks - Steve Blank: 0976470748". www.abebooks.com. Retrieved 2021-09-21.
  12. ^ Blank, Steven G (2010). Not all those who wander are lost: posts from an entrepreneurial career. California: Steve Blank. OCLC 706075625.
  13. ^ "Steve Blank, 2011". NPR. Retrieved 2021-09-21.
  14. ^ Huspeni, Andrea (24 June 2013). "The Best Inspirational Quotes from 2013 Commencement Speeches (Slideshow)". Entrepreneur. Retrieved 2021-09-21.
  15. ^ "Coming Soon to an MBA Commencement Near You". Bloomberg.com. 2014-05-13. Retrieved 2021-09-21.
  16. ^ Henry, Zoë (2016-05-23). "Steve Blank Makes Homage to Steve Jobs in Speech to NYU Engineering Graduates". Inc.com. Retrieved 2021-09-21.
  17. ^ "Steve Blank and the Dalhousie entrepreneurship revolution". Dalhousie News. Retrieved 2021-09-21.
  18. ^ Radin, Rick. "Following his road not taken". www.almanacnews.com. Retrieved 2021-09-21.
  19. ^ Liyan Chen (30 September 2012). "Live Blog: Entrepreneurs Boot Camp". Forbes Magazine. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
  20. ^ "Struggling to Find a Business Model for Your Idea? Read The Startup Owner's Manual". Wamda. Retrieved 2021-09-28.
  21. ^ "Steve Blank Teaches Entrepreneurs How To Fail Less". TechCrunch. 15 April 2012. Retrieved 2021-09-28.
  22. ^ Mark Noack. "Blank resigns with warning for commission". Half Moon Bay Review. Retrieved 2021-09-28.
  23. ^ "California Coastal Commission to decide whether to fire executive director". The Mercury News. 2016-02-09. Retrieved 2021-09-28.
  24. ^ Browne, Ryan (7 December 2020). "Member of Pentagon advisory board resigns in protest at recent purge". CNN. Retrieved 7 December 2020.
  25. ^ "Faculty and Executive Leadership Directory: Steve G. Blank". University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business. 2012. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
  26. ^ "Steve Blank: Serial Entrepreneur". Ecorner: Stanford University's Entrepreneurship Corner. 1 October 2008. Archived from the original on 27 October 2012. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
  27. ^ "Columbia University Announces The Appointment of Steve Blank as Senior Fellow for Entrepreneurship (Columbia Entrepreneurship) | Technology Ventures". techventures.columbia.edu. Retrieved 2021-08-03.
  28. ^ "Startup Guru Steve Blank Brings His 5-Day Lean Launchpad to NYU | NYU Tandon School of Engineering". engineering.nyu.edu. Retrieved 2021-08-03.
  29. ^ Warren, Todd. "Getting The Most Out Of 'Getting Out Of The Building'". Forbes. Retrieved 2021-07-07.
  30. ^ Parsons, Sabrina. "Council Post: Five Customer Development Lessons That Inspired A Product Evolution". Forbes. Retrieved 2021-09-12.
  31. ^ "1. Why You Need Customer Development - Lean Customer Development (Hardcover version) [Book]". www.oreilly.com. Retrieved 2021-09-12.
  32. ^ "Startup Lessons Learned:Eric Ries". Slideshare. 2012. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
  33. ^ Kinni, Theodore. "Steve Blank's Required Reading". strategy+business. Retrieved 2021-07-30.
  34. ^ Ries, Eric. The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. Crown Publishing. 2011, p. 103. ISBN†978-0-307-88791-7
  35. ^ Cindy Alvarez (18 March 2010). "FAQ: Customer Development for Product Managers". Cindy Alvarez. Archived from the original on 5 November 2012. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
  36. ^ Eric Ries (8 November 2008). "What is Customer Development". Startup Lessons Learned. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
  37. ^ Patrick Vlaskovits (7 July 2010). "Recent Posts on the Entrepreneur's Guide to Customer Development". Patrick Vlaskovits. Archived from the original on 1 March 2013. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
  38. ^ "lean-launchpad-courses-at-columbia-business-school". Columbia Business School. Retrieved November 6, 2018.
  39. ^ a b c Hudson, Marianne (February 12, 2015). "What Angels Need To Know About New Startup Tool: Lean LaunchPad". Forbes.
  40. ^ Greenwald, Ted (January 31, 2012). "Business Model Canvas: A Simple Tool For Designing Innovative Business Models". Forbes.
  41. ^ Turner, Elliot (November 18, 2010). "Steve Blank Talks Customer Development, Lean Startups, And Epiphanies". Business Insider.
  42. ^ Baron, Ethan (15 August 2015). "Lean Startup' Evangelist Steve Blank Builds B-School Pipeline". Poetsandquants.com.
  43. ^ "The ultimate class on how to start a company: Lean LaunchPad now online". VentureBeat. 2012-09-06. Retrieved 2021-08-18.
  44. ^ Evans, Ryan (September 13, 2016). "I Saw the Future of Defense in California and It's Coming to a University New You". WarontheRocks.com.
  45. ^ Renda, Matthew. "NSF I-Corps pushes discoveries to market". UC Santa Cruz News. Retrieved 2021-08-06.
  46. ^ "NSF Innovation Corps". National Science Foundation. 2012. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
  47. ^ Dykstra, Josiah; Fante, Matt; Donahue, Paul; Varva, Dawn; Wilk, Linda; Johnson, Amanda (2019-08-12). "Lessons from using the I-Corps methodology to understand cyber threat intelligence sharing". Proceedings of the 12th USENIX Conference on Cyber Security Experimentation and Test. CSET'19. Santa Clara, CA, USA: USENIX Association: 7.
  49. ^ Renda, Matthew. "NSF I-Corps pushes discoveries to market". UC Santa Cruz News. Retrieved 2021-07-31.
  50. ^ "Office of Naval Research Wants to Innovate at Startup Speed". United States Navy. Retrieved 2021-08-15.
  51. ^ Nichols, Greg. "DoD's hacking for defense taps college brainpower". ZDNet. Retrieved 2021-08-15.
  52. ^ Vaughan, Ann. "HACKING FOR DEFENSE TURNS 5". USAASC. Retrieved 2021-08-15.
  53. ^ "Stanford's 'Hacking for Defense' Class Expands to Diplomacy". Nextgov.com. Retrieved 2021-08-18.
  54. ^ "Hacking 4 Diplomacy". web.stanford.edu. Retrieved 2021-08-18.
  55. ^ "Entrepreneurs for Good | AACSB". www.aacsb.edu. Retrieved 2021-08-18.
  56. ^ "Solve the Bay Area housing crisis, fight climate change and more, all while earning college credit". The Mercury News. 2019-02-04. Retrieved 2021-08-18.
  57. ^ "H4R – Hacking for Recovery". Retrieved 2021-08-28.
  58. ^ "Innovate 2 Impact". Hacking 4 Recovery Hawaii. Retrieved 2021-08-28.
  59. ^ "Course Motivation | Technology, Innovation, and Modern War". timw.sites.stanford.edu. Retrieved 2021-08-09.
  60. ^ "Stanford University Explore Courses". explorecourses.stanford.edu. Retrieved 2021-09-04.
  61. ^ a b "The Lean Innovation Educators Summit: Lessons from Teaching in the Pandemic". The Common Mission Project Australia. Retrieved 2021-08-29.
  62. ^ Chris O'Brien (1 December 2010). "O'Brien: The Influencers of Silicon Valley". Mercury News. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
  63. ^ Scott Anthony (2012). "The Masters of Innovation". Harvard Business Review. Archived from the original on 21 October 2012. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
  64. ^ "11 Entrepreneurs Teaching the Next Generation". The New Entrepreneurs. 2012. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
  65. ^ "Ray Kurzweil, Steve Blank, Padmasree Warrior, and Peter Diamandis at the SVForum Visionary Awards". Business Journal. Retrieved 2021-07-07.
  66. ^ Haas (2014-05-12). "Haas Lecturer, Lean LaunchPad Creator Steve Blank Recognized in Washington, Spain". Haas News | Berkeley Haas. Retrieved 2021-07-07.
  67. ^ a b "Columbia Senior Fellow for Entrepreneurship Steve Blank on Thinkers50 2017". Columbia Entrepreneurship. 2017. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  68. ^ Girard, Kim (2015-11-13). "Three Berkeley-Haas Leaders Make Thinkers50 List". Haas News | Berkeley Haas. Retrieved 2021-07-07.
  69. ^ "USASBE Is Pleased to Announce Steve Blank as the Recipient of the John E. Hughes Award". USASBE. 2018. Retrieved 22 January 2019.

External links[edit]