Steve Blank

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Steve Blank
Blank, Steven Gary
Born1953 (age 67–68)
Alma materUniversity of Michigan (dropped out)
Known forcustomer development methodology

Steve Blank (born 1953) is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur based in Pescadero, California.[1]

Blank is recognized for developing the customer development method that launched the lean startup movement, a methodology which 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]

Blank writes and teaches about customer development and the lean startup method. He is an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Stanford;[5][6] lectures at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, and is a senior fellow at Columbia University.[7] He has written four books: The Four Steps to the Epiphany, Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost, The Startup Owner's Manual, and Holding a Cat by the Tail.[8][9]

Early life[edit]

Blank was born to immigrant parents who ran a grocery in the Chelsea neighborhood in New York City.[10] He grew up with a sister, Linn, who was 12 years older than him and both siblings were raised by his mother after his father left home when he was aged 6.[10] He attended the University of Michigan, but dropped out after one semester.[10][11]

His military career took him to Thailand during the Vietnam War, where he was managing a team of 15 electronics technicians within a year and a half.[10][11] After leaving the military, Blank moved to Palo Alto.[11]

Startup career[edit]

Steve Blank arrived in Silicon Valley at the start of the business boom in 1978.[12][9] His first job in the region was with ESL, a startup that was a pioneering company for National Reconnaissance.[13] The company helped the government understand the Soviets' technological and arms developments during the Cold War.[13]

Some of his ventures include Zilog and MIPS Computers, Convergent Technologies, Ardent, SuperMac Technologies, ESL and Rocket Science Games.[5][14] In the case of Rocket Science games, he raised $35 million in venture capital, but the company spent it all without producing a viable product. Despite his investors losing out on their returns, they were willing to provide him with an additional $12 million to begin his next startup. Blank believes that the investors are probably glad they stuck with him, as he ultimately put over $1 billion back into their pockets throughout his many startup ventures. [15]

Blank co-founded his 8th and last startup, the Customer Relationship Management provider E.piphany, in 1996 and retired the day before its IPO in September 1999.[16]

Customer development methodology[edit]

Blank created the customer development methodology in the mid 1990s.[13] The concept 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 commercial successful company.[2][12][13]

Lean startup movement[edit]

Blank's customer development methodology is a cornerstone of the lean startup movement, popularized by Eric Ries[17][18] whom Blank states was "the best student I ever had."[12] 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. Blank and Ries developed the ideas beginning around 2004 when Blank was an investor and advisor to the company, IMVU, that Ries co-founded.[19] The lean startup has been adopted by entrepreneurs worldwide as a constructive way to try out ideas and gain customers.[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.[20][21][22]

Academic teaching career[edit]

Blank began teaching entrepreneurship in 2002 at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business and has since taught entrepreneurship to both undergraduate and graduate students. He currently teaches at Stanford, the University of California Berkeley Haas School of Business, New York University and Columbia.[5][6][23] His Lean LaunchPad curricula uses the customer development methodology and lean startup methods he developed throughout his career as a serial entrepreneur and academic.[10]

Lean LaunchPad[edit]

In January 2011, Blank created the Lean LaunchPad class at Stanford University, Columbia Business School[24] and UC Berkeley. 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,[25][26] Blank's customer development model,[27] and agile engineering.

The Lean LaunchPad changed the way entrepreneurship is taught.[28] 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.

Students propose and immediately test business hypotheses. They get out of the building to talk to 10–15 prospective customers, partners and others each week. They use the customer feedback acquired in these interviews to refine their product or service by building a new minimal viable product weekly; ensure their product or service meets a customer need or solves a customer problem; and validate that they have created a repeatable, scalable business model.

Since its inception, Blank's course has been adopted by more than 100 universities worldwide, and more than 300,000 people have taken a free online version of the class at Udacity.[29]

National Science Foundation Innovation Corps[edit]

In July 2011 the National Science Foundation asked Blank to adapt his Lean LaunchPad class for its Innovation Corps (I-Corps), which develops and nurtures a national innovation ecosystem by helping discoveries from fundamental research to become new companies.

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 53 universities and has been adopted by the other federal research agencies (NIH, DOE, HHS, NSA);[30] and is helping to drive innovation within the U.S. government, particularly within the defense and intelligence community.

Following a successful pilot, the I-Corps program quickly expanded. A version of the I-Corps program specifically dedicated to biomedical research, called The I-Corps at NIH, was devised in 2014. As of January 2017, I-Corps has a National Innovation Network of more than 190 colleges and universities, and more than 800 teams of scientists and engineers have gone through the program.[1][12][3][30]


Awards and honors[edit]

  • SVForum Visionary Award[36]
  • "Outstanding Leadership Award" from the National Science Foundation and the NCIIA[37]
  • Columbia University Senior Fellow for Entrepreneurship[38]
  • The Thinkers50 global ranking of management thinkers
  • NPR ranked Blank's Philadelphia University commencement speech as "one of the best in the last 325 years"
  • Columbia University Senior Fellow for Entrepreneurship[38]
  • U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (USASBE) 2019 John E. Hughes Award for Entrepreneurial Achievement[39]

Commencement speeches & keynote addresses[edit]

  • Philadelphia University Commencement Speech[40]
  • University of Minnesota Commencement Speech[41]
  • ESADE Business School Commencement Speech[42]
  • Philadelphia University Commencement Speech
  • New York University Engineering School Commencement Speech[43]
  • Dalhousie University Commencement Speech[44]
  • U.C. Santa Cruz Alumni Day "Keynote: Entrepreneurship and Ethical Dilemmas in a Competitive World"[45]
  • U.C. Santa Cruz, Rachel Carson College Commencement Speech[46]


The Four Steps to the Epiphany[edit]

In 2005, Blank published The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products that Win, (K&S Ranch Press) which details his approach to the Customer Development process.[9] In the book, Blank outlines his views about how entrepreneurship is a practice that can be actively managed rather than an art which must be passively experienced.[13] The book is viewed in entrepreneurship circles as the definitive source on the customer development methodology.[13]

Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost[edit]

Blank released a second book in 2010, Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost which relates stories from his life as an entrepreneur.[9] The collection of material develops a narrative about how to live life amid the fast-paced world of Silicon Valley startups.[47]

The Startup Owner's Manual[edit]

Steve Blank and Bob Dorf co-authored The Startup Owner's Manual, which was released in March 2012.[48][49] The 608-page reference manual details a scientific approach to entrepreneurship and emphasizes the importance of "rigorous and repeated testing."[8][10] The work draws on ideas from Business Model Generation and The Four Steps to the Epiphany.[8] According to Blank, the book was designed to be used as an "encyclopedia and a blueprint" for startups.[50]

Holding a Cat by the Tail[edit]

Blank released Holding a Cat by the Tail in 2014.[51] The book is updated version of Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost, featuring additional lessons learned from his life as an entrepreneur.


Blank authors a blog about entrepreneurship.[52] In 2012, his blog was ranked one of the "10 Must-Read Blogs for Any Lean Startup" by[53] The blog is considered a must-read for entrepreneurs and is often syndicated by UC Berkeley, VentureBeat, Huffington Post, Forbes, and NikkeiBP in Japan. It is available as an audio podcast (produced by Clearshore and featuring the voice of HP Lewis) on the blog itself or through SoundCloud, and translated into Spanish (by Alberto Peralta).[31][50][54]

Public service[edit]

Blank was a past Chairman of Audubon California and[14] has also served on the board of the Peninsula Open Space Trust[55] and was a trustee of U.C. Santa Cruz foundation and served on the board of the California League of Conservation Voters.[56] In 2007 he was appointed to the California Coastal Commission.[57] He has made philanthropic gifts to preserve the California Coast and has contributed funds to support the visitors' center at Año Nuevo State Reserve and to the Peninsula Open Space Trust.[12][55]

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."[58]


Blank is known amongst entrepreneurs and students as one of "The Godfathers of Silicon Valley".[50] His books, blog, and interviews are often referred to or featured in world news publications such as Reuters, the New York Times, Forbes, Inc, TechCrunch and The Wall Street Journal.[1][2][52][10][50][59] Blank has hosted numerous sold-out speaking events and conferences about entrepreneurship and the customer development methodology.[60][61][62][63]


  1. ^ a b c d J.J. Colao (August 1, 2012). "Steve Blank Introduces Scientists to a new Variable: Customers". Forbes Magazine. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d Steve Lohr (April 24, 2010). "The Rise of the Fleet-Footed Start-Up". The New York Times. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  3. ^ a b Steve Blank (2013). "Why the Lean Start-Up Changes Everything". Archived from the original on August 26, 2014.
  4. ^ "I-Corps - NSF - National Science Foundation". Retrieved January 10, 2020.
  5. ^ a b c "Faculty and Executive Leadership Directory: Steve G. Blank". University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business. 2012. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  6. ^ a b "Steve Blank: Serial Entrepreneur". Ecorner: Stanford University's Entrepreneurship Corner. October 1, 2008. Archived from the original on October 27, 2012. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  7. ^ "Appointment of Steve Blank at Columbia University".
  8. ^ a b c Kia Davis (October 1, 2012). "Struggling to Find a Business Model for Your Idea? Read the Startup Owner's Manual". Wamda. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  9. ^ a b c d Steve Blank. "Steven Gary Blank". Amazon. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Derek Andersen (April 15, 2012). "Steve Blank Teaches Entrepreneurs How to Fail Less". Tech Crunch. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  11. ^ a b c Steve Blank (May 17, 2011). "Philadelphia University Commencement Speech". Steve Blank. Retrieved November 2, 2012.[permanent dead link]
  12. ^ a b c d e Steve Blank (2012). "About Steve". Steve Blank. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  13. ^ a b c d e f Andy (8 April 2011). "Steve Blank". Founder LY. Archived from the original on 31 July 2014. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
  14. ^ a b "Steve Blank". Stanford Engineering. 2012. Archived from the original on November 13, 2012. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  15. ^ Henry, Zoë (January 12, 2017). "How Steve Blank Lost $35 Million (Then Bounced Back)". Retrieved April 3, 2020.
  16. ^ Stacy Cowley (2005). "SSA Global to buy Epiphany for $329M". Computer World. Retrieved February 14, 2019.
  17. ^ "Startup Lessons Learned:Eric Ries". Slideshare. 2012. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  18. ^ Eric Ries (July 5, 2010). "The Entrepreneur's Guide to Customer Development". Startup Lessons Learned. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  19. ^ 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
  20. ^ Cindy Alvarez (March 18, 2010). "FAQ: Customer Development for Product Managers". Cindy Alvarez. Archived from the original on November 5, 2012. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  21. ^ Eric Ries (November 8, 2008). "What is Customer Development". Startup Lessons Learned. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  22. ^ Patrick Vlaskovits (July 7, 2010). "Recent Posts on the Entrepreneur's Guide to Customer Development". Patrick Vlaskovits. Archived from the original on March 1, 2013. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  23. ^ Nivi (March 3, 2009). "Take a Course From the King of Customer Development". Venture Hacks. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  24. ^ "lean-launchpad-courses-at-columbia-business-school". Columbia Business School. Retrieved November 6, 2018.
  25. ^ Greenwald, Ted (January 31, 2012). "Business Model Canvas: A Simple Tool For Designing Innovative Business Models".
  26. ^ Hudson, 54 HUD Hudson, Marianne. 'What Angels Need To Know About New Startup Tool: Lean LaunchPad." February 12, 2015. Accessed July 12, 2016. (February 12, 2015). "What Angels Need To Know About New Startup Tool: Lean LaunchPad".
  27. ^ Turner, Elliot (November 18, 2010). "Steve Blank Talks Customer Development, Lean Startups, And Epiphanies". Business Insider.
  28. ^ Baron, Ethan. "Lean Startup' Evangelist Steve Blank Builds B-School Pipeline".
  29. ^ Evans, Ryan (September 13, 2016). "I Saw the Future of Defense in California and It's Coming to a University New You".
  30. ^ a b "NSF Innovation Corps". National Science Foundation. 2012. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  31. ^ a b "Steve Blank". The Huffington Post. 2012. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  32. ^ Chris O'Brien (December 1, 2010). "O'Brien: The Influencers of Silicon Valley". Mercury News. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  33. ^ "Berkeley-Haas Entrepreneurship Faculty". Berkeley-Haas. Retrieved January 22, 2019.
  34. ^ "11 Entrepreneurs Teaching the Next Generation". The New Entrepreneurs. 2012. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  35. ^ Scott Anthony (2012). "The Masters of Innovation". Harvard Business Review. Archived from the original on October 21, 2012. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  36. ^ </ "SVForum 2013 Visionary Award". Silicon Valley Form. 2013. Retrieved January 22, 2019.
  37. ^ "Steve Blank About Steve". Steve Blank. February 16, 2009. Retrieved July 12, 2020.
  38. ^ a b "Columbia Senior Fellow for Entrepreneurship Steve Blank on Thinkers50 2017". Columbia Entrepreneurship. 2017. Retrieved January 22, 2019.
  39. ^ "USASBE Is Pleased to Announce Steve Blank as the Recipient of the John E. Hughes Award". USASBE. 2018. Retrieved January 22, 2019.
  40. ^ NPR (2011). "Best Commencement Speeches, Ever". Retrieved January 22, 2018.
  41. ^ College of Science and Engineering, UMN (2013). "Steve Blank's 2013 speech at 2013 UMN CSE Commencement". Retrieved January 22, 2018.
  42. ^ "ESADE Commencement Speech". 2014. Retrieved January 22, 2018.
  43. ^ "Greatest Speeches #17 Steve Blank". 2018. Retrieved January 22, 2018.
  44. ^ "Dalhousie Commencement Speech". 2017. Retrieved January 22, 2018.
  45. ^ UC Santa Cruz (2017). "Keynote: Entrepreneurship and Ethical Dilemmas in a Competitive World". Retrieved January 28, 2018.
  46. ^ "U.C. Santa Cruz Commencement Speech". 2019. Retrieved June 27, 2019.
  47. ^ Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost. 2012. ISBN 978-0976470748.
  48. ^ Liyan Chen (September 30, 2012). "Live Blog: Entrepreneurs Boot Camp". Forbes Magazine. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  49. ^ Liyan Chen (September 30, 2012). "Live Blog: Entrepreneurs Boot Camp". Forbes Magazine. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  50. ^ a b c d Jon Cook (October 9, 2012). "Q&A with Silicon Valley "Godfather" Steve Blank". Reuters. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  51. ^ "Holding A Cat By The Tail". Retrieved May 6, 2021.
  52. ^ a b "The Lean Launchpad". Inc. 2012. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  53. ^ Laurence McCahill (February 2012). "10 Must-Read Blogs for Any Lean Startup". We Love Lean. Archived from the original on 9 October 2012. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
  54. ^ "Steve Blank, Lecturer, Haas School of Business". The Berkeley Blog. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  55. ^ a b "Landscapes" (PDF). Peninsula Open Space Trust. 2009. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  56. ^ Sarah Rose (April 3, 2012). "California Coast Loses a Champion". California League of Conservation Voters. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  57. ^ "Commissioners and Alternates". California Coastal Commission. 2012. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  58. ^ Browne, Ryan (December 7, 2020). "Member of Pentagon advisory board resigns in protest at recent purge". CNN. Retrieved December 7, 2020.
  59. ^ Demetria (April 25, 2012). "Live Chat: When to Pivot, When to Persevere With Your Business Idea". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  60. ^ "Steve Blank: How to Build a Great Company, Step by Step". The Commonwealth Club of California. August 14, 2012. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  61. ^ "Steve Blank meets San Diego". Meetup. February 9, 2011. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  62. ^ "[TEC-PaloAlto] Legendary Steve Blank Presents His New Book!". Eventbrite. May 3, 2012. Retrieved November 2, 2012.
  63. ^ "Steve Blank Presentation at Rockstart Accelerator, Amsterdam". Eventbrite. July 6, 2012. Retrieved November 2, 2012.

External links[edit]

  1. ^ "Video tutorials on entrepreneurship". January 15, 2018. Retrieved June 1, 2020.