Episode 1

Steve Blank | Entrepreneur and Educator

Steve Blank

Steve Blank, leader of the Lean Start-Up movement and 8-time founder shares his secret sauce for entrepreneurs looking to keep, grow or start business during a Pandemic and beyond.

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3 Key Points:

  1. Relentlessness. If you’re going to be a start-up CEO, you need to go places others won’t. You need to do more and be relentless.
  2. Be bold enough to DO in a crisis. The Pandemic provides an opportunity to observe the current state and get your house in order, as a means to communicate with your investors and leader teams toward the goal of making decisions and executing. Sounds easy, but in that you may need to pivot business models or sell into completely new segments.
  3. Go talk to your customers. This Pandemic is a great opportunity to “get out” and talk to your customers or prospects, even if it’s over Zoom.

 

Time Stamped Show Notes:

02:30 – How did you decide to move from start-ups to teaching?

04:42– How hard was it for you to unplug from start-up world?

6:17 – What was your teaching catalyst moment?

8:17 – What patterns are you seeing that can help start-ups?

9:04 – What’s your advice for companies during the Pandemic?

16:30 – How do you ensure your messaging stays plugged in?

22:00 – Tell us about Hacking for the Recovery workshops.

26:00 – How can founders get exposure to lessons learned from people who’ve experienced this type of adversity before?

31:40 – Who has been a Catalyst for you?

35:38 – What are you most excited about for the year?

37:05 – Wrap-Up: Find Steve on Twitter: sgblank

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Full Transcript

Justin:

Hey, hello, and welcome. Once again, we are back on Catalyst with a special couple additions of Catalyst given what is a very interesting time. I’m especially interested and glad to welcome my guest today, Steve Blank. Steve has a resume that is literally too long to recap here, so I’ll let him give us a brief intro, but I think he’s got a great perspective not only from an entrepreneur insight, but a lot of educational insights as well and really, his life after his entrepreneurship stints. Steve, welcome to the show.

 

Steve:

Thanks for having me.

 

Justin:

Absolutely. Give us a little bit of a bio in your own words here. It’s almost difficult for me to do a recap.

 

Steve:

Well, it’s so long, I’ve forgotten it. But four years in the military during Vietnam, 21 years as a serial entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, two semiconductor companies, supercomputers, enterprise software, video games. Oh, I forgot a couple. Military intelligence, and box score out of those 21 years, four IPOs, but more importantly, for this conversation, two failures so large they left craters, but they’re on an iridium layer. I mean, that’s how bad they were.

 

Steve:

Then the last half of my career has been as an educator. I now teach at Stanford in the engineering school, and I’m a senior fellow in the Business School of Columbia University in New York. I participated in creating the lean startup movement, which we could talk about as well. Besides that, I managed to shoehorn in a career of seven years as a public official in California.

 

Justin:

Where do we start? Here at Catalyst, we’re always honing in on catalytic moments, given that we’re also sitting in probably one of the largest catalytic moments in the last who knows how many years, certainly, probably the last century. Steve, I did want to start with your entrepreneurial adventures. You’ve been a part of eight startups this point. I’ve done four myself. I can’t imagine doing four more, although I’m sure I will. Maybe just give us a little bit of the thought and reasoning actually behind the transition out of entrepreneurship into what is really kind of a second life here and what you’re doing now.

 

Steve:

Well, my friends who knew me expect to start up nine, and I actually did start with some guys who were back at the turn of the century thinking of this idea to build something called an electric car. I got together with the head of Nissan’s R&D group, and a young kid who was trailing around a lead acid battery pack around this Porsche 944 that he had personally converted to an electric car, his name was JB Straubel. Some of you might recognize him as the CTO of a Tesla, but he started in my living room.

 

Steve:

I got about six months maybe into this nice startup, and then I realized I failed the startup CEO test, and the startup CEO test for me was when I was a startup founder, I would… living in California, I’d call people up in New York and say, “Hey, I’m going to be across the street tomorrow having coffee. You got 20 minutes for a meeting?” If they would say yes, I would jump on a red-eye and fly to New York and have that meeting because it would be that important to move my agenda forward. I realized at that moment, I was too old and made too much money to want to do that anymore and that if I was going to run a company, I was going to be run over by people who were willing to do that.

 

Steve:

That was the light bulb when I decided that, “You know what? Starting them as probably not my future,” that I was going to have to find something else. I did, but that was the light bulb moment. The catalyst for me was running that mental test of can I be relentless enough, which is one of the key characteristics of successful entrepreneurs, to show up more than most people and to be able to drive the company forward, and I failed that test.

 

Justin:

It was really that easy for you to unplug?

 

Steve:

Oh, yeah. I mean, I loved what I did. It was great. Every startup, my head was down. I was immersed into that technology and that industry, and you would pop your head up and then look for the next opportunity. But my kids were seven and eight years old at the time, and as I said, I got lucky during the internet bubble and said… kind of understood what the word “enough” was.

 

Steve:

I also learned… About that time, I was lucky enough to have kids a little later in life to ask, “What do I want to have on my tombstone?” It could either be “he never missed a meeting” or it could be “he was a great dad” and that no one was going to tell me not to do another startup, but I had to be a little more control of my life. As I said, I was really lucky to have the opportunity to do that.

 

Steve:

I felt confident enough that I was going to be able to figure out what was next. I did those classic dabbles of venture investing and trying other things, and as I said, tried startup nine, and then got invited to guest-teach at UC Berkeley in the business school. They thought I told stories pretty well, and, “Maybe you could tell some more stories,” but by then something else had happened that completely was a catalyst to my life, and it was a major change, which, in fact, kicked off my teaching career.

 

Justin:

Yeah, tell me a little bit more about that.

 

Steve:

Well, I had done, as I said, 21 years of startups, and so to figure out what was next, I didn’t quite realize it at the time, but I said, “Why don’t I write my memoirs? I’m sure somebody would be interested,” not realizing that I would probably have to even pay my children to read it, so I started writing stories to myself about “here’s company X, here were the lessons learned.” That is, I would tell stories to myself, write them down, and then bulletize the lessons learned from each one of them.

 

Steve:

I got to, I still remember, to page 80. We were out skiing. I remember literally the hair standing up in the back of my neck going, “There’s a pattern here I had never noticed, I had never heard from any investor and never seen written down anywhere,” and the pattern was pretty simple: Those founders that stayed inside the building and tried to build everything they thought the customers needed tends to fail. Those who actually got outside the building, learned early from customers actually tend to win. It was that simple.

 

Steve:

Decided that there was a methodology that was missing that investors in the 20th century were essentially saying to startups, “You’re nothing more than a smaller version of a large company, so do everything they did.” What we were really missing was specific tools and methodology that was unique for startups. That was a real catalyst moment. That was an epiphany. The whole lean startup movement started from that moment.

 

Justin:

Getting back to my intro there, so that’s actually the second half of Steve’s career that I didn’t want to dive too far into there and let him share that story, but now you’re providing insights through education. You mentioned books. I know that you’re big on the speaking circuit, and now you’re going back and providing those learnings to folks that are trying to make businesses work that are trying to run successful startups.

 

Steve:

Yes. It’s kind of fun. Now, I tend to look for patterns, which happened to be one of the few skills I actually had in my career was ingesting a lot of data and recognizing some patterns that people take for granted that I tend to say, “Well, wait a minute. Why are we doing it?” like extra why. That did me well at some points in startups, and I think it’s done me well as an educator and somebody to be kind of a hand grenade to the status quo. I think I’ve certainly succeeded in that and creating chaos and at least being able to question what people thought was common wisdom.

 

Justin:

Yeah, so let’s talk about the big hand grenade in the room right now. You recently wrote a blog post dealing with what we are all dealing with right now, which is COVID-19, the global pandemic. You mentioned customer insights, one of the biggest catalytic moments for most businesses out there that are trying to understand how they weather the storm as they now are really forced. If they haven’t got outside the building, they certainly need to, and to understand how their buyer, how their customer is being affected by this, and more importantly, how they can affect that customer. Tell me a little bit more about your advice that was framed up in that post for entrepreneurs, for startups, for any organization that is now trying to figure out how they weathered the storm and get through this virus.

 

Steve:

Yeah, I started writing about this early in March, I think, and I felt a little hesitant in this, maybe I’m overreacting and maybe, but I tend to be action-oriented, so my advice to founders or even more so by now I think it’s everybody’s advice, is you need to quickly observe what’s going on, assess it, come up with a plan, and immediately take some action or else stuff’s going to happen to you, and therefore you want to get ahead of it as much as you can. Some businesses you can, and some businesses are just going to be melted down for a while. But tactically, I suggested, first of all, you need an assessment of how long this downturn is going to last. This is going to be three months, a year, three years, and of course, it’s going to differ from your industry. In some small segments, it’s actually boom time, so not all advice works for everybody.

 

Steve:

Then, two is externally that you need to see what kind of federal or state assistance you could get for your own company, either the Payroll Protection Program or any other program. Then you also need to look outside and see if there are any other places to raise cash. A lot of venture capitalists are pulling term sheets and whatever, but other bank lines or any other things, because at the end of the day, if you are a business in nature to survive. You need cash and you need to have, in a perfect world, at least two years of cash in the bank. And for most, at least early stage ventures or retail businesses, people laugh hysterically when you say that, because like, “Hey, I only have two weeks. What are you talking about?” Or small businesses from contract to contract or service to service.

Steve:

But you needed to take an external assessment of all this stuff and then assess internally, what’s your burn rate? How much are you spending each month on both what are called fixed assets, which used to be fixed or fixed expenses like rent, which are no longer fixed. They’re all kind of negotiable. And then salaries. If you had employees, how many did you have? Do you need all of them and what do you need to do? And then other assets. And then you needed to kind of check in with your investors. If you have investors, you need this to say, “Here’s our assessment and what’s going on. This is going to last so long. Here’s our burn rate. Here’s our runway till we run out of cash. Here are the things we could cut and not. What do you guys think?” And hopefully you have investors who are looking at not just your company, but 10 companies, and they might have a broader perspective. You’re not suggesting any action yet. You’re suggesting here’s our view.

 

Steve:

And then you need to go back, and this should just be done with your C level team in a very short period of time. Not staff, not anything else if you have a bigger company. Just a bunch of people in a room, locked up going, “What do we think is going on?” But then the next phase is, “So what should we do?” And the “what should we do” is much harder. Number one is do we need to cut that burn rate down immediately? Does that involve layoffs? Does that involve jettisoning physical assets? Does that involve trying to find somebody to merge with? Is that a bank loan? What are the things we need to do about cash?

 

Steve:

And then what’s our changed business model. If your business model looks the same today as it did the 1st of March, you’re in denial. Most of it is bad. As I said, some companies are good, but most bad. So what’s the changes you’re going to do? And there are different moves and we’re seeing some smart ones that obviously the restaurants, the obvious are takeout, but some of them are turning into grocery stores where they’re better ways to get goods. And some of them are creating take-home meals –– not just take out, but cook at home meals. Some are turning into home delivery services. I’ve seen companies who were selling software to enterprises who normally the enterprises are going, “You don’t understand. We’re firing people. We don’t need enterprise software.” Who’s saying, “No, no, no, no. Our software which were used for onboarding …”

 

Steve:

In fact, my favorite was a company called Donut, which has the software for onboarding employees, and most companies aren’t onboarding, have realized their software could be used for actually connecting all those remote employees together. So instead of onboarding new employees, it’s social connectivity for your existing employees. And then that just went from a product, “Well, come back in three years” to, “Hey, we can’t grab it out of your hands fast enough.” So people are starting to think, and I’m using that as a proxy for smart entrepreneurs being able to pivot a business model.

 

Steve:

And then the third part of this, and I’ll then exhale, is whatever it is, you need to take action now. Or as I said, the market will just kind of take over. Even though people are returning to work, there are some things that are just not going to return to normal. I mean, people are not going to get on airplanes, at least on the same size and scale that they were. People are not going to go to rock concerts or theaters or Broadway or whatever. Maybe they’ll be open, but listen, if you’re over 65 like I am, I’m not showing up in those places until there’s a vaccine. And I think I’m a proxy for a good segment of the population.

 

Steve:

And so how do you segment your customers? Well, maybe you just write off people over 60 to do X or Y, but it doesn’t mean that people under 25 won’t be a good segment. So there are lots of changes, but you need to make them and make them consciously.

 

Justin:

You absolutely did. Very similar to what we’ve been encouraging and helping our clients do, number one, getting the foundation order, right? You’ve got to be re forecasting. You’ve got to be determining very simply what is your cash flow, what’s your burn rate? How do I bring those two into balance? And then when you’re talking about making a change within your business, everything has changed down from the macro in the business model, down into simple things like messaging. We saw this big wave of I think early responders that did a decent job of, “Hey, how are you doing? How has this affected your business? Let me understand this.” And then as usual you saw the monster wave of things that came off as pre-packaged and disingenuine, and they kind of missed that first pivot.

 

Justin:

Do you have any thoughts on what the timeline on responses like that are? Like a lot of folks I think we’re a bit late just in realizing to your point, how big this was going to be and how deep the impact was going to get. And they’re sending out “how are you” messages four and five weeks into this process when most people at that point are trying to put solutions together. So how do you stay plugged in to that ever changing curve, because things are truly changing daily?

 

Steve:

Well, sometimes you hear the distinction between a “war time and a peacetime CEO”, and for those who’ve served, number one thing, I think that’s a real disservice, because in a battlefield, you don’t lose your window office. Failures are measured in KIAs. But it also misses the bigger idea is that at least for those at the pointy end of the spear, Army and Marines, you train for the fight constantly. You’re running battlefield drills all the time. And you understand that the nature of a battle is completely chaotic, that no plan survives first contact with the enemy.

 

Steve:

Yet, if you think about the job of a CEO, you’re never doing battlefield drills. You’re kind of assuming that there’s execution. And maybe if you’re a startup founder, you were relentless, but the fact that the world would change underneath you dramatically just wasn’t part of the plan. And I say that just to kind of answer your question is a lot of CEOs are just kind of in shell shock because they don’t operate well in chaos and uncertainty. And all the spreadsheets they had and all the plans and all the assumptions about customers is all out the window.

 

Steve:

Some of them are just slow and will catch up to that. Others will be part of what I call this is a mass extinction event. Much like the dinosaurs and the asteroid. There will be a whole new set of entrance in players and opportunities and whatever for those who can be agile, who can pivot, who can create new opportunities on the rubble of the old. You use 2008, the closest one in my lifetime was the dot com crash in 2000 when entire industries were wiped down and new ones were created. And including the, though I don’t think it will happen this time, entire venture firms went out of business as well. There’s way more capital at play now on the bottom of the top. But I think we’ll see the same kind of changes and corporate VCs will probably pull back and you’ll see pull backs and other places.

 

Steve:

But I think that the way to think about this is there will be not just incremental changes. We will see the rise of a whole new set of players. I’ll give you an example. We’re using Zoom to record this. Probably a billion people are, or whatever the number is. It’s the world’s shittiest app to do business in, but it happens to be the best one we have. So I have to tell you, there’s probably at least 10,000 entrepreneurs who realized, “Oh, Zoom solved the technical problem, but didn’t solve any of the problems of picking up cues, reading facial expressions, reading body language, reading all the stuff that we normally do in a meeting, side glances to other participants, et cetera. It really doesn’t emulate a personal in-person conversation. Which is why, for example, these conversations feel a lot more exhausting than they do in person.

 

Steve:

And again, I’m not trashing the company. I’m just trashing the state of where the technology is. The same as if you’ve been trying to, maybe if you’ve had kids at home, watching them trying to get educated remotely. Most parents are trying to juggle seven different incompatible programs. Boy, what an opportunity. And again, if any of those parents are entrepreneurs, there’s going to be a wave of education startups. And then take your pick. I’ve been talking to both my students and people who are early in their career. Out of a crisis is an opportunity. And that’s what I’ve been describing, but it’s also an opportunity to reevaluate your career. Now you’ve got to think about, do you want to join the eCommerce company? Or maybe you want to think about pivoting it to life sciences and so therapeutics, devices, or diagnostics, or digital health, or maybe again, into education or something else.

 

Steve:

Now’s the time to do that. It’s also telling a lot of college students who are maybe not in the top 10 colleges, why are you paying those enormous bills when online education is relatively cheap? And I think we’re going to see a lot of small colleges and universities fail when people realize that the emperor doesn’t have any clothes. That the value of the top 10 universities are actually the network you’re going to get and the brand, and maybe the quality of the professors. But that might not be true for the bottom third. And the cost of higher education, really there’s a dichotomy there between what you could get online and not.

 

Steve:

And so, what I’m just trying to point out is that there’s a whole series of segments that are obvious, and there are some that aren’t obvious. And what I decided to do about it is me and a couple of other folks at Stanford are going to run Hacking for the Recovery, a five-day workshop, starting the end of June, for both a general business and then a series of verticals for specific industries to try to help entrepreneurs and existing companies find those new business models with kind of a structured methodology. We’ll see what comes out. But I think out of this rubble, in three or four years, we’re going to just see a whole new wave of companies.

Steve:

Yeah, it just hearkens back … I saw online the other day, obviously there’s a ton of chatter on social these days, but someone had put up, had used the same analogy with ’99, 2001 and the dotcom bust. They made the statement, “This time, there’s no Internet waiting in the wings.” I just thought that was such a short-sighted statement, in terms of, a lot of the opportunities that you just brought up there, we have hospitals and healthcare providers using Facebook, we have them using Google Hangouts, we have them using Zoom in an industry that requires confidentiality and data protection. The opportunity’s always there.

 

Steve:

I think the person who said that should probably stick working for a large company. To an entrepreneur, a crisis is always an opportunity, and to smart investors as well. The thing founders do that normal people don’t is they hear things that other people don’t, they see things other people don’t. 98% of the time, they do that because they’re hallucinating. But a small percentage of them actually can see through the fog of war, and that’s what great directors do, the Spielbergs and the others. Sometimes they have a string and they lose it and whatever, but it’s that fingertip feel.

 

Steve:

In fact, founders are closer to artists than any other profession. That’s what great artists do, and they fail a lot; not every painting or musical or something is a success. But every once in a while, they create a masterpiece. I just want to emphasize this, it’s clearing the ground of some of the incumbents or some of the big players or the way we used to do business, it’s fertile ground for new entries. In fact, if we were designing an economy to be smart, some country’s going to figure out that we’ve built all our incentives upside-down, and instead of all the incentives for large corporations, tax breaks and all these things, we should actually have the incentive for the creation of companies, rather than incentives for as you get larger.

 

Steve:

In fact, as you get larger, we should have disincentives so you actually don’t build monopolies. But in fact, monopolies work on the Golden Rule: he who has the gold makes the rules, so they get to hire the lobbyists. And because we have a deep-pocket democracy, that’s what gets incentive. But in a perfect world, that would be disincentive. Well, this crisis allowed us to kind of run that experiment with maybe a little more latitude than normal. We are going to have some really open areas that will allow new entrants to play.

 

Steve:

And by the way, for companies that do have some cash, it allows you to acquire assets. Mostly world-class people, but also physical assets that you never could’ve gotten, and for those of you who do have excess cash, or at least more cash than others, I would be using this like no tomorrow to scoop up great people, great resources, et cetera.

 

Justin:

You did, and probably four other questions that I was going to ask. I do want to go back to a statement that you made, in terms of the modern CEO, and this has a lot to do with the business-card CEO. It’s very easy these days to start a company, we’ve got a lot of young folks in that position, and yet they haven’t been through a 2000 or a 2008, an oil embargo, there just isn’t a lot of history of adversity there. But how can founders and folks that are helming startups do a better job at getting insight into those?

 

Justin:

Obviously, it’s real-world experience to experience it now, and now they have some of that understanding, but what can we do better to go back and use items like this as impetus to understand, like, we need to spread out, we need to understand what could happen? We need to get those insights from folks that have come before us. What sources can they use in that regard?

 

Steve:

Well, I think one of the things they want to understand is what’s changed outside their building? It’s kind of hard to figure that out inside the building. And by outside, by the way, now’s a great time to do customer discovery via Zoom. When I say get out of the building, people will go, well, I can’t do that, so therefore I’ll just talk to myself. Actually, it turns out you now can get to people that used to be surrounded by millions of admins and gatekeepers and whatever. You can guess their home address, it’s something first name, first initial, last name at Gmail dot com! Just try it, and you will get to a ton of people.

 

Steve:

I would be doing some discovery as … first of all, what was the market like before? Who were the customers? Great, what’s it look like today, today’s date, and what’s it going to look like in three months, six months, a year, 18 months? And don’t tell me it’s going to be the same. Who are the players, what’s going to happen, what’s consumer whatever? And then, what are the possible moves you could do? That’s where it gets interesting.

 

Steve:

Are there new value propositions that COVID-19 gives you? The typical ones of, are you making ventilators, are you making masks? Well, that’s going to last for a while, yeah, that’s the obvious one. But are there other pivots you could make based on resources? Can you start making hand sanitizing facilities, or can you start making pop-up stages for events that are now isolation stages, rather than big concert stages? Can you turn that to delivery services; you had a taxi service, can you turn to something else? Can you pivot on the channel? For entertainment, we’re watching movie studios have arguments that probably would’ve taken the next three to five years to have with theaters saying, “Well, we’re going to release releases digitally.” The theaters, of course, are taking them to the mat, going, “No, you’ll put us out of business … ” Well, that was going to happen one day or another, it’s just accelerating that change.

 

Steve:

And by the way, if it’s not Disney, someone else will do it, and AMC will have to find a new business model. And of course, because they’re struggling, they’ll sue everybody until they’re … whatever. That’s another example. And so there are new financial opportunities as well, new financial services, new products. Sorry to get into the soliloquy, but there are plenty of moves, and the first one is to get out of the building and understand what the status quo looked like versus what the changes and what’s your guess of what it’s going to look like? Are you getting some signals early about how people are starting to behave?

 

Steve:

For the first time, I have to say I think it will also be a demographic change of age. People who are older are going to be more conservative about group and collective settings than people who are younger. Getting sick with COVID is one thing, but dying it from it at some incredibly high percentage is another. You’ll see people taking different risks about travel and entertainment and leisure. That’s another opportunity.

 

Justin:

Just to underscore your point there, it’s been amazing, the level of access that’s been opened up here in the last month and a half, two months. We have client accounts where we’ve been trying to get a CEO to hop on a call for years, and suddenly now they’re showing up, right? Because everyone is laser-focused on what is mission-critical, how do we solve for these items, who can help us do so? So I think there’s an awesome window, not only just to get out and have more of those conversations, but have those conversations at a level that is really, really valuable and creates some takeaways from that that can guide your business for the next month and years to come. Just a really great point.

 

Justin:

Steve, I did want to, this is all awesome advice, just really a great array of insights for businesses. I’m curious, who in your life has been a catalyst for your own way of thinking? Obviously starting nine different companies doesn’t come natural for most folks. For most folks, it has to be nurtured. Is there someone that has been that person for you?

 

Steve:

I’m going to take the entrepreneur’s way out and when you ask for one, I’ll give you two. A plus and a minus: there was a boss I had in two companies named Alan Michaels, who was able to see things much further than I ever could at the time. Eventually, I kind of acquired some of that skill, but at the time, it seemed like magic.

 

Steve:

But Alan also delivered insight with a two-by-four to the side of the head, and the one that he delivered actually created the entire lean startup movement. And that was, we had started a company, I was the VP of marketing, one of many co-founders, required a telephone book to list us all. But a good number of those technical people were serious senior people, and we were having one planning meeting about what features should be on the graphics part of our system, and I was happy, I even understood the conversation, though it was pretty technical. And like any great marketeer with a huge ego, I realized after 25 minutes I hadn’t heard the sound of my own voice. So, I piped up and said, oh, we need this feature. And Alan looked at me. And he got real close to me and he said, say that again. And one of my friends in the room was shaking his head who had worked with Alan. Said, don’t do this. And I piped up and expounded on what I thought. And he exploded like that drill sergeant and Apocalypse Now six inches from my face, literally. I mean, you could just feel his breath and spittle. He said, you don’t know what the F you’re talking about. There are people in this room who have been building these things for 20 years. You’re an embarrassment to the career of marketing. Get the hell out of my company. And I thought I had been, not only fired, but fired in front of people I respected and whatever. And I felt like I could walk out of that board room underneath the closed door. That’s how high I felt.

Steve:

And then, he said, and take the VP of sales with you, and don’t come back until you understand what customers need. And that was the day customer discovery started. We spent three weeks on the road talking to everybody from Boeing, to University of North Carolina, to IBM and actually got a deep understanding of what we actually should be building. And so, that was the time I decided that marketing was not just data sheets, and features, and great press releases, but actually how to add some value to a marketing department in a startup. So, that’s one, I’ll give you the other one shorter.

 

Steve:

The other short one was a guy named Gordon Bell, who was probably the most positive one of my life, who actually could see the future. And Gordon was the VP of engineering of a company in the ’70s and ’80s called Digital Equipment Corporation, which was, back then, a pretty big mini computer company, and became a mentor to me. And most of the things I would come up with were kind of stupid ideas. But, every once in a while, I’d come up with one where even Gordon would go, say that one again. That one is pretty good. And steered me… he was the one who actually taught me how to see the future. And so, those two guys, I think, to answer your question, were major catalysts in my career.

 

Justin:

Awesome. That’s great insight. So, as we kind of start to wrap up here, I’d love to ask just a couple rapid insight questions. The first one is, and this is an interesting one to ask right now, but what’s the one thing that you’re most excited about for the rest of the year?

 

Steve:

Well, when the recovery comes, there will be a morning after, so.

 

Justin:

And what camp do you fall in with all these different potential shapes?

 

Steve:

My camp is when I could finally go out and grab some food somewhere.

 

Justin:

Yeah. I heard an interesting analogy the other day. Someone said, we took the escalator down, we’re going to take the stairs back up.

 

Steve:

Great analogy.

 

Justin:

So, I don’t know if I necessarily fall into a V shape, or a W shape, or a U shape, or whatever, but I think it is going to be a bit of a slow recovery, as you said, in relation to certain segments and certainly certain segments of the population. What’s the one thing you hate spending money on?

 

Steve:

God, what do I hate spending money on? Kind of computers, and TVs, and all the things.

 

Justin:

Electronics?

 

Steve:

All the gadgets. I guess what I hate spending money on is all the gadgets I want to buy but hold myself back from.

 

Justin:

And then finally, what’s the one thing that always seems like a good idea but isn’t?

 

Steve:

Rash judgments. I tend to be a fire, ready, aim guy.

 

Justin:

Yep.

 

Steve:

And I won’t say almost always isn’t but has consequences when you operate that way. I still won’t change my behavior because, when it does work-

 

Justin:

It works really well.

 

Steve:

It works really well. But often, there’s a lot of broken glass when you’re wrong. But it is my style.

 

Justin:

So, we covered a lot of ground. I’m curious, for someone listening to the show, what’s the one thing they should go out and do literally right now to weather the storm?

 

Steve:

Well, it depends what your role is in the company. But I guess the first one, and people have been talking about it, is to stay healthy, keep your family healthy, keep your company healthy. And by healthy, it’s not only your physical health, but obviously being locked up has taken a strain on lots of people’s mental health. And especially guys will be the last people on earth who admit it. I hate to do gender stuff, but it is kind of, at least for me, oh, we’re just fine, as you’re strangling the cat or something. I don’t mean that we’re literally doing that, but we tend to act out in bizarre ways. And you’re seeing that all over. So, number one, take care of yourself and your people physically and mentally. And there are online services that will allow people to do that.

 

Steve:

Take care of yourself and take care of the others around you. You have an obligation if you’re a boss to not just dole out work remotely, but to dole out care remotely, and especially now. And I talked earlier about layoffs, if necessary, you need to take care of the least of the people least able to take care of themselves. Oh, we’ll get rid of all the janitors and get rid of all the whatever, that’s kind of a dumb thing to start thinking about when it’s just headcount. You need to figure out, well, wait a minute. At least engineers could find another job.

 

Justin:

Right.

 

Steve:

People who are hourly have different problems. And you need to do a little more sophisticated calculus than that, including cutting everybody’s salary to support the people the least able to take care of themselves. Since we don’t have a state that does that, and I mean the way we’ve organized capitalism in the U.S., this just isn’t a spreadsheet game. So, that’s my two cents.

 

Justin:

Yep. Yeah. Well, it’s more than a dollar’s worth. Steve, really appreciate you joining us here today. Again, Steve Blank, largely credited for creating the lean startup movement. Just a massive amount of insights here, from entrepreneurship, to teaching folks about the staples of that profession, and everything that goes into it. Thank you. Thank you very much for joining us on the podcast. Really, really enjoyable.

 

Steve:

Great. Thank you for having me. This has been great. Your questions were wonderful.

 

Justin:

Thank you. And, if you’d like to learn more about Steve, you can check him out on Twitter. It is @SGBlank, Blank, B-L-A-N-K, or online at SteveBlank.com. Check out what he’s doing as far as his blog and the number of books he has written. They really are super insightful. Thanks again, everyone, for listening, subscribing. Certainly, during these times, you can always find more free resources, more catalysts over at LeadMD.com/bestpractices. And, until next time, never miss an opportunity to be inspired

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