I recently wrote about the 12 tips to building successful startup communities. After a recent discussion I had with Steve Blank it made me remember that I had left off one of the most critical factors – a culture of failure.
I remember this lesson well. I lived in London from 1997-2005 and for 6 of those years ran my startup based out of London. At this time I can tell you that the Brits definitely didn’t have a culture of failure. If your startup went belly-up (the Brits have a much more crude slang term for it) there wasn’t likely somebody lined up to fund your next attempt at a startup.
It was a strange contrast for me having grown up in Northern California where failure seemed to be a badge of honor. I had this discussion with Steve with the camera rolling and we talked about “The Secret History of Silicon Valley” as place that largely grew out of defense and government spending plus research labs around the Stanford campus.
It seems plausible to me that a scientific community built on the principles of trial-and-error (emphasis on the latter), measurement, refinement, discovery and then scaling around the very few ideas that actually worked would breed a strong culture of tolerance for things that didn’t work but for which strong effort and rational thinking went into the failure. If you were a science man and you failed by proving a hypothesis was incorrect – that was ok! And if you had the right credentials to lead people to believe that your next idea was more likely to be right than other people’s ideas then you were certainly backable.
I think the fact that NorCal didn’t have strong industries in financial services, manufacturing, autos, marketing or other traditional industries also made experimentation more acceptable. I am often reminded of the story of the building of Chicago and the rise of modern skyscrapers of glass & steel with non-load-bearing walls as talked about in The Fountainhead but also chronicled in history books and in the many architectural tours I’ve taken in Chicago. Builders in NY were less willing to abandon traditional building methods and ornate edifices. But after The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 the city had to build from scratch. And every visionary architect and builder wanted a chance at building the future.
Failure is critical. I talk about it often including in my own personal narrative. Everything I learned about startups I learned by making mistakes at my first one. Which is why I often tell people to start being entrepreneurs when one is young.
Failure in startups seems to now be embedded in startup communities like NY and LA. I’m absolutely certain it is critical to any startup community. But I’m not exactly sure how to drive its acceptance or whether it must just come organically. Maybe the first step is talking openly about it. It’s why I love the idea of the FailCon conference and hope to speak there one day.
And if you want my presentation on the things I Effed Up at my first startup you can view or download the short PPT by clicking that link on Docstoc.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on failure in your community and whether it’s accepted or not. And ideas you have to drive acceptance. I will see you in the comments section afterward.
There are very people that somebody with ADD like me could sit and listen to for hours. Steve Blank is one of those people and I consider him to be one of the clearest thinkers in Silicon Valley. He is also out with a brilliant new book, “The Startup Owners Manual” and a new FREE courses on entrepreneurship at Udemy, which are here.
I had the chance to sit down with Steve for an hour and ask any question I wanted and it was an absolute pleasure. If you have the chance to watch this interview I think you’ll really enjoy it. Steve isn’t afraid of taking on controversial topics and he did so in my interview.
But as usual there is a short summary to know the key topics where you can just skip to the critical point in the video you want to watch. This video is pure gold.
1:00 My guest today is Steve Blank. Steve, thanks so much for joining us today! What brings you to LA?
1:45 Are you also making your Udacity class available online?
3:30 What is the class all about?
4:30 How did you come up with the idea of customer development?
11:00 How do you think the ‘failure’ culture emerged in Silicon Valley?
14:00 How can we bring that culture to other places?
16:00 Question from the chat: Is it hard to replicate Silicon Valley? Should we even try to?
20:30 Your wrote a book called “The Four Steps to Epiphany” that’s a classic, and now your newest book is “The Startup Owners Manual.” What’s that one all about?
23:45 In your online course, you talk about what makes startup companies fundamentally different. So what is that?
27:00 Steve: The secret step in the middle of a company’s lifecycle is “build.”
31:45 Is there truth to the idea that you shouldn’t force change upon entrepreneurs?
32:30 Question from the chat: What did Steve learn the most from E.piphany?
33:15 Thank you to Detroit Venture Partners for supporting the show. Everyone give them a big thanks @dvptweets.
34:45 Do ADD and entrepreneurship go hand-in-hand?
37:45 Let’s talk about the dichotomy between customer development and Y Combinator?
41:00 Do you think that sometimes the businesses that come out of YC are not fully baked?
43:30 Is Silicon Valley just trying to build “hit businesses” without a lot of thought behind them?
46:00 Do you believe that most of the disruption over the last few years has some from Elon Musk and Sebastian Thrun?
49:30 Steve: When’s the last time venture capital actually led an innovation?
50:30 Will Udacity change the education system in this country?
55:45 It seems obvious that technology is the natural choice to solve the pain points in education.
1:00:00 Mark and Steve discuss the role of unions in education.
1:03:15 Thank you to Scott Walker at Walker Corporate Law for supporting the show. Everyone check his services out at walkercorporatelaw.com.
1:10:00 Niche services and when they have a place in the startup ecosystem.
1:13:30 Thank you to Walker Corporate Law and Detroit Venture Partners for supporting the show. And thank you to Steve Blank for joining me today.