Steven Gary Blank’s The Four Steps to the Epiphany
I’ve read a lot of startup books and been involved in several efforts of varying success. Blank’s book is the first how-to-guide that provides clear, unequivocal directions for taking a brilliant product idea and turning it into to a successful, thriving company.
Fans of Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm will appreciate the additional depth of Blank’s honest and rigorous approach to finding the right product-market fit. Moore’s bowling alley idea is powerful, but Blank takes that concept and tells you precisely how you should go about discovering the right initial market for your product and then how to reliably grow into that market. His horror stories are insightful and balanced by constructive success stories, with some of the most illuminating juxtaposed within the same market, such as Webvan’s brutal failure and Tesco’s wild success in the online grocery business.
The book has some challenges when it gets to the details about positioning and branding, but those are areas many people have problems with… and a sore spot for me with even some of the more widely quoted yet insufficient books out there. Fortunately, Blank isn’t wrong in those areas, so much as just fails to make the most of the classics of Riese & Trout’s Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, 20th Anniversary Edition and Aaker’s Building Strong Brands as they apply to the startup. [I also recommend Holt’s How Brands Become Icons: The Principles of Cultural Branding for those looking for brilliant insights in building effective brands.]
My other small nitpick is that the book has surprisingly low production values, with numerous typos and printed on a seemingly depression era yellow paper. Perhaps Blank is simply following his own advice, minimizing upfront costs while he discovers the right product-market fit. I hope so, because at least that shows consistent reasoning.
Despite its failings, this book’s strength building both a conceptual and practical framework for guiding product development in innovation-driven companies makes it a must read for anyone leading entrepreneurial product innovation.