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. His May 2013 cover story in the Harvard Business Review, “Why the Lean Startup Changes Everything,” defined the Lean Startup movement. His Lean Launchpad class (taught as the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps) has become the standard for commercialization for all federal research.
Blank has spent over 30 years within the high technology industry, founding or working within eight startup companies, four of which have gone public. He is the co-founder of E.piphany.
Retired since 1999, Blank writes and teaches about Customer Development and the Lean Startup method. He is an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Stanford; lectures at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, and is a senior fellow at Columbia University, and New York University; is a prolific blogger and public speaker; and 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.
Blank’s Google Tech talk, "The Secret History of Silicon Valley," offers a widely regarded insider's perspective on the emergence of Silicon Valley's startup ecosystem.
Blank was born to immigrant parents who ran a grocery in the Chelsea neighborhood in New York City. He grew up with a sister 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. His parents had never been to college (his father dropped out in 8th grade) but hoped he would. He attended the University of Michigan, but dropped out after one semester.
From Michigan, Blank hitchhiked to Miami, where he found work at the Miami International Airport, loading racehorses onto aircraft. At the airport, Blank developed an interest in avionics. He realized the only way to learn more was to join the Air Force.
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. He was 20 years old.
After leaving the military, Blank moved to Palo Alto, a town in an area which would ultimately become known as Silicon Valley.
Steve Blank arrived in Silicon Valley at the start of the business boom in 1978. His first job in the region was with ESL, a startup that was a pioneering company for National Reconnaissance. The company helped the government understand the Soviets' technological and arms developments during the Cold War.
During his 21-year career as an entrepreneur, Blank went on to found or work with a wide range of high-tech companies. Four of his companies went public. Some of his ventures include Zilog and MIPS Computers, Convergent Technologies, Ardent, SuperMac Technologies, ESL and Rocket Science Games.
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. Notable members of the company include Roger Siboni and Karen Richardson.
Blank has since served on the boards of the public entities Macrovision/Rovi and Immersion as well as several private companies. He continues to invest in and advise Silicon Valley startups including Machine Intelligence companies Geometric (acquired by Uber) and Deepscale .
Blank created the Customer Development methodology in the mid 1990s. 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.
Blank's Customer Development methodology is a cornerstone of the Lean Startup Movement, popularized by Eric Ries whom Blank states was “the best student I ever had.” 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. The Lean Startup has been adopted by entrepreneurs worldwide as a constructive way to try out ideas and gain customers. 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.
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. His Lean LaunchPad curricula uses the Customer Development methodology and Lean Startup methods he developed throughout his career as a serial entrepreneur and academic.
In January 2011, Blank created the Lean LaunchPad class at Stanford University and UC Berkeley. The class is a scientific method for teaching entrepreneurship that combines experiential learning with the three building blocks of a successful Lean Startup: Alexander Osterwalder's "Business Model Canvas," Blank's "Customer Development Model, and Agile Engineering.
The Lean LaunchPad changed the way entrepreneurship is taught. 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.com.
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); 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.
Hacking for Defense and Hacking for Diplomacy are courses created at Stanford in 2016 that use Blank’s Lean LaunchPad curriculum to address national defense and foreign policy challenges while offering a new platform for completing national service.
Hacking for Defense connects the Silicon Valley innovation mindset with islands of innovation inside the U.S. Department of Defense and intelligence community. Student teams work with DOD and intelligence sponsors, using Lean Startup methods and Blank’s Lean LaunchPad curriculum to address real-world national security problems.
Hacking for Defense immediately began to scale after its pilot in spring 2016. In 2017, it will be taught in more than 15 other universities across the country, providing solutions to hundreds of critical national security problems annually.
The pilot Hacking for Diplomacy class wrapped up at Stanford in December. In it, student teams work with State Department sponsors, using Lean Startup methods to address critical foreign policy challenges.
In 2009, Blank won the Stanford University Undergraduate Teaching Award in Management Science and Engineering. That same year he was also named one of the Top 10 Influencers in Silicon Valley by the Silicon Valley Mercury News. In 2010, Blank was a recipient of the Earl F. Cheit Outstanding Teaching Award at U.C. Berkeley Haas School of Business.
In 2012 The Harvard Business Review named him one of 12 Masters of Innovation and CNBC recognized him as one of the "11 Notable Entrepreneurs Teaching the Next Generation."
He was named Senior Fellow for Entrepreneurship at Columbia University in 2015 and was recognized by The Thinkers50 global ranking of management thinkers. Blank is an infrequent speaker at conferences and entrepreneurial events but has given commencement speeches at Philadelphia University in 2011, the University of Minnesota in 2013, ESADE Business School in 2014, and at NYU in 2016. NPR ranked his Philadelphia University commencement speech as one of the best in the last 325 years.
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. 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. The book is viewed in entrepreneurship circles as the definitive source on the Customer Development methodology.
Blank released a second book in 2010, Not All 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.
Steve Blank and Bob Dorf co-authored The Startup Owner's Manual, which was released in March 2012. The 608-page reference manual details a scientific approach to entrepreneurship and emphasizes the importance of "rigorous and repeated testing." The work draws on ideas from The Business Model Generation and The Four Steps to the Epiphany. According to Blank, the book was designed to be used as an "encyclopedia and a blueprint" for startups.
Blank released Holding a Cat by the Tail in 2014. 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. In 2012, his blog was ranked one of the "10 Must-Read Blogs for Any Lean Startup" by Welovelean.com. The blog is considered a must-read for entrepreneurs and is often syndicated by UC Berkeley, VentureBeat, Huffington Post, Forbes, Inc.com 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).
Blank was a past Chairman of Audubon California and has also served on the board of the Peninsula Open Space Trust and was a trustee of U.C. Santa Cruz foundation and served on the board of the California League of Conservation Voters. In 2007 he was appointed to the California Coastal Commission. 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.
Blank is known amongst entrepreneurs and students as one of the "The Godfathers of Silicon Valley". 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. Blank has hosted numerous sold-out speaking events and conferences about entrepreneurship and the Customer Development methodology.