You’ll Be Dead Soon-Carpe Diem

11/30/11Follow @sgblank

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. —Steve Jobs

Watching an entrepreneur fail is sad, but watching but watching them fail from a lack of nerve is tragic.

Excitement
At the beginning of this year Bob, one of my ex-students, was in entrepreneurial heaven. He had an idea for a new class of enterprise software insight-as-a-service based on big data web analytics as a Cloud/SaaS (Software As a Service) application.

Bob had taken to heart the business model canvas and Customer Development lessons. After graduating he put together a prototype and had quickly marched through Customer Discovery, iterating his product with the help of CIOs and Fortune 1000 IT departments.

I had made one of the introductions to a Fortune 100 CIO, so I got to hear his progress from both him and the CIO.

Takeoff
After 90 days, things seemed to be moving at startup speed. Bob had a backlog of users wanting to try his application, and the corporate IT people who were trying his early prototype said, “It’s crude, we hate the user interface, it’s missing lots of features—but we’ll kill you if you try to take it away from us.”

I pointed a VC who followed the space to the CIO who was testing the prototype. The VC told me the CIO wouldn’t get off the phone. He kept telling him he couldn’t remember when he had seen an enterprise software product with so much promise. The VC checked with other IT users and heard the same reaction. It was a “gotta use it, don’t take it away, we’ll have to buy it” product. After a demo and lunch, the VC (who normally did later stage deals) wrote my ex student a check for a seed round.

Life couldn’t be better.

I followed Bob progress in bits and pieces from updates from the CIO, the VC and his emails and blogs. He seemed to be on the fast track to startup success. But pretty soon a few worrying warning signs appeared.

The first thing that I noticed was that Bob couldn’t seem to find a co-founder. I wasn’t close enough to know if he wasn’t really looking for one, but given the early success he was having, it seemed a bit odd. But the next thing really got me concerned. Bob started hiring second rate developers. At best they were B- players.

Stall
A month went by, and the product stopped getting better. The U/I still sucked, and new features had stopped appearing. The next month, the same thing. I got a call from my CIO friend asking, “what was going on?” He said, “It was a great prototype, we would have loved to deploy it company-wide, and I hate to let it go, but it looks like Bob’s company just lost interest in … Next Page »

Steve Blank is the co-author of The Startup Owner's Manual and author of the Four Steps to the Epiphany, which details his Customer Development process for minimizing risk and optimizing chances for startup success. A retired serial entrepreneur, Steve teaches at Stanford University Engineering School and at U.C. Berkeley's Haas Business School. He blogs at www.steveblank.com. Follow @sgblank

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  • http://www.partsurf.co.nz nathan

    Thanks.. i was in the same shoe as bob once..I guess many people have…

    It’s not the lack of funding. but lack of nerve…not any more as I found that I have nothing to lose..

    Thanks once again.