The Science of Entrepreneurship Comes to DC

The hardest part of entrepreneurship, which also happens to be the most important part, is building something that people actually want. Startups are birthed to solve problems and theoretically give people what they want — solutions to their problems. Within this context, the failure of a startup may be the result of problems that are not universal enough to have warranted a solution or of a solution that is not found acceptable.

Despite the advancements in business as a science during the 20th century, new ventures both inside and outside corporate walls continue to fail because of these issues. It is not due to lack of focus on entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship and venture initiation are hot topics at business schools, the subjects of many books, and ones that in general, receive much attention. Yet, for the most part, the key part of starting a new venture — building something someone wants — has been overshadowed by understanding how to write a compelling business plan, the right way to structure an entity, and how to create “realistic” financial statements.

In one sense, it might seem fair to simply equip entrepreneurs with these more basic tools, relying on them to create the next big idea. It is not hard to imagine a business professor thinking to himself, “I’m giving paint to these artists. They’ll use what I am teaching them to bring structure to their ideas.” After all, can something creative like the “idea part” of entrepreneurship really be taught?

It turns out it can. It is what Steve Blank formalized in his Customer Development model and what Eric Ries describes as The Lean Startup. These frameworks shift away from the structure of entrepreneurship to the science of it. They focus on the core of what makes a startup successful, customers paying for a product they want.

For some, this background is not required. They are already applying customer development and lean startup principles. For others, the typical structural emphasis of entrepreneurship described here resonates and these solutions sound fresh and exciting.

The DC Lean Startup Circle

Last week, at the inaugural DC Lean Startup Circle (organized by Kevin Dewalt, Chris Bucchere, and yours truly), we had a good mix of those who were familiar with customer development and lean startup principles and those who are just learning about them. The exciting part, however, was that the room was full of those involved in DC’s entrepreneurial community, whether building products as new ventures, on the side, or as part of a larger organization.

Regardless of where people were at with understanding these frameworks or if they fully embraced them, what was awesome was that they motivated people to come out and discuss these ideas. To help set the stage, Kevin selected a couple of clips by Steve and Eric and those alone sparked quite a bit of debate and conversation.

DC has a strong and diverse tech community, especially with the federal government being in our backyards. What we are hoping with this meetup, however, is to see a more practical, “in the trenches” group of entrepreneurs, who want to approach the core part of entrepreneurship more as a profession and science and not as a lottery ticket.

For our February event, we will be shifting focus to the mobile world, and specifically the iPhone. Apple’s App Store creates a unique, challenging environment when it comes to applying customer development and lean startup principles. We will be exploring how, if at all, these frameworks can apply to the App Store through a panel discussion that I’ll moderate. If you are interested in attending, be sure to register on the DC Lean Startup Circle meetup page.