Why we’re Launching Steve Blank’s NEXT Program in Beijing

Summary: I had a chance to work with Steve Blank at Stanford and saw how effective his Lean LaunchLab class is at teaching entrepreneurs how to do Customer Development.  Now startup ecosystems worldwide can launch a similar program through NEXT. We’re creating NEXT Beijing because we think it is the fastest, most effective way to minimize the biggest risks facing startups.

This Spring we’re1 going to roll out NEXT Beijing, the first NEXT program in China.

Most Westerners observe that in China “anything is possible, but nothing is easy”.  NEXT Beijing has been no exception, but after 6 months of planning we’re hosting Steve Blank for a NEXT Beijing workshop on Monday and officially kicking off the program on April 10th.

NEXT is a unique program and I hope you take advantage it in your startup community.

My Early Frustrations in Teaching Customer Development

From 2010-11 I was an Entrepreneur in Residence working with startups funded by the US National Science Foundation (NSF). The Lean Startup Movement was about 2 years old and I spent most of my time trying to get startups to adopt Customer Development principles and test the riskiest parts of their business models first.

I discovered that it is extremely hard to get entrepreneurs – including me – to change our behavior. We would document our risks in one meeting, schedule a few customers meetings, and then soon find ourselves back focused on execution again. I shared my frustrations with friends Ash Maurya and Eric Ries – they also had observed that lots of teams talked about Lean Startup without actually doing it.

Then in 2011 NSF asked me to help roll-out the first iCorps class at Stanford (NPR Story). iCorps – like NEXT – is based on Steve Blank’s Lean LaunchPad class. While I was excited about iCorps, I was also skeptical that anyone – even Steve Blank – could get startups from University labs to do Customer Development. I had been trying for over a year without much luck.

I Started a Skeptic – But Steve Won Me Over

I soon discovered that Steve Blank has figured out the right format to teach us how to do Customer Development. Entrepreneurs:

  • Document their business model assumptions using a 1-page canvas
  • “Get Out of the Office” and interview customers
  • Report what they learn back to the entire class

Simple as it is, it works. Steve was able to make more progress with NSF-funded startups in a few days than I was able to do in months.

Now Steve has created NEXT in partnership with Startup Weekend, TechStars, and Udacity to use these same principles and educate entrepreneurs.

NEXT Forces Us Out of Comfort Zones

I don’t want to do Customer Development – I do it because the alternative (slow, painful, failure) is just so much worse. It is hard, tedious work that mostly leads to disappointments and more questions. NEXT uses public accountability with other teams and mentors to “Get us Out of the Office” and not slip back into old habits. Entrepreneurship is about doing, not listening.

NEXT Teams Get Help Interpreting Data

I’m currently a single founder with soHelpful.me and know that I cannot interpret what I learn in Customer Development interviews without help. I rely on friends like Ray Wu, Joel Gascoigne, Patrick Smith and Justin Wilcox to help me generate assumptions and interpret test results. NEXT formalizes this process of collaboration and feedback.

NEXT is 5 Weeks –  the Right Length

During my Startup Help sessions I try to help other entrepreneurs understand that generating and running business model tests takes weeks – not days. NEXT is currently 5 weeks – enough time to explore an idea, make a few minor pivots and figure out if it is interesting enough to pursue.

NEXT Fits a Bootstrapper’s Schedule

Despite what you hear, no, you don’t have to quit the day job to get started on your startup. You do have use your scarcest resource – your time – most effectively by figuring out if you have an idea worth pursuing. It will be an insane and crazy-busy 5 weeks, but you can do NEXT if you have a day job.

There are Many Startup Programs – But NEXT IS Different

Yes, I know. There are a ton of startup programs out there, all done by people and institutions with great intentions. Some are very good, some are ok, and some are total waste of money and time.

The reality is that our biggest risk is that we’re not solving a real customer problem. NEXT is built from the ground-up to address this issue.

Questions about NEXT?

You might also find answers at the NEXT Website.  Steve Blank’s Udacity Course is also a great place to start.

You can also get some time with me through soHelpful.me, my new startup.  I’ll be happy to share with you how NEXT Beijing is going and give you some advice for launching NEXT in your community.

About the Photo

This photo by  cmaresca was taken at Steve’s beautiful ranch about an hour outside of Stanford.  We had our iCorps kickoff event there and I’m sad to report that NEXT Beijing won’t be held in such a beautiful venue – or weather!

  1. Big shout-out to the rest of the team (Songqiao Yao, Brian Challberg, and Hsu Li), sponsors (Microsoft, Softlayer, Chinacellerator), mentors, accelerators, and other supporters who are making NEXT Beijing happen

I read EVERY comment and want to hear from you

  1. Must be a very exciting time ahead, Kevin. I look forward to hearing how it’s all going. It would be fantastic to set up something like this in Shanghai in the future as well. All the best for your upcoming launch!

    Jacob.