Company Building-Internal and External Customers

The final stage in The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products That Win is Company Building. Just to recap, the first three stages focused on discovering and understanding your customers, validating sales through the Earlyvangelists, and creating and sustaining a market for the product or service. This stage adds key internal factors.

Blank suggests three ways for a company to evolve from a startup to a major company:

  1. Build a mainstream customer base beyond the first earlyvangelist customers
  2. Build the company’s organization, management, and culture to support greater scale
  3. Create fast-response departments to sustain the climate of learning and discovery that got the company to this stage (2013, pg. 211)

The early stages focus on the customer, but in this stage focus is share with the organization and its culture. “Most startups don’t give much thought to organization and culture, and if they do, it may have something to with Friday beer bashes, refrigerators full of soft drinks, or an iconoclastic founder.” (pg. 214) This bureaucracy translates into “…a hierarchical, command-driven management style, process-driven decision-making, an HR driven employee handbook, and an ‘execution’ mindset.” (pg. 214) The culture extends beyond what it done, but how things are done. It creates the very threading to perception, policies, and the politics of an organization.

In this stage, the company becomes “mission critical rather than process oriented.” (Brown, 2012) Blank further expounds, “For mission-centric management to work, you need to ensure the intentions of all missions (corporate and departmental) are understood, not just by a few key executive, but everyone, top to bottom, in the company.” (Pg. 250)

Think back to your previous work experiences. How well were you orientated with the company? In banking, I was oriented by key people in the organization and in the departments. In academia, my first day was with a computer. The difference was like night and day. I can say that I felt more a part of a team in the former than the latter. What type of culture are you creating for you company and how is that culture perceived by employees? This Customer Develop Models pours so much time and energy into the external customers, please don’t forget to pour into your internal customers as well.

The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products That Win is a great resource for growing a startup. I found that my SME used these stages without even knowing it. They have a successful restaurant and catering business that began with Customer Discovery; literally going door to door to businesses. The potential customers didn’t know they had a problem, but the city did lack restaurants. It took five years to actually move into what is now the restaurant site, but they would take nothing for this fifteen year journey of success!


Blank, Steven G. The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products That Win. 2nd ed. California: Steve Blank, 2013.

Brown, P. (2012, June 03). The Four Steps to the Epiphany [Review]. Retrieved February 28, 2017, from

ENT 601 Reflections Week 8

Earlyvangelists – Customer Validation

The Customer Validation Stage is the GPS for sales and marketing. “The sales roadmap is the playbook of proven and repeatable sales process that has been field-tested by successfully selling the product to early customers.” (Blank, 2013, pg. ) A key player in this stage is what Blank calls “Earlyvangelists.” They are the first set of customers who believed in your vision. “They will pay for the product-sometimes months or even years before it is completed.” (pg. 110) We are still not going to get ahead of ourselves here to sell. So therefore a sales force is not necessary yet. It is about predictable forecasting of repeat buyers/sales and a big GREEN light for your sales model.

These basic GPS questions need to be answered to ensure a sales blueprint. (pg.111)

  1. Are we sure we have product/market fit?
  2. Who influences a sale?
  3. Who is the decision maker?
  4. Who is the economic buyer?
  5. Who is the saboteur?
  6. Where is the budget for purchasing the type of product you’re selling?
  7. How many sales calls are needed per sale?
  8. How long does an average sale take from beginning to end?
  9. Is this a solution sale?
  10. If so what are ‘key customer problems’
  11. What is the profile of the optimal visionary buyer, the Earlyvangelist every startup needs?

I want to profile the Earlyvangelist, which is a key force on your startup journey. The Earlyvangelist will to plug into your vision without a product. “The Earlyvangelist does not just buy your product; they buy your vision. The vision of your enterprise is what binds the Earlyvangelist to your company.” (Kroonenburg, 2016) But why will they jump off this cliff with you? Blank suggests, “They may do so because they perceive a competitive advantage in the market, bragging rights with peers in their neighborhood or in an industry, or political advantage with their company…; they not only understand they have a problem, but are looking for a solution, to the point of trying to build their own.” (pg. 112) Stop one minute here. This customer isn’t an angel investor. Remember we are talking about the people who will purchase this product or service, not the one who wants to invest. They are looking for a practical dividend instead of a financial one.

They see the bright light at the end of their problem tunnel and are mesmerized by your solution. They “get it”… but not from a “suit….” but the founders not the salesperson. So you are still hands on cultivating the relationship. It is essential to identify your Earlyvangelist. They are your sales and marketing; taking your product or service “…inside their companies and throughout their industry-or as consumers, to their friends and neighbors. Treated correctly they are the ultimate reference accounts.” (pg. 112) Now you see why a sales team isn’t need at this point. The Earlyvangelist have their place in your history for this stage of customer validation. They are the customers that you discovered by hitting the pavement.

Who are your Earlyvangelists?


Blank, S. G. (2013). The four steps to the epiphany: successful strategies for products that win. California: Steve Blank

Kroonenburg, M. V. (2016, August 03). Earlyvangelists, your first and most important clients. Retrieved February 24, 2017, from

ENT 601- Reflections-Week 6

Customer Creation – Marketing Strategy

Thus far we have looked at Customer Discovery and Customer Validation. Both stages place an investment in spending time and finances on the customers need and solving problems. Up until now, startups have been lean with the founder literally finding the business in the marketplace. There has not been a major investment in VP executives, nor sales and marketing teams. The Customer Creation Phase is no different and it turns toward building a brand in your market instead of forcing a brand into the marketplace. Being mindful of correctly identifying your market (existing, re-segmented or new) is important in this phase? The main goal is to “provide an experience that drives market demand into the sales channel of the company.” (Martin, 2016)

Customer Creation “represents the essential marketing activities necessary to help customers learn about a product and create a desire to buy it.” (Blank, 2013, pg. 161) Blank does not label it as marketing communication for four important reasons:

1. In a startup these events are occurring for the first time;

2. They are not about the marketing department, they are about customers;

3. They are creation events, not follow-on execution activities; and

4. The types of appropriate marketing programs differ widely, depending on Market Type.

Traditional marketing strategies are less effective and more expensive. “Launching a new product and company should not be confused with executing a laundry list of marketing tactics.” (Pg. 162) You are not pouring dollars into a marketing campaign, but instead you are extending your foot print within your current customers. In essence customer creation is a “meaningful reach; …to make sure that this happens, the kinds of marketing opportunities that you chose should be directly in line with the market that the business is entering.” (Martin, 2016)

Blank and CLEVERISM offer extensive information about market type and positioning. Therefore I suggest that you take some time to review this area from the resources listed to make sure you are spot-on in capturing your segment for a successful product launch.

The Customer Creation phase has allowed me to look deeper into the marketing strategy for a startup. One size marketing does not fit all. As I said in an earlier blog, your startup is not a cookie cutter process. Such care has been given towards the early consumers to ensure success. Creating the buzz, following up with the buzzers and then extending your reach beyond the initial buzz into your real customer base is a strategic process that is often overlooked because of focus on the product.  Customer creation shifts your focus away from Earlyvangelists and towards the real customers in the broader marketplace. These customers unlike the earlyvangelists, who buy into your dream without a prototype in hand, need to see the product for absolute buy-in. Are you ready to present the real thing?


Blank, S. G. (2013). The four steps to the epiphany: successful strategies for products that win. California: Steve Blank.

Martin. (2016, January 29). CDM: Understanding Customer Creation. Retrieved February 24, 2017, from

ENT 601 Reflections Week 7

Shop the Problem, Not the Product-Customer Discovery

The Philosophy

“A start-up begins with a vision: a vision of a new product or service, how the product will reach its customers, and why lots of people will buy it.” I believe this sounds right thus far. “But most of what a startup’s founders initially believe about their market and potential customers are just educated guesses. A startup is in reality a ‘faith-based enterprise’ on day one.” Now that was a humorous reality, but I can still agree. Customer Discovery is “to turn faith into facts…to know whether they have a valid vision or just a hallucination.” (Blanks, 2013, pg. 43)

Customer Discovery occurs when you seek out potential customers to buy your product or service. Blanks defines it as “time to hit the streets and identify your repeat buyers.” This discovery goes beyond gathering electronic market data. Instead it translates into being “…out in the field, listening, discovering how consumers worked and what their key problems were.” (Blank, 2013, p.28)

The Question?

When you began this journey, did you shop your product or service or did you shop the problem that your product or service would solve?

I find this question very important when building a business. Are we following our passion and dreams or actually lending our dreams to a product or service that can solve a problem, which will provide sustainability for your company. It’s like applying for a grant. Many people think they have a great idea for someone to fund. When in reality, your idea needs to fit the goals and mission of a granting organization. It’s all about how you fit in the grantee’s world and so it also is about the consumer that you will be serving.

“The concept is deceptively simple: form hypotheses around the problem that your product solves, and around the product itself, test these hypotheses with those who could be your potential customers to verify, iterate or exit. This discovery process is part of the larger customer development model where the minimally viable product resulting from customer discovery undergoes validation testing among customers.” (Venture Atlanta)

I agree with Venture Atlanta when they say it’s deceptively simple. You have to get the buy in from a group of strangers that will agree that what you are offering will solve their problem. And remember the problem may not exist yet. Once you gather real data, you are testing or tweaking to make adjustments from their feedback. Then you hit the pavement again to gather another round of feedback. In this round, you have your reality check of where the pairing of the product/service and the consumer provides conclusive evidence; to draw a conclusion you hope will say that you have made the right decision and it makes sense financially.  It’s the beginning or the end.

Just think, you haven’t sold a thing, but you have gathered valuable information that will allow you to be profitable. This in depth approach to gaining a viable consumer following could make the difference in a start-up’s continued success.

5 Phases of Customer Discovery

Phase 0-Get Buy-In

Phase 1-Start Your Hypothesis

Phase 2- Test and Qualify Your Hypothesis

Phase 3-Test and Qualify the Product Concept

Phase 4-Verify

An in-depth study of the 5 Phases of Customer Discovery can be found in Steve Blank’s The Four Steps to the Epiphany. (pg. 53-105) In addition, Venture Atlanta provides a wonderful set of Customer Discovery Tips


Blank, Steven G. The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products That Win. 2nd ed. California: Steve Blank, 2013.

Customer Discovery Basics. (2013, March 7). Retrieved February 15, 2017, from

ENT 601 -Week 5 Reflections

eZine Article-Better or Perfect

In a recent blog entitled “What Does Flawless Look Like,” I wrote consumers anticipate better, not perfect. Better has a place to go, perfect is stuck. Perfect is based on personal preference. The perfect color that matches your eyes, the steak that is grilled to perfection – medium, medium well, or well-done; the perfect ingredients for a baked good or the perfect seasoning for an entrée. Perfect is “me focused.” But better is “other focused.” As an entrepreneur, the dream or vision is yours, but the reality of it is in the hand of others, the consumer.

Entrepreneurship starts as a small business. At this point, are you a small business owner or an entrepreneur? Perfect is consumer focused for solving problems around them? Better is consumer focused by always seeking to solve problems, especially the ones that do not exist yet on a global scale. This is the realm where innovation reigns. This place of scale also defines the small business owner and the entrepreneur. Both are important and vital to the economy, but at different levels.
“Small businesses are the backbone of this country. They create jobs, come up with new ways of doing old things, and help keep money in the local community.” (Spring, 2014) Spring contributes the difference to “… different styles of leadership and thoughts on running their business. One is not better than the other, they’re just different.” She gives four areas that support her position. Small business owners have a great idea to solve a community problem, whereas entrepreneurs have “big ideas that haven’t been tested, diagnosed or worked through.” Small business owners “hold steady” making calculated decisions with a clear outcome. Entrepreneurs” love risk”, diving in with confident and banking on a favorable outcome. Small-business owners ponder on “things that need to be finished this week”. Entrepreneurs are “thinking ahead six months, allowing others to run their business while they continue moving towards the next better offering to the public. (Spring, 2014)

Currency symbolizes movement. With the perfect product of service, the buck stops, but with a better product or service, the buck keeps flowing into different currency streams to a national or international level. Continuously making it better and different was Steve Jobs’ philosophy. In the movie Jobs, there were key statements made which set Apple and Steve Jobs in the innovation realm beyond the competition. He “willed” things into existence. “How does someone know what they want if they’ve never even seen it?” He said, “Make things better; we don’t stop innovating.” His “risk disguises promise” drive made Apple one of the most profitable corporations in America.

Perfect and Better are both needed to drive the economy. Which vehicle are you cruising in right now?


Spring, M. (2014, May 15). Are You a Small-Business Owner or an Entrepreneur? The Difference Is Important. Retrieved February 09, 2017, from

H. (2016, December 26). Steve Jobs full movie in HD in English. Retrieved February 07, 2017, from

Michelle Wilson Moore has been a grant administrator for a sate supported university for the past five years. Her background spans eighteen years in the financial sector. Her current interests include writing and teaching. She is also currently enrolled in the Masters of Entrepreneurship Degree Program at Western Carolina University. Webmasters and other article publishers are hereby granted article reproduction permission as long as this article in its entirety, author’s information, and any links remain intact. Copyright 2017 by Michelle Wilson Moore.

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The Four Steps to the Epiphany

The four steps to epiphany as described in Steve Blank’s book, The four steps to the epiphany: successful strategies for products that win are: Customer Discovery, Customer Validation, Customer Creation and Company Building. As I have been exploring the concept of the Customer Development Model, it boils down to identifying and developing a customer base while you are developing the product. These parallel lanes create a win-win situation for the startup.

Step 1 – Customer Discovery starts with locating the customers that buy into your solution for their problem.  It’s time to hit the streets and identify your repeat buyers. That does not just consist of surveying the land to see if there is an interest, but “Instead [being] out in the field listening, discovering how [the] customers worked and what their key problems were.”(Blank, 2013, p. 28) How often is the product or service shopped instead of shopping the problem and learning consumer behaviors?

Step 2 – Customer Validation is the GPS for sales and marketing. “The sales roadmap is the playbook of proven and repeatable sales process that has been field-tested by successfully selling the product to early customers.” NY Daily News reported that in 24 hours, pre-orders for the Apple iPhone 6 and 6 Plus set a new record at 4 million. The previous year, Apple sold 9 million in 3 days. They were almost at half with pre-orders for the new version. (2014)

Step 3 – Customer Creation is the foundation for your first sales. “Its goal is to create end-user demand and drive that demand into the company’s sales channel.” (pg. 29) Now you can pour dollars into marketing. But be mindful that the type of branding depends on your unique start-up. Marketing is not a cookie-cutter generic fit. It is determined by what type of market you are entering.

Step 4 – Company Building is where you move out of the “discovery-oriented team” into the “formal departments with VPs of Sales, Marketing and Business Development…with a focus on building mission-oriented department exploiting the company’s early market success.” (pg. 29) You have a firm footing and understanding of your niche; growth demands your executive assignments.

Daymond John, CEO of FUBU (FOR US BY US hip hop apparel) and Shark Tank Host, saw a popular style of wool hat being sold for $120. He sewed 90 that were similar and sold them for $10 each in front of a coliseum and made $800 that day. His mother invested $100,000; with the help of three friends for production and one popular rapper friend, LL Cool J, as spokesperson, FUBU now has over $6 billion in global sales. (Celebrity Net Worth) He started in the basement, built a following by believing “customers first” and then created an empire. Customer Discovery, Validation, Creation and Company Building at its best! Watch this video and be inspired!


Blank, S. G. (2013). The four steps to the epiphany: successful strategies for products that win. California: Steve Blank

Daymond John Net Worth. (2016, October 02). Retrieved February 04, 2017, from

Apple: iPhone 6 pre-order sales smash records. (2014, September 15). Retrieved February 04, 2017, from



Innovation Leadership-Go Team!

When you hear the word leadership, one tends to think of a person or a style of management. So innovation leadership would default the ingenious dreams of a visionary, who transfers those midnight downloads into a road map of success. But the big ideas do not take flight without the ground crew preparing the big air balloon for an endless sky of possibilities. Innovation Leadership is the story of a team of highly qualified individuals who are willing to plug into a vision (products/services), immediately receiving a burst of power that sparks the creative circuit within each member; emitting a light so strong that produces a must have, can’t live without item. In his article What is Innovative Leadership?, Jeffrey Baumgartner suggests, “Innovation is breed within the organization’s culture, therefore “Innovative leaders are not just CEOs. They can be team leaders, division managers and others who manage people and projects.” The synergy created from this union carries the vision. Synergy is defined as “the interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects.” ( force is the foundation for innovation leadership.

In his article, 5 Ways Leaders Enable Innovation In Their Teams, Glenn Llopis references a Wall Street Journal article entitled, Together We Innovate, which spoke to the team concept in innovation.  The article state[d] that, “most companies continue to assume that innovation comes from that individual genius, or, at best, small, sequestered teams that vanish from sight and then return with big ideas.”  The article argue[d] that “most innovations are created through networks — groups of people working in concert.” (2014) What beautiful harmonies can be produced in this symphony of talent and creativity. Llopis says that, “Innovation is the creation of something new that represents a communal adaptation or application used and embraced by the masses.”(2014) Picture a symphony. Each instrument supplies a sound, a note though brilliant alone, together creates a sound that moves the masses to a standing ovation. Steve Jobs was the visionary, but it is a team that consistently creates a must have product. His legacy continues on.

“Innovators are those who can see, sow, grow and share opportunities.” (2014) The powerhouse team consists of the people who “know their customers and their specific needs; they take time to analyze their competitors and the evolution of industries, brands and the emerging role of technology;…they have a pulse on the marketplace and what it is telling them they must do.” (2014) The boardroom becomes a war room of strategy, logistics and execution. These key team members are not your average employee. They are game changers and innovators in their own right. “They are passionate explorers in pursuit of endless possibilities. These explorers are courageous enough to take that leap of faith and follow it through all the way to the end.” (2014)The energy produced from this type of team is high voltage that are a sign of DANGER to the competition.

To keep this high level of voltage, Llopis suggests 5 immediate things leaders can do with their teams to foster an environment of innovation and initiative:

  1. Trust Yourself Enough to Trust Others – each team member must become more transparent than ever before
  2. Collaborate and Discover – working closely together and taking leaps of faith together to discover new ways of thinking to create greater outcomes
  3. Communicate to Learn – a team should view themselves as an innovation lab – constantly challenging each other to learn from each other’s ideas and ideals and to plant the seeds for future innovations
  4. Be a Courageous Change Agent – embrace constructive disruption that ultimately makes things operate better and improves performance. Every leader must become a change agent or face extinction.  As such, their teams must equally be charged to do the same; accepting the role of a change agent means taking on an entrepreneurial attitude, embracing risk as the new normal, and beginning to see opportunity in everything. As you do, innovation becomes second nature.
  5. Course Correct to Perfect – course correction steers you closer to the promise of the culture you are attempting to create. Course correction also keeps people on their toes and teaches them to adapt to new environments, where they can showcase their abilities and skill-sets to new people and personalities in different situations and circumstances.

I truly believe that the synergy created in teams separates the true innovative leaders. They work together instead of silos and the outcomes are amazing products and services that change the world. What does your team look like? And how will it change your corner of the world or influence the masses?

Youtube link-


Baumgartner , J. (n.d.). What is Innovative Leadership? Retrieved January 31, 2017, from

Llopis, G. (2014, April 07). 5 Ways Leaders Enable Innovation In Their Teams. Retrieved February 01, 2017, from

Synergy. (n.d.). Retrieved February 02, 2017, from

What Does Flawless Look Like?

Flawless should start with a question? How do I make it better? I dare not say perfect…I don’t think perfect was ever used at Apple. They continue to make the product better and better and better each year. So where are the customers; camping out for the latest version. In 2011, a garbage man waited 240 hours for the iPhone4. (The Atlantic, 2011) It’s ceremonial each year. Expectations have been created for that faithful customer and let’s not mention the price tag that comes with it; a price tag that gives one bragging rights is more of an investment to them. Why do they wait- higher demand for the “next generation” phone, preorders, redesign and “social proof.” “Adam Hanft, who works at a New York consulting firm for consumer brands, told Market Watch that shoppers feel validated by a crowd making the same decision as them.” (Herbert, 2014) Consumers anticipate better, not perfect. Better has a place to go, perfect is stuck.

Investors think in terms of getting the product on the shelves. Market placement means profitability. Right? Not Quite. Blank shouts to not ignore the process of “Customer Discovery.” (Blank, 2013, pg.7) “Time after time, only after the first customer ship, do start-ups discover their early customers don’t scale into the mainstream market, the product doesn’t solve a high-value problem, or the cost of distribution is too high…losing scales strategy.” (Pg.7) In any ship-relationship, partnership (yes we are partners with our customers), or business venture, you have to get to know the other party – Listen, learn, relate and value to create repeat consumers.

Ask, Ask, Ask

What problems does your product solve? Do customers perceive these problems as important or “must-have”? How do you reach the customers? How many customers do we need to be profitable? These are just a few of several questions that Blank suggests for start-ups. If the product fails to work, who will stop and fix what’s broken? How well do you understand what problems customers have? How much will they pay to solve those problems? Do we understand the hierarchy of our customers’ needs? Who are your visionary customers (early buyers)? Do you truly understand what you need to be profitable? Are the sales and business plans realistic, scalable, and achievable? (Pg. 8-10)

What is the true reality for your business? Customers are not always right, but they should always be first. Unrealistic expectations are by far a poisonous spur ready to germinate and infest your start-up to the point of suffocating and choking the life out of something that was once alive and breathing. The Customer Development model is based upon, “Learning and discovering who a company’s initial customers will be, and what markets they are in….” I am not talking sales and marketing, rather proving a market exists, validate they will pay for your vision, then capturing that market. (pg. 21)

These are questions to ask for The Four Steps to Epiphany… “Do you have a process for discovering your market, locating your first customer, validating your assumptions and growing your business?” (pg. 24) Next, we will look closer at the four steps: Costumer Discovery, Customer Validation, Customer Creation and Company Building to create the flawless/better product or service.


Blank, Steven G. The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products That Win. 2nd ed. California: Steve Blank, 2013., G. H. (2014, September 19). IPhone 6 Plus: Why do people wait in line all night for the latest Apple toy? Retrieved February 01, 2017, from

How Long People Waited to Be First in Line to Buy Apple Products. (2011, October 5). Retrieved February 01, 2017, from