I just read The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steven Blank and I highly suggest the book to anyone with an interest in business.
The books is mistitled, but ‘The 47 potentially recursive steps to incrementally determine a business model and not waste a lot of money on bad assumptions‘ probably didn’t work.
Blank outlines a ‘Customer Development’ process in parallel with the development of the product.
There is an a clear bias for venture funded tech startups, and a more subtle enterprise bias, but the process and mindset being advocated is generally applicable, even when some of the anecdotes might not be.
The core message is that the ‘build it and they will come’ strategy sets the stage for epic failure, and the book is filled with examples.
In my opinion, the Customer Development strategy is really Test Driven Business Development. The steps are a series of experiments which test hypotheses about the potential product and the market. The end result is the product developed in tandem with the positioning and sales process in line with a strategy appropriate for the market.
The Four Steps outlines a taxonomy of Markets: Existing Markets, New Markets, and Resegmented Markets, for the purpose of matching the market type with an appropriate sales strategy. A reoccurring theme, supported with evidence, is that ramping up a sales team or building expensive infrastructure not aligned with the nature of the market can burn through a lot of cash.
The last section is about building companies. This is after you have a product and a market, and are looking to take things to the next level. The advice here is more philosophical, illuminated by scenarios where founders were unable to lead that transition and the examples where traditional professional management ruined promising startups.
The ideal leader is someone with the passion and vision of a founder who is also able to think strategically and delegate. (which is not to be confused with abdicate…)
If you are thinking about building a business, or in the process now, I recommend you take the time to read ‘The Four Steps’ as soon as possible.