The Lust for Lean Europe

It was a wonderful week in France and Spain for lean startup and Customer Development.  And while I may have indeed been a catalyst of sorts for “showing up,” it was amazing to see the enthusiasm—call it lust—for lean startup in both nations. While neither nation is awash (or drowning) in startups the way the US, China, and other nations are, entrepreneurs are groping for a methodology to show them the way, and I was most happy to oblige.

For a guy who, shall we say, didn’t “excel” in college (I was too busy starting a variety of businesses), it’s an honor to interact with leading, highly-esteemed and credentialed academics all over the world.  And somehow the entrepreneurial scars on my back(and other body parts) are often treated as “academic” credentials in entrepreneurship, all because of Steve Blank’s invitation to join him and co-author The Startup Owner’s Manual, rolling out like thunder around the world.  (Now in English, Chinese, French, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Russian, Spanish, with more on the way!)

This led to two particularly extraordinary meals with leading business educators whose careers have been focused on entrepreneurship.  Interestingly, both groups were as curious about intrapreneurship as entre, no doubt because the economies of both nations are sagging at best and depressed at worst.  When this happens, two things happen: (a) major corporations desperately need growth catalysts, like those found in lean customer development; and (b) startups desperately need demonstrable customer traction to attract the fleeting number of risk-averse, early-stage investors.

Breakfast in Paris:  Three eminent French faculty from top French business schools, ipag (www.ipag.fr) and UPEC (www.en.u-pec.fr), deeply probed for the pedagogy and methodology of teaching Customer Development in the States, as they highlighted their own efforts to migrate their teaching from traditional business plan to experiential, iterative programming like those conceived, developed, and first taught by none other than my co-author Steve Blank.  Without writing the longest blog post in history, suffice it to say that entrepreneurs will be encountering increased “get out of the building” and “pivot” training in these and other schools soon.

France’s MIT, Polytechnique, is already far ahead of the curve.  Led by impassioned serial entrepreneur-turned-academic Bruno Martinaud, Polytechnique has embraced the methodology and is providing “hands on” entrepreneurial training inside and beyond the classroom. Bruno himself is deeply committed to Customer Development, having used it as an entrepreneur, adopted it early as a teacher, and diving in deep to serve as “technical editor” of the Startup Owner’s Manual French edition. French entrepreneurs owe Bruno a great debt of gratitude, as do Steve Blank and I and our publisher www.diateino.com.

Lunch in Madrid: 12 or 15 talks, workshops and interviews later I landed in Madrid for one of the most exciting lunches in decades, at EOI (www.eoi.es), one of Spain’s and Europe’s top business schools.  Director Ramon Fernandez and his team of passionate entrepreneurial and business educators were even more passionate about how corporations throughout the world are adapting lean startup and Customer Development principles to drive large, established business growth in Spain’s troubled economic climate.  They teach a mix of students headed to big companies and startups alike, and several of the professors also consult to the leading corporations in Spain on—what else—growth!  Fabulous, deep discussion of how and where to apply the method.  Perhaps most vocal of the group was an Italian Professor, a longtime resident of Spain, whose teaching and consulting engage him with the “how do we innovate faster” challenges in Spain’s largest corporations.  At my side, Spanish entrepreneur Alberto Peralta of Groupo Formatec, who devoted countless hours to translating the methodology—and the entire Startup Owner’s Manual—into Spanish!

Making the world safer for successful customer development, that’s the job of this 42 year veteran startup guy. Now it’s on to Moscow to greet 36 enthusiastic entrepreneurs trying to build their new companies in this exciting market with help from yours truly and from the powerful Startup Academy at Skolkovo, the Moscow School of Management.  Will Bob ever return to the good ol’ USA? Keep reading to find out…

Bob Dorf speaks with, coaches and trains startups in lean customer development all over the world. He blogs at dorfonstartups.com and tweets @bobdorf.

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