Saturday, January 2, 2010

Towards a new entrepreneurship

When I started writing about the lean startup, my aspiration was to do more than just share a handful of tips and tricks that work for consumer internet startups. I believe the only way to improve our chances as entrepreneurs is to develop a working theory of entrepreneurship. This belief led me to the lean startup, and to an amazing 2009. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to everyone who's helped to make that a reality, especially you who are reading this right now. So far, 2010 is shaping up to be an even more amazing year; read on to find out why.

In a forthcoming article I've written advocating for the Startup Visa, I wrote this:
Like other industries – from publishing to automobiles – entrepreneurship is in the process of being disrupted by globalization. On the whole, this is a good thing for America and for our civilization. The cost of creating new companies is falling rapidly, and access to markets, distribution, and information is within the reach of anyone with an internet connection. The result is a profound democratization of the digital means of production.
Re-reading it recently, I was struck by an idea that I don't think is too widespread yet: that entrepreneurship is an industry. Sure, when entrepreneurs create startups that grow up into mature companies, they become part of an established industry, with its own ecosystem, norms, partners and best practices. But until that happens, we entrepreneurs have our own ecosystem, of investors and service providers, norms and even some "best" practices. The two ecosystems have diverged significantly in the past fifty years - and especially in the past ten. The reason is that the underlying theory that powers established business, the theory of general management, is increasingly inadequate for managing startups. And yet, so far, we lack a coherent theory to replace it. My belief is that the lean startup is that theory. Together, we are part of a movement that is redefining entrepreneurship.

Every once in a while, I get an inquiry from a startup asking if I'm ready to "jump back in the game" and start a company. My realization for 2010 is that I'm already in the game. This is just like a startup to me, complete with distribution and product development challenges, ecosystem design and many, many customers. Only now the stakes are higher: my aspiration is to impact our entire industry. So my priorities for 2010 are projects that will expand the lean startup industry-wide. As always, I'll look to you early adopters for guidance and help. Here's a preview of what I'm working on.
  1. The Lean Startup Cohort program. The more I work in the realm of theory, the more I crave the messy realities of thorny startup problems. In 2010, I hope to work with a limited number of high-growth startups in an intense fashion. This is by far the most difficult project I've undertaken, but I believe the impact will be worth it.

  2. Teaching at Berkeley (and beyond). Steve Blank has asked me to co-teach his MBA entrepreneurship class at Berkeley Haas, starting January 19, and to revamp the curriculum to make it a full introduction to the lean startup. This is just the first of several academic projects I hope to work on in 2010. Academia has a vital role to play in the new entrepreneurship, answering many questions that need urgent research attention.

    How you can get involved: Steve has always had a very liberal policy on auditors. If you'd like to attend this class at Berkeley, just let me know in a comment. If there's sufficient interest, I'll post details.

    Even if you can't attend, you can help shape the curriculum. Do you have a suggestion for a guest speaker or case study that illustrates a particular lean startup concept: minimum viable product, continuous deployment, validated learning, the pivot? Please leave your suggestions as a comment. Bonus points if you can find a relevant official HBS case study from their archives to suggest as well.

  3. Startup Lessons Learned conference. This is still in the early planning stages, so I don't have many details to share yet. I've been blown away by the level of demand you all have expressed in having a forum for the whole community to come together and share what we're learning. My hope is to create a one-day event in San Francisco sometime in the spring. Details soon, I promise. In the meantime, feel free to nominate speakers or notable companies you'd like to hear from in the comments.

    For those that can't travel to SF, I'm also working on a way to simulcast to event to cities where there's sufficient interest. If there's one thing I've learned in all my travel in 2009, it's that entrepreneurship has gone global in a big way, and I'd like everyone to be able to participate in this event.

    How you can get involved: We're going to need volunteers to help spread the word and advise on topics we should cover. If you'd like to be part of this, let me know in a comment. Similarly, let me know if you'd like to host or attend a simulcast party in your town.

  4. Writing a book. I'm just starting the publishing process that should lead to a book for a general business audience in 2011. Talk about long cycle times! Not much to share on this front yet, but I will especially need your help to get the word out about this.

    How you can get involved: If you'd like to be part of the early-reader and evangelizing team for this, let me know in a comment. I'm especially interested in people who are interested in helping with pre-orders.
Most of all, the best thing you can do to help this movement grow is to be an entrepreneur yourself. As you face new challenges, successes and failures - please share what you learn with the rest of us. As always, I'm eager to join the discussion in the new year. Have feedback on what you've heard so far? Let's hear it: good, bad, crazy? Let's get 2010 underway.

To kick it off, take a look at this propaganda video on the new entrepreneurship, courtesy of Dave McClure, KISSmetrics, and GoaP:

Update Jan 4: Replaced embedded video with YouTube version. Also, clarified details for auditing the Berkeley class in the comments below.
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