In response to Steve Blank’s “Napkin Entrepreneurs”

Yesterday, Steve Blank of Stanford University wrote an excellent blog entitled Napkin Entrepreneurs. First, he noted that the barriers to starting a web or mobile application have been dramatically reduced. The crux of the blog, though, was that the back of the envelope idea has evolved to the point where you can quickly develop and test it in the market.

Blank writes: “One of the amazing consequences of the low cost of creating web and mobile apps is that you can get a lot of them up and running simultaneously and affordably. I call these app development projects “science experiments.”

These web science experiments are the logical extension of the Customer Discovery step in the Customer Development process. They’re a great way to brainstorm outside the building, getting real customer feedback as you think through your ideas about value proposition/customer/demand creation/revenue model.

They’re the 21st century version of a product sketch on a back of napkin.”

I could not agree more with Blank. In fact, my very first blog on this website was about this topic.

I just have one critique of the blog. Blank uses the word founder and entrepreneur interchangeably. It’s a pet-peeve of mine. The word “entrepreneur” is often mis- and over-used. If a person quits their job to bring an idea to light, than by all means they are a “founder.” But founder does not equate to entrepreneur. I find Peter Drucker’s definition in Innovation and Entrepreneurship the best:

“The husband and wife who open another delicatessen or another Mexican restaurant in the American suburb surely take a risk. But are they entrepreneurs? All they do is what has been done many times before. They gamble on the increasing popularity of eating out in the area, but create neither a new satisfaction nor new customer demand. Seen under this perspective they are surely not entrepreneurs even though theirs is a new venture.

McDonald’s, however, was entrepreneurship. It did not invent anything, to be sure. Its final product was what any decent American restaurant had produced years ago. But by applying management concepts and management techniques (asking, What is the ‘value’ to the customer?), standardizing ‘products’, designing processes and tools, and by basing training on the analysis of work to be done and then setting the standards it required, McDonald’s both drastically upgraded the yield from resources, created a new market and a new customer. This is entrepreneurship.”

So the person who quits their job to create another coupon service or to digitize a previously invented game (think Scrabulous) is a founder and a go-getter, but not necessarily an entrepreneur. The term entrepreneur is reserved for the person or company reinventing the way coupons are bought and marketed or the person creating all new games, such as what is happening in the location-based space.


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