Do our startups need more tough love?

Last week, I had the opportunity to observe noted author, entrepreneur, investor and business coach Bob Dorf in action. Dorf’s list of accomplishments is long: he co-authored “The Startup Owner’s Manual” with Steve Blank, has participated in seven startups (“two home runs, two base hits, and three where I learned the most”), invested in dozens more, and traveled the world to consult with companies large and small. His emphasis is on customer discovery. During his time in Iowa City, Dorf led day-long workshops in the Business Model Canvas and judged a pitch competitions for student companies. The thing that struck me was how direct and tough Dorf was with his feedback for companies. Not mean – but direct. One interaction went something like this (I’m paraphrasing): Dorf: How many hospital administrators have you pitched this to? Nursing student pitching a medical device: We’ve done market research with Google Analytics- Dorf: I didn’t ask what you read online. Student: But it’s Google Analytics, you can- Dorf: I don’t care what kind of Googling you did, how many hospital administrators have you looked in the eye and spoken to? Student: None, yet. The most loud and clear message I heard from Dorf over the few days was that market research isn’t the same as talking to your customer, and having a productive conversation with the customer isn’t the same as watching him reach for the checkbook. Our mentors in Iowa know this – but they wouldn’t usually cut off an ambitious young student to drive the point home, in my experience. Finding success as a young company is tough. Are we being too “Iowa nice” in our feedback…

Hawkeye Innovation Summit 2014: Live coverage

Watch this page for updates throughout the day as we report from the Hawkeye Innovation Summit 2014, and tweet along with #hawksummit The Hawkeye Innovation Summit, in it’s second year, is designed to celebrate all aspects of innovation at the University of Iowa. (Click here  to read our previous analysis of the UI’s innovation landscape.) This year’s summit features four tracks: Innovation, focusing on topics like 3D printing and app development; informational, with topics like funding and IP law; how I did it, with stories from faculty, staff and students; and spotlight, which features pitches and demonstrations. Keynote speaker Bob Dorf is a serial entrepreneur and co-author of the bestselling “Startup Owner’s Manual.” Dorf spent the past two days in Iowa City leading sessions for educators and corporate innovators. Flip through the timeline below to see highlights from the day. Tweets about...
Lessons in the Business Model Canvas from Bob Dorf of ‘The Startup Owner’s Manual’

Lessons in the Business Model Canvas from Bob Dorf of ‘The Startup Owner’s Manual’

The Business Model Canvas is prized in startup crowds for being quicker and more flexible than traditional business plans. But, it can also apply to large existing companies. That was the lesson from Bob Dorf, co-author of “The Startup Owner’s Manual,” and a serial entrepreneur, investor and business consultant, as he spoke to a group of established companies and intrapreneurs in Iowa City Thursday. Dorf, who is the keynote speaker for Friday’s Hawkeye Innovation Summit, spent the week in Iowa City to lead daylong sessions for educators and existing companies on how they can use the Business Model Canvas. He teaches a weeklong Business Model Canvas course at Columbia Business School. He shared the story of a paper mill in South America that was quickly losing revenues and preparing to lay off workers. After looking at the “key resources” square of the canvas, they started thinking about the discarded stalks from sugar canes, a biodegradable material that is abundant in the country. The company was able to create a new product, a biodegradable version of Styrofoam, using their existing paper manufacturing machinery and capabilities, and is growing again. Dorf uses the Business Model Canvas in large companies around the world, including GE. Attendees ranged from a three-person startup to representatives from ACT. Still, there are some challenges in applying startup principles to large companies. “‘How can I fail as fast as I can?’ That’s still a hard sell to a CEO,” Dorf said. I was only able to attend for part of the day, but these are my takeaways. What would you add? 1. Start customer development as soon as...