5 1/2 Questions for Steve Blank

CJ Cornell
5 min readApr 11, 2022

Steve Blank

Author, Professor, Innovator, Thought Leader

Steve Blank is an Adjunct Professor at Stanford and co-founder of the Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation. He has been described as the Father of Modern Entrepreneurship.

Credited with launching the Lean Startup movement and the curriculums for the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps and Hacking for Defense and Diplomacy, he’s changed how startups are built; how entrepreneurship is taught; how science is commercialized, and how companies and the government innovate.

Steve is the author of The Four Steps to the Epiphany and The Startup Owner’s Manual which revolutionized how startups were built. His Harvard Business Review cover story redefined how large companies can innovate at speed.

Steve blogs at www.steveblank.com

Five and One-Half Questions

1 — Did you have a mentor early in your career? Tell us a little about it.

Yes, as a matter of fact I had a couple mentors. One earlier in my career was [computer industry legend] Gordon Bell. He was cofounder of one of the companies I worked for. He was (is) not only a great technologist, but also a great visionary. He coached me early in my career.

And then there was Ben Wegbreit — Harvard computer science professor who then moved to run part of Xerox PARC, and later became a venture capitalist. He taught me how to operate in the present, how to look at problems and simplify them.

Both tried to help me figure out and harness my own skills, my own talents. I only realized much later in life that you get back as much as you give. So at some point you start becoming the mentor to others.

2 — Who is your favorite business writer — why?

Not business writers exactly, but I am an avid reader of history — historians. A few come to mind. Richard Rhodes — who wrote “The Making of the Atomic Bomb.” Or biographies of pioneers like Robert Noyce, and one of the pioneers of Silicon Valley, The Man Behind the Microchip: Robert Noyce and the Invention of Silicon Valley, written by Leslie Berlin — which in part contributed to “The Secret History of Silicon Valley” [note — if you haven’t watched this classic, viral lecture — stop what you’re doing and watch it now!]

3 — What career skill do you wish you were better at?

The short answer: Math. I really admire those who are good at math — particularly advanced mathematics. I can do some manipulations in my head but I really wish I was better at it — and I think it’s an important mental skill as well. I still read on a lot of scientific subjects, such as particle physics. I think it is one of the most important traits of an entrepreneur: intellectual curiosity — and the ability to understand and explore many diverse different fields.

4 — OK. A colleague doesn’t return your email, you nudge with another and she still doesn’t reply. What do you think/do?

Well, [chuckles] after you stop being pissed, and maybe gently try to email again, then you try to get another colleague to email. Sort of in an attempt to motivate [the recipient] to return the email. But the key is first to “slowly remove your fingers from the keyboard, take a breath, and resist the more natural response … to … well ‘aggressively hold the other person more directly to task’ [liberally paraphrased by the interviewer].

5 — Who do you really respect, that most people probably never heard of … yet?

It’s not really one person — but a group. The latter part of my career, I spent in the defense industry [Steve is referring to his involvement, among other things in the National Science Foundation, and his leadership in I-Corps, and Stanford’s Hacking for Defense] These are the tens of thousands — even hundreds of thousands of people who work for the US government and defense department who are dedicated to protecting our country. We take it for granted that they are there, working so hard behind the scenes to protect us. And I really respect what they do, and their dedication and hard work.

5–1/2: …. And … the bonus question:

You’re on Shark Tank — what do you say that gets all the sharks fighting to invest in your company?

[Steve laughs a little, and makes a comical comment about the investing prowess of the Shark Tank team — which I omitted so as not to incur the wrath of any billionaires or future guests of this blog].

I would tell them: “My biggest problem is that manufacturing can’t keep up with customer demand”

That one sentence this proves product-market-fit and customer validation. And the rest doesn’t matter

For more 5–1/2 Questions Interviews, see:

“5–1/2 Questions” from CJ Cornell is a new series of mini-interviews with leaders in the entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem around the world. In less than a half-dozen short questions, we’ll try to learn more about each leader, and what makes them successful and unique.

The questions are designed a little like a “Magic Eight Ball” (my GenX colleagues know what this is): A set of questions, posed at random. Plus, at least one question, or half-question, is designed to find out something about their personality that most people might never suspect (I mean expect).

CJ Cornell is a serial entrepreneur, investor, advisor, mentor, author, speaker, and educator. As an entrepreneur, CJ Cornell was a founder of more than a dozen successful startup ventures that collectively attracted over $250 million in private funding; created nearly a thousand new jobs; and launched dozens of innovative consumer, media, and communications products — that have exceeded $3 billion in revenues.

He is the author of the bestsellingThe Age of Metapreneurship — A Journey into the Future of Entrepreneurship.”

And the upcoming “The Startup Brain Trust — A Guidebook for Startups, Entrepreneurs, and the Mentors that Help them Become Great.”

Follow him @cjcornell or visit: www.cjcornell.com

CJ Cornell

Professor of #Entrepreneurship & Digital Media. Serial/Parallel Entrepreneur, Author, Speaker, Mentor, Angel Investor, #VC. Crowdfunding & #Startups Evangelist