In a crowded seminar room in Silicon Valley recently, author Steve Blank asked the audience who among them wished to start their own company. A few dozen hands shot up. “The good news,” said Blank, whose second book, The Startup Owner’s Manual, hit shelves in March, “is that one of you will be worth $100 million in 10 years. The bad news: the rest of you would have been better off working at Walmart.”
Blank has never been shy about his opinions. His first book, The Four Steps to the Epiphany, unintentionally vilified both venture capitalists and business school scholars. (It is now widely credited for helping to kick off the lean startup movement). Blank has since established credibility in other areas of entrepreneurial importance, most notably his work on customer development, and teaches business classes at Stanford, U.C. Berkeley and Columbia. Fortune caught up with the eight-time serial entrepreneur. What follows is a lightly edited transcript.
You’ve said that entrepreneurs are “crazy.” Why do you think that?
As it turns out most of the time, (founders) are actually hallucinating, and every once in a while they’re actually visionaries. They are insanely driven to bring that thing they see to fruition. And they need to be because of the amount of travails they go through in making something out of nothing. Founders create on a blank canvas; founders are closer to artists than they are to engineers or business people. They make things happen. And they need this perseverance and tenacity and resilience to drive them through those obstacles, because rationally, it would make a lot more sense to just exchange your labor for money.
What is the biggest mistake that young entrepreneurs make?
Wanting to become an entrepreneur because it’s cool. ‘Gee, my friends are doing it,’ or ‘look at Mark Zuckerberg.’ It’s like wanting to play the lottery or wanting to become an NBA basketball star because you think it’s cool. With all due respect, this is a press problem. Being an entrepreneur is a dirty, finger nail-breaking, hard, backbreaking, exhausting job. It looks good on paper, but the biggest mistake young entrepreneurs make is confusing it with a job. It’s not.
Epiphanies can have a powerful impact on an entrepreneur. How can you tell the difference between an epiphany and a daydream?
A daydream is (when) you have ideas, but you simply don’t test them or figure out whether they’re nothing more than guesses. One of the things that make entrepreneurs successful is they not only have a vision, they actually know how to get out and create. This act of creation is what separates the winners and losers. An epiphany is what happens when you’ve been working and collecting an enormous amount of data, but you haven’t approached the problem in some analytical way. It just kind of came to you one day in a flash. Epiphanies are extremely rare; you don’t get them by locking yourself in the building.
Read more: Kurt Wagner, CNN