Bend Venture Conference

Video: Keynote speaker talks about customer development and sales

By Rachael Rees / The Bulletin

Published Oct 18, 2013 at 05:00AM

An increasing number of startup companies have adopted a development model called lean startup, which favors experimentation, customer feedback and minimalist prototypes over elaborate planning, intuition and costly product development.

And one of its biggest advocates, entrepreneur Steve Blank, is scheduled to give the keynote address at today'sBend Venture Conference at the Tower Theatre.

Blank — who's started eight companies in 21 years, written several books on entrepreneurship and teaches the subject — said he was invited to the conference by Dino Vendetti, Bend resident and Silicon Valley venture capitalist. Blank last visited Bend about 15 years ago, he said during an interview earlier this month.

He's heard a lot has changed, and that Bend has become a hub of entrepreneurial activity.

“If somebody would have told me that (back then), I would have wondered what they were smoking and growing,” he said. “And now I realize Bend seems to be a good town for entrepreneurship, and I'm going to go and spend some time and figure out why that's the case.”

Now, in its 10th year, the conference has been the foundation of the region's entrepreneurial activity. It has been joined in recent years by other activities, like FoundersPad, the business accelerator.

Today, 11 startups — six concept-stage and five launch-stage — are scheduled to participate in the conference.

Blank's advice for the competitors: Make sure to have customer validation.

“If they're going to be telling me and the audience about their idea without validation from customers ... all they have is an idea, and my dog has ideas,” he said.

Without engaging potential customers, entrepreneurs are building their businesses off untested assumptions.

Regardless of who wins, he said, the goal as an entrepreneur is to build a profitable and scalable company, not win a competition.

“At the end of the day, if you are in fact focused on winning the contest, you are out of business,” he said. “Venture conferences are not entrepreneurship; they are beauty contests for investors.”