The Launch Path

What this is all about.

I was lucky enough to grow up in Silicon Valley, and I’ve been immersed in the startup world for my whole career. This set of Medium posts is my attempt to distill the lessons I’ve learned in my career into a framework to help entrepreneurs everywhere to thrive and succeed.

I started my first business at the age of 18. It went bankrupt within two years. Since then I’ve started four more companies, sometimes with better results.

I’ve raised angel capital, I’ve raised venture capital, I’ve spent it all and then raised some more. I’ve hired some great people and…

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From fintechs to last-mile distribution, Latin American startups are hot right now.

As I’ve written before, the defining characteristic of the 21st Century is that innovation and entrepreneurship is happening all over the world today. It’s not just all about Silicon Valley anymore.

Nowhere is that more true than in Latin America. In 2011, the value of venture capital investments in Latin America was $140M — today it’s nearly 30x that, at more than $4B, and growing fast.

Photo by Samyak Bothra on Unsplash

I had a call the other day with a friend of mine and we were talking about how grey markets can often be signals of entrepreneurial opportunity.

Probably one of the most famous examples is digital music. In the early 2000’s, college kids were busy sharing “illegal” music downloads, and the record labels were busy suing college kids and forcing Napster into bankruptcy. Steve Jobs saw this as opportunity, created iTunes, and successfully got all the major record labels to agree to signing on for $1/download, turning an underground market into a billion dollar business. iTunes begat Pandora, which begat…

The most spectacular new product failure, ever.

The Launch Path

History is littered with failed products, but this one is universally described as the worst ever.

The greatest new product failure in American history was the Ford Edsel. It’s still legendary for how spectacularly it failed, and the name has become synonymous with disastrous product development.

The Ford Motor Company had their IPO in 1956. It was, at the time, the most successful IPO in American history, and they decided to spend all that new cash developing the most sophisticated automobile line ever. They went out and hired the world’s top engineers, who then spent 3 years and $250 million developing the new car (called the Edsel, named for Henry Ford’s grandson). …

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The Launch Path

It begins by noticing a problem worth solving.

What problem does your startup solve? Many novice entrepreneurs, when asked this question, will give long, meandering answers filled with jargon, buzzwords, and meaningless gobbledygook. They are deep in the weeds.

In the first cohort of the 4thly Startup Accelerator, we had an entrepreneur, Alex, who was a data scientist using AI to help pharmaceutical companies with complex pre-clinical trials. When asked what problem he solved, he responded crisply:

Drug discovery is slow and expensive. Pharma companies spend billions on the process, and often get deep into development before rejecting a drug candidate.

Boom! And really, all he really needed…

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You could pay big money to Hopin, On24, or Vimeo Live. Or you could roll-your-own, using ingredients you probably already have.

During The Time of Covid, we’ve all tried to figure out how to do virtual events and conferences. Initially, we all used Zoom because that was what we already knew. But Zoom’s webinar functionality isn’t great, since that’s not their core use case. There are bunch of new virtual events platforms such as Hopin and On24, but my experience with them is that they are pricey and buggy.

And so for Demo Day for the 4thly Startup Accelerator last month I decided I’d try to create my own, using tools I already had — and I was surprised at how…

The Launch Path, Step 8.

Every great entrepreneur has the ability to tell a crisp, clear, and compelling story about what she’s working on — and why it matters.

Sidebar Articles:
On pitch decks.
Preparing great presentations.
Presenting your startup at Demo Day.

If you walk into Warren Buffett’s office, you might think you’d see his framed diploma from Columbia Business School. But you won’t. Instead, you’ll see proudly displayed on his wall a 1952 certificate for completing a $100 course on public speaking. It was while he was a 22-year-old at Columbia that he saw an ad in the paper for a Dale Carnegie public speaking course. “I went to Midtown, signed up, and gave them a check. But after I left, I swiftly stopped payment. I just…

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The Launch Path

Optimizing your path to startup success.

— -Note that this is under development. I am making it available on Medium, as I am writing it. I welcome your input. Thanks! —

When I teach entrepreneurship at Stanford, in our first session I ask how many students are in the class hoping to get a business plan template of some sort. Typically around a third of them raise their hand, and I encourage them to drop the course immediately. Because entrepreneurial success has nothing to do with writing business plans.

No business plan ever survived first contact with actual customers.
-Steve Blank

Entrepreneurial success is mostly about…

Photo from Unsplash.

Table of Contents

A framework under development.

The Launch Path is a framework designed to help entrepreneurs get efficiently from an early idea to successful startup venture. I’m developing the content here, so please be aware that it’s a work-in-progress. Input welcome!

How to use this framework.

Step 1: Listen to the waves.
Step 2: Build something people want.
Step 3: Draw the landscape.
Step 4: Build an engine of growth.
Step 5: Create an economic model.
Step 6: Create a capital strategy.
∞ Step 7: Frame a funnel.
Step 8: Be a master storyteller.

A legal primer for Entrepreneurs.
★ Resources for Entrepreneurs
A brief history of Silicon Valley.
The women who built Silicon Valley

Bret Waters

I’m a Silicon Valley guy. I teach entrepreneurship at Stanford, coach startup CEO’s at Miller Center, and run the 4thly Startup Accelerator. Also, I love tacos.

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