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A Conversation with Steve Blank

Alliance of Angels Workshop: A Conversation with Steve Blank (@sgblank)

July 22 @ 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm | Free

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The Lean Startup is everywhere — being used by thousands of companies, taught in 100s of schools and adopted by the U.S. government to commercialize science.

Join author and educator Steve Blank, father of the Lean Startup movement, in conversation with Sandy Sharma, co-founder and partner at 9Mile Labs, as he explains
+ What the Lean Startup is
+ How and why it’s being used by companies, universities and federal research agencies
+ What’s next for the movement

3 Reasons Customer Traction is the Most Important Metric For Your Startup

9Mile Labs is hosting Milestone9, our Demo Day on Thursday, May 14, 9:30AM at Showbox SoDo. To attend one of the most exciting startup events in Seattle, register at with promo code STARTUPS.

You know you have a winning idea. Yet, everyone wants to know about customer traction. Why is it that you can’t get through one investor or mentor conversation without this cropping up? Why does it matter?

1) Personal Affirmation. You, the entrepreneur, conceived the idea, it keeps you awake at night, you jump out of bed in the morning to work on it, you have deep conviction around it and are passionate about seeing it succeed. However, here’s the rub. Just because you think or believe it’s a good idea does not mean it actually is a viable business. And you can build the best product in the world, but if no one wants it, it remains a science project.

Finding customers who will try your product, pay for it and tell others about it is a good way to prove to yourself that your idea has legs and can potentially turn into more than a hobby.

2) Communicating Momentum to Investors. You probably need investment to see your idea through to fruition. Now let’s get this straight, there are only two experts on your product, you and your potential customers. Most experienced investors are very good at asking you incisive questions to elicit valuable information about the viability of your business. Sometimes, it may even appear that the investor is only interested in tripping the entrepreneur up or show off their own smarts. I would argue that this is not typically true; investors are merely attempting to be responsible stewards of their personal or their fund investors’ wealth.

However, the best way to shortcut all of these long-drawn and sometimes painful conversations with investors is to show them customer traction. You’ll notice that once you show customer acquisition, product usage and customer growth, the line of questioning changes from the viability of the idea to scaling, team-building and even investment terms.

3) Benchmark your business. You started your business with a number of assumptions such as customer problem, product features, pricing, sales cycle, SEO, SEM, social media marketing costs, cost of customer acquisition, lifetime value of customer etc. Regardless of your personal conviction about these assumptions, most of them are —at least initially — wrong. By continuously validating these assumptions with customers, you gain a deeper level of insight which allow you to make course corrections on product roadmap or business strategy.

Your customer traction demonstrates that you’re testing and validating your assumptions, it gives you a working hypothesis around what works and reassures investors that you’re learning as you go along

Come meet our 9 Exceptional B2B Technology Startups on Nov 20

What is a startup accelerator and how can it help launch a technology idea into a market-ready business? Who is developing some of the best B2B and cloud-services technologies in the Pacific Northwest? Why is our region one of the best in the country for cloud and B2B startups? Our latest Milestone9 event will answer these questions, and introduce the 9 companies graduating from our program. Join us Thursday, November 20, from 2:00-6:00 p.m. at the Washington State Convention Center by registering at

The Pacific Northwest is home to some of the top enterprise and cloud services companies in the world, and should be a beacon to any enterprise startup. Concur is one such remarkable success story, and we’re excited to have its co-founder, COO and Chairman Rajeev Singh keynote the event. He’ll help welcome hundreds of business leaders, entrepreneurs, investors, mentors, friends and family for great content, discussions, networking and demonstrations of some of the hottest technologies launching today!

This marks the third successful cohort of companies from the 9Mile Labs program and we can’t wait to help launch them into the community. And if you’re entrepreneurs interested in joining a B2B startup accelerator, our next program kicks off in January 2015 – application deadline December 4. Whether launching a startup out of college, from of an established career, or developing an idea on the side, entrepreneurs can apply to our program at any time here.

Register soon and we’ll see you there!

Top 5 Traits of Great Startup Leaders

The top reason for most investors to commit funding into a startup is the founding team. Clearly, the leaders of a startup set the tone for the entire team. So how does one identify a good leader?

At 9Mile Labs, we’ve attempted to tease out the traits of great startup leaders. We term these traits “Entrepreneurial Aptitude” and constantly look for these among startup teams, especially during our cohort selection process

1. Self-awareness: Successful entrepreneurs know what they don’t know. Successful leaders recognize their gaps and want to surround themselves with people smarter than and different from themselves. This awareness is a critical determinant of hiring, funding and mentoring decisions. Great startup leaders appreciate the importance of listening and learning, can handle the push back, and don’t surround themselves with yes-men.

2. Strong bias towards action: Speed is a critical determinant of success in a startup. It’s better to make three wrong decisions now and learn from them to arrive at the right one than to have endlessly (over-) analyzed in the quest for perfection. Successful leaders have a sense of urgency, are comfortable with risk and trust their instincts.

3. Fluid intelligence: Great leaders have the ability to learn and make new rules as they go along…by first recognizing that the old ones just don’t work any more. While remaining flexible and nimble, good startup leaders are able to maintain the fine balance between coachability and deep conviction about their vision in the face of all odds.

4. Internal motivation: Great startup leaders don’t need to be coaxed out of bed in the morning, they don’t make excuses for failure, and they don’t ask or wait for permission. They take accountability for their decisions and believe that the buck really does stop with them.

5. Ability to motivate and lead others: These leaders are able to infect others with their irrational optimism even while being transparent about the facts. They take responsibility for bad decisions and give credit to team members for the good ones. Great startup leaders are able attract others into working with them for next to nothing because of their sense of mission and caring.

Just to be clear, this list is by no means static and will continue to get refined; it also does not obviate the need to trust intuition and gut instinct. But the attributes listed above continue to rise up to the top in our discussions.

If this sounds like you, then don’t give up! If your idea doesn’t work the first time or doesn’t fit into a market opportunity, you likely have what it takes to evolve it or fail quickly and start working towards your next idea.

Startup accelerators are an exceptional source of support for helping to develop leaders and businesses for market-readiness in months. The 9Mile Labs B2B startup accelerator is accepting applications for its Spring 2015 cohort now, with information and applications online here.

Meet the Accelerator —9Mile Labs partners presenting, judging and hosting this month

It’s October. Wow, already? But it’s a busy month with Cohort III at the midway point and serious work ahead! It’s also one of our favorite months at 9Mile Labs because of the bustle of B2B tech activity in the Northwest, much of which we look forward to participating in. Here’s a snapshot of where to find our team this month…

B2B Startup Meetup
October 8, 6:00-7:30 pm, 9Mile Labs Offices, 999 3rd Ave., Suite 700, Seattle

The Northwest’s first B2B tech startup Meetup kicks off October 8 in our offices. Sponsored by Altus Alliance, Summit Law Group and 9Mile Labs, the Meetup will launch important discussions about the most fundamental, yet essential tool every B2B company needs to know and understand: a winning B2B sales process. Effectively designed and executed, the sales funnel will determine your marketing needs, headcount, forecast, product roadmap, bottlenecks to close, how you compare to others in your industry, and a lot more. RSVP here.


October 15, 5:30-6:45 pm, The Westin St. Francis San Francisco on Union Square

9Mile Labs Partner Sanjay Puri will present on the panel “Meet the Catalysts – Advice from the Hottest Enterprise Accelerators.” Come to hear from the directors of some of the hottest enterprise Accelerators around, and find out if an Accelerator program is right for your business startup.

Startup Next

October 14 through November 12, Startup Hall, 1100 NE Campus Parkway University of Washington

9Mile Labs Partners Kevin Croy and Sanjay Puri are judging and advising young entrepreneurs at this awesome month-long event. Startup Next is the #1 startup pre-accelerator in the world, helping graduates get accepted into 9Mile Labs, Techstars, 500 Startups and many other top accelerators.


October 17-18, The Hub, University of Washington

DubHacks hosts the top college hackers in the northwest, and Kevin Croy will help judge the next generation of innovative software and hardware tech. This is a killer event for seeing the latest innovations coming out of UW, and every demo, app and idea reveal seems more impressive than the next.


And looking ahead to November, you’ll want to save the date for:

B2B Startup Weekend

November 7-9

After sponsoring the world’s first B2B Startup Weekend, the 9Mile Labs team is excited to sponsor another edition of this event. Sanjay and Kevin will judge and mentor another hot new pool of entrepreneurial talent at this year’s Startup Weekend. Don’t miss the event that is the drumroll to one of our biggest events of the year: Milestone9!


November 20, 2:00-6:00 pm, Washington State Convention Center

Our bi-annual event features the graduating companies from the current 4-month 9Mile program. We’re planning incredible speakers, content, technology demonstrations and an opportunity for startups and entrepreneurs — whether out of college or out of Microsoft and Amazon — to meet the investors, mentors and advisors that can help build their companies into hot market performers! Email us if you’d like an invite to this event.