The Launch Path

The Launch Path is a startup methodology created by Bret Waters as part of his work at Stanford University. It is a framework for successfully creating a launch-ready, investment-ready venture. It builds upon the well-established work of Steve Blank and Eric Ries (Customer Development and Lean Startup methodologies), while filling-in some crucial gaps in this body of work. Each week of the 4thly Startup Accelerator begins with a lecture associated with The Launch Path, and a deliverable assignment.

Going through this Launch Path process will dramatically improve the chances of your venture’s success. And the set of deliverables that you end up with are exactly the things you should have as you walk into any investor discussion. Most importantly, the process of going through The Launch Path will help you to get clarity on your venture and the drivers for its success or failure.

Step 1: Listen to the waves.
Where do great startup ideas come from? The mythology is that entrepreneurs “think up” an idea, but most great ventures actually begin when an entrepreneur notices a problem and falls in love with solving it. Deliverable: Write a short paragraph describing the problem your startup solves, and why it’s a problem worth solving.

Step 2: Build something people want.
Building a product that you and your team thinks the world needs is usually a path to failure. What matters is building something that actual customers want. Deliverable: Write a one-pager that describes how you will use concepts such as Design Thinking, Customer Development, and Lean Startup/MVP in order to get to the elusive Product-Market Fit.

Step 3: Draw the landscape.
The worst thing you can tell a venture capital investor is that you have no competition. Every venture operates within a universe of competitors and alternatives. Deliverable: Draw a diagram that provides a visualization of the landscape of competitors and alternatives, and how your venture fits within that landscape.

Step 4: Build an engine of growth.
A business model describes the rationale by which your venture will create, deliver, and capture value. Many startups fail because they don’t correctly assess all the components to their business model, and where the risks are. Deliverable: Produce a Business Model Canvas for your venture, identify the risk components, and think about how you will test your assumptions.

Step 5: Create an economic model.
Ultimately, the numbers have to work. We love spreadsheets. Deliverable: Produce a comprehensive set of spreadsheets that show the economic model for your venture, including Unit Economics.

Step 6: Develop a capital strategy.
There are many ways to finance a startup in 2021. From venture capital to crowdfunding, from customer financing to Rich Uncle Bob. Deliverable: Create a capital plan for your venture, based on the economic model that you created.

Step 7: Frame a Funnel.
The leading cause of startup death is a lack of customers. The second-leading cause is realizing too late that CAC > LTV. Let’s avoid both those things. Deliverable: A document that describes your customer acquisition plan, including some validated numbers on CAC < LTV.

Step 8: Be a master storyteller.
Every great entrepreneur has the ability to tell a crisp clear and compelling story about what she’s working on, and why it matters. Deliverable: A one-sentence pitch, a one-paragraph pitch, and a 3-minute slide deck delivered as a kick-ass pitch at the 4thly Demo Day.