The Blank-Shirt – an accidentally successful story

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The idea to create the Blank-Shirt was born on a beautiful sunny day in Cologne. During our usual Tuesday brainstorming meet-up, we gathered around to discuss exciting business ideas. The plan was to take the case we like the most and validate in a short period of time it by applying the Lean Startup techniques. However this time it was different. We wrote down every idea we had and then suddenly out of nowhere… BANG! We had a break through: “Guys, why don’t we put Steve on a T-Shirt and make some noise for the Lean Startup movement in Germany?”

The one & only Blank-Shirt produced with plenty of Love in Cologne!

The one & only Blank-Shirt. Produced with plenty of Love in Cologne!


The idea of the Blank-Shirt was born!

In a sudden moment of inspiration we decided to show our respect for Steve Blank – the man who practically established the origins of the Lean Startup Theory. Steve is a serial entrepreneur from the Silicon Valley teaching Lean Startup at Stanford and other prestigious universities in the USA. He is also the initiator of the Startup Weekend NEXT Program. This great curriculum teaches entrepreneurs to seek contact to potential customers and talk to them before building a product or a service. Our team had the chance to be among the first participants in the NEXT Program outside the USA. After being praised as the top team of the program we fell in love with the method, and now we have the opportunity to show our love.

Following these events, things were set in motion very quickly. On the same day we came up with a draft of the Blank-Shirt which we later showed to friends and asked for opinions. It was extremely important to know whether or not our potential buyers are going to like the design as much as we do before production. So, as diligent practitioners we began validating the idea of the Blank-Shirt by starting directly with a couple of interviews. We showed our design to other CustDev-fans and asked them if they liked it and how much they would pay for it.  Although we got our question answered, this experiment was wrong. Here’s why:

Rule #1 in Lean Startup!

Don’t EVER believe people when they make predictions about their own intentions. If they tell you they like your product and will buy it, it most probably means they are lying to you! People really suck at giving bad feedback to others, because they just don’t want to hurt your feelings by calling your baby ugly; therefore they will mostly give you positive feedback without meaning it.

We tested the idea with an MVP

Instead of interviewing potential clients we observed their actual behaviour. This gave us far more valuable information. We created a simple MVP where the Blank-Shirt was available for pre-order. The method allowed us to test various pricing models while keeping the financial risk at almost 0, while simultaneously getting feedback on the product. The plan was to manufacture just after a certain quota was achieved.

We started pushing our social media channels in an attempt to get the attention of local founders. In an instant we got the first pre-orders and an encouraging feedback. It was a moment of great enthusiasm.  We thought we made it! However our initial excitement was soon blown over after selling a total of 6 T-Shirts. Our local market was saturated and nobody was pre-ordering anymore.

Meanwhile, Vidar Andersen, entrepreneur, educator & advisor living in Cologne was on his way to the Silicon Valley, where he was to give a talk at the Stanford University about the startup scene in Cologne.

This was our chance!

We gave Vidar 2 Blank-Shirts – one for himself and another one for Steve. The reaction of the crowd at Stanford was great. Everybody loved the Blank-Shirt. That was awesome! We received pre-orders from all over the world – Brazil, Canada, Portugal, Spain, USA. We also  got  honoured by some great tweets:

Overall, the Blank-Shirt was a great success for us. We achieved the pre-order quota and shipped Blank-Shirts to people from 8 countries on 3 continents. The project didn’t make us rich; however, it laid the basis for friendships with some great people and we also learnt a great lean startup lesson.

I would like to share with you some pictures that we received from friends with the Blank-Shirt:


Ben Sufiani with the Blank-Shirt

A real pirate – Ben Sufiani @bensufiani with the Blank-Shirt at our awesome co-working space – STARTPLATZ.



Dean Prelazzi with the Blank-Shirt at the Growth Conference in Vancouver

Dean Prelazzi @DeanPrelazzi Managing Director of BC Acceleration Network with the Blank-Shirt at the Growth Conference in Vancouver.



Stefano Pepe @stefanopep3 posing with the Blank-Shirt at the Telecom Italia Incubator in Rome

Stefano Pepe @stefanopep3 from AppsBuilder with the Blank-Shirt at the Telecom Italia Incubator in Rome.



Robson Gimenes with the Blank-Shirt

Robson Gimenes @robsongimenes - lean startup evangelist from Sao Paulo.


Mitko & Manuel

Blank-Shirt meets Pirate Summit at Pirates on Shore Sofia

Dimitar Morfov and Manuel Koelman @manuelkoelman at Pirates on Shore in Sofia.



Ali Mokhtari with the Blank-Shirt in Coratia

Ali Mokhtari @derschoeneali from with the Blank-Shirt in Croatia.



Alex Strieder with the Blank-Shirt at Clusterhaus Cologne

Alex Strieder @AlexStrieder founder of QDEGA at Clusterhaus in Cologne.


This is just a small part of the proud Blank-Shirt owners. My team and I want to thank you all who supported us in spreading the love for the lean startup method! And guys, don’t forget to

Get out of the building!

Author: Mladen

Co-founder of LEANHEROES. Passionate about startups, customer development and loves to pitch his ideas.

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