Company: Lean Startup Machine
Founder: Trevor Owens
Year founded: 2010
Location: New York, NY
Trevor Owens, 24, has started several businesses in his short life, but he didn’t hit his entrepreneurial stride until he realized that the process of starting a business was, in itself, the foundation of a company. To date, Lean Startup Machine, a three-day workshop where budding entrepreneurs learn to validate and tweak new ideas, has worked with more than 1,000 entrepreneurs in 17 workshops held in nine cities. This year, Owens is planning another 50 workshops and is taking his business global.
The young CEO has had plenty of first hand experience with startups. He launched his first company in high school, when he started a Web development service with a friend. While attending Iowa State University, a visit to China sparked an idea to import Chinese electric scooters to the U.S. With $10,000 borrowed from friends and family, he arranged to have a dozen scooters imported through a company in Los Angeles. “I built a website, and then I spent three months trying to market them,” he recalls. “I thought I was really smart. I parked in front of the gym, and near the dining hall. I sold one.” The remainder, he says, are still in storage.
In 2008, Owens transferred to NYU, where a class called Ready, Fire!, Aim, taught by Lawrence Lenihan, a founder and managing director of FirstMark Capital, “changed my life,” says Owens. The class encouraged a “just do it” approach to startups, stressing the importance of launching fast and then pivoting according to market needs. Owens did exactly that. He started an online marketplace for tours of New York City, created an iPad app to teach Chinese to kids and started Tech@NYU, which hosted events featuring prominent speakers from the New York tech world. But it was Lean Startup Machine, a three-day bootcamp for entrepreneurs, that finally gave Owens his entrepreneurial wings. He recruited mentors like Brandt Cooper and Eric Ries, pioneers in the lean startup movement, to coach his workshop participants, who pay $300 each for the three-day program.
“People come with a team, or they can come as an individual and new teams form,” says Owens. “We teach them the principles of lean startup, they create action steps and, by Saturday morning, they’re going up to people on the street, or sending out surveys, or going to social media.” The idea is to find out quickly if the entrepreneur is targeting the right customer, and if that customer really has the problem that the business intends to solve. Each team makes a presentation on Sunday night and the two companies with the most customer validation earn the opportunity to meet further with mentors and potential investors. After the first couple of bootcamps, Owens was convinced that “a whole semester of doing business plans was not as beneficial as these three days.” So he dropped out of NYU to devote himself full time to Lean Startup Machine.
The company now has four full-time employees, eight part-timers and is “aggressively hiring more,” says Owens. He still has taken no outside investors. A big growth area, he says, will be custom workshops for corporate customers that want employees to think more entrepreneurially. “We did our first corporate event last week for The Library Corp,” he says. “And we have a lot of other leads.”
The number of bootcamps is increasing as well, and Owens believes a recent success will fuel even more demand. Branch, a platform for bloggers that was born at Lean Startup Machine last summer, recently announced $2 million in funding from the co-founders of Twitter, Evan Williams and Biz Stone. The co-founders actually met at Lean Startup Machine, and the company was incubated in Owens’ offices for several months. Their success is a feather in Owens’ cap and, most importantly, provides him with his own form of customer validation.
Illustration by Cannaday Chapman