Lean Startup Machine in strategic partnership with Microsoft, but is it endowed with the very tools it teaches?

By Cale Guthrie Weissman , written on January 14, 2014

From The News Desk


There's no hard science for starting a company. Sure, there are practices entrepreneurs should employ to make the arduous process somewhat easier, but every business is unique. That's where Lean Startup Machine, which has been getting a lot of traction as of late, comes in.

The program, which launched in 2010, leads three-day workshops for entrepreneurs to test out business ideas as well as get mentorship from other successful business people. It's not so much a program to teach you how to start a company -- although it can certainly help -- but a methodology to test what you're doing. If the idea isn't good enough, LSM shows you how to adapt and pivot. LSM is a Techstars graduate, generated more than $1 million in revenue, and today is announcing a strategic partnership with Microsoft Ventures.

Through this partnership the LSM program, which held over 100 events this past year, will be expanding to 600 cities. Additionally, the company is launching its new platform, dubbed LSM 2.0. The company's young founder and CEO, Trevor Owens, who dropped out of NYU's business school to start his company, explained the program as "the university around lean startup techniques," a company-building pedagogy first posited by Eric Ries. Owens says he likes "helping people create things that are bigger than themselves."

LSM touts notable graduates, including Twenty20 and Branch (which was acquired by Facebook yesterday for a reported $15 million). Additionally, Owens says the program attracted "top names" to speak at workshops, including Mark Suster and Eric Ries. This partnership should only increase the programs repute. Owens told me that the last year has been spent building new tools and practices, which included Javelin, a tool for people to experiment with product ideas.

Now, with this expansion and new platform, as well as the talent the company has accrued to help lead the seminars, Owens says LSM has "just enough experience that we've templated it."

The real issue following this announcement is whether enough hopeful entrepreneurs will adopt Owens' method and attend the seminars at the scale he is hoping. The last three years have taught him how to capitalize on his idea and scale the business (something his very pedagogy teaches), and now begins the test for whether a wider audience is actually ready for it.

Take, for example, an article written in Pando a few days back. Lyle McKeany attended an LSM program and wrote about his trials and tribulations. He had an idea going into it, thought the workshop would help him out, and he ended up encountering many stumbling blocks. He concluded that LSM taught some valuable lessons, but it "[steers] some entrepreneurs away from ideas that might have the potential to lead them on a path to building the next great company of our time." That is, it provides useful tools for people, but may not be exactly applicable to all potentially successful ideas.

Owens, a mere two days later, rebutted some of McKeany's claims, saying that LSM shows people the pitfalls they will encounter in the real world. The problem Owens saw with McKeany's experience was that his product didn't answer a real problem. In Owens' estimation, LSM won't teach someone to take any idea and make it a successful business, it will show people whether it is a good idea, and provide resources to pivot the idea to make it successful. He infers that perhaps McKeany's idea just didn't fit that bill.

Many people like McKeany exist, and this begs the question of whether this expansion will be met with enough demand. Owens has created a valuable program able to scale, but are there enough entrepreneurs and entrepreneur wannabes ready to adopt a niche company-building pedagogy?

I think so, and having Microsoft on its side doesn't hurt either.