Trevor Owens: the man teaching the world to start startups

Postulate One: Entrepreneurship can be learned

I first met Trevor two years ago at a conference in Kansas City. He had healthy skin that was stretched tight across his face, marked with piercings. Two of them were anchored to the back of his neck. He’d befriended a colleague of mine, and we greeted each other as we both reached for a bowl of trail mix. The conversation turned to the benefits of liquid diet, and I got a quick lesson on the merits of protein and wheatgrass-boosted smoothies, three times daily. I was impressed. He was running three startups at the same time, and had just dropped out of NYU. I was wowed.

One of those infant companies was called Lean Startup Machine, a venture now entering it’s adolescence. It was his favorite by far, and I started hearing about lean startup methodology as soon as we got passed the smoothies. The idea behind it is very simple: anyone can learn to be an entrepreneur. You just have to get them testing their ideas and talking to customers.

Lean Startup Machine runs weekend-long workshops that help their participants do just that. The aspiring entrepreneurs, each with their own daring idea, pitches at the beginning of the conference and form teams. But, unlike the Startup Weekend model, the goal isn’t to actually launch a startup. It’s just to learn whether the idea is good or not. According to Trevor, it probably isn’t, because you’re not smart enough to know on your own—only your customers can tell you if you’ve got something viable. So after teaching you how to prove yourself wrong, he teaches you how to find new ideas. “It’s essentially applying the scientific method to entrepreneurship.” he says.

The company is taking off, riding the coattails of the ideology as much Trevor’s success. Everyone from Google to Harvard Business School is teaching it; the bible of the doctrine, The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, is 138 on the Amazon Best Seller List and rising. Trevor is in perfect position to seize on the opportunity. He, and his quickly growing team of 12 employees, are planning on launching 50 events this year across the world to achieve a million dollars in revenue, a ten fold growth over 2011.

Trevor got here because he loves to work. In fact, he defines himself through his work. I visited him five times over the course of two years, and every single visit began at his office in Dogpatch Labs, a co-working space in the East Village. I learned that if he invited me over for beer, I should bring a computer, because we would probably spend an hour answering emails before we actually went anywhere. Even if he did offer me a beer when we got there, he would crack two of them and go back to his computer, barely finishing three sips before we left.

When we did go out, we talked about startups. It was an entrepreneurial version of watercooler talk, gossiping about who got funded by which VC, who was hustling on the next facebook, and whose ideas were totally off. Even his love life seems focused on work—he dates a graphic designer that had attended one of his companies, and that he recruited to work for him.

His devotion to his company, however, gives one an unshakeable faith in his ability to succeed. He will not fail, because he will not stop. It’s almost as if he can’t stop.

What’s important is that Trevor believes in his vision more powerfully than anyone his age I’ve met. His head is wrapped around it, always turning new ways of implementation, such that even when he’s talking to you you feel like he’s still concentrating on it.

His head lives in his vision, a vision where thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs are empowered to start better businesses because they know how to create a good idea. Faster and faster, that vision is forming into a reality.


One Response to Trevor Owens: the man teaching the world to start startups

  1. Andy Leeka says:

    Remember last year December 3rd when we had the once-every-100-year, 100 mile per hour winds that uprooted trees in Pasadena and La Canada? Well that is the time my two buddies and I decided to ride from La Canada to Las Vegas. We took back roads through deserted desert towns like Bagdad, Kelso, Cema, Siberia, and Nipton. My bike weighed in at 73 lbs.
    We finished the trip in 4 days after having been blown off our bikes going over Angeles Forest and feeling the chill of frostbite on my left hand.
    Although it was the toughest ride I have ever taken (including the Leadville race in Colorado), I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I met amazing people who restored my faith in the goodness and kind hearts in each of us.
    Ride safe. Don’t give up. And enjoy the experience over the ride. Andy

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