The Michigan Lean Startup Conference: An Attendee's Perspective

Fresh on the heels of QC Merge I found myself en route to Grand Rapids for the region’s best kept secret, at least as far as lean startups are concerned, the Michigan Lean Startup Conference (MLSC). The second year conference is sponsored by Momentum, a Michigan-based seed stage accelerator. New this year was a day of workshops taught by Ash Maurya, Brant Cooper, and Patrick Vlaskovits. In addition to the speakers, the event also offers regional entrepreneurs the ability to showcase their projects via lightening intros during breaks and at booths setup outside the conference room.

Startup Luminaries

Eric Ries himself spoke at last year’s inaugural event. The highlight of this year’s event was Steve Blank’s presentation given via Skype. Aside from Steve’s talk, my personal favorites were the presentations by Ash (as a fellow bootstrapper, I’m a big fan of Ash’s), App Sumo’s Noah Kagan, and veteran MLSC presenter, Dan Martell who was to speak in-person but also presented via Skype due to a travel snafu.

With luminairies like these it’s a mystery to me why this event is attracting primarily western Michigan attendees. The only exception I encountered was Bloomington-based entrepreneur Nick Tippmann who I had met at The Brandery’s Office Hours a few weeks ago. I’d estimate there were about 200 attendees, about 30 of which attended the workshops the following day. The general consensus of the presentations was very positive, matching the energy level I sensed at last year’s event, and the workshops were equally we received.

Just Like Last Year, Only Better!

One contrast of significance from last year’s event was the caliber of entrepreneurs with whom I spoke. It seemed last year that the wantrepreneurs were everywhere. This year, everyone I spoke with seemed to have drunk the lean startup Kool-aid. This appraisal was born out not only by the appearance of “all the right words” in conversations but in-depth examinations during the workshops. Without exception, everyone I spoke to was proud to discuss the experiments they had run and the learning which resulted. What’s more, there wasn’t a stealth startup to be found.

Bonus Material

My weekend in Grand Rapids did not end there. Saturday the folks at Atomic Object hosted “User Experience for Lean Startups” presented by Lane Halley from LUXr. My main take aways from this workshop are to not underestimate the impact of visual learning (thank you clothespin man!), and personas are powerful tools that serve both to flesh out facts about your product’s users and provide a concrete focal point for the product team.

I’m extremely envious of the MLSC and wish there was a similarly focused event here in Ohio. Fortunately, it’s not a long drive to Grand Rapids, even from my corner of the Buckeye state, and the commute takes me out of the local startup eco-system and offers an opportunity to share experiences and ideas with leaders from another. Kudos to the MLSC team for hosting a very informative event and hope to see you again next year.

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