Why We Are Stalking a Bus Full of Hipster Geeks
It is beyond the point of questioning that creating a company is difficult. In order to make it more difficult, and thus increase the funsanity, a gentleman named Elias Bizannes created a project called the StartupBus. This is from the project’s website:
StartupBus began life as a joke in Australia: a roadtrip starting in San Francisco with friends, but with the twist of launching a startup on arrival in Austin in time for the SxSW technology conference. Somehow though, people thought Elias Bizannes (our founder and fearless leader) was actually serious. A few unexpected blog articles and many emails later, he was stuck with having to now make good on his pub night promise.
A month before departure in March 2010, Elias hustled to find a bus with wifi, sponsors to cover the costs, and he also selected the original Buspreneurs. Those 25 people without realising it set the tone, culture, and rituals that hundreds of other people have now experienced.
The 2010 buspreneurs hacked an engaging website with live bus tracking and even a game, designed the logo and even some merchandise. And so began the experiment: traveling at 60 miles an hour for three days on the road between San Francisco and Austin. The question was what could people produce under unique (and some would say extreme) time and resource constraints?
Six functional prototype web services were built and they were presented to a panel of high profile Austin investors. The inaugural event received a lot of exposure, the winning team was offered funding to turn their prototype into an actual business and a community of entrepreneurs who still work together was created. And over the next year, that experience proved to be life changing for many: moving countries, changing jobs and going in new directions in life all because of this experience.
Put simply, Startup weekend on a bus. Hacking plus pit stops. Hustling plus tight quarters. Adversity plus motion sickness.
And I am in the middle of it. It is easy now to ask myself “how?” I do not have the time for a trip like this. SteelCast is pretty busy these days with CopyPress growing its customer and writer base, Hua Marketing eyeing a strategic rebranding, and some of our other startups undergoing massive pivots. On top of that I am a dad, husband, and we have our third superhuman male on the way. So the question of “how?” is important.
One of my employees, the talented and lovely Courtney Bishop, has been harassing me for a year about attending SXSW Interactive. I am a super practical person when it comes to travel, so I just didn’t see the value in us attending. Sure, we do create “startups,” but we also have a lot of foundational work to get done before we can acquire value out of an experience like SXSW. Or at least so I thought.
One day I saw a TechCrunch piece that explained the StartupBus, and it said that Tampa had such a vehicle full of insanity assigned to it. This peaked my interest because I have chosen to call Tampa my long-term home, and I have a real interest in being a part of growing the startup community in the city. I told Courtney that if we could get the StartupBus to allow us to follow them, and document the combined experience – theirs and ours – we could go to SXSW.
Well Courtney seized the day and got in touch with StartUpBus TV producer Mitch Neff, who came to our offices; after an awesome meeting it was decided that we would participate. The idea? We would follow the bus, hacking our own product on the way, video taping the experience, and sharing it not only on our website, but on StartpBus TV. The Tampa bus was also facing a shortage of developers, so we got our Product Manager for CopyPress, Rosalie De Canaga, to join their cause. I enlisted Courtney, Charlie Chee, and Kyle Zipp to join the trip and play different roles as we headed towards Austin. I set aside a modest $2,000 budget for the entire event, polished up my car, and we took off from Tampa on a seemingly ridiculous adventure.
Now it’s been exactly 48 hours since we left Tampa, and I am sitting in the lobby of a hotel on the LSU campus in Baton Rouge. We have recorded, edited and delivered a 30 minute episode to StartupBus TV, have an hour long episode ready to be delivered, and have hacked together 75% of the minimal viable product for a referral incentivization application called Referrin.com.
The Realization of the Method
When I first heard about StartupBus, I thought it was interesting, and a bit crazy, but I also didn’t think it had much value from a business perspective. Sure, it would be great for networking, but the construct of a program where people come together for a few days to create a company couldn’t produce anything more than good ideas. Could it?
Furthermore, as I have stated before, what good is an idea on its own? And the fact that I couldn’t see the StartupBus as anything more than an idea generation experiment meant that it had very little value from my perspective.
Forty-eight hours in, I have realized that my initial thoughts were entirely wrong. The StartupBus provides critical proof of one of the principal tenants I hold dear: the value of a startup lies almost exclusively in the strength of the founding team, and their ability to implement their idea.
As I look at the teams across the buses, the strength in the projects almost inherently lies in the organizations, themselves. People get caught up on the BS pitches, but that isn’t where the magic lies. The magic comes out when you poke holes in the pitches and watch which teams falter and which teams shine. The quality of the founders has everything to do with being able to put together a viable product in 72 hours.
Because of this, I am now willing to accept how wrong I am, and how brilliant the concept of StartupBus is. After all, the organizers put a huge focus on people over products, and that is at the core of all of my beliefs.
This realization has rejuvenated me, and my passion for what we are doing at SteelCast and its companies. If I get nothing more out of this trip, that alone has inherent value.
Networking on Wheels
Beyond the fact that I have new energy around the SteelCast method, I have also met some amazing people that will make for incredible opportunities. Business isn’t being discussed, its happening. People are looking to work today, find out how each others’ networks can benefit each other, and in that, I find some humor in the fact that on this trip we are building a referral engine to facilitate these kinds of relationships.
I have already solved several of the issues facing SteelCast companies on this trip, simply through networking.
So we now head toward San Antonio, assuredly for more insanity fueled by energy drinks and a desire to be the next SXSW success story.
We will continue to chronicle, hack, network, and enjoy this experience. We hope you will join and enjoy our experience, or at the very least, heckle and exploit us.