Editor’s note: Doug Smith is the founder of Headsdown Media and a consultant on business strategy, investment fundraising preparation, marketing, and finance.
What do you get when you put 300 people from 11 cities on buses heading to Austin for SxSW in competition to build companies? Sixty web-technology prototypes and corresponding companies built in 72 hours with nearly 3,000 energy drinks consumed in that timeframe. The event is called StartupBus, a three day bustrip-hackathon with skilled web developers, graphic designers, and business development types pitching ideas and creating companies.
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 (StartupBus Founder) 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 realizing 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.
In March 2011, that community expanded this experiment into a competition and grew six-fold with buses departing from San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Chicago, Cleveland, New York, and Miami. Participating were 156 new ‘buspreneurs’ who produced 38 different products. In 2012 the community launched eleven buses leaving from Silicon Valley, Washington D.C., New York City, Boston, Baton Rouge, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Tampa, Cincinnati, Mexico City, and Stanford University with 300 ‘buspreneurs’ aboard. StartupBus has evolved from an experiment to a competition and an international community of unique people. They look to grow into a unique type of institution that leaves a lasting legacy on the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
This year I was selected to be on the bus leaving from Tampa, Florida. I joined up with Ryan Srofe, Shane Needham, Jon Hartmann, and Will Mitchell in building and pitching BumperCrop. The company is web-technology platform that allows for passionate home gardeners and conscious consumers the ability to Buy/Sell/Trade homegrown food in local communities. Future features include applications to help educate and increase productivity of home gardens. The company address a market of 46 million home food gardens in the United States that produce $18.5 billion worth of crops annually with as much as 30% going to waste.
The company was succesful at pitching the idea and was selected as Runner-up in the National StartupBus Competition at SxSw and was also selected as one of three of the most promising companies by Rackspace in the competition a few days before. The company was featured by numerous news and media outlets including CNN, Business Week, The Next Web, TechCrunch, and Creative Loafing among numerous others.
The company presented to thought leaders in the technology space and prominent venture capitalist on its road to coming up short to Silicon Valley’s Cerealize.me. Cerealize.me is a subscription service that allows a consumer to build their own custom cereal and packaging and have it delivered right to their door.
The Judges for the competition included:
- Robert Scoble, Rackspace
- David Cohen, TechStars founder
- Graham Weston, Co-Founder of Rackspace
- Naval Ravikant, Co-Founder AngelList
- Guy Kawasaki, Former Apple Chief Evangelist
- Dave McClure, 500 Startups
- Paul Signh, 500 Startups
- Luis Robles, Sequoia Capital
- Nicole Glaros, Techstars Boulder
- Elias Bizannes, Charles River Ventures (StartupBus Founder)
- Christine Herron, Intel Capital
- Katie Rae, TechStars Boston
The event can be simply described as the Iditarod race for entrepreneurs where an individual has to become one with their team to have a chance to succeed. A true principal in business that one must come to understand and trust their team and how better to do it than when the pressure is on. The circumstances being your team is made up of nearly all complete strangers trapped on a bus, sleep deprived, with less than 72 hours to build and prepare to present your idea to the public at an internationally televised live-streamed event in front of several hundred people and celebrities in the technology and venture capital space. A true test for any persons patience, stamina, and mental fortitude.
A key factor in BumperCrops success was the team which consisted of one professional in each category:
- graphic designer
- interactive-marketing expert
- social media expert
- business development and planning specialist
This was an ideal team for our project. Each individual made the team exponentially stronger and combining this with a disruptive idea that tackled a defined problem, made the company very formidable. The team in this case was formed by shear chance, but events like StartupBus, Startup Weekend and other hackathon events facilitate teams and products such as BumperCrop to be formed. These events create a very uniquely productive environment, as it is rare you can interact with so many individuals involved in the startup space for an extended amount of time. Theses individuals can give you qualified critical feedback about product, strategy, technology, and in some cases facilitate introductions to potential partners/advisors and other vital resource contacts, such as money and the press.
The takeaway is that to increase your potential for success you need to have multiple elements working in unison. The elements being those listed below:
- Right idea
- Right time
- Right team
- Team chemistry
- Enough resources
- Right environment
All of these aligned well for our team as our idea resonated with people and the judges. Our timing was good as the whole local organic movement is gaining traction, especially in Austin were edible landscaping is taking hold. We had a we balanced team with strengths in multiple equally valuable areas. The team was well oriented with confident individuals with no personalities overshadowing or derailing the project. We had a fixed amount of time, this was a good thing in producing something, and we were self sufficient in terms of not needing capital to produce our minimally viable product. The environment was exactly what we needed as we were confined to sharing rooms and sitting with one another on the bus and the pressure of the competition kept everyone on task. We also benefited from the networking on the bus with other buspreneurs that gave of us the opportunity to get infront of the press and even pick up one high profile advisor from our space. Overall it was a great experience and I recommend any wanting to take interesting vacation next year to apply. Take a few extra days off after to recover. I had only about 20 hours of sleep from Tuesday to Sunday night.
WFSEN is looking for guest writers to write articles such as this on their insights into entrepreneurship or other relevant topics. Please contact Doug Smith (05′) at firstname.lastname@example.org if interested in being a guest writer.