I survived the StartupBus

On Sunday morning, our CEO texted me and told me to read my email. I swear he’s only done that like two times. The last time, the site was down for a week. So, yeah, I’m going to read that email.

Turns out that our Director of Business Development had been talking to a fellow named Ravi Singh at Spring Marketplace. Ravi was headed to Nashville on a bus full of hopeful entrepreneurs and I was being given the opportunity to get on the bus.

StartupBus began as a joke/bet between an Australian named Elias Bizannes and some friends. Three weeks after making the joke, he had 25 people on a bus headed to SXSW with the goal of building a company in three days, $500 in his pocket, and a bill in his hands for $20,000.

Four years later, there were six buses with this same goal. Hailing from San Francisco, Chicago, Tampa, two from New York, and even one from Mexico City, these buspreneurs were set to build real businesses and pitch them along the way. Each bus has a pair of conductors who are StartupBus alumni who guide the teams and also make sure we all get where we are going.

I joined the Portioned team whose goal was to build an app that could grab any recipe on the Net, parse out the ingredients necessary, let you adjust servings to your needs, and then send that as an order to Peapod, FreshDirect or the like for delivery.

As the bus hurtled toward New Orleans, I got to know the team and settled in working with some Elance freelancers to get a logo made. Then, I helped hone a press release, with some of Suzanne’s help. I was also helping write some Javascript code along the way.

By the time we got to New Orleans, we’d already inked a possible partnership with a store in Austin called in.gredients that is a no-waste, no-packaging food store. We spent the night in New Orleans in a hostel that was a former orphanage. It was a unique experience and certainly forced some bonding for all of us.

The next day we headed to San Antonio and along the way were practicing our pitch to the whole bus, writing code, writing press releases, and doing lots of other things you’d want to do to get a company off the ground in three days. We were greeted in San Antonio by lots of “rackers” (people who work at Rackspace). They rolled out the red carpet for us and it was a great welcome.

A few hours later, we pitched to Elias and a few other StartupBus conductors. It was the first time I had done anything like this and I was very nervous. I felt good about our idea, but we hadn’t really built much of the site yet and there were bugs galore. The demo was harrowing but we survived.

29 teams or so pitched at this level and only 12 would move on to the semifinals. My team made the cut and sat down quickly to hone the pitch based on feedback. We still had a few bugs to figure out and a few features to try to complete. We also tried to hone the story to get to the value of the business as quickly as possible.

The semifinals came quickly and our pitch was pretty good but we didn’t make the cut to the finals. At this point (Wed. evening), I’d had a total of about 10 hours of sleep and totally crashed that night in the hotel. On Thursday, the six finalists made their pitch in San Antonio and two were chosen for the All-Star Finals.

These All-Star Finals were comprised of the two teams from the standard competition, two teams who had traffic and other engagements online, and two teams from the Alumni bus along with a few teams chosen for special consideration by the bus conductors.

That All-Star Final was held last night at SXSW here at Austin at an event sponsored by Rackspace. The winner was a team called CareerMob whose application will help guide veterans just getting out of their service into the skills they’ll need for the careers they want.

This has been an amazing experience for me. I’ve learned a lot about how teams can work together, how businesses come to life or die quickly, and I’ve learned a bit about how much sleep I really need.

It’s honestly just now sinking in about what StartupBus has meant. It’s a powerful, transformative experience that I am very grateful to have had.

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