StartupBus is a hack week with a twist: you board a bus filled with strangers, and 1800 miles later, you’re expected to demo a product to a roomful of influential investors and journalists.
No pressure or anything.
Participants will tell you that StartupBus is the mother of all hackathons. You’re not just assessed on building a product, but also on your market vision and the traction you can generate.
Imagine building a real startup in a compressed time capsule traveling at 60 miles per hour.
It’s physically exhausting, mentally consuming, and it’s definitely not the most glamorous thing in the world. You’re constantly outside of your comfort zone, never alone, and the experience is filled with moments of ambiguity and uncertainty. These constraints are intentional — the goal is to create a unique kind of experience that only certain personality types can thrive in.
The organization is run by alumni, and the energy and passion that goes into executing this event is directly transferred to the participants. The application process is no joke. You have to be referred by someone from a previous StartupBus trip, then you write up an application and get interviewed.
When I explain StartupBus to other people, it occurs to me we’re all a little crazy to try it. The premise doesn’t make any sense: building a technology product on the road from San Francisco to Austin with intermittent wifi. Ladies might not love the idea of spending the night in hotels sharing beds with teammates you just met. Wake up calls at the crack of dawn? As if launching a startup wasn’t already a crazy enough thing to do!
So why did I do it?
I had been working with the wrong cofounder on my startup and was in the process of figuring out next steps. The timing seemed perfect and I had never been to the Austin-based tech conference SXSW, which StartupBus coincides with. I figured it was the most productive use of my time and that I’d learn a lot along the way.
What I found interesting was that most people were in a similar position as me — they were experiencing inflection points both personally and professionally and trying to figure out next steps.
I’ve outlined the top five takeaways from my StartupBus experience below:
- Discover new skills: Any experience that puts you outside your comfort zone will help uncover new aspects of yourself that you may not be aware of. I learned for instance that I am extremely good at performing in high pressure situations, pitching to investors, and am comfortable interviewing on camera. Had I not participated in StartupBus, I would have never been exposed to interviewing with press from all over the world or pitching ideas under the gun.
- Make new friends: It’s always great to gain more experience with different team dynamics and working with strong personalities. The interaction of the StartupBus Alumni community is testament to how powerful this experience is in creating new relationships, it really is a global family. I’ve made some lifelong friendships on the bus and some participants ended up starting companies together. The possibilities are endless, you just have to be open to it.
- Test your product ideas: If you have a few ideas that you’ve been brewing for years, StartupBus is the perfect environment to test them. Pitch an idea to the bus, and if you are successful in recruiting a team that believes in your vision, you’ll get a chance to experience building an MVP for real investors.
- Disrupt your outlook: I wanted to come back from this experience with a perspective on what I should do next. If you’re going through a transition period and are trying to figure out what you’re passionate about, this environment will help you figure it out.
- Be Open to Serendipity: There were plenty of moments during the journey when I had no idea where I was, where we were going, when we were stopping, and what would happen the next day — you learn to go with the flow. The value of SXSW is meeting new people and you need to make sure you’re open to that, and actively putting yourself in a position to have that happen.
The StartupBus environment provides a glimpse of what entrepreneurship is like without any of the risk or negative consequences. And like any experience, you will get out of it as much as you put in.
If this sounds like like the perfect match for you, we are inviting the first 50 VentureBeat readers to apply here. I will be the West Coast conductor, and we’ll set off to Austin on March 3rd.
Falon spends her time advising and consulting startups on everything from product development to launch strategy and is passionate about taking life changing technology mainstream. She was most recently was a Partner at MkII Ventures, had a failed dating startup, and was Head of Business Development for Firespotter Labs.
Falon began her career at Google at 19 and graduated from Santa Clara University with a BS in Finance and emphasis in Computer Engineering and Entrepreneurship.
In her 6+ years at Google, she developed her love and talent for sales strategy, operations, and business development while holding variety of roles across syndication partnerships, Google.org, and YouTube. You can subscribe to follow her updates at facebook.com/falonfatemi or follow her on twitter @falonfatemi.