After the great interruption of 2020 and 2021, North America’s largest, longest-distance hackathon, StartupBus North America, is back for 2022! From July 27th through 31st, 2022, seven buses will depart from seven locations across the continent…
…and make their way to Austin, Texas in three days. During those three days, “buspreneurs” — StartupBus’ term for its participants — think up and build a tech startup from the ground up: the idea, business plan, software, and pitch.
One of the seven buses making its way to Austin over three days is the Florida bus, and it’s leaving from Tampa. This year, one of the Florida bus’ conductors — StartupBus’ term for its coaches/facilitators — is…Yours Truly!
🚨 Keep reading: later on in this article, there’s something that I’ve never told anyone online until now.
I was on StartupBus in 2019
I was a “buspreneur” on the Florida StartupBus in 2019, the last year the event took place, when the destination city was New Orleans. Along with my teammates Rina Bane, David Castaneda, Justin Linn, and Tracy Ingram, we made it all the way to the finals and got the runner-up position.
The startup we created on the bus was Hyve, a service that lets you create virtual disposable email addresses that you can use when subscribing to services or communicating with untrusted people.
Rather than provide a service or person with your real email address, you use Hyve to generate a disposable email address to give to that service or person, and it forwards emails sent to that disposable email address to your real email address.
What happened on StartupBus Florida 2019?
It started with a get-together the day before we boarded the bus, which was captured in this ABC Action News piece:
As you may have guessed, we spent a fair bit of time coding and designing the service…
…but at the end, we present our startups to panels of judges, so we also spent a lot of time working on our pitches. We did so many practice pitches on the bus, followed by feedback from the conductors and our fellow buspreneurs, including this one by Tracy:
Just as startup life is full of unpredictable events, StartupBus is designed to mirror that unpredictability. For starters, we only knew that the destination was New Orleans, and that it would be a roundabout one so that it would take three full days. I pieced together the route shortly before we arrived:
We knew that there would be stops at night for hotels as well as other places, but we didn’t know where or when.
Our first non-meal/gas/bio-break stop happened in the late afternoon of Day 1 when we visitied the Entrepreneurship Garage at NC State University in Raleigh, North Carolina. It let us get more work done in a stationary place with access to more guidance, better internet connectivity, more reliable power, and (very importantly) bathrooms. It’s where we recorded this mandatory “Why are we on the bus?” video at the end of Day 1…
…and it gave us a chance to refine our pitch by trying it out on non-bus people, such as the Lyft driver who took us from the Entrepreneurship Garage to our hotel:
Day 2 gave two buses a surprise: upon our departure from Raleigh, the Florida and DC buses merged to become the Swamp Thang bus!
Now we had a full ride:
We got to know the folks from DC, and the spirit was one of “coopetition” — we knew we were all competing against each other, but we also made friends and even helped each other out. I ended up spending a little time helping a DC developer with a bug in their Flutter project.
We had a stop at Advent Coworking in Charlotte, North Carolina, where our bus met up with the New York bus, and some of us (time was limited) got to do our first pitches in front of a panel of judges.
There were also the “unexpected unexpected” events — the unexpected events that the conductors didn’t plan. There was the time our bus got stuck on one of the oversized speed bumps at NC State:
Our big “unexpected unexpected” happened when the bus overheated and had to pull over on the highway somewhere in the mountains in Tennessee:
This delay meant that getting to the next stop meant staying on the bus well into the night:
Day 3 was a long, hard drive with a lot more pitching, designing, coding, and reaching out to prospective business partners and customers (yes, you have to treat your bus startup just like a “real” one!), but at long last, we arrived in New Orleans:
Which brings us to Day 1 of two days’ worth of pitch competitions: the qualifiers.
All our previous pitches were mere rehearsals. This pitch would determine if we would get into the semifinals!
Here’s our qualifying pitch:
We continued working into the night of Day 1, refining the code and pitch. We wouldn’t find out who would make it into the semifinals until Day 2 — and we did!
So we worked on our pitch and code, bringing in Andrew Romaner as a consultant (remember, you’re running like a real business, so you can get consultants if you have the connections!)…
…and made it to the finals!
So we worked some more…
…which led to our final pitch:
Once all the finalists made their pitches, the judges sequestered themselves, and shortly afterwards, they made their announcements, which included Hyve!
Just because I love that bit about walking the line between good and evil, here’s just the part about Hyve:
Here’s the reporting on our victory:
- TampaBayInno: Tampa Team Finishes Second On Startup Bus Tour
- 83degrees: StartupBus Florida yields teams of winners in national competition
- University of South Florida: Alumni Lead and Compete in National StartupBus Challenge
The reward for our efforts
Let me be very clear: StartupBus offers no prizes of any sort. No cash, no prizes from sponsors, not even a trophy or certificate. In fact, you’ll spend money in the process, including getting home (the bus gets you to the destination city, but you have to make your own way back).
So why do it? Because what you gain from StartupBus is more valuable in the long run than mere coin or prizes: experience.
It’s one thing to be an employee working from home or in an office. It’s an entirely other thing to be a startup founder — even for less than a week’s time — collaborating closely with people you’ve known only for hours, on a bus, where the power and internet are unreliable, and dealing with the curve balls that the conductors and the vagaries of the road will throw your way.
Something I’ve never told anyone until now
There are more comfortable things that you could do with your time, but I remind you that the magic happens outside your comfort zone.
Here’s something I’ve never said online until now: I was fired from my job in June 2019. But rather than cry in my own beer and wonder how I’d explain it to prospective employers, I decided to shake things up.
My plan was simple:
- Join StartupBus, which was happening in July 2019.
- Winning or at least be a finalist.
- Parley the victory and experience into my next job or a new company.
Simple? Yes. Easy? Most certainly not. But extraordinary outcomes need extraordinary effort, and StartupBus definitely falls in the “extraordinary effort” category…
…especially since one of the judges in the finals was the CEO of the company that fired me. We’re on good terms, but if I can pitch under those circumstances, I can pitch anywhere, anytime, anyhow. I knew it was going to happen if I made it to the finals — in fact, I was counting on it.
StartupBus gave me the opportunity to gird my grit, sharpen my software skills, and polish my personal pitch. I’ve taken my experience on the bus and used it to get to the rather nice place where I am today.
After StartupBus, I contacted Trey Steinhoff, a buspreneur from 2017. He and Robert Blacklidge created Course Align, which grew into a real business beyond the bus. Trey was Director of Product at Lilypad at the time, and they were looking for a mobile developer.
“Why just take on any mobile developer, when you can get one who’s also been on the bus?” I asked, and got hired. It turned out that Akira Mitchell, one of the conductors on StartupBus Florida, was a scrum master there! I remember telling Akira “You know, it’s so much easier working with you at actual desks in a stationary office than on a bus bouncing all over the road while the wifi’s going in and out.”
I also cited my StartupBus experience during my interview process with Auth0, where I now work.
I got to go places I’d never seen or place I hadn’t seen in a while. I got to get to know some friends better, and made new ones with whom I’m still in touch today. I got to experience a challenge that most techies don’t take on, and I boosted my “personal brand” at a time when I really needed that boost. StartupBus can pay off big if you harness the experience.
And now, I’m a conductor
A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted about being a conductor. “Your name keeps coming up, over and over again, so — would you like to be a conductor?”
I still have more to experience and learn, and this time, I’d like to do it by helping, mentoring, and guiding buspreneurs on the Florida bus. I owe it to the Tampa Bay and Florida tech communities that have given me so much. And hey, after all this time cooped up, I’m ready for some new road adventures.
Are you on the bus?
As I write this, we’re less than 100 days away from the day the bus leaves Tampa for Austin. The question you should be asking yourself is:
Are you going to be on StartupBus? The Florida bus will depart from Tampa, but there are others leaving on the same date:
- The Advancing Black Entrepreneurs bus is one especially for a greatly underrepresented minority in tech, and it departs from Cincinatto, Ohio.
- The California bus’ departure point is yet to be determined.
- The Latinxs in Tech is another bus for another greatly underrepresented minority in tech, and it departs from Miami, Florida.
- The Mexico bus departs from Ciudad de Mexico, a.k.a. Mexico City.
- The New York bus departs from New York City?!
- The Texas Bus departs from San Antonio, Texas, and yes, they’re going to plan a route that takes three days.
You can’t just sign up for StartupBus — you have to apply, because we’re looking for people who are determined to create a great startup under sometimes-gruelling conditions and give it their all.
To register, you’ll need to visit StartupBus’ “Apply” page and enter an invite code. Of course, you’ll have to enter an invite code, and you just might get one if you tweet @TheStartupBus and explain why you’ve got what it takes to be on the bus!