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Everything you need to know to win StartupBus is in this podcast, part 1

I’ll repeat what this post’s title is telling you: Everything you need to know in order to win StartupBus North America 2022 is contained within a podcast. More specifically, the “Startup Bus” series of episodes from Gimlet Media’s Startup podcast, which covered the New York bus’ journey during StartupBus 2017.

This five-part series covered the journey from its start in New York City to the finals in New Orleans. It features reporter Eric Mennel, who “embedded” with the StartupBus New York bus in July 2017 to follow the participants, talk to them, and report on what happened. It gives you a look not just into the teams and their projects, but the people in those teams, what drives them, and the very personal reasons why they chose to go on the bus.

I participated as a “buspreneur” (their word for contestant) in StartupBus 2019 — the tenth StartupBus North America event — and our team took the Florida Bus to the finals, where our project got the runner-up position. As a way of preparing for my ride, I listened to these episodes three times, which gave me plenty of opportunity to distill a lot of knowledge from them.

I’m quite certain that this knowledge played a role in our team’s success, and I think it can play a role in yours — but only if you ride the bus!

Episode 1: Boarding and brainstorming

You can listen to episode 1 on its page or use the player below:

Here are my notes from the episode:

  • Rule number one of StartupBus is that there is no “number two” on the bus. Bus toilets aren’t as well-sealed as airplane toilets, and if you poop on the bus, it will be bad for everyone concerned — especially you, because we’ll all be giving you the stink-eye from now on.
  • You’re going to make your first pitch very soon after the bus departs. At the start of the ride, every buspreneur stands in front of the bus and makes a first pitch. This pitch will be for two things:
    • Yourself: You’ll be selling yourself to prospective teams. You’re going to need to convince people why you should be on their team or why they should be on yours. It works best if you can have your unique value proposition ready in advance.
    • Your startup idea: If you have a startup idea — that is, if you have a problem and a solution — you should be ready to pitch it. You want your fellow buspreneurs to want to work on your startup idea!
  • Be ready for chaos after the first pitches. After the pitches, people will start looking for and forming teams. Be ready to move about the bus to talk to different groups.
  • Build a balanced team. You’re going to need a variety of skills to get the job done in three days.
  • Day one of StartupBus is about coming up with and validating your idea. Your idea will be tested, and you may need to modify it slightly — or make a big pivot. Be prepared to do either.
  • There’s a difference between a technology and a solution. One of the teams that initially looks like a collection of all-stars ends up without a product idea because they were focused more on blockchain than a solving a problem with blockchain. As the saying goes: “People don’t really buy drills, they buy holes.”
  • If the technology you plan to use isn’t something laypeople are familiar with, you may need to spend some time explaining it. The blockchain team ended up spending a lot of the time allotted to their pitch explaining what a blockchain was, and why it might be essential to the problem they hadn’t quite settled on solving. Remember, this was 2017, well before the time when crypto exchanges were easy to find online and celebrities were shilling for cryptocurrency companies; in fact, it would be a little bit before “BitConneeeeeeeeeeect!”. Keep this is mind if your startup is going to be NFT-based — you’re going to spend a good chunk of your pitch explain them to the judges, which will take away from the time to pitch what your project actually does.
  • The conductors are there to help you. Not only that; all the conductors have been on StartupBus before, so we’ve gone what you’re going through now, we learned from our experiences, and we’ve internalized those lessons. Our job is to actively help you make your startup, project, and pitch be the best they can be.
  • The conductors are there to challenge you. The ride to Austin will not be direct. There will be stops, where you will face challenges. A mere 4 hours after the New York 2017 bus departed, the teams had to make their first pitch in front of a panel of judges in Washington, D.C..
  • Try to avoid talking over other team members. Day one is about initial ideas and refinement, and there’s a lot of talking and brainstorming. Your team should try to make sure that team members don’t talk over other team members.
  • Find out why your fellow buspreneurs are there. There are all sorts of reasons why someone would go on StartupBus, but there are a few particular categories of “why” that you’ll definitely see:
    • Seekers: There are always a number of buspreneurs who are participating because they’re looking for something: options for a new career path, new perspectives, new experiences, a chance to see parts of the country they otherwise wouldn’t see, and meaning. They can be great “idea” people, as they’re on the bus with the specific goal of trying new things.
    • Shakers: There are also always buspreneurs who want to “shake up” their current situation. Perhaps they’re in a job or life situation they don’t like, feel they’ve fallen into a rut, or want some experience that will set them apart from other job candidates (this is one of the reasons I went in 2019). These are great “doers,” because their reason to be on the bus is to do new things.
    • Hackathon junkies: Just as there are people who regularly compete in marathons and triathlons, there are people who regularly compete in hackathons (and remember, that’s what StartupBus is). Having one on your team is a real help — they have experience delivering a proof of concept in short order.

Watch this blog for the next episode, and my notes from that episode!

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