Entrepreneur Florida How To Podcasts What I’m Up To

Everything you need to know to win StartupBus is in this podcast, part 5

The title of this post should be a big hint: Everything you need to know in order to win StartupBus North America 2022 is contained within a podcast. This is the third in a series of posts covering the “Startup Bus” series of episodes from Gimlet Media’s Startup podcast, which covered the New York bus’ journey during StartupBus 2017.

Did you miss the first four articles in this series? Here they are:

I’m posting this series as a prelude to StartupBus 2022, which takes place at the end of July. I was a contestant — a buspreneur — on the Florida bus in 2019, which made it all the way to the finals and finished as a runner-up. Now I’m a coach — a conductor — on the 2022 edition.

Here’s episode 5 of the podcast series…

…and here are the lessons I took away from this episode:

  • A lot of what makes success is just showing up. At the start of the episode, podcast host Eric goes for an early morning walk with Colleen Lavin of team Daisy and discovers that she was nce the Illinois Knights of Columbus free throw champion for girls age 14. Here’s how she tells the story:

COLLEEN: I was like getting my school volunteer hours, helping my dad at the free throw contest, and I was in the right age range, so he made me compete. I made two baskets, because I was not a basketball player. But no other girls in my age range showed up, and he made me go to the next competition and no other girls my age range showed up. Finally, I was almost sent to D.C to compete in the nationals after making a total of like four baskets.

ERIC: Because nobody had showed up?

COLLEEN: In my age competition!

  • Be prepared for possible twists in the finals. Elias Bizannes, the creator of StartupBus, loves drama. In the 2017 competition, even though there were five finalists, Elias decided to create a sixth team made up of people from teams who didn’t make it into the finals. The team would create a blockchain-powered voting app. Why did he do it? In his own words…

To mess with people to be honest. Because that’s what we do with StartupBus, we push them and we break them. And what happens is this remarkable thing comes out when people go beyond the limits they think they can, they actually step up. And so by introducing a new team, it was gonna add another level of competitive threat to the finals.

  • The finals will feature far more polished pitches and apps: “From the moment the pitches begin, it’s apparent. This is a very different level of competition than yesterday. The presentations are all well-crafted. Each of the products makes sense. You could imagine people making these pitches to actual investors.”
Entrepreneur Florida How To Podcasts What I’m Up To

Everything you need to know to win StartupBus is in this podcast, part 4

The title of this post should be a big hint: Everything you need to know in order to win StartupBus North America 2022 is contained within a podcast. This is the third in a series of posts covering the “Startup Bus” series of episodes from Gimlet Media’s Startup podcast, which covered the New York bus’ journey during StartupBus 2017.

(Did you miss the first three articles in this series? Here’s part onehere’s part two, and here’s part three.)

I’m posting this series as a prelude to StartupBus 2022, which takes place at the end of July. I was a contestant — a buspreneur — on the Florida bus in 2019, which made it all the way to the finals and finished as a runner-up. Now I’m a coach — a conductor — on the 2022 edition.

Here’s episode 4 of the podcast series…

…and here are the lessons I took away from this episode:

  • If you can find teammates that are on your wavelength, you can achieve a lot. Although they’re on the Florida StartupBus and not the bus that the podcast is covering, they remain a source of fascination for Eric, the host. Not only do Robert Blacklidge and Trey Steinhoff get along so well, but they also work so well together, and the synergy will take them far together. (Full disclosure: I worked with Trey at Lilypad, and can vouch for the fact that he is a great teammate. I also know Robert and can understand why he and Trey got along so well.)
  • A conflict within the team doesn’t have to destroy the team; in fact, not only can conflicts be resolved, but they can even strengthen a team. Ash from the Denari team had rubbed many of his teammates the wrong way, and there was talk of kicking him off the team. Things have turned around in this episode: everyone’s getting along, and Ash is considerably less acerbic — even optimistic-sounding.
  • The StartupBus format borrows some of its ideas from reality TV game shows, which means that there can be intentional confusion. “The teams have been getting different information about the competition all day. They’re hearing conflicting things about timing, about whether or not pitch decks are allowed. And this confusion, it all feels weirdly intentional.”
  • StartupBus is supposed to be a challenge. It’s not supposed to be easy, and as anyone who’s done it before will tell you, it can be gruelling at times. And that’s a good thing — if StartupBus works as designed, you shouldn’t be exactly the same person at the end of the ride. As one of the Denari people puts it: “This is a Navy SEAL training program for startups. This is like we’re going to push you to that to the limit of your mental strength, like every single person on their team is that like living in a role that’s very different from what they walked on the bus wanting to do.”
  • Speaking about come out of StartupBus a little different, you can see some of the buspreneurs’ change — they’re more certain, more directed, more convinced of their ability to change their personal course through life.
  • You can most definitely incorporate singing and music in your pitch. The pitch for singing telegram startup Yeti featured one of their buspreneurs in a full Marilyn Monroe costume, singing Katy Perry’s Firework, but with StartupBus-specific lyrics. I also did that with the accordion at StartupBus 2019.
  • You can also use audience participation in your pitch. Tampa-based CourseAlign did that by asking the audience for a show of hands, using questions that would get a specific kind of result.
  • Be ready for tough questions. During the Q&A section of their pitch, Denari — the Blockchain-powered GoFundMe-like startup — is asked how they plan to prevent their system from being turned into a money-laundering platform.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself. After getting that tough money-laundering question, Colleen Wong, who’s been leading Denari, felt bad about her answer and said that she didn’t feel that she was a good leader. Eric the host had to reminder her that she did the near-impossible — “Are you kidding me?! Have you, like, seen yourself this week?! …You, like, pulled together the, like, craziest team on the bus. It was a great thing.”
  • Anything can happen in the judging room. Eric the host was invited into the judging room to record a reenactment of judges’ discussion as they tried to decide who would move the next round. But as they reenacted their discussion, they started changing their minds. The judging process can turn on a dime.
  • There is a downside to making it into the finals: It means that although you’re in a party town, you can’t party. You’re going to be working on your product and your pitch for the finals. Trust me on this one — I was in New Orleans, one of the best party towns in the country, and I spent Saturday night with my team working on our startup.


Tampa is one of the fastest-growing U.S. tech hubs

Click to view at full size.

LinkedIn’s new report shows that Tampa is among the 15 fastest-growing tech hubs in the U.S., many of which it describes as “Sunbelt Surprises.” In fact, if you look at the list, three of the cities are in Florida, and the only city that can be described as “northern” is Seattle.

The report was created by LinkedIn’s Economic Graph Team, who based it on data from 6 million LinkedIn members with “identifiable engineering or IT talent from January to May each year since 2019.” This means that the three-fourths of the time covered by the study was during the disruptive COVID-19 era, the Great Resignation, and the recent economic downturn.

The study also focused on metro areas showing the fastest growth rates, which would rule out more-established places like that other, lesser Bay Area and Austin.

Note that one of the top 15 cities is a reasonable drive from Tampa — Sarasota, which is becoming a go-to place for cryptocurrency entrepreneurs. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether this is a good thing or a bad one.

The other Florida city is Cape Coral, which is nicely situated halfway between Tampa and Miami and features beautiful surroundings and relatively affordable houses — if you can work remotely, it’s a pretty nice place to set up shop.

The report is covered in more detail in LinkedIn insights.

Entrepreneur Florida How To Podcasts What I’m Up To

Everything you need to know to win StartupBus is in this podcast, part 3

The title of this post should be a big hint: Everything you need to know in order to win StartupBus North America 2022 is contained within a podcast. This is the third in a series of posts covering the “Startup Bus” series of episodes from Gimlet Media’s Startup podcast, which covered the New York bus’ journey during StartupBus 2017.

(Did you miss the first two articles in this series? Here’s part one, and here’s part two.)

I’m posting this series as a prelude to StartupBus 2022, which takes place at the end of July. I was a contestant — a buspreneur — on the Florida bus in 2019, which made it all the way to the finals and finished as a runner-up. Now I’m a coach — a conductor — on the 2022 edition.

Here’s episode 3 of the podcast series…

…and here are the lessons I took away from this episode:

  • If you run into a difficult person in the morning, you ran into a difficult person. If you run into difficult people all day, you’re the difficult person. I don’t want to reduce Ash, one of the buspreneurs, to a single quality — difficult person — but his “hey, I’m just being real” approach to everyone and everything is one of the hallmarks of difficult person-ry. One of the challenges of being a difficult person is that people will work with you only if you provide value that outweighs your difficulty, and that’s not easy to accomplish. This episode gives us a deeper look at Ash. While he can be a difficult person, we get a better understanding of who he is. Which leads me to me to my next observation:
  • “The thing about StartupBus is that it really is like a reality TV show. It’s so intense that every interaction, every personality can feel like a caricature of real life.” In the previous episode, Eric the narrator observed that StartupBus feels a lot like one of those “reality TV” competition shows. In this episode, he takes the observation one step further by noting that in a high-pressure setup like StartupBus, it’s all too easy to reduce your busmates to the most obvious aspect of their personality. Remember that people are more than what you see on the surface.
  • Even though the company you’re creating on the bus isn’t “real,” it helps to get real users, and you either get them through your social network or through advertising. It’s more impressive to the judges at the finals when you can say “Even at this early stage, we already have x users for our product.” You may be working under a compressed timeline, but it’s still doable, and not only do users give you cred with the judges; users can also give you valuable feedback.
  • Pay attention to the details when you’re spending money. One of the teams paid for Facebook ads, but clicking on the ads took users to when their site actually lived at plain old That was 65 dollars down the drain.
  • StartupBus may be the “wild card” that you need in your life. As Madelena Mak, one of the conductors on the bus says: “I think like lot of people who join the bus have that same feeling I felt, like that they want to be dealt a wildcard. That they want to be pushed to the limits so they can break out of their own old molds. Like they want to be something more than who they think they can be. It’s not about the bus. It’s about learning something about yourself.”
  • The pitching gets tougher. As the bus approaches the destination city — New Orleans in the case of StartupBus 2017, Austin in this year’s case — you’ll be pitching in front of judges who’ll ask questions that will require you to have thought through more angles. For example:
    • Team Daisy — the folks behind the funeral-planning app — were asked if they’d considered handling issues beyond just the funeral, such as death certificates.
    • Team Denari — the team with the app for sending cryptocurrency to people in need — got stuck on a question that exposed their blockchain-induced blindness. When they said that they could outdo GoFundMe because it services only 19 countries, one of the judges countered with “You are talking about now securities exchange over multiple countries. Maybe there are reasons GoFundMe only deals with 19. Which I haven’t heard you guys say. Is it cause they don’t want to? Because that’s kind of what it comes off as. It’s like, ‘GoFundMe is the largest one, they’re only in 19 countries.’ Why is that?”

Entrepreneur Florida How To Podcasts What I’m Up To

Everything you need to know to win StartupBus is in this podcast, part 2

ThinkInsideTheBus - StartupBus

As the title of this post puts it: Everything you need to know in order to win StartupBus North America 2022 is contained within a podcast. This is the second in a series of posts covering the “Startup Bus” series of episodes from Gimlet Media’s Startup podcast, which covered the New York bus’ journey during StartupBus 2017.

If you haven’t yet seen the previous post, check it out! It covers episode 1 of the Startup Bus series, which introduces you to the buspreneurs on the 2017 New York bus.

Episode 2: It’s like one of those competition TV shows!

You can listen to episode 2 on its page or use the player below:

Here are my notes from this episode:

  • Eric the narrator discovers the secret of StartupBus: it’s like a reality TV show, but in real life! “When I was growing up, my family was very into a particular kind of reality tv—competition shows… I thought I’d be reporting on a hackathon. I’d find one person, going through something interesting, and we’d just see how their week played out. Pretty simple. But when I woke up in a hotel in Raleigh, North Carolina that Tuesday morning, and I saw a giant “StartupBus” decal on the charter coach outside my window, I had this realization that would have thrilled my younger self to no end: “Holy shit. I’m not just reporting a story about a hackathon, I have landed inside a real life competition show.”

    The lesson you should take from Eric’s realization: if you think you wasted your time watching Survivor, The Amazing Race, or similar shows, guess what…you didn’t! A lot of the personal dynamics on those shows is pretty much like those on StartupBus.
  • Be prepared to pitch constantly. Eric observes: “To get the day started, each team sends one person to the front of the bus to practice their pitch over the intercom. This is something that happens a lot on StartupBus—people are practicing their pitches constantly.”
  • Be prepared for surprise challenges and surprise obstacles. StartupBus borrows a big trick from reality TV shows: surprise obstacles. When the bus pulls into Charlotte, North Carolina, the New York team finds out that they’ll be pitching against two other teams — a bus that started in Akron, Ohio and another that started in…Tampa!
  • Don’t limit yourself to just software, because there’s a chance that some team on another bus isn’t limiting itself to just software. “And the Ohio bus is impressive in its own way. It turns out they teamed up with some people from San Francisco, and they’re manufacturing physical products. So they have 3D printers and computer aided design software. The whole thing feels like that scene in “The Sandlot” when the other team shows up in their actual jerseys and matching converse sneakers, and all of a sudden you realize, ‘Oh… this is some real competition.’”
  • Try not to fall into the trap of traditional gender dynamics. On one team, there’s a good news/bad news thing going on because they’re electing one of the women to be CEO; the bad news is that it’s a job that none of them particularly want, and a lot of it will be about reining in unruly behavior.
  • Have a plan for managing conflict. On another team, a “that’s just who I am” kind of guy butts head against a woman on his team. This is a pretty big topic, and I’ll write more about it in a later post. Just know that you may have to manage conflict within the team.

Entrepreneur Florida How To Podcasts What I’m Up To

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!

Entrepreneur Florida Tampa Bay What I’m Up To

I’m going on StartupBus again, and you should too!

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…

Tap to view the map at full size.

…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

Me on StartupBus Florida, shortly after we pulled out of Tampa.
Tap to view at full size.

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.

Team Hyve! From left to right:
Tracy Ingram, David Castaneda, Joey deVilla, Rina Bane, Justin Linn.

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.

My whiteboard diagram showing a use case for Hyve.
Tap to view at full size.

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:

Our ABC Action News piece. Tap to play.

As you may have guessed, we spent a fair bit of time coding and designing the service…

Tracy, Rina, and David at work.
Tap to view at full size.

…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:

Tracy Ingram pitches Hyve to our busmates.
Tap to play.

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:

StartupBus Florida’s 2019 route from Tampa to New Orleans.
Tap to view at full size.

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…

Meet the Hyve team.
Tap to play.

…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:

Pitching Hyve to our Lyft driver.
Tap to play.

Day 2 gave two buses a surprise: upon our departure from Raleigh, the Florida and DC buses merged to become the Swamp Thang bus!

Boarding the newly-merged Florida/DC bus.

Now we had a full ride:

The newly-united Swamp Thang bus.
Tap to view at full size.

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.

One of the teams pitches at the stop in Charlotte.
Tap to view at full size.

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:

Usually, we say “we’ve run into a speed bump” only figuratively.
Tap to view at full size.
The solution: Unload the bus completely — after removing all the people and luggage, the bus was able to clear the speed bump.
Tap to view at full size.

Our big “unexpected unexpected” happened when the bus overheated and had to pull over on the highway somewhere in the mountains in Tennessee:

Stuck on the mountain in Tennessee.
Tap to view at full size.

This delay meant that getting to the next stop meant staying on the bus well into the night:

Into the night.
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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:

Finally in New Orleans!
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Which brings us to Day 1 of two days’ worth of pitch competitions: the qualifiers.

At the qualifiers in New Orleans.
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All our previous pitches were mere rehearsals. This pitch would determine if we would get into the semifinals!

Our qualifier pitch in New Orleans.
Tap to view at full size.
Our qualifier pitch in New Orleans.
Tap to view at full size.

Here’s our qualifying pitch:

Our qualifying pitch. Tap to play.

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!

Announcing the semifinalsts in New Orleans.
Tap to view at full size.

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!)…

Getting some help from Andrew.
Tap to view at full size.

…and made it to the finals!

We made the finals!
Tap to view at full size.

So we worked some more…

A quick selfie break before getting back to work.
Tap to view at full size.

…which led to our final pitch:

Our final pitch. Tap to play.

Once all the finalists made their pitches, the judges sequestered themselves, and shortly afterwards, they made their announcements, which included Hyve!

Announcing the winners. Tap to play.

Just because I love that bit about walking the line between good and evil, here’s just the part about Hyve:

“There’s a thin line between good and evil.” Tap to play.

Here’s the reporting on our victory:

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:

  1. Join StartupBus, which was happening in July 2019.
  2. Winning or at least be a finalist.
  3. 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…

This picture takes on deeper meaning after you read the next paragraph.
Tap to view at full size.

…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.

“Guess who’s back / Back again…”
Tap to view at full size.

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.

Me and an ad for Lilypad in an industry magazine, shortly after my first bug fixes to the Android version were released.
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“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

Posing with some Humvees that we spotted on the final hours of the bus ride.
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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?

This is probably the most important slide they show at the finals.
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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!