StartupBus 2016: Always be Pitching
Under the practicality of pessimism, Seneca advises creating a list of worst case scenarios and then a list of things you could do to counteract them. It was this practice of negative visualization — defining my fears instead of my goals — that got me out of my comfort zone last year and into one of the most extreme startup competitions in the world. If you want to do anything uncommon, I highly suggest you adopt this practice.
Enter: StartUpBus. So I asked myself, what could be scarier than using your vacation days to pitch & create company in 72 hours while being confined to a bus moving 80 mph across the country? When it’s framed like that — just about any & everything else in the world.
The only slightly awkward moment of the entire competition is on the first day; right after everyone is finished pitching and that liter of coffee you chugged back at the startup house is starting to kick in — & you are “set free” (in the confined quarters of your charter bus) to “choose your team”. It’s a bit like getting picked for kickball in second grade — except instead of being judged on the size of your hands & your athletic prowess you’re judged on your intellect, passion & ideas. I luckily got to play team captain here because I had 4 people rush to the front of the bus to be on “my team”. Apparently I give good pitch. Or I’ve learned enough in my 9 years of marketing to come across as confident despite not having hit that 10,000 hours to be considered an expert. Or possibly, and most likely the case, I had a brilliant business idea. Maybe a mix of all of the above.
Side note: I have probably been interviewed on camera dozens of times but can’t remember the last time I got up in front of more than 30 humans and gave a speech. If I can do it & come out as a “team captain” — so can you. Since our bus theme was around transportation all our pitches had to tie back to the exciting world of cars, planes & trains. Every five year old boys dream. My pitch was for an app that connected private pilots with extra seats on their planes to folks who needed to get to the same destination. Could be likened to the UBER of air, I suppose. Five hours into the competition we’d delegated responsibilities, started building some code, eaten some sketchy Chinese food in Bakersfield & named our company AirShare. Eight hours in we scrapped the whole damn idea due to legal hurdles. Fun fact: our sponsor, UBER, launched our exact company a couple months later. Something to consider: all pitches are streamed live to the world. No such thing as intellectual property at a startup comp, friends; remember that, be careful who you share your next billion dollar idea with..
Honestly, if you embody the winning trifecta of being an extremely intelligent, motivated and slightly weird individual — you’ll fit right in. If you have any hesitation about applying for StartupBus because you’re a female, have imposter syndrome or don’t work in tech full-time — don’t. Just like the website says, the “brogrammer” attitude just doesn’t fly & this is the NAVY Seals of startup competitions — not everyone gets in, not everyone is successful, but damn, it’s so worth it. If anything, my story should prove to you that the only thing that matters is your ability to workshop difficult situations, problem solve, pivot & pitch — you’ll not only do fine if you can do the aforementioned, you’ll kill it. Also, adrenaline is a powerful motherfucker.
Whether you’re coming in as a hustler (what I did — which included all business/marketing growth), a hacker (programmers) or a hipster (designer) you have to pull your weight. If the idea of throwing away everything you worked on 12 hours into the competition sounds like a massive waste of time — you’re not cut out for this. You know the SF moto “fail fast, fail often” — internalize this. And, a la Laird Hamilton “when you think you’ve caught the wave, keep paddling”. On our SF bus there were several company shifts, team member changes and 1 .. maybe 2 mental breakdowns. I was proud that by the end of the competition my team was not only the largest but worked together seamlessly. We had our genius hacker who lived off blue light from his computer and gummy worms, our French designer who kept us on schedule, an emerging pot-preneur who knew how to fast track tasks, a warm body, a second day addition who helped with coding and than myself. Some would think a team that large would be a hinderance — maybe for some, but we balanced each other out super well.
When our team had to pivot the evening of day one, our new company was dubbed UBR Guide (you-be-our guide) — an app that would connect community proud locals instantly to travelers. Imagine UBER but for instant & curated tours with knowledgeable local guides. Want to do a coffee tour in Portland, grab a beer in Denver or want a surf lesson in Santa Monica — load up UBR Guide & find a guide that aligns with your needs/wants. Better than YELP, more individualized than your friends rec’s & instant! We thought it was genius. Fun fact: so did Airbnb — they launched the exact same idea in beta a couple months later in July 2016.
Fast forward to Boulder StartUp Week — where we had our final pitch. A bit of a stressful start to pitch day — our team almost got fined for using public electricity in a park (pro tip: always bring extra power & for real, of all things to get in trouble for in CO — electricity.. really?!), one of our teammates showed up in a sweatpants & a hoodie (another pro tip: dress professionally on the last day or wear a team t-shirt) and I had a reporter on the way to interview us.. It all worked out fine in the end — the reporter interviewed me before we went on stage & filmed two of us pitch. We not only got on the front page of a local paper, in some videos & in a couple online publications but we received organic inbound activity. We actually had folks signing up to be tour guides 36 hours after launch. We were one of the few companies that actually had real live users at launch (#sohumble)! Unfortunately, we didn’t make it past the first round but it was all good — we knew what we created was dope, exciting & had the potential to change the way we experience new cultures.
That all said, when it comes to success within your designated role (hustler/hipster/hacker) you really gotta identify some qualifiers that get you stoked because there’s really only a small chance you’ll win. There is however, a strong chance you will have the time of your life, make lifelong friends & maybe, just maybe, come away with a company that could change the world.
I was asked to come back as the SF bus conductor for Summer 2017 — unfortunately life has taken me to DC (sad face). If you’re on the SF bus this year, make us proud — my buddies over at TUB won last Summer and we gotta keep the winning streak going!! If you have any other questions about the experience as a whole give me a shout — happy to give you more tips offline. Shoutout to my bus besties who created SQUADGOALS. Love you fools.