The True Story of the #HelpFlorida StartupBus

How a community came together to help a group of young Floridans get their stolen stuff replaced by Microsoft and AirBnB

Startup bus is a global hackathon that currently takes place once a year in North America, Africa, and Europe. We put hackers, hipsters, and hustlers on buses and we send them from city to city for a few days while they build companies. We are #1000strong, and in my humble opinion, we are the most insane tech organization you’ve probably never heard of and definitely don’t truly understand.

Before I tell you about my journey as a Conductor for the Florida StartupBus this year, I need to tell you how it ended with the theft of 10 laptops from a house of young Floridians in Austin at the end of the competition. With Will Mitchell, Mitch Neff, and I leading things from the scene of the crime, the StartupBus community all over Austin and the world helped us get Microsoft and AirBnB to replace everything we lost in 12 hours and win thousands of hearts with this act of kindess.

On March 9th, we arrived home late after a night out in Austin to find all of our laptops, $400, and a pair of Air Jordan’s gone. Instead of getting demoralized, we got angry, we plugged In (with one eye open) and did what busrepreneurs do best: designed, hustled, hacked and most importantly asked for help. When we woke up a few short hours later, we were amazed at what we found. and #helpflorida were going viral…at 9AM. We’d only gone to bed a few hours earlier.

This story is not about how our stuff was stolen and replaced, but how riding on a bus with total strangers for three days and trying to build a company creates the kinds of bonds that are seldom found in the business and profit minded tech world.

Our good friends Prateek Gupta, Matt Schaar, and Rui Da Costa along with many others worked tirelessly through the night to make sure the world knew we had been robbed. They could have simply gone to bed. To fight against the robbery, Matt started building the site from the Airport while Prateek and Rui designed a sick logo, going back and forth on email 2,000 miles apart. As the news spread, Nicolas at 3Scale tracked down Ryan Joy, a Windows Developer Evangelist who was running a campaign for people with #SXSWProblems. We definitely had some.

Three hours after I saw #helpflorida with tears in my eyes, Microsoft showed up with handfuls of brand new Dell Tablet computers, Surface 2 Tablets, Keyboards, Lap Tops, Herschel Bags and Creative Recreation shoes. When everyone didn’t have what was lost, they came back three hours later with more stuff.

While this was going on AirBnB executives from around the country were trying to decide how to help us. Many spent their Sunday afternoon working tirelessly to make sure that we were either returned what was taken from us or reimbursed for the loss.

That is the power of the StartupBus community.

Prateek and I recently decided we wanted to take a bus to India…while riding on a bus. We pitched Elias Bizannes, StartupBus founder, at a party, and the next day he announced to the world that we were taking StartupBus to India along side his announcement that StartupBus Australia was kicking off in May. Did I mention we move at 70MPH?

The real story is about how the StartupBus community is the most efficient, badass, insane, awesome tech org on the planet. We are a fraternity for people who don’t care about fraternities. We are all hackers hipsters and hustlers who believe in disrupting the status quo that can lead to a higher quality of life for us all.

I don’t write code, but like a true ‘hacker’ I throw duck tape and glue at the problems in life.

I’m not hip enough to make beautiful images with my machine, but I love designing solutions.

The bus hustles.

The same is true of anyone crazy enough to get on a StartupBus.

We set up buses from each region months in advance, individually interviewing hundreds of applicants in different specializations to narrow them down to the most diverse and complimentary people we think proscribe to our ideology.

We told them that the journey was about testing themselves, becoming a team, building something cool, and having an amazing time. First time riders often get boughed down with I AM GOING TO BUILD THE NEXT AMAZING COMPANY EVER ON A BUS WITH SHITTY WIFI IN THREE DAYS WITH THESE COOL STRANGERS STRESS. Our job as community leaders is to push them to think that, and then help them transition into understanding that the Bus ride is like hazing…my team slept at our unofficial hotel sponsor @TacoBell when our bus ran out of power 2 hours from RackSpace HeadQuarters in San Antonio.

We make the riders pitch constantly…and we tell them to Always Be Pitching.

The conductors say to each other: Always Be Conducting. ABC baby.

To us, that means we are always there to mentor, coach, guide, hack, hustle, design, developer, teach and breathe into our community. We give back because it gives back, like some sexy living tech organism built out of people instead of code.

I rode the StartupBus in Tampa after moving there last year from NYC to start my company WeVue, and I didn’t know a single person on the bus when I rode. Now I have life long friends, mentors, and a huge support system in my new home as well as around the globe. All thanks to the StartupBus.

After #HelpFlorida, I am utterly convinced that we along with our sponsors and the tech community at large can be a much larger force for good than many of us even realize.

StartupBus would not be possible without sponsors. With their help, we are able to throw amazing events that accelerate people around the globe. The StartupHouse now exists as a sister company in San Fran, and my time there was another beautiful adventure. Elance helps us fill out our teams by providing free labor for the bus ride to anyone who is lacking a certain skill set, or simply doesn’t have enough time to do everything that is needed to launch a company and demo a product on stage in three days. Rackspace hosts us every year at their beautiful HQ in San Antonio, and they provide us with free use of their hosting services for months after the event. In return for the goodwill shown to #helpFlorida and the StartupBus origination, I’d like to CALL ALL BUSREPRENEURS AROUND THE WORLD: Help me thank our sponsors. I propose we organize a windows hackathon and entrepreneurial camp for kids at an AirBnB…do I smell a NutFund?