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9 Lessons From Launching a Startup In 72 Hours – On a Bus…

New entrepreneurs often run into the same obstacles. They either can’t find the right people, aren’t experienced enough, or don’t have the money…

Sometimes these are valid problems, but most of the time – they’re just excuses.

I’ve realized this by participating in many business competitions and hackathons…

Events like StartupWeekend and StartupBus never fail to change lives. I’d recommend them to any aspiring entrepreneur.

I’ve just returned from my 4th trip on StartupBus, perhaps the most extreme hackathon in the world.

What is StartupBus?

StartupBus Promo

StartupBus has (rightly) been coined the ‘Navy SEALs Boot Camp of entrepreneurship’…

Every March, 175+ top entrepreneurs board 7+ buses representing different regions – embarking on an epic 72-hour road trip to SxSw.

Once your bus starts rolling, you immediately pitch yourself and your best startup ideas.

Within 2 hours, you split into teams (5 or 6 per bus), delegate tasks, agree on equity, and start building!

Upon arrival in Texas, teams pitch and demo what they’ve built to big name investors.

It’s the entire business/product development process compressed into 3 days – an incredibly stressful and rewarding experience…

What You Can Learn From The StartupBus Experience

StartupBus forces entrepreneurs to learn tough startup lessons in hyperspeed – pitching, pivoting, failing, and starting over – all in a matter of hours.

Naturally, people learn more about early-stage startups than they would in most MBA programs.

Here’s 8 of the many lessons you can learn from the StartupBus experience…

#1 – You’re Capable Of (So Much More) Than You Think…

We are truly our own greatest enemies.

In reality, there’s no limit on how much we can get done in any period of time…

We make excuses, roadblocks, and obstacles to hold ourselves back.

StartupBus shoves this fact in your face – many people get more done in their 3-day ride than they have in the past year…

Every Buspreneur (what we call StartupBus alumni) leaves shocked at how productive they can be under pressure.

When the conditions are right, we can achieve anything with ease.

#2 – Surround Yourself With People Who Inspire You

The people you associate with have a profound influence on you. This couldn’t be more apparent than when stuck on a bus with 30 all-star entrepreneurs…

The fact that you can never leave your team’s side is what separates StartupBus from StartupWeekend, or any other hackathon in the world.

The energy is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced – productivity and brilliance seem to pump through your veins.

Whether it be peer pressure or new-age magic, surrounding yourself with like-minded people working towards similar goals supercharges you.

Surround yourself with like-minded people you respect, even admire. If possible, work with them…

#3 – Deadlines + Peer Pressure = Productivity

It doesn’t matter if you give 3 days or 3 years, work expands to fill the time available…

In fact, the longer you give yourself, the more time you give life to present situations/challenges that derail you.

More time is never the answer, it’s the enemy! 

However, ambitious deadlines alone aren’t enough. Plenty of us set deadlines we never stick to.

The trick is surrounding yourself with the right people…

Your friends, and especially your team, should care about your goals and hold you to them. They should be disappointed when you don’t deliver.

Set aggressive deadlines, and make sure you’ll let the people you care about down if you fail – that’s the honest trick!

#4 – Build Your MVP and Get Feedback NOW!

The companies who win StartupBus (and life) move quickly.

They never stop hacking, constantly refining their idea as new data comes in…

They JUMP at every opportunity to pitch, from marketing execs to unsuspecting truck drivers in gas stations…

By the first night, the best teams have working MVPs and have pitched their company 10+ times to 40+ people. Some even have paying beta customers!

While the winners are working on version 3 – the losing teams are trying to build out full-feature products, and polishing their slide deck before they pitch anybody…

If you want to win as an entrepreneur, you have to move quickly!

Startup Business Model Canvas

Most teams use a Business Model Canvas to help organize thoughts and identify core features…

Don’t build out your full feature set with every page of the website done up. Just do the bare minimum to prove the concept and collect feedback.

Then start pitching investors, friends, and advisors. Sell it to your target customer – give it away if you have to!

If you’re onto something, people will respond…

The people who move the quickest are the ones who get RIPPED APART! Their customers either hate the product, or an investor tells them every reason they will fail.

It hurts to hear somebody mercilessly attack your work and ideas – but ultimately it’s a catalyst for success…

Startups pivot or change entirely 5+ times during the competition, as in real life.

Ideas are cheap, but execution is priceless. Taking action and failing fast is the only road to success.

#5 – Luck Doesn’t Exist – It’s Created

This year, the Florida bus was struck by a lot of bad luck…

Our bus had no internet, no heat, no power, and was stranded more than a few times.

TacoBell Hotel Sponsor

Welcome to Taco Bell Hotel! Stranded in the middle of nowhere for the night…

 

Oh, and there’s the little detail of our rental house in Austin being robbed and ransacked…

Even though most people would see these events as bad luck, nobody on the Florida StartupBus seemed to mind much…

How could we focus on the negatives? We had just launched startups with some badass entrepreneurs, and were now partying at SxSw (what I call Spring Break for Entrepreneurs)!

And because we weren’t focused on the negatives, we we’re able to keep an open mind and solve our problems creatively…

We immediately reached out to Microsoft (right after the police), who was giving away free gear to people in need. They were nice enough to give us nearly $30,000 in electronics – FOR FREE!

Microsoft StartupBus Giveaway

HOLY SH*T – Thank you Microsoft!!!!!

On top of that, AirBnB covered all of our losses! Everything always works out on StartupBus, despite the chaos…

The reason is you don’t have time to complain during the competition…

When you don’t have the time or encouragement to indulge in negativity, you immediately start looking for ways to turn your luck around. And you usually do!

Bad luck is also much less noticeable when you’re taking constant action. Something else will grab your attention before you can even identify something as bad luck…

One more example here, one girl came on StartupBus hoping to launch an MVP. She left 72-hours later with two fully-functional apps (one with thousands of downloads a day), and a speaking gig lined up at SxSw.

Luck doesn’t exist, it’s created by people taking risks and finding opportunity.

#6 – Your Team Needs To Be Smart, Passionate, and Small

Small teams can be insanely effective, but only with the right people. One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch…

Ruthlessly cut people from your team, keeping only the most talented and passionate ones who can immediately help you build your vision.

As the saying goes, hire slow and fire fast…

If your team is passionate, dedicated, and on the same page – everything else becomes much easier, even fun!

No matter how capable your team is, you’ll never succeed without the combined dedication of all project members.

Make sure each team member is capable of contributing to the project (in a big way) before letting them on. And make sure it’s a team discussion!

Circle back frequently to make sure everybody on your team is still passionate about the same vision, and working towards the same goals. It’s easy for people to get off-track as your idea is refined…

You can pivot a project, but it’s tough to fix a team. Finding a team that excels is more important than finding a project to pursue.

#7 – Pitching Is Storytelling

The number one thing StartupBus has taught me, is how to PITCH!

As seen is this embarrassing video (which I almost didn’t share), my first year riding StartupBus wasn’t too great…

After a few rounds on StartupBus, my pitching skills have improved dramatically (though I still have a long way to go).

Here’s a slightly drunk pitch from last year’s bus –

(from StartupBus TV)

Now, the 2nd pitch is MUCH better for many reasons. But the main reason, is that I’m telling a STORY!!!

I wish I could go back in time and slap that into my thick skull!

You have to tell people such a clear and impactful story, that they FEEL the pain of the user. Walk them through and make them VISUALIZE how much your startup helps its customers.

Nobody cares about your BS financial projections, or who the members of your team are, or how many facebook fans you have. You have to make people care with your story!

Even if your idea is great, it doesn’t matter if you can’t effectively convey it to others. Craft a story that captures attention!

#8 – Know Your Audience

Figure out who your target audience is, and tailor everything you do around your audience. Do your research ahead of time and alter your message to increase your effectiveness.

This is obvious in the marketing sense. Of course, any time you’re building a product you should know your target customer like the back of your hand.

But the principle applies everywhere. And the smaller your audience, the more effective of a message you can craft.

When pitching investors, you can do some really incredible things. The startups that win in life and StartupBus try to personalize each pitch for it’s recipient.

Personalize your pitches!

#9 – Done Is Better Than Perfect

Inspired by the fact that I published this without a 9th lesson, and can’t change it now…

See You On The Bus?

StartupBus is the most life-changing business event on the planet. It’s had a profoundly positive effect on my life, and I’d recommend every entrepreneur get involved…

If you want to apply for a seat on your region’s bus, check out the StartupBus website. There are currently separate competitions in North American, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia…

(also, thanks to these Florida Buspreneurs for ideas on this article – Jason Ibarra, Pao Ward, Tay Wallace, Matt Foreman and Ashley Mooney)

Click on the names above to see some of the startups launched on this year’s Florida StartupBus…

Look forward to seeing you on StartupBus next year!

We read and reply to every one!
  • Ben Lawhorne

    WOW – sounds like an incredible experience Will! I formally forgive you for your March-absence 🙂

    Sounds like a “hackathon” is just what I need. Not sure I’m ready for something as arduous as StartupBus though. I’ll probably start out with a local, stationary one. I’ll work my way up to StartupBus 🙂

    You did great at boiling down the lessons you’ve learned Will, but I’m sure this is something you have to experience for yourself. If it proves as life changing for new entrepreneurs as you claim, I will be forever in your debt 🙂

    Keep rocking on,
    Ben

    • If you think a hackathon is what you need, then it’s what you need! You’ll have a great time Ben – let me know how it turns out 🙂

  • Awesome stuff as usual Will! Wish I could have been there. Love the GSD mentality.

  • Will, great points… especially #5 – Luck Doesn’t Exist – It’s Created!

    • Glad you liked that one Brandon – I almost took it out 🙂

  • That’s what I call, final level product development.

  • Great article Will! This is something that I would be interested in getting involved with. If the opportunity I have that will be taking me out to Washington somehow falls through, then I’ll want more details on how to get on that bus!

    • Glad you liked it Vince, and good to hear opportunity is still flowing your way. I’m sure there are plenty of hackathons in Washington 😉

  • Mady

    Sounds like an incredible experience, I’ve just signed up for my first StartupWeekend! Wish me luck Will 🙂

    • Best of luck Mady, let me know how it goes for you!

  • Will, great story. Great post! I’m definitely inspired to give a Startup Weekend a try.

    Thanks.

  • #9 is pretty much all you really need to know.

  • I fucking love StartupWeekends and such (and honestly, these events have had a huge impact on me), but I think they generally put far too much emphasis on building a product instead of validating it first, talking to customers, etc. I mean, I know that you should first build a MVP to carry out a proper validation, but StartupWeekends I attended in the past were too much like hackatons and nobody really cared about the business aspect of their projects.

  • Pingback: Inside the $2 Startup: Making a Real Business on a Shoestring In Two Hours()

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