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Building a Robot Cofounder

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photo by Ben Husmann

In the beginning there is never enough time and never enough people to do everything that your startup needs done. The dev team could always use an extra hand, the nontechnical cofounder always hogs the summer intern, you enjoy the spike in traffic a new blog post brings but wish you could figure out a way to write it in your sleep.

Worst of all are the critical tasks that need to be done on a regular basis over time in order to be effective. Nothing kills your entrepreneurial stamina like monotony.

That’s why I started building a robot cofounder for Exversion almost a year ago.

My robot cofounder is really a collection of scripts and APIs that automate our most basic regular tasks. Most of these tasks are biz dev or social media related, but you can just as easily build automation into boring and awful technical tasks if you wanted. I cannot overstate the power of smart automation. Anyone can write a script that runs regularly, but the robot cofounder project was about making sure the output of those scripts didn’t seem like it was generated automatically. People love robots, but no one wants to feel like they are talking to one.

That makes it sound like there’s some complicated machine learning AI magic built in, but really it’s more about applying small amounts of human processing in the right places.

Task One: Managing a Weekly Mailing List
It started with our mailing list. The mailing list always brought in tons of traffic, the problem was writing the content was a real pain in the ass. I knew we really weren’t utilizing this resource very well, but I also knew that most of the startup mailing lists I have been automatically subscribed to I also automatically delete every week. There didn’t seem to be much point to taking valuable time away from tasks I enjoyed to produce content many people would never even open.

That being said, there are a few weekly emails I do look forward to reading. And they all had one thing in common: they were news digests. Blogs posts and announcements on niche topics that interested me compiled and delivered weekly so that I didn’t have to troll the internet looking for them.

So I thought to myself: why don’t we do that with data? No one else is.

This is how Exversion’s weekly mailing list came to be. Every Tuesday night a cron job fires on Exversion’s server that runs a request to Algolia’s API. Algolia– if you are not aware– has built a search engine that indexes Hacker News. So robot cofounder sends a query to Algolia asking for all links posted to Hacker News in the last week have the keyword “data” in either their title or comments. We take only the first twenty links.

Then robot cofounder scrapes DataTau’s front page. DataTau is basically a data science specific Hacker News clone. It has much less traffic, but consequently articles that make it to the front page are much more technical and in-depth. There are no startup announcements, no general interest links. An article can stay on the front page for a full week.

Lastly robot cofounder assembles a list of new content on Exversion that we may want to promote. This includes blog posts, tutorials, interesting new datasets or new data requests.

Robot cofounder takes this large list of links and pushes them to MailChimp’s API which assembles the mailing using the right template and formatting and schedules it to be sent out to Exversion’s mailing list pending approval. Robot cofounder than triggers a test email which delivers the draft to my email.

Now all that remains for me to do is to trim the list of links down to the most interesting collection of news. I cut pretty aggressively, trying to get the right blend of data science, data infrastructure, open data news. The balance between content for beginners and content for experts is particularly important. We want there are be something for everyone at every skill level.

Once that’s done I create a title, regenerate the plain text version and click send. The whole process takes me around ten minutes.

Task 2: Manage Our Twitter Account
The mailing list worked out really well. We had a wave of unsubscribes as our emails went from once-every-six-months to once-every-week, but we were anticipating that. It had been so long since our last email surely most of our subscribers had forgotten they were subscribed! Over the next two months the bleeding stopped and slowly but surely we started gaining more users than we were losing. People were constantly coming up to me and telling me how much they loved the new mailing list and we got a nice spike in traffic every Wednesday.

It was time to expand robot cofounder’s responsibilities to our Twitter account.

The thing about sites like Hacker News and Reddit is that they are basically firehoses to content. No one can keep track of everything so there’s a real value in tapping into that content and helping people find the gems that will interest them. Our weekly digests were great, but they only grabbed the top matches for the week at that moment. It seemed like a smart idea to resuscitate our neglected Twitter account by having it distribute interesting data news daily.

And since the code for grabbing that news was already written, automating our Twitter account was just a matter of setting up a free Buffer account and hooking robot cofounder into their API.

Every morning when I open up Exversion’s admin dashboard, robot cofounder has prepared a list of links about data extracted from Hacker News the day before. I approve the ones I think are worth tweeting and robot cofounder assigns a time for them and sends them to Buffer. The whole process takes no more than five minutes.

Task 3: Harvest and Qualify Sales Leads
I have recently fallen in love with Contactually (FYI – signing up with that link will give you $10 off) which is a tool to automate and manage your relationships via email. You can import contacts from almost anywhere, sort them into buckets and build whole automated programs around the buckets that send specific emails at certain times based on certain triggers.

Most people use Contactually as a CRM, but robot cofounder uses it for so much more than sending dry sales email. Because they have a pretty robust API, I can create whole series of interactions with users and potential clients that seem organic and real but are actually generated and managed by Exversion’s server.

What Good is a Robot Cofounder?
Since I started building a robot cofounder, traffic to Exversion has grown by 275% Our twitter account has gone from hundreds of followers who were mostly fake to thousands of followers who are extremely real and influential in our field. Our mailing list open rate is a good 20% above the average for our industry. All this is starting to translate nicely into more users, more sales, more speaking engagements, more collaboration opportunities and most importantly more free time for me to write code!

A Startupbus tale: The day I learned how to code & enjoy country

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I’m not a techie girl. I love gadgets, I love facebook, I know how to use illustrator and photoshop, I feel a little handicap whenever I don’t have access to a wifi connection, and I’m an apple lover, but overall I’m not a tech savvy GIRL. I’m a designer. Actually I’m not a designer either, but thats a whole different story. Design is what I do and it is what i love. 

But this is not a story about design. This is a story about experimenting.This is a story about exploring and joining a community, this is a story about meeting people, this is a startup story, this is a story where worlds collide and make love like 2 horny drunk 20 somethings in a third date.

To begin, it would be nice for me to explain that I recently joined a group of crazy hackers. I’m not sure why or how, but I recently followed my heart, packed my stuff and left my pretty beautiful apartment and lovely office to move to a new city. Working online with my office and working in the evening with a group of amazing people whom in a few weeks went from being  “nice geeky guys”  to the most awesome team i could ever find; crazy smart hackers, lovely friends, silly stupid boys who tell bad jokes, overprotective boys, and all of those nice things one should find in a group of people you spend most of your day with. I work with a hacker school, and since I’m one of them now I can say I joined the most awesome, amazing, magical hacker school in the world.

Anyway… Every story has a facilitator. You know, that guy that enables the main character with maybe a magic weapon or secret and shares his wisdom. I have one of my own. Lets call him M. He is funny and a lil explosive, but he is awesome. He is the one that introduced me into this fascinating world of tech startups. And as crazy as it is, he is the one to convince me to pay a bunch of dollars in order to ride a bus with 30 strangers for 72 hours while working on a project i had no idea about and launch it. All of this while in a dirty bus, with no internet, no sleep and ugly food. This is The StartupBus. This is what our story is about.

StartupBus is like a hackaton (my first hackaton in fact), except its a super extreme hackaton. You take a bunch of great designers, business people and hackers and you dare them to launch a company as fast as they can. For me this is hard. As a strategy designer I’m used to the “fail fast, fail cheap, fail often” approach, but actually people give me money  in order to find user needs, doing research and finding a lot of insights before designing and launching a Minimum Viable Product and it’s  business model. In the StartupBus all of my research process went right out the window. We took an amazing Idea (Thanks Mau 😉 ) , created a team, and trusted our design-hustling-hacking instinct and started building a business. We just started working, and falling in love with our project.

So the first step to go on the StartupBus is applying. You have to fill in a standard application form. You put in your basics, your strengths and list the reasons why you should be on the StartupBus… My reasons? I never say no to a trip, M convinced me, and I like to think I’m a rather good strategy designer. So far so good. I applied. Then one day i got a call from this Benjamin guy who said he wanted to Skype to interview me for the StartupBus. And so we did. It was a nice call. He asked a bunch of questions, I answered. Everything was very normal until he said… “You’re in, but you have to fulfill a challenge.”  Turns out my challenge was to learn how to code in less than a week. This is when the StartupBus really started challenging my life. As I already told you I never say no to a trip, and it turns out my week, due to my traveling plans became a day. I convinced some hackers to “teach me” . Obviously I didn’t actually LEARN how to code but I did learn how to fake it and how to tell my computer to show me the stuff i wanted. Even with this little bit I felt way  too accomplished. I was ready for the StartupBus. I didn’t really knew what was going to happen, I just knew I had to buy a ticket back home and be in the meeting point at exactly 7 am the morning we were leaving.

The day we met it was all sunshine and happiness, except I felt like it was my first day at a new school. A mix of being very very nervous and super super excited. Everyone introduced themselves and pitched an idea. In just a few minutes the Mexican bus had 5 teams: an education platform, a choosing app, a tracking api, a game for kids, and my personal favorite ( cause it was my team 😛 ) a job swapping platform for creatives.

So the trip started. We jumped on the bus, and opened our computers. Thats when the internet died. Luckily we didn’t need it that much at the moment and our awesome hacker had all he needed right in his computer. Our first stop was Monterrey. El cowork was our first hosting space, and since we had to enjoy the internet we stayed up all night. This first night was very easy so we worked a lot and started building the platform. In the morning we headed towards Austin.

The one thing you don’t know is that Startupbus Mexico includes the “migration experience”.  In Nuevo Laredo border we had to come off the bus and basically pitch our startups and the Startupbus brand to the migration officers in order to convince them we  were actually going to a competition in Nashville. Some of them thought we were a little crazy doing this. Anyway, after 3 hours waiting at the border and 3 hours on the road we got to Austin Tx. The people at Tech Ranch Austin welcomed us with open arms and helped with everything, from hearing our bad first pitches to questioning the weak spots in our business models. To be honest by 3 am in Austin we were just about to die. We were way too tired and fell asleep for 3 or 4 hours.In the morning we washed our faces in the restroom and started our 13 hour trip to finally be in Nashville Tennessee. On the way we stopped for  “authentic tacos & quesadillas” in TacoBell (fun choice for a bus full of Mexicans), met a woman who got very angry about being called a “stranger”, found out that our conductor is one of those who buy all the weird stuff that gas stations sell, and figured out that the best beer comes in humongous golden cans.

StartupBus North America 2015

When we got to Nashville all of our fellow buspreneurs were waiting. It was amazing. The first real approach to our new community felt like getting home after years being away. We found our rooms at the hotel and started prepping our final pitching practice before the big day. The first day of competition arrived, and after meeting with a real shower we jumped in another bus and got to ground zero. That’s where everything was going to happen. Team after team was called into a “secret” room and pitched their startups. The semifinalist were announced, and luckily 2 of the Mexican teams were called back to semifinals (not mine though :( ). As tradition states now all of us in the bus should lend our hands to help the called back teams to stand out. After an afternoon of Startupbus hysteria we headed towards downtown Nashville. There I discovered a type of music were hips are not needed: Country. At first we were not very into it, but eventually we mixed in with the crowd at Tootsies and danced the night away with an awesome rock and roll  band.

The day of the finals came and our new task was to help the team that was in. With an amazing hangover I headed to the venue, dusted off my graphic designer abilities and started helping. Excitement was at it’s highest point. All of the finalist were in a rush of nervousness, redbull, happiness, anxiety, angst… you know, all of those weird feelings entrepreneurs have all the time. Before the winner was discovered we got inspired by amazing talks and after a while the winner was announced. Pizzafy was this year champion and even thought there were a lot of mixed opinions that was one awesome pitch (congratulations guys :)!).  Night came and Tootsies again was the witness of all mixing and mingling of Startupbus North America. I felt like i was back in kindergarten, there were so many amazing human beings to talk with that I didn’t know where to look or what to do with the little time i had to party with this people. I met awesome buspreneurs. A lot of new friends, and in some weird way i felt like I found my kind.

The StartupBus experience began as a bunch of strangers pitching ideas and it ended as a family with inner weird jokes, thanksgiving worthy fighting, underage drinking and absolutely a bunch of people in the same family who didn’t choose to be together but now kind of love each other. :)

StartupBus Americas 2015 Blog Post Round up

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NO RULES: A StartupBus Journey

by Jenn Spriggs

I’m a designer. I eat sleep and breathe building visual systems, whether that be a logo, a print, or a website. It’s something I love. When Jenn Shaw, one of this years conductor, called me up to interview me about a spot on the bus, she asked me the question and I immediately said, “Designer”. 

Well, I really said “Hipster,” but that feels really weird to actually say out loud. And there’s an unspoken rule in the hip community that you’re not really allowed to self-identify or you’re automatically a poser. 

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StartupBus – A Memoir

by Mika Ichiki-Welches

Although some of the “buspreneurs” were specialists in their fields, and thus explicitly “hackers” (programmers), “hustlers” (business and marketing people), or “hipsters” (designers), some of us jumped into the experience because it was unlike anything we had ever done before. And we were all determined to make the maker world proud with the first ever hardware-centered bus – the Makerbus.

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Thoughts from a StartupBus 2015 judge

By Eme Morato

As a witness inside of the Mexican bus, I’ve observed how something changes and shifts 180 degrees inside of the heads of the participants coming from the south of the border when they go through the experience of StartupBus. Something in their minds is irreversibly transformed and they start to believe that certain things they deemed impossible, aren’t really so.

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Start Up From The Bottom (Now We’re Here) #Hustlers

By Sydney Campos

I can’t describe what just happened. I got on a bus with 30 strangers, we each pitched ideas for start up companies and somehow, less than a week later, we are like a big family bonded by our common survival (and voluntary commitment) of an intense, and at times traumatic, experience. I’ve never pushed myself to such extreme limits, and over multiple days, ever before in my entire life. I guess it was life-changing to see what I’m truly capable of when I’m focused on the end goal.

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There and Back Again: My Shar.Ed StartupBus Story

By Kathy Liu

Alums looked at us with excited and proud eyes. I didn’t know what specific stories they had, but the alums looked so happy I knew at that moment that I had joined something really good. It was going to be arduous and back-breaking, but if I gave it my all it was going to be amazing and I was going to have the time of my life.

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StartupBus

By Greg Baugues

They weren’t sure the Maker Bus was going to work. I mean, you can imagine banging away on a laptop in the back of a bus for three days, but what are you going to do, bring a 3D printer on the bus?

Our riders brought boxes full of wires and buttons and tools. Sponsors donated Arduinos and Sparks and Raspberry Pis. We made overnight stops in TechShops in Detroit and Pittsburgh giving us access to every manner of fabrication tools available.

And it worked.

For the first time in StartupBus history, every single team from a bus — the Maker Bus — proceeded to the semi-finals. And the Chicago bus was the only bus to send two teams the finals this year.

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A StartupBus 2015 Experience

By O. Liam Wright

I actually found the StartupBus environment easy – it was returning home that was hard, perhaps because I became semi-institutionalized to the high concentration of talent and demands. As an entrepreneur who focuses on product architecture and business operations for Fortune 500 Clients and Startups with my company True Interaction, I found myself boiling down all actions into micro-functions,in order to control return-on-investment, and to cover high-value terrain in the shortest, most effective way possible.

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StartupBus Culture and What You Can Learn From It

By Taylor Wallace

When I told people this year that I’d just completed my third ride on the StartupBus from Tampa, Florida to Nashville, Tennessee, most looked at me like I had five heads. They’d all just completed their first journey and were exhausted after careening across the country.

Are you just a bus junkie? many asked.

No, I’m addicted to being surrounded by inspired people who seek to push themselves beyond any reasonable expectation to get shit done.

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Marianne Bellotti, Exversion Alumni Company Data Hacking for The UN

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I came onto the StartupBus in 2013 not really taking the startup aspect of it very seriously. For me it was just an interesting and unusual roadtrip and nothing more, but suddenly Jacek [Grebski] was standing up in front talking about all these data problems he dealt with everyday and wouldn’t it be cool to actually fix them?

It’s really funny in retrospect, at the time I tended to lump marketers together with recruiters in my mental classification system of lame people who go to technical events for the wrong reasons.

Jacek and I had run into each other a few times before the bus– we were both working in developer evangelism at the time, which is a very small close knit community– but because his background was marketing I always kind of assumed we had no mutual interests. It’s really funny in retrospect, at the time I tended to lump marketers together with recruiters in my mental classification system of lame people who go to technical events for the wrong reasons. So when he tried to talk to me before the bus I was always very skeptical about his agenda. It literally never occurred to me that he might be talking to me because we were interested in the same things. I wouldn’t say I was rude to him, but there was definitely some nodding while not really listening to what he was saying.
But on the bus his pitch hit upon ideas that I had been playing around with for months. It caught me completely off guard and I started to get really excited. I had always wanted to do something like Exversion, but I had always assumed it would be years before I could. Suddenly I was thinking “Why can’t we do this now? Why can’t I just build it?”
So that was that. The company is now two years old. We do a lot of consulting work building those data infrastructure solutions for huge organizations like the United Nations and the City of New York. Then we take that work and either integrate it into Exversion’s web platform for everyone to use, or open source it.

Being on the StartupBus

On StartupBus, I learned to recognize how badly I need to reign in my judgmental side, which is a huge plus in every aspect of my life. And the StartupBus community is a massive cache of contacts and recommendations. But I think the biggest advantage during the StartupBus is your close proximity to other teams. It’s not like normal hackathons where some teams come in fully formed with a project they’ve been working on for months, everyone starts from scratch. So while you’re trying to figure stuff out, you’re surrounded by other people trying to figure stuff out and you do end up learning from each other quite a bit. I’m a super competitive person and it was really interesting to be in an environment where the competition is intense, but the feeling of camaraderie is much more intense. That was the first time I was introduced to the idea that competing doesn’t automatically mean you are competing AGAINST someone else, which turned out to be a super important lesson.
Marianne Bellotti

Marianne co-founded Exversion on the 2013 North America StartupBus

Infrastructure is not something people enjoy thinking about generally. So in my industry the biggest barrier to a sale is not a competitor having a better product, it’s the buyer thinking to themselves “Ehh… well our current setup is good enough isn’t it?” Nine times out of ten their current setup is an elaborate network of Excel spreadsheets, dumped from a database ten years out of date, distributed over multiple Dropbox accounts and they don’t understand why their new data scientist hire is crying in the corner all the time. But still it’s really hard to get the person actually making the buying decision excited about investing in their infrastructure. If I come in and bash Exversion’s competition, it doesn’t make Exversion look like the best solution it just makes the client more skeptical of any infrastructure improvements. In our space there ends up being a huge difference between the companies that understand that by working together we all make more money, and the companies that think competing in business means competing against everyone else. Right now we’re watching one company from the latter having its empire ripped apart by a network of companies in the former.

So the structure of the StartupBus competition was a really good introduction to the type of competitive attitude that will ultimately make you successful.

What Happens After the Bus?

I went on the StartupBus because going on the StartupBus had been a turning point for every developer I knew that had an awesome career. At the time I was not happy at my job. I liked what I was doing but as a developer evangelist I was on a pretty short leash. I wasn’t working for a big startup with a nice budget for evangelism, so in a sense I felt like I was missing out on a lot of fun with conferences and hackathons. I wanted to change the game.
Afterwards I realized why StartupBus has the effect on people’s careers that it does. Normally building out your network takes months, possibly years of small meetings and run-ins. You can’t just get introduced to someone and immediately ask for a favor and expect that to go well. It takes time to develop the trust and familiarity that makes a connection really valuable.
On the bus though, all of that is accelerated. You go through some crazy stuff. It’s really like the Tough Mudder of hackathons in that sense. Shit happens and you band together. You don’t come home with thirty new network connections, you come home with thirty new best friends.

Did you think you’d be doing what you’re doing now before you started the bus?

Not at all. I expected to hack on something stupid for three days and abandon the project as soon as we got back. Two years later I’m still here.

I expected to hack on something stupid for three days and abandon the project as soon as we got back. Two years later I’m still here.

Many of the opportunities we’ve had came from reaching out to the StartupBus network: we’re invited out to SF by Y Combinator, Tech Crunch sent us to Berlin… Today I’m getting Request for Proposals for deals that are in the $1 million to $5 million range and it’s the StartupBus community that is helping me figure out how to grow to support that level of work.

StartupBus isn’t an event, it’s an investment. Two years, three years down the road you will still be reaping advantages. No matter what you decide to do with your startup once the competition is over.

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Bridgefy, Alumni Company with World-Changing Potential

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Jorge Rios from Bridgefy will be joining alumni and buspreneurs for Accelerate: Nashville on June 8th.

Bridgefy was born on StartupBus North America 2014, where the team went on to place 2nd overall. The founders, Jorge, Diego, and Roberto, went on to raise enough pre-seed capital to quit their jobs, move to San Francisco, and work full-time on Bridgefy. In early May 2015, they released the Bridgefy app for both Android and iPhone, the fruits of their 12-month work after having raised seed capital in November 2014 and built a team of 7. Bridgefy is based in San Francisco, with development going on in Mexico City.

We established the core founding team, we got validation for our idea, and we met people who have helped us a lot throughout the company’s lifetime.

I got on the Bus looking for a new project and team,  but I never thought I’d be working on something with so much world-changing potential. Don’t be afraid to be great. Just jump.

Before the bus, I thought it was this legendary contest where only hand-picked people participated and competed. After, I thought the exact same thing except that it’s not so far-fetched to think a Mexican team could win it someday soon.

I got on the Bus looking for a new project and team,  but I never thought I’d be working on something with so much world-changing potential.

Don’t be afraid to be great. Just jump.

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Wastebits, An Alumni Success Story

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On June 8th, Wastebits, founded on the 2012 StartupBus, will join alumni and current buspreneurs in Nashville for Accelerate: Nashville

First and foremost, Wastebits is about its people and culture. We were fortunate to start as a dream team with an almost unheard of mix of talent and experience that is perfectly overlapping. Frankly I attribute that to Scott’s talent assembling product teams. And while we’ve certainly had our share of tribulations, the emphasis and investments we’ve made focusing on our culture have proven to be our persevering strength. The funny thing about culture, though, is that its never ‘done’. The base might be pretty well established but its constantly evolving that, just like a romance, culture requires an on-going investment of time and resources to cultivate and ensure that the culture remains a critical foundational block that we can each depend on as we grow.

Our team on the software side grew this year to over 20 incredibly talented and passionate folks and we’ll finish out the year with well over $1million in customer driven revenue.

Dan Collins, our CEO, really was the impetus with his visionary ideas to revolutionize the waste industry based on his intimate knowledge and relationships within the industry. The tech side of the team had been looking for an idea to rally around, something we could all apply our passions toward together; and making the world a better place by (re)defining the future of the waste industry sounded like a fun challenge. And Dan’s personal values aligned very very well with our own, so it was pretty much a perfect match.

Scott Meier co-founded Wastebits on the StartupBus in 2012

Scott Meier co-founded Wastebits on the StartupBus in 2012

Our team on the software side grew this year to over 20 incredibly talented and passionate folks and we’ll finish out the year with well over $1million in customer driven revenue. We also anticipate needing to double headcount again by 1st quarter 2016. While we’ve achieved a lot of successes together (and circumvented quite a few the ‘normal startup rules’ in doing so), we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us and need to continue to grow to the team to help tackle the challenges.

Our size and growth are topics of on-going discussion for us. Immediately after our final pitch at StartupBus 2012, we collectively made the decision to be very intentional about our growth, ensuring to always get the right people on the bus first and to be very discerning on who are the ‘right’ people to be part of our team…of course employees and contractors, but also customers, investors and suppliers.

Immediately after our final pitch at StartupBus 2012, we collectively made the decision to be very intentional about our growth

Three big lessons from the StartupBus

  1. Getting the right people on the bus.
  2. Developing a trusted network.
  3. Focusing on what we need to do to drive value, and avoiding getting caught up in what everyone else says we should be doing.

From the Alum on our team, we had the impression StartupBus would pretty much be 4 intense, sleepless days figuring out how to build in 4 days what would normally take 6+ months.

And afterwards that seemed to be a pretty accurate depiction. Which was exactly why most of us resisted Scott’s prodding to get on the bus in the first place. Each of us was already pretty invested in our own endeavors. But then one by one, we had each found ourselves saying, ‘Well…if they’re in, I’m in’. And three years later here we are together still smiling (and still short on sleep!).

Ray often explains StartupBus as an immersive environment for cultivating entrepreneurial talent; likening it to a lightning MBA supported by a Community convinced they can accomplish just about anything together. Once you’re a part of the Community, its empowering and addictive!

“I’d rather see StartupBus on a resume than an MBA.” – Dave McClure, 500 Startups

After the Bus

We are each extremely driven individuals and had each been doing our own thing and supporting each other well before StartupBus. Coming together during StartupBus emphasized what was possible if we focused on the same vision together.

Funny enough though, early on on the bus each of us had considered joining other teams…but it came down to the fact that teaming together was just too compelling! And we’re all pretty happy with that decision now.

the StartupBus Community is chocked full of amazing individuals that really do care enough to work together to make the world a better place.

Advice to would be Buspreneurs:

Don’t get on a bus if you are happy to do what you are currently doing for the next 30 years of your life.

Getting on a bus will change your perception.

Red pill or blue pill…

Start a company not a startup.

Everything is connected, and everything matters.

People > Technology.

Its very apropos that our team came together and Wastebits was birthed at StartupBus.

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Smart Host is Coming to Nashville

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As part of Accelerate: Nashville, the StartupBus North America 2015 finals event conference, last year’s winners Smart Host will attend to offer advice to 2015 buspreneurs. Here Nick Persico from Smart Host gives advice to this year’s crop.

The trip begins with each person standing up in front of the bus to introduce themselves and pitch an idea. Since you’re a hustler, the group will naturally have a higher expectation for how you conduct yourself.

The introductions and pitches are the only data points you have to make a decision about which team you’re going to be on. I tried to market myself as outgoing, not afraid of public speaking, and someone who will get the job done.

Instead of waiting for people to come up to me, I did what every hustler should do naturally. I went up to people I found smart and interesting to show interest in their idea.

Read more at nickpersico.com

Nick PersicoNick Persico was on the NorthEast StartupBus in 2014. His team, Smart Host won the 2014 North American competition. After winning, Smart Host is still in business having successfully completed the TechStars Accelerator program.

Meet Nick Persico and the Smart Host team in Nashville on June 8th. Accelerate: Nashville

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A Hustler’s Guide To StartupBus

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The 2015 edition of StartupBus North America kicks off on June 4th when a new class of “buspreneuers” make the journey down to Nashville, TN.

Congratulations to those who have been selected to join the craziness that is StartupBus. You’re days away from being a part of an amazing and diverse group of people that have all experienced the ride. The circumstances, perspectives, and stories about “the ride” are different for everyone, which is what makes the experience so special.

I participated in StartupBus North America 2014 on the New York City bus and helped build a company called Smart Host. The idea was to automate pricing for short-term rental hosts on Airbnb and HomeAway. Things went well for us, as we wound up winning the competition and decided to quit our jobs to build Smart Host full-time. But more importantly, it was the beginning of many of lifelong friendships that I’m lucky to have.

This post is an attempt to share my perspective of climbing aboard the StartupBus as a hustler. In my opinion, the “hustler” is the most misunderstood and under-appreciated role in comparison to “hackers” and “hipsters”, or engineers and designers, respectively.

To help guide this year’s StartupBus hustlers, below are some tips and tricks that can help put your team in a position to be successful.

Pick the team, not the idea.

The trip begins with each person standing up in front of the bus to introduce themselves and pitch an idea. Since you’re a hustler, the group will naturally have a higher expectation for how you conduct yourself.

The introductions and pitches are the only data points you have to make a decision about which team you’re going to be on. I tried to market myself as outgoing, not afraid of public speaking, and someone who will get the job done.

Instead of waiting for people to come up to me, I did what every hustler should do naturally. I went up to people I found smart and interesting to show interest in their idea.

For example, I wrote down the programming languages and frameworks each person mentioned when they were pitching. I heard a couple of folks mention Python, so I tried to convince each of them to work on the same team. I assumed that it would allow the team to get started quickly, and not have people trying to learn a new programming language in order to contribute.

Overall, I optimized to find a team with skills that complimented each other. I honestly didn’t care about the idea. The team mattered to me most.

Like it or not, you are the team’s caretaker.

As a hustler on StartupBus, you’ll often find yourself doing things that have little to do with strategy or building the product. There are lots of little situations that will distract your team from getting things done.

It’s your job to take over all of those distractions:

  • What’s the team going to eat?
  • Do our conductors or the competition need something from us?
  • Is anyone on the team being blocked from doing their job?
  • Are our hotel rooms handled?
  • Does each person on the team know where they need to be at a certain time?

Be the person that runs interference on any person or thing that will distract the team from focusing on advancing the business. Your team may not notice it at first, but they will thank you for it afterwards.

Focus on the pitch even if you’re not the one pitching.

It’s common for StartupBus teams to have the hustler be the person that handles the pitch by default. Over the course of the trip, it felt like we were asked to pitch every fifteen minutes.

In our case, I would of been the one pitching Smart Host to hundreds of people if we hadn’t made a crucial last minute decision to change presenters. In hindsight, the decision was a no-brainer.

Here’s the backstory:

I spent the majority of the trip pitching, running interference, building the deck, and crafting the story we were going to tell on stage. We all just assumed that I was going to pitch because I was the hustler and spent the most time on it.

We started to realize that I was doing an awful job at pitching Smart Host. I wasn’t confident. I was stumbling. I was exhausted. Things weren’t looking good.

On the morning of Day 3, we were in the lobby of our hotel in Little Rock, Arksansas practicing the pitch. Our conductors were worried about how bad our pitch was, and suggested that we record it to get feedback.

Here’s one of the embarrassing recordings.

Pretty bad, right?

Soon after that video was recorded, I knew that I either had to get better at pitching fast or give the job to someone else on our team. I felt terrible about it, and did not want to let the team down.

Towards the end of the video, my face says it all:

A day passed, and my pitch did not get any better.

About an hour before we were set to hit the stage in the first round, one of our conductors suggested that we change presenters. The team did not want to take it from me, but I knew it had to be done. So we decided to switch and have Evan do the pitch.

It was clearly the right decision. Evan made an impression in the first round and stole the show in the semifinals to get us into the final round.

Here’s Evan pitching in the finals.

Whatever it takes.

A hustler does whatever it takes. It’s really difficult for a hustler to “show off” their contributions to the team. You won’t write much code. You probably won’t make the logo. It may not even be your idea in the first place.

You need to be the invisible glue that holds everything together. Your contribution to the team is the final presentation that hits the stage on competition day.

The real prize is personal growth.

The beauty of StartupBus is that you’ll learn a lot about yourself. You will accomplish things in 72-hours that you never thought were possible. Things will break. Tensions will rise. The realization that you’re on a moving bus with three dozen strangers trying to build a company will have you asking “what the hell did I just sign up for?!”

In the end, the amazing experience and new friendships make it worth all the hustle.

The Smart Host team posing with Robert Scoble after him and Evan did an interview for Rackspace at SXSW in Austin.

Announcing StartupBus North America 2015

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2015 is an important year for us – not just because it’s a milestone: it’s been five years on the dot since we announced ourselves to the world. Since then, we’ve added ~1200 people our community across four continents in StartupBus competitions.  It’s been a long, strange trip – and we’re ready to go bigger than we have before in the year ahead.  There will be several major announcements made in 2015 to mark this coming of age that started with the announcement of the community councils.  Today, we’re making a key announcement that shapes the rest of the year:

StartupBus North America 2015

StartupBus NashvilleAfter considering many locations, we discovered an opportunity in Music City USA. We’re excited to head to Nashville, TN June 4-8 for the 36/86 Conference in conjunction with LaunchTN.

Elias, myself and the North American Directors recommended to the North America community council that it was time to move the North American competition away from Austin and the SxSW conference – for many of reasons – chief among them was the timing and the disconnect between the value and the cost for everyone involved.

After considering many locations, we discovered an opportunity in Music City USA.  We’re excited to head to Nashville, TN June 4-8 for the 36/86 Conference in conjunction with LaunchTN. Nashville has welcomed StartupBus with open arms and cultivated a strong alumni network over the years. With recent news like Google Fiber coming to Nashville, you know there’s something brewing there. Nashville will play host in 2015 with the Grand Finals as part of the opening event of 36/86 – as well as new activities to be announced soon…

The most meaningful relationships that come out of StartupBus form by sharing a once-in-a-lifetime experience with the crazy people who are part of this truly unique community. This year in Nashville, we look forward to  providing a new way for the alumni community and the general public to meet the newest members and be part of the activities that facilitate those relationships.

Applications will be opening soon – if you are not alumni, we don’t make it easy to get an invite – not impossible, just not easy.  The easiest way to get considered is to pre-apply now.  Once applications open, this option will be gone…  We will be announcing the opening of applications shortly as well.

2015 is going to be an incredible year – are you ready?