News from the StartupBus community

MICK JOHNSON TALKS ABOUT STARTUPBUS 2010

0

ah_img_14aI stepped onto the bus at 7am on a cold San Francisco morning. I was running a small startup and had never been to SXSW – what better way to go then to jump on a bus with a bunch of hackers?

We were all buzzed on lack-of-sleep adrenaline and caffeine as the bus sped down the freeway. People stood, sat, argued, pitched, rejected and switched teams in a matter of minutes. Most first-time founders spend the last 6 months of their last full-time job casually pitching some random idea that resembles the latest TechCrunch phase. But it’s not until you actually quit that you really decide what you’re working on: on the Startup Bus this phase took less than 2 hours.

I joined the DormDorm team: building the AirBnB for college dorm rooms over summer. I volunteered to code the back-end in Google App Engine: a technology I’d never touched before. Other team members were scrambling to build mockups, a front end, call colleges and get them committed to sell us room inventory by the time we arrived in Austin. We’d already verbally negotiated our share percentages.

In LA that evening we did our first real product testing. At Santa Monica pier, the site of my very first arrival in the US 5 years prior, we accosted passers-by with our ideas. Some captured on video, some shot down in flames. Countless products are driven by a vision wholly internal, instead of just asking someone in the street or coffee shop. On the Startup Bus, that happened in the first day.

The next day, the Valley of Despair had hit – code wasn’t working, 3G connectivity was down, we were late, and the hacked-together map I’d built to track the bus on the journey was broken under a deluge of site visitors. I tried scaling out the capacity for the site but converting to a paid account took hours to get authorized and in the meantime the site was crashing hard as we broke in and out of patchy Internet waves.

By that evening the worst had passed. We were triaging features like there was no tomorrow (actually there was only 1 tomorrow). The site was coming together and we’d started blasting out messages on Twitter and Facebook to create buzz. We could see the path to success and a couple of cans of warm beer were taking the sting off the cold.

The final day recaptured some of the adrenaline of the first hour. It was a true launch day – just get the code out the door. When you’re in the zone, everything else disappears: the surrounding body odours, the lack of sleep and fresh vegetables, the jolting of the bus as it wound towards Austin. Deploy-code-find-bug-fix-bug-find-regression-fix-regression-realize-regression-is-not-fixed-abandon-feature-that-introduced-bug-deploy. The final Command-D was hit as the bus driver pulled up the hand brake.

The Startup Bus journey goes from anticipation, to vision and product definition, through arguments and negotiations, the agony of last-minute regressions and the glory of a successful launch. Learning to focus only on what matters as you hurtle towards a fixed launch deadline: to me that’s the very DNA of a startup.

Mick Johnson was one of the 25 buspreneurs in 2010. Following his StartupBus experience, he was accepted into Y-Combinator and launched Whereoscope.

Leave a Reply