We assembled at an undisclosed Chinatown bodega at 5am really with no idea what was about to happen. I had heard of Startup Bus being “life changing” and “absolutely incredible” and definitely picked up on the vibe at the night-before departure party, but words can’t really describe the epic-ness. I’m sitting in the Nashville airport awaiting a delayed flight back to NYC, already having mega fomo that I’m not dancing up a storm all over Nash-Vegas (this is a real name) with my Startup Bus fam right now. Considering starting an Indiegogo to fund my flight cancellation but alas, part of me is also looking forward to heading home to sleep and take a real home-style shower. You know what I mean. I’ve collectively slept 3 hours on average the past few nights. Last night I plopped down on my hotel bed expecting to take a 2 hour nap, woke up 4 hours later and decided to call it an official night of rest. Thirteen hours later, I was ready to get back into it.
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. The manic energy of the last few days materialized into an incredible team united under a shared dedication to winning the contest but what developed along the way was what surprised me most. At times I asked myself, do I really want to stay up till dawn writing this Indiegogo campaign content and shooting another pitch video? This is all a game, after all, right? But the truth is – it wasn’t just a game. What we created is real, the strategy and implementation plan is real. We really created something truly original, that stands to make a huge impact while addressing a real market inefficiency. Plus share.ed helps so many people by creating new educational and economic opportunities. Sure, we had fun ideating silly ways to get early Twitter traction but it was all underlying real passion and investment in making a memorable impact. We didn’t just create Tinder of camping or the Airbnb of restaurants like some of our earlier twitter ploys joked.
Of all the experiences of Startup Bus, I can’t really select just one as the most memorable. I learned so much about myself and what I can truly contribute to a team. I’m so glad I didn’t follow my flighty premonition a few weeks ago that doubted going on the bus at all because of my lacking hacker experience. I am a hustler, through and through, and Startup Bus was the perfect spot for me to own it to the fullest.
Now onto my favorite ramblings on the trip:
- Finally made it to Detroit rock city. Impressed by how beautiful it was amid total dilapidation and erie abandoned buildings in its downtown financial district. Had the most amazing brussel sprout salad with more bacon than I could handle. Slept 4 hours max. The next morning we checked out Tech Stars where we got to pitch and work on some more content development. In my case I was just happy to have an outlet, wifi and some coffee. I wrote our mission statement, set up the blog and wrote another value prop outline in what seemed like a flash of light. All I know is I can pump out the jams as long as the vision of what I need to communicate is clear. What a cool exercise to see what I’m really capable of and what it takes to get to that point.
- I’ve never written so much in such a short period of time! I have over ten multiple paged notes filling up my computer, certainly enough to make a baller business plan. I have a pitch outline to die for – so on point, if only we had energy slash foresight to put it into a deck for our first round presentation. You know what, I’m okay with not progressing through the entire competition because ultimately I got to sleep and enjoy time with other cool hustlers on the scene. What is meant to be will be and maybe Startup Bus just wasn’t ready for shar.ed’s big vision this time around. It’s the farthest thing from failure actually. We won in so many other ways.
- The day on the bus after Detroit felt the longest. Maybe it was the lacking sleep. Although I got very little sleep before our very first day, with the heightened pressure of executing a real vision added on to the exhaustion – everything was intensified. Each day I wasn’t sure where we would be headed. I’m not sure if that was intentional on the conductors parts or if maybe I just wasn’t paying attention because I was so hyper focused on getting work done. Regardless, our arrival on day two to Ohio’s coolest startup (Cover My Meds) was such a welcomed surprise. We had real food (bahn mi and sushi) plus actual office space with wifi and outlets – it felt like a dream! It’s amazing how only two days of being on a bus can make you feel like you’ve been gone from civilization for years. Maybe it’s a New York adjustment thing in particular but the difference was palpable.
- Later that day we were back to the grind, working out our company vision, user flow, monetization strategy and pitching whenever possible to refine our delivery. I was on a high I haven’t ever experienced. I felt like I was in the zone. Like THE ZONE – the one pro athletes must refer to when they’re getting psyched to go into a game. I was so tired and uncomfortable at times but couldn’t stop grinding on the work ahead even if I wanted to.
- We crashed super late in Durham (North Carolina, come on and raise up), which did you know has a mega thriving startup scene? Me either. We started the day off bright and early after another short sleep at American Underground – a Google enterprises sponsored co working spot home to some seriously cool companies. We got some great pointers on monetization and user acquisition and I rolled my ankle on a super hidden short step, bumping right into the CEO that had just presented to us in the process. Suave.
- Day three got really real, and fast. Other teams on the bus already had working demos, prototypes and legit designed websites and social pages. I was impressed. What a talented crew! I think what I started to appreciate on this day was the incredible power of teams coming together to support each other, communicate exquisitely and frankly just rally to get shit done amid less than ideal circumstances. My team mate Ryan, for example, had terrible motion sickness (as did many others) but still managed to give me a much needed step by step refresh of setting up a Facebook ad campaign on power editor. I couldn’t believe how good he was at teaching. Then I remembered he’s an instructor at General Assembly and felt less surprised. Nevertheless, everyone was in it to win it. I felt proud from the get go of everyone’s sheer dedication and the universal sense of being all in. Sure it was a game but we didn’t play like it was. We were playing to win.
- Our friends on the bus who launched what seemed at first to be a bit nebulous – a virtual reality experience providing a getaway from the everyday bustle of life – actually got investment even before the final pitches! They balled so hard they couldn’t even make their final pitch because of investor interest – but they thanked the judges for the opportunity and then mic dropped so hard it hurt. Suddenly it wasn’t just a game anymore, it’s a legit mechanism for getting noticed (slash getting paper).
- The long night in Nashville was the most intense. I drank a Red Bull to stick to the grind and ended up staying awake till dawn. Hadn’t done that in awhile and certainly never because of writing and working on work-related anything. Reminded me of being in college and cramming before a big paper deadline but even then I wasn’t as passionate or invested in what I was working on. This was easier in that respect. The adrenaline of being so close to pitching, having survived a three day bus trip across the northeastern U.S. and having a legit, impactful, purposeful business plan to share fueled us to no end. I must have gotten two hours of sleep. Pitch day was next, our moment of truth and our chance to see how far we had all come since our first pitches on the bus leaving NYC.
What’s there to say? The talent, creativity, vision, contagious energy, dedication, community and sheer hustle speaks for itself and then some. Startup Bus-preneurs are game changers. Even if our companies don’t get worked on after the competition, we’ve all come out stronger, smarter and more empowered than before. No one bailed out, every single person brought it 100 and helped prove what’s truly possible when people work together to create the future. I’m so excited about what we’ll do next! Whether it be in our startup bus companies, our jobs, our communities or simply in our relationships – we are going to bring a whole new light with us to inspire others and move them to reaching their full potential. At the very least we’ll move someone with our crazy insane stories of the most ridiculous adventure of all time. Will I do this again? Next year? Ask me in a week when I’ve gotten caught up on sleep. Part of me feels like this is the kind of thing everyone should experience at least once. Lastly, the theme song of the trip is officially dubbed Start Up From The Bottom Now We Here (the remix).