What Conducting the Midwest StartupBus Taught Me

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I-40W headed towards Little Rock is covered in ice and the bus has traveled 30 miles in 6 hours. I’m beginning to fear that I may have to tell the 20 entrepreneurs riding along that we’re going to pull over and sleep on the bus. That’s when it happens. Someone asks our bus driver Eddie to crank the radio and starts singing karaoke. It’s not long before the entire bus has joined in and we forget about the extreme circumstances we’re in. For me, this moment embodies what it was like to conduct the 2014 Midwest StartupBus. I was surrounded by incredible people who were constantly amazing me and I wanted to share a few things they taught me.

It’s Dangerous to Go Alone! … Don’t

My co-conductor Cole and I met in person for the first time 2 days before the StartupBus departed from Kansas City. We had been working together to organize the bus for months but our interactions had taken place entirely over the phone or google hangouts. By the kick-off party Saturday night, you may of had a hard time realizing we hadn’t been lifelong friends. I couldn’t imagine conducting the bus without Cole and he reminded me that taking on the big challenges is much easier if you team up with someone you can trust.

Susan Arete was repping Elance on the bus. As a sponsor, Elance gave buspreneurs a chance to tap into their network of talented freelancers. Giving teams the opportunity to fill skill gaps with freelancers was a huge advantage and it was great seeing how teams used this. On the Midwest bus teams got social media help, market research and design work from Elance. Throughout the whole trip Susan was there to guide them along.

Great Teams Follow Their Passion

As the bus battled the ice covered highway, Team Waste Not was fighting a different battle. They realized they needed to pivot from their original idea but they weren’t sure what to. After some soul searching, they realized they were all passionate about helping Americans eat healthy farm fresh foods. It wasn’t long before they were working on their new company, CropRate Wellness, which encourages corporate wellness by bringing farmers markets to your office. The pivot proved wise as they were one of 15 teams to advance to the semi-finals. Melissa, Ashley and Param (Team CropRate) definitely taught me that whatever you’re doing you have to truly be passionate about it.

Jenn, Timothy, Brad and Diana (Team Adademe.io) had a shared passion that brought them together on the bus – they all wanted to help teach students more about technology and help them bridge the gap into entering the business world. For me, it was inspiring to see them work together and create a project that had real meaning to each of them.

Expect the Unexpected

An hour before our last dinner of the trip we pulled Josh, Bek and Shane (team Startup Games) up front and asked them to organize our dinner as a Startup Games event. Cole and I weren’t entirely sure what to expect. The first Startup Games took place as we were stuck on I-40 and involved push-ups, thumb wrestling and fake pitches. As we pulled up to the restaurant, Bek gave everyone instructions for the event and we were off. It is hard to capture exactly what happened with words, but Startup Games put together a perfect close to our time together. We got to know each other better and we were able to unwind after three days of insanity.

When Carl first pitched Angry Corner he had the entire bus rolling in laughter. I wasn’t entirely surprised when I saw he had recruited Scott to work on this app together during the trip. At first, the idea of a site to tell you what to be angry about seemed completely novel. But as the trip continued Carl and Scott started to work towards a bigger vision. Can you use social media data to detect someone’s mood and determine when they may need help? Or could a HR department determine which day an employee is happiest…. so they know when to fire them. I didn’t expect Angry Corner to turn into what it did and it was exciting to see it’s progression.

The Power of Words

Team BeautyEngine (Pablo, Blair, Brooke, Mayer, Benjamin) worked masterfully crafting their message. Who would think of something like #beautygraveyard? They would. They reminded me that you can build the fanciest product but if you don’t have messaging that tells the user why it matters then your chances of succeeding are slim.

Caitlin Cress came along as a journalist for KCPT. She wrote an incredible live blog during her experience. This served as a great way for our friends, families and community to follow along in the journey. But perhaps more important to me is I can now read her words and relive the amazing experience all had together. I imagine as the more time passes, the more we will all be thankful for how diligent Caitlin was at capturing this journey.

Conducting the bus with Cole was without a doubt a once in a lifetime experience for me. I’ll always be thankful to StartupBus for giving me the chance and for each of the amazing buspreneurs who took this journey with us. If you’re a buspreneur, I hope you continue building the StartupBus community in your region and that these efforts put you on the path of becoming a conductor. If you’ve never participated in StartupBus, I hope you apply next year. It’s an experience you’ll never forget.