On March 2, buses full of hopeful entrepreneurs departed San Francisco; Seattle; New York; Nashville, Tenn.; Tampa Bay, Fla.; Kansas City, Kan.; and Mexico City. The teams on each of these seven buses were tasked with building and launching a startup during a 72-hour trip to San Antonio, where a panel of six judges — which includes tech luminaries Guy Kawasaki and Robert Scoble — will evaluate their plans and announce the winner of the 2014 StartupBus North America.
Now in its fifth year, StartupBus is an intense competition designed to give coders, developers and Web designers the opportunity to join an elite startup community with the promise of taking their careers to new heights. The three- to four-person teams will face off at the final competition, held March 6 at the headquarters of cloud solutions provider Rackspace.
As this year's competition gets underway, software engineer Mike Caprio, a 2011 contestant and co-winner, reflected on his experience aboard the StartupBus. Caprio, who now works at global product innovation company Neo, shared five entrepreneurial lessons he learned from competing in StartupBus North America. [How to Build a Winning Startup Team]
Small teams are insanely effective. In three days, the StartupBus teams must create a working minimum viable product (MVP), outline a valid business plan and develop actual traction for that product in the marketplace — all while riding a moving bus. Every person chosen to ride each StartupBus is handpicked by that bus's conductor — they select world-class developers, designers and businesspeople who are willing to do everything they can to get the job done. No matter how small it is, a team composed of the right people will produce great results and meet or exceed their goals.
Build it, analyze it, rebuild it. Conditions change so quickly at startups that the only way to make something successful is to build, test and rebuild over and over. Many "Buspreneur" teams end up pivoting multiple times over the course of the three-day trip, basing decisions on learning from different kinds of tests or various forms of customer development. Failing fast and often is the path to success. Traditional top-to-bottom "waterfall" approaches, where phases of progress are never revisited once completed, don't succeed as well as iterative build-measure-learn loops do.
Time is not on your side. StartupBus is a race against time, as well as a competition among teams. If a team spends too long trying to decide what to do, or puts too much time and effort into making a perfect "fully featured" product, they quickly fall behind other teams who polish less and accomplish more. In the real world, time is money, and time waits for no one. No business can survive for very long without a path to innovation, and the longer a company takes, the worse off its position will be in the market against competitors.
Other people are building your idea, so yours has to be the best. Each year on StartupBus, several teams inadvertently build the same thing, even across multiple buses from multiple regions. A good idea that solves a problem is often obvious, but in the end, all that matters is execution. The road to being the best is littered with the failed attempts of companies that took too many uncalculated risks. A lean approach can help a company determine which direction to take, question and validate assumptions, and distill experimental evidence into right action.
You learn more in the field than anywhere else. Caprio's team on the StartupBus built a product called TripMedi that gave people advice about medical tourism. Everywhere they stopped, they found people who had a story to share about a medical tourism experience, and Caprio believes his team couldn't have won if they hadn't done that legwork. It's important to get out of the building and do real customer development work, he said.
"I used 'guerrilla' tactics to learn more about what customers want, and observed behaviors in the field," Caprio told Business News Daily. "The intel one gets from that real-world experience is truly worth every effort."
To watch original video content from this year's competition, including a live stream of events, visit tv.startupbus.com.
Originally published on Business News Daily.