Stevens personal learnings from Startupbus 2012

One learns a lot during a thrilling 72-hours bus ride with forty Mexican entrepreneurs to SXSW to present our newly founded companies. This post will be about the top ten things I have learned while riding the Startupbus 2012 for you to use and hopefully learn something as well.. Here they are in random order:

1. Deadlines work: to get the most out of yourself and your team you need to define deadlines
We made it to the finals of Startupbus with a mobile application live in the Android Market developed in only seventy two hours. If you would have asked any of us before we got on the bus if we thought we would be capable of doing it, we all would have said no.. Deadlines stimulate and force you to be creative, set them and stick to them!

2. You don’t need ‘meetings’, you need ‘doings’
Just simple long sessions where you have food, electricity, wifi and you can work undisturbed on your art. Meetings take your mind of your work. Agree with your team what is on top of the list and do that, then see whats next!

3. When you think your body and mind can’t go further, think again and get back to work, you can go further!
If you really want something, your mind and body are capable of extraordinary things.. Especially if you care about the things you are working on.. We slept only 18 hours in 5 days and we had all the energy and strength to continue.. Even while we were living on just red bull, snicker and doritos. Normally I don’t work this way but it was a beautiful feeling to be surprised what you can do with your body and mind under pressure.

4. Everybody has a role that is equally important
An app without a beautiful design is useless. A beautiful design without functionality is useless. A great pitch without having something to actually show for is useless. All these different fields are interconnected. If one fails, the mission fails and the team (and the leader) failed.

5. A team is build on trust and best managed by letting every team member excel at their specific field.. Let go!
If you want to build something with a team you have to learn how to let go. Trust that the combined strengths of your team will deliver the result you need. Every team member has a different set of skills and only when combined will they deliver art. So let go, work on your own part and see what happens when you combine!

6. Tell and sell a story.. Not a product
People dont buy what you do, they buy why you do it. If you want to convince either a new user, a jury or an investor always prepare a story, not a product explanation. People make their decisions with the part of their brain that is controlled by emotion, not by facts. Making sure you communicate your WHY enables them to relate directly to their own purpose. Prepare your story and make your service or product a part of it. Watch this movie for more inspiration on storytelling.

7. You don’t need power or WiFi to start a company from a bus.. You need bright and passionate people.. The rest will follow (at the gas stations;))
The best thing about riding on the Mexican Startupbus was that we had limited WiFi access and no power. This means half of the time we were unable to test, download, upload or browse the web and we actually had time to build our team and make sure everybody understood their responsibilities. Because we did this we got most out of every stop at gas stations or McDonalds’. So if you need to focus, try going offline for a while.

8. Team size doesn’t matter.. Team dedication does!
We were only with four people (one developer, two designers and one hustler) and we made it to the finals with our application Spott with the smallest team in the competition. Why? Because we were all dedicated to make this a success. This means that we did overnighters (we basically didn’t sleep at all), we stuck together and created the right circumstances for everybody to flourish. If you have a dedicated team, size doesn’t matter!

9. Your MVP doesn’t need to be perfect, just scratch your own itch
Our minimal viable product (MVP) could do three things: 1. Login with Facebook 2. You could upload a picture on a certain spot and 3. You could browse various spots for dropped pictures. Of course we wanted to include a lot more functionality like social sharing, adding your own location, uploading different kind of files etc. But you have to decide what is the core functionality of your idea and make that happen. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to work and it has to scratch the itch that made you start this project in the first place. The rest will follow (we are building our iPhone app and improving our current Android app while you are reading).

10. Involve your team in the business (model) process: why are we doing this, how are we doing it and what will we deliver
If you want to create something that adds value, your team has to understand what value you are aiming for. By involving them in the business process you will not only make sure they understand your business model and keep them on board, you will also allow them to come up with their own creative ideas about how to create and capture value. Our business model was a team process and could not have been created by one person.

Word of thanks
My gratitude goes first of all out to my team: Victoria, Hector and Benjamin. You guys are awesome, we made Spott happen now let’s make it grow!

I also would like to thank Eoin, our conductor, for his inspiration, energy and cool example of leadership.  Of course there is no way to express my gratitude to all the people from Startupbus 2012 who worked so hard to make this the ride of a life time!! And to the entire team on the Mexican Startupbus I would like to say: you guys made this ride all it could be! “taking my sombrero off

Last but not least, there were some crazy people in Holland willing to sponsor this great adventure. BasAndreTim, Lars, Esther, Jordy, J&A and Christiaan, your generosity will never be forgotten!

Here is to you
If you were on the bus, what did you learn? Feel free to share it in the comments. If you were not on the bus, I hope this was useful and will help you to perform better. If so, share and like! Thnx!(sorry, niet in het Nederlands beschikbaar, lees hier voor een mooie samenvatting van dit blog door Bas van de Haterd in het nederlands)


Steven Zwerink
[email protected]