What began as a joke, a whimsical notion—”What if we got on a bus to SXSW and just hacked?”—has now become a five-year tradition. With eight buses leaving from all corners of North America in early March, StartupBus has become much more than a transportation method.
“Really the idea is taking this creation process of building a startup and putting it in a really extreme circumstance,” Ricky Robinett, a developer evangelist at Twilio and Kansas City native, told Silicon Prairie News. “It’s about getting people to push themselves to new levels.”
“Once I did the bus I was like, this is something that needs to happen in Kansas City,” Robinett (right) said. “It just felt like it was the perfect place to have a bus leave from.”
This year Kansas City entrepreneurs can get on the StartupBus, scheduled to depart KC March 2 headed for Austin and SXSW. Along with Kansas City, buses will leave from New York City, Seattle, San Francisco, Nashville, Tampa Bay, Toronto and Mexico City.
Over the course of 72 hours from March 2 to 6, entrepreneurs from across the continent will gather on the bus to build and grow their networks. But the experience is not necessarily for everyone.
“What I’ve found is that when people hear the idea they have one of two reactions,” Robinett said. “Some are really excited about the idea of building on a bus during a three-day road trip and think that sounds amazing. If you’re one of those people, I’d say yes, it is amazing.
“To some people, that sounds awful. If you’re one of those people, you’re probably right and don’t want to do it.”
StartupBus began in North America in 2010 and has since launched similar events in Europe and Africa.
For those interested in becoming a “buspreneur,” participation costs $299, excluding the cost of accommodations. Robinett says StartupBus is designed for three types of people: “hackers, hipsters and hustlers.” In short, developers, designers and entrepreneurs with a business development background to help create well-rounded teams.
“The great thing about StartupBus is that you get such a crazy range of things,” Robinett said. “The project my team worked on once was called Happstr—like Napster—and was a happiness tracking app. When you were happy, you clicked the button and the app would geolocate you and find other happy people around you.
“It was just our way to be happy on the bus. We knew it would never be a real business.”
At the same time, Robinett says he’s seen people build companies on the StartupBus that they’ve left other jobs to work on full-time. He notes New York City-based Exversion, a startup that helps its users manage and consume data.
In terms of challenges, Robinett cites Internet restrictions on the bus as one of the trip’s largest. While his team stocked up on mobile Wi-Fi units, he says other teams would sleep on the bus and then spend all night hacking at the hotel, which invariably had a more reliable connection.
Interested? Apply online to be a buspreneur.