Frequent thinker, occasional writer, constant smart-arse

Category: Startupbus

The impact of competition on entrepreneurism

Last May, a new Australian incubator said they were different from StartupBus, the “people accelerator” (which I call a foundry — more on that another time) that we’ve been building for over two years now.

…the Startup Bus concept – which is essentially a start-up competition – is flawed when it comes to women….”The whole approach seems to be based on a kind of testosterone, pump”

It was an interesting point because I’ve often thought about not just how to encourage more female entrepreneurs, but more successful startups. Is a competition a way to do that?

When we ran the StartupBus Americas competition this year (840 applicants, ~270 accepted), we had a lot of upset participants. Several in particular spoke to me personally about how they didn’t understand why their team and product didn’t make the finals. One of the teams who I actually personally believed should have won the competition (but never made it past the semi finals) wrote an email thanking us (I’ve appended it at the end of this blog post, to not distract the point I’m trying to make) which I forwarded to all the participants, to which I added

With emails like this from Raymond (below), the real winner of StartupBus makes me think is Wastebits.

As Greg (Florida conductor) says: StartupBus is harder than a real startup. If you can survive this, you’ll find a real business a walk in the park.

Well done everyone, I was so proud to hear last night how many of you are continuing on with your projects. There’s something to be said true entrepreneurs are ones that break the rules (I actually smiled to hear people ignored some milestones to focus on product) and don’t let stupid things like validation (ie, the competition) get in their way.

Three months on, what’s the verdict? Still too early to tell but this week, a talented designer  Scott (who actually designed the new StartupBus logo) sent me an email saying that he was working with the Wastebits team, which has become a real business. Another team that stood out for their quality (and actually was a business idea I looked into years ago) but didn’t make the semi final — Get Wished — I’ve been hearing how they are still working on their product with serious commitment. And today, Sohail (who I convinced to turn down a job at Google so he would work at a startup) paired up with James (who was on the first StartupBus) had a post on TechCrunch announcing Hiptype who have been part of the current Y-Combinator batch — which other than credibility and exposure, also means a guranteed $150k in funding. The product the post talks about was actually launched on StartupBus this year (original video seems to be down), but they didn’t make the semi finals.

That last sentence being key. James in particular was upset in how he didn’t make it the semi finals, and caused quite a dilema for me personally because I liked their product, I knew the team members well, and I wanted them to succeed. A dilemma because we had to create a process to bring down the 50+ products to ultimately one winner and it made me question our approach which was entirely my responsibility. But the dynamics of the competition forced outcomes that even I didn’t necessarily agree with.

Is a competition the best way to select winners? Nope. But is a competition process, whereby people miss out and they want to prove something, the best way to create winners?

Time will tell, but something tells me yes. True entrepreneurs break rules, want to prove people wrong, and don’t give up. As it was explained to me by my previous boss: ruthless ambition is what creates entrepreneurial success. And the resentment of not being selected, may ironically be the best way to feed that ambition.

On a related note consider this: I’ve been observing how some of the best entrepreneurs I respect (admittedly, only men but then again there’s only a few people I truly respect) all seem to have what I call ‘daddy issues’ that they acknowledge as what drives them. Not big family problems, but just didn’t see eye to eye and a sense of having to prove themselves.

Addendum: As promised, the email from the Wastebits team this March that I forwarded to all participants. There’s a lesson in there for what incubators really should be doing.

Thank you and the StartupBus team for an incredible experience. In my humble opinion, StartupBus has innovated THE new model for entrepreneurs.
StartupBus is the epitomy of iterative adaptation and flexibility…adaptation–>the single most important factor in determining the survival of a species (adapted from Darwin).
StartupBus IS the MBA for entrepreneurs!
StartupBus creates a unique immersive experience for entrepreneurs to LEARN THROUGH DOING. There are no bystanders!
Plain and simple, graduates of StartupBus (*hint* *hint*) are well prepared to be successful bootstrappers. And even more importantly, these graduates are well informed to spread the StartupBus aspirational philosphy AND continue building that sense of community.
Wastebits came into being BECAUSE of StartupBus … it was nothing more than an un-named idea two weeks ago. StartupBus provided the environment and super-charge for a team of aspirational entrepreneurs to breath life into that idea. And now today, a meer 7 days since last Tuesday’s kickoff…Wastebits is an incorporated company, with an awesome brand, a team of senior developers, a team of industry veterans committed to forming the management structure, scaling and supply chain partners (Blackberry expressed high interest just yesterday to support Wastebits premiering via a mobile rollout), AND, most importantly, a bonefied base of PAYING CUSTOMERS (we received our 3rd Letter of Intent this morning!).
StartupBus is what enabled this to happen…happen in less than a week!
THAT is a story.
And yet, I find myself highly curious how we as the StartupBus community will achieve EVEN MORE for 2013?!?
The future is ours to envision and create. Everything is possible when the right people are connected! That is what StartupBus re-affirmed for me.
Thank you for the experience and the opportunity to join such an incredible community.
I look forward to being a part of creating the vision for StartupBus 2013!
Humbly appreciative,

Minimum Viable Business

The first dot com bubble was about moving the offline world online; whereas the second boom dubbed “web 2.0” was about innovating on the “user experience” and making the world a more ajaxy place with the web appear more like the desktop experience. What we’re seeing now is the domination of a new trend, but this time on the capital and business side.

Minimum Viable Product — also known as MVP — was one of the first new buzz words I heard when I moved to Silicon Valley in mid 2009. Two years on, its become one of most over-used terms in the industry along with “pivoting” and the rest of the lexicon branded under “lean startup methodology”, due to the initial insight of Steve Blank and amplified by the work of Eric Ries.

We recently ran StartupBus (coverage here) and Anthony Broad-Crawford on reflection with me when debriefing helped coin terms that described what we were doing.

Twitter _ @Elias Bizannes: "People Accelerator" and " ...

Something that we try to do with StartupBus is have people understand the most effective way to build a startup business. Not the most effective way to build a product or the most effective pitch — but instead, the most effective way to start a business. Last year for example, I threw everyone off on the Santa Monica pier en route to Austin and had them record videos of people that they would pitch their ideas to. The conductors (alumni from last year running one of the buses this year) clearly liked that and this year, each of the six buses had the “buspreneurs” required to engage with strangers like people at bars or in the street — getting immediate market validation of their concepts.

Minimum Viable Business is clearly a play (or is that “pivot”) of the term MVP. But I think it’s more important. Let’s think about this: Why do you raise capital in a startup? Its so we can purchase resources and hire talent. And the reason why we have talent, is so that it will result in building and supporting a product. A product, that we hope will one day have paying customers that will sustain our operations.

So to repeat, why do we build products? So that customers will pay for value we create. But what if we could get customers paying us, without a product — doesn’t that make us no longer a startup business?

MVP is a term that has justifiably made the industry rethink about how we approach product development. But let’s not forget, that a product is a way to gain customers. Just like with product development, we need business development — and building a MVP does not guarantee you anything but a less-white elephant. If we are building a startup, let’s focus on what really matters — paying customers — and work our way backwards to how we can create a Minimum Viable Business.

If you showed your MVB in the middle of a forest, would anyone care? The correct answer, is that they should be hunting you down to hand you cash. Who cares if you have a lean product, it’s much better for you to have a phat one that generates passionate (paying) customers. Call me crazy, but that’s just how business works.

The Startup Bus on failure

Hard to believe it’s been two months since the event. A lot’s happened since then which had me pause this blog series, but I’m now going to restart it and share the lessons during and after the experience.

Pollenizer is an agency that helps startup’s grow, run by my good friend Mick Liubinskas and his superstar business partner Phil Morle. They sponsored the bus, with the request an important lesson be shared, which was related to failure.

Below is a short video of Brandon Leonardo – a superstar that I think is going to go very far in his career. He however, had a very unfortunate incident that nearly threw off the entire operation of the bus. The incident revealed an important lesson for Brandon about how you deal with failure. Watch the video the find out what.

This blog post was done in honour of our proud sponsor Pollenizer. This post is part of a series on the Startup Bus, an event that occurred in March 2010 that was powered by Alassian, mentored by the eStrategy Group and supported by several other very generous sponsors.

Phil McKinney talks innovation to the Startup Bus

With all the hype now on the iPad (and the proposed HP slate), I thought it was timely to mention the personal session with HP’s head of innovation a few weeks ago. As part of the Startup Bus, Phil McKinney gave us a one-hour session on innovation, which we are fortunate enough to have recorded and have permission to share to the world.

Hewlett Packard was the company that started Silicon Valley, and Phil is one of the three divisional CTO’s at the company, focused on personal systems (meaning a lot of the innovative things that we will see come out are under his watch). So it was a no-brainer to start our experience there. He shared secrets of innovation, including some insight into yet-to-be released products by HP, like it’s electronic-ink paper that kills anything else in its class and the proposed Slate device itself (an iPad competitor soon to be released).

You can watch the entire presentation as part of this playlist. Or, click on the videos below which are in ten minute blocks.

Part one: Introduction
Part two: The Rules of the Bus
Part three: The Challenge of Innovation
Part four: The Secret Sauce – FIRE
Part five: The Secret Sauce – PO
Part six: Show and Tell
Part seven: Q & A
Part eight: Q & A (continued)
Part nine: (continued)

This blog post is a series on the Startup Bus, an event that occurred in March 2010 that was powered by Alassian, mentored by the eStrategy Group and supported by several other very generous sponsors.

The Startup Bus – looking into this crazy experiment in innovation

What happens when you put 25 entrepreneurs on a bus from San Francisco to Austin? Well duh – six new startups of course! Since TechCrunch announced to the world about my crazy experiment, I frantically organised what has one of the more memorable experiences in my life. It was hard work to get sponsors, get people, get the bus – and even down to the wire, have WIFI. But I pulled it off, and now I’m ready to share to the world what happened.

I’m going to write a blog series that will answer the following questions:
* What worked?
* What didn’t work?
* What were all the ideas?
* What ideas got rejected?
* Who was on all the teams and what were there roles?
* Did people flake out before/during/after (and if so how did that get addressed)?
* What are the state of the projects now?
* Are we planning to do something like this again?
* Did anything crazy happen during the trip?

Below you’ll find links to posts I will write on the event (as I write them). Above the links, you will find a video of me explaining to the “buspreneurs” why I think this experiment is valuable, regardless of the outcome.

Relate blog posts:
Phil McKinney talks innovation to the Startup Bus/

This blog post is a series on the Startup Bus, an event that occurred in March 2010 that was powered by Alassian, mentored by the eStrategy Group and supported by several other very generous sponsors.

The Startup Bus

Well, I guess it’s happening now! TechCrunch just wrote about my latest crazy idea which is still only days old in my organisation. It’s a bus from San Francisco that travels to Austin with 12 strangers. The catch? Those 12 people need to conceive, build and launch three startups by the time they arrive, to a packed audience of real tech entrepreneurs.

The concept is to put a remarkable amount of constraints (moving bus, strangers, 48 hours, crappy connectivity, sleep deprivation) among a group of smart people (and the people so far asking to join, include people who have built million dollar businesses). In my experience with these things, real startups can emerge from these efforts (like or, which is where the founders met), but the real motivation is to give a learning experience – and so I am structuring the program so that it maximises that as the experience. I guess you could say it’s like training, or as my friends Bart Jellema and Kim Chen coined for the Australian startup camps, “excercise for entrepreneurs”.

Leena Rao from TechCrunch makes an argument that these efforts can stir up emotions and controversy. But that’s exactly the point – in building a startup, you face obstacles. And if don’t deal with them – which include infighting, things breaking, and crazy pressure – then chances are, you’re not made for the startup world. Which is why these experiences are so valuable – you give people practice and exposure to these issues, and you end up developing better entrepreneurs.

As they say: good judgment comes from experience, but to get experience, you need to have made bad judgment. Here’s to developing entrepreneurs, so that they have better judgment with their real startups one day.

Huge opportunities for exposure for sponsors, which will fund this experience. Contact me for more.