A mass email was sent out over the weekend informing the busprenuers to arrive at the Tech Artista in St. Louis between 6:30 and 7:00am.
Fortunately, Janet and Alan offered to drive me there in the morning. Seriously, these two were wonderful people to get up at 6am during their vacation to drive me to my Startup Bus pickup point.
We arrived around 6:50am…and nobody was around. I was pretty confused, but I thought everyone might be inside…nope; the doors were locked.
So, I assumed the event organizers were late, and thought nothing of it. Janet and Alan insisted on waiting until someone showed up before the left. I encouraged them to simply get on with their day. Again, these are genuinely good people here.
People started showing up, but they were other bus riders. It was until about 7:10am that the organizers arrived. Which, didn’t bug me, but I could tell others were annoyed.
During the time I was waiting, got a chance to interact with a few people about their skillset…and it wasn’t looking good. One of them decided to do this at the last minute, and another one was a junior in college not sure what she was really doing here.
It was all good for me, because I came here expecting to just move on to Nicaragua afterwards.
Then others started showing up and talking about their background in data science, selling millions of dollars worth of software products, and a front-end developer specializing in react.js.
“Okay…damn, there is some real talent here,” I thought to myself.
Our bus arrived and we quickly packed and boarded.
Once on the bus, we each had 90 seconds to pitch our product and explain our skills. Here is the run down:
Abby: Knows R, and wants to start a Google Chrome Mood Ring Company. (2m 37s)
Me: Frontend Web Developer that wants to create an app where people can volunteer for projects in exchange for a place to stay and letters of recommendation while traveling and helping others.(87)
Joon: Frontend developer – Website that lists the cheapest Airfare in a given time (2 minutes)
Brad: $75 Million in Sales this year; wants to create an on-boarding solutions company (3 minutes)
Dulce: Travel App you use when you don’t know where to stay in a city (3m 47s)
Michael: Frontend Dev – Semi Trailer tracking company (97s)
Anthony: Writer/Author/Full Stack Dev – Mentor and Startup Background (30s)
Florent: Just here to learn, from France, joined at last minute to see what this is all about (54s)
So, our bus was…interesting. We had nine total people, but three of them already had their own team before we started, and one person was a mentor that wasn’t on anyone’s team.
So, that left us with 5 people.
Joon and I were the only two that had web development skills; he immediately wanted to work with me, and I of course wanted to work with him. Abby had experience with R, and Dulce has experience with Blockchain. I didn’t want them to feel left out, so I told them they were welcome to join Joon and I, and we would find roles for them.
Before we got started, I asked how serious everyone was about actually starting a company, because I left my job and my home behind to start a company. If they aren’t serious, then I recommended we choose someone else’s idea; if they are serious, let’s rock because I don’t have plans to slow down.
Everyone agreed they are ready to start a company and invest their time into this.
So, I went into great detail about how my company would function, how it would make money, and the specific roles I needed filled. Abby said she is up for whatever, because she doesn’t have any experience in web development.
I said, “That’s cool, we still need people to reach out to businesses, we need a presentation, there is more to any company than just the development team. I’ll find a role for you.”
That answer seemed to please her.
Dulce wanted to talk about equity in the company.
I responded, “I understand where you’re coming from, but we don’t even have a product yet. We have to have a product before we start talking money.”
Dulce: “Right, but let’s just split it 20% each.”
Me: “I’m unwilling to commit to anything like that. Let’s just build a prototype, see what our individual skills are, then we can start talking money when we actually have some money to talk about.”
Dulce: “You’re not listening to me; let me just say something. Every business has to pay people, otherwise they are not a business.”
Me: “You’re right, we are not a business; we don’t even have a product. We aren’t in a position to talk equity. We don’t even have a company name or branding yet. How do we come to a conclusion on equity when we have nothing? 20% of 0 is still 0.”
Dulce: “Please, try to understand. Every company has to pay it’s people. You have to.”
This was painful to continue to try to explain. We spent the first four hours of our bus trip with me trying to explain how we need to do the Lean Startup. I then asked how many of them have read The Lean Startup, and they all raised their hand indicating they have.
Me: “Okay, so let’s just follow the proven strategies that have worked. No need to reinvent the startup process. Let’s just do what works.”
At this point, Dulce really disagreed and she didn’t want to do anything until her equity was determined. When I asked what other recommend we do instead since we are at a disagreement where to start, they didn’t have anything to offer.
Me: “Let’s start here: take 10 minutes to come up with words that revolve around traveling and volunteering. So, let’s brainstorm alone for 10 minutes and come up with those words. Does everyone agree to start there?”
Nobody disagreed. So, we all started brainstorming words that reminded us of “travel” and “volunteer”…or so I thought.
10 minutes later, I asked people if they were ready to share their list. I was ready, Joon was ready, Dulce said she needed more time, Abby agreed. So, we took a few more minutes…which turned into a half hour.
We finally came to our first stop, and I was already experiencing the stress of a poorly constructed team. At this time, I thought about just back tracking and going with one of their ideas. It started to become clear that they were not prepared to start a company; they are here to learn, and so am I, but for different reasons. So, I brought it up when we got back from our break. Everyone said they were 100% committed to actually starting a company here.
I felt I was in a position that I was going to have to argue with them to buy into my idea and how we should structure this event, or I was going to have to argue with them to just go with their idea.
Again, this was painful and I didn’t see a good way to back out, so we kept on with my travel app idea.
Me: “It’s time to reveal our list of words from before break. Just to be clear, it doesn’t matter how silly you think your list is; some of my best ideas have come from my dumbest comments.”
Well, it turns out that nobody else created a list of words. Dulce delved into business models more, Abby came up with a paragraph that explained what she thought we were trying to do; Florent didn’t have anything; and Joon had a diagram of how the app would function.”
So, I revealed my list of words and I came to “Nomad.”
Abby: “How about ‘Nomadder?'”
Me: “How do you spell it?”
Abby: “I don’t know. I’m thinking Nomadder, with two Ds. Or one D. I don’t know.”
Me: “I like the way it sounds, good work. But, that’s the problem with some names, in my opinion. If we don’t even know how to spell it, how would someone we tell in an elevator, or someone at a pitch competition, or investors and judges on this trip know?”
It was at this time I felt like people may think that I am just being negative. So, I explain:
Me: “The only reason I bring this up is because we will have to explain that to people. I don’t want those people to be the first time you hear the criticism. It’s not that it is bad or wrong, I’m only suggesting that we need to think about the negative consequences to our name, and how we can turn it into a positive, or at least defend our decisions. If the first time we hear it is on stage, then the chances we struggle are higher.”
Because I wanted to keep people satisfied, I said, “What about Nomadr? Kind of like fiverr or flickr.”
Abby: “Oh, that’s a popular, modern tech thing.”
So, I looked it up, and the domain was taken.
Me: “What about ‘Travel Nomadr?'”
Abby: “No, it’s not as good as Nomadr.”
Me: “Well, remember, our app isn’t targeting nomads. Sure, it’s going to be a component, but some people from where I am from view the word ‘nomad’ as a bad term. Like, someone that can’t commit or is transient. Also, Nomadr is already taken, so is Nomadder. Actually, I’m liking the name less and less because not only do we have to explain our name to people and when they go home to type in our url, they may misspell it and go to one of those other sites; and, of course, the domain is already taken.”
Abby: “Yeah, that doesn’t happen that much.”
Me: “People not remembering a new, obscure name doesn’t happen that much? Again, I like the name, it’s catchy, but people are going to ask how to spell it a lot. That is the primary criticism other than that the domain is already taken.”
I could tell this wasn’t going well, so I said:
Me: “I’m just going to buy TravelNomadr.com for now. We don’t have to actually use it, I just don’t want to miss out on it and not have a domain at all. Again, just to be clear, think of it like a placeholder for now until we come up with something better. We need to get something up so we can start getting traction.”
Everyone agreed, and understood.
So, I tried to get everyone to discuss what their current skillset is so we could assign roles. I told them we need someone to be in charge, since it is my idea and I know the vision and the details, I can be that person. Dulce interrupted me as I was trying to assign roles, and she brought up salary of people at Airbnb. She said she is an economist, so she knows how businesses are supposed to run. So she should be in charge.
Abby said she was struggling with the idea of this app, and didn’t really see it being a viable company, but she wanted to present it. Dulce said she would help her.
In my mind, “Oh, cool. Nothing better than someone who doesn’t buy into the idea to be the one presenting it to large groups of people, and her primary help is someone that is heavily invested in equity of a $0 company.”
So, Abby said she would get started on the presentation; Dulce interrupted again to say she would write the business model.
I finally just said okay, because she had already wasted a good 4-5 hours of our time. It was at this time that she said, “You haven’t been to any hackathons before, yes?”
Me: “No, I haven’t; but you know this isn’t a hackathon, right?”
Dulce: “This is the startup bus hackathon, and I have been to many, many. You need to trust me.”
Me: “I already said to go ahead with the business model and we can all review it later tonight.”
Dulce: “Review? You don’t need to review it. Why can’t you just trust me that I’ll do a good job.”
Me: (I’m pretty much done at this point because we need a product, and I never said I didn’t trust her to do a good job). “Go ahead, with a business model. That’s fine. Joon and I will work on the wireframes and functionality of the site and the app. Abby will work on the presentation…”
Dulce: “So, you’re not going to show us the functionality of the site?”
Me: “No, that’s not what I said. We’ve been trying to get started on building a product all day, but you keep arguing with us about how we need to divvy up salaries or agree to an equity agreement for a company that has zero investors, zero products, and zero anything. We need a product first. Once we can get a product that works, then we can start marketing it. Once we start marketing it, we could get signups and build traction. Then we can get feedback after people start using it, and make it better for our users/customers; the focus needs to be on the product and how our users like it or dislike it.”
It was at this time I was really regretting bringing my startup idea to the StartupBus. Then we got to Nashville to eat..and I needed to recalibrate.