Is there a more oxymoronic culture than the startup culture?
It's collaborative. It's competitive. There's the insistence on knowing/using/being with the latest everything -- music, technology, news, people. There's also a feeling that you've wandered into a hippy commune. And underneath it all is the insistent voice that says, yes, your ideas will prosper, change the world and make money. Part of my job as Conversation Curator at iStart Jax is to foster entrepreneurship in northeast Florida. Admittedly it is a title that encompasses many responsibilities. But I am driven by the fact that the startup culture is the future. This freewheeling attitude that anything is possible and anybody can make it so. That entrepreneurial magic can happen in the darkest of places and with the most unlikely of cohorts. Even on a bus, trundling down four states. Filled with web designers, a skateboarding astrophysicist, self-taught coders, a Richard Back-quoting vegan, hipster business developers, social media hustlers and advertising mavens.
That's the situation I found myself in on a crisp Sunday morning. On a competition called the StartupBus, en route to South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, with stops in Atlanta, New Orleans, and San Antonio. The buses come from everywhere -- Tampa, New York, Midwest, Silicon Valley and even from Mexico City -- to meet at Austin. The 138 or so brave souls on these buses have one mission -- to pitch an idea, form a team, build a product (that includes a business plan, a digital presence, marketing collateral and a working prototype).
You can only find this kind of folly within the startup culture -- the confident awareness of your ability and the nimble willingness to put yourself through brutal work hours and conditions to help your idea come alive. In a true corporate culture, generating innovation is very often stifled by bureaucracy and its insistence on caution. Completely understandable but oh so regrettable. The teams in this bus form companies, create apps, put together intricate codes, snap up domain names, and generate all kinds of social media buzz in a matter of hours. They are fearless and only stop for sleep and networking with innovative others. With the cool folks in Atlanta at The Hypepotamus or with Mailchimp, in New Orleans with Launch Pad, with Twilio and Elance -- pitching, getting feedback and modifying.
As this competition on wheels enters Texas, suffice to say the days are melding into one continuous work session. First stop in the final rounds is San Antonio, where Rackspace gives these tired and weary preneurs a rousing welcome. The Macs come out and the teams get to work putting the final touches to their prototypes, pitches, and their marketing videos. The products are everything from CareerMob that helps veterans find jobs to Yaank, which serves as a personal lifeline (in an emergency, simply yank your headphones and help is on the way) to Skatecase, courtesy of the Skateboarding Astrophysicist, a functional skateboard with storage space to Storedrobe, a digital wardrobe that helps you answer morning queries of not having anything to wear.
And Cloudspotting, which is a clear crowd favorite. I could talk about it being a website where you draw on clouds but that is not going to aptly describe the amount of time you are going to spend drawing such brilliance as this.
This. This is what I mean when I say the startup culture will save the future. Where else will you find such disparate individuals of brilliance, who are doing their thing in the midst of day jobs, families, bankrolling companies and life itself yet coming up with ideas that change worlds? At the end of the day, there are winners and losers. But what is remarkable is how these strangers of the highest caliber came together, formed and launched a product, and created buzz around their startups -- all in the enviable space of 72 hours. They return to their lives knowing they are creators and their abilities can and will spawn the future. And that's what makes me get up in the morning and do my job.