Writing about the StartupBus is never easy, I’m doing it, because I just realized that I’ll never find the perfect moment… I’ll probably never fully decompress, since I plan on staying on the StartupBus team for an indefinite period of time.
I wish I had one brilliant phrase to summarize what we did and all it meant for me. I’ll guess you’ll have to sit tight and read my ramblings, since this is my very desperate attempt at putting it into words…
The StartupBus is a hazing ritual in its purest form: it pushes participants to their limits and makes them realize that they CAN do tough shit; instantly setting apart “the boys from the men, the girls from the women and the travestis from the transgenders” as Elias put it.
ABC… Always Be Conducting
We all keep coming back because for some of us it becomes a drug: life can never be the same after it, it seems dull and uneventful; the thought of never getting a fix again is just too dire to bare. When I hit rock bottom I became a conductor, because the thought of not having other people from Mexico experience what I had experienced, enraged me to the point of losing sleep.
I honestly thought we were going to cancel a week before, because the logistics behind the bus are monstrous, and things were simply not falling into place, it was hands down the most stressful time of my life so far. I was glad to have a good friend to lean on; in the end our visions and priorities turned out to be different, but I could have never pulled this off without Jeduan. Some entrepreneurs get the push they needed to start doing big things from the bus experience. I got mine mostly from him (message I tried to deliver between screams in a very agitated state during the finals)… he has been my professional partner in crime this far, every big challenge I’ve taken has been discussed with him, and every time I was tempted to jump alone I always asked him to come with. Until now: I finally realized I can do huge projects by myself and that they can be incredibly successful; however, the bus was a team effort, our last Hoorah! our “out with a bang”, through and through.
We also had an amazing production team, some were there only for a section of the process, others stuck by us through the entire thing. All of them made it possible: they fundraised, organized housing, made presentations, called meetings, lifted spirits. They were the beating heart of this operation.
Finally, we had the larger family. Last year Team Mexico was conducted by Eoin, so we never really got to see the amount comradery that engulfs the people that run this. Fraternities emerge from each bus, but conductors and directors are connected at an even deeper level, these are all people I consider friends and brothers in arms, even though most of our relationship has been through email and Twilio: I’d cook for them, host them, take care of their kids, visit them in jail or ask them to dog sit Moush any day of the week.
I’ve been asked to explain what makes The StartupBus different from other events: the level is definitely an important factor, since the quality of participants, organizers and judges is unparalleled; but the intensity is the one that can’t go without mention. Building in three days is no picnic, doing it with so much added pressure and complications breaks a person down… getting it done makes them come out rebuilt as a completely new being. The psychological factor is what sets us apart and what makes this unforgettable, like hiking a high peak, running a marathon or making it to the Olympics, the high comes from the pain endured. The fact that buspreneurs do it with strangers who put up, stand by and eventually carry each other through it, makes them come back as brothers and sisters.
So yeah, we’re a fraternity that hazes every new member, but only because we want to bring out the best in them…
And the anecdotes
As I said in the beginning of this post, writing about my StartupBus experience is hard, because the more time elapses; the more great details I pick up on, the more fun anecdotes I remember, the more I miss my bus and friends…
I have a list that goes on and on of favorite moments, but since I know I have an audience, I’ll only pick three: the highest high was the euphoria we generated BEFORE they announced the finalists, Team Mexico couldn’t stop cheering, screaming and laughing, we had luchador masks on, flags, people flying, and VERY loud cheering in Spanish, regardless of the fact that we were in Texas in the middle of an American competition. There was a LOT of us (38 to be exact, the biggest group there), so the other teams kept staring, some amused, some bewildered, some wondering if we were drunk… We sorta were, in that moment it hit us all at once; we realized just how cool our team was, how much it meant to be there, and how much fun we were having. We left that room in a conga line (enven though only two of our teams made it through), not even the winners of the entire thing celebrated that hard.
My other favorite moment happened before the previous one, when we got to the San Antonio hotel. I went to buy candy to the Walmart and got to the conductors’ and directors’ meeting late. Apparently this gave everyone else enough time to do intros and chat a little, Ray (the Master’s conductor) introduced himself to Jeduan by saying “Are you Maria?” in the most charming Southern accent, which got the whole room roaring with laughter as Jon (NYC conductor) replied “Are you drunk?… I mean, does he look like a girl to you?”. This gave for plenty of jokes later on, but I digress; during that meeting Elias explained his vision to us, he explained why he keeps making this crazy bus ride happen. He said “I’ve seen this change lives, that’s why I keep coming back”… It would have probably taken me years to see it so clearly and to express it with that much feeling.
My last one was in Austin. Since we had some housing shortage, I fitted 8 people in a room for two in a Traveler’s Lodge in Austin. We got there around 12am, it was the first time we truly got to sleep, so we raffled beds, got settled on floors and sofas and went to sleep almost immediately. At four in the morning I started hearing knocking, I panicked thinking it was the concierge who had finally figured out we had “a couple” of extra guests, so I started blabbering in English. We were surprised to hear one of our room mates replying “Guys, it’s me, could you open up?”. Apparently he sleep walks, he woke up as he heard the door close and thought “Fuck”, he knocked every other hour and slept on the floor by the door in the meantime, other guests passing by the hall stared at him, thinking he was some hobo that had wandered into the hotel with his sleeping bag. We offered him one of the beds when he got back in, “Neh, at least now I’m in the room now”, he replied as he huddled in the floor next to me. We roared with laughter every time we retold this story. I still get random texts with details from it.
I could get motivational and keep going about the times I saw teams and buspreneurs raise above themselves, or about the numerous times I saw them put their and their teams’ pieces back together, but this post would get insanely long. Besides, I will have time to write mora about that once I process and organize my ideas.
What life’s about
Right before we went into the finals I followed Eoin’s lead and sent all my buspreneurs an email thanking them for the experience, telling them how amazed they’d left me and how I considered each and everyone of them a friend.
If I had to trace my StartupBus story back to its origins, I’d have to point at a trip I took to the beach with the Sandbox crowd a few years back. I met Elias sitting on the beach, drinking beers, I was there to fundraise for a different startup. He told me about the StartupBus (he had just run the first edition), and I remember retorting “that’s the stupidets thing I’ve ever heard… so is Mexico participating?”. Things fluttered, circled, jumped and evolved from there, with the intersections, comings and goings of many talented people, unfurling in what is today: in this very moment in which I’m working with Elias and appreciating everyday I get to do it, because his vison of “the stupidest idea ever” inspired me like nothing before, to the point of wanting to change my life and do bigger and better things… all because Mexico WAS on that first bus.
Fabian, the founder of Sandbox also founded Holstee, a company that has made its manifesto very famous. He gave me a card with it printed on the last day of that trip. My favorite line reads “Life is about the people we meet and the things we create with them. So go out there and start creating”… Guess what Fabian?, I did just that!
I concluded the email I sent to my team quoting that line and thanking them for creating this with me. Now, I just hope to grasp all of it, to get peace with the parts I wish were different and to truthfully be thankful for all the wonders.