Congratulations, you are one of the least rational people I know. That’s a good thing. But you need to prepare yourself for what’s coming- it’s an amazing experience and you get to celebrate at SXSW afterwards, but before that comes the most intense bus journey of your life. I should know- I did it last year, and I thought I’d pass on what little advice I have for those who set off in a few days.
You will be stressed. Your teammates will be stressed. You will argue. That’s OK.
After you get into teams, you’ll have a glorious three hours or so where you’re unstoppable. Then you’ll start getting down to details, and people will have different ideas about what direction to take. You’ll have a healthy debate about it. A few hours later, you’ll be sleep deprived and suddenly the smallest question will become an existential debate and you’re right damnit, why won’t everyone else realise that? If it’s 3am and you’re yelling in each other faces about what colour gradient to use in your logo, go to bed. Even if you come to a final decision you’ll probably all wake up the next morning and think it’s wrong.
The important part isn’t trying to avoid arguing (because it will happen), it’s waking up the next morning, forgiving each other for being such assholes and just getting on with it. It’s no coincidence that one of the most successful teams on the NYC bus last year was the one making Happstr.
The internet connection is going to be terrible. No, worse than that.
I was told before I left that the internet would be patchy. “Ah, it’ll be fine”, I thought to my idiot self as I pitched an idea based around streaming music from the cloud. It was a huge, huge mistake- even when we did have a working connection, it could take up to thirty seconds just to start buffering a song. When we didn’t, well, I couldn’t do a thing. So, a few developer-specific tips:
- Don’t work on an idea that needs to stream lots of data. If you do (don’t), then make sure you can complete the entire process locally. Don’t use, say, the Spotify, Rdio or Youtube APIs, to pick examples at random.
- Whenever you do use an external API, download sample responses for every call you make, and ideally give yourself a switch between live data and locally cached stuff.
- Download as much documentation as you can. I was extremely glad to have offline copies of both the jQuery and jQuery Mobile documentation, for example. If in doubt just clone entire GitHub repos at random. You’ve got the disk space.
Yes, the StartupBus is a competition and you should be very focused on the project your team is creating. But the chances are that the real, long-term benefit you’re going to get from this trip is the people you’re going to meet and the connections you’ll make. So, you know, hang out. If it’s anything like last year, you’ll have numerous chances to meet people from other teams and other buses as you make your way to Austin. Take advantage of that. And although you’re competitive, the other teams aren’t your enemy. Talk to each other about your ideas and get opinions.
Then, when you’ve all arrived in Austin and the competition is over, you can all sit around and laugh about it, as if it was a weird blurry, sleep deprived dream. Because it kind of will be.