Over 3 days we traveled through 6 countries, developed 5 startup ideas and visited 4 of Europe’s hottest startup cities on the way to one of the biggest fixtures on the tech conference circuit, LeWeb. Yes, StartupBus Europe was a trip I’ll never forget.
Bringing together 26 developers, designers and entrepreneurs from across Europe, the journey saw the StartupBus concept brought across from the USA for the first time. The idea is that over a multi-day journey, the ‘buspreneurs’ on board form into teams and create prototype products to pitch at an event at the end, where a winner is decided.
“The most awesome stage”
Last year, Facebook's VP of Design thought the TNW Conference main stage was the best she'd ever been on.
The experience began with the participants meeting at a party in Amsterdam, hosted by Atlassian. Most of the buspreneurs succeeded in restraining their partying enough to be up and ready to hop aboard the bus at 8.30am the next morning – although we had to pick up a couple of stragglers from a nearby hotel.
The trip, supported by Twilio, SoftLayer, Atlassian and Startup Bootcamp, was a long, physically draining but fun and hugely rewarding experience for the participants. Here we round up the thoughts of the teams, and the man who made it all possible – Elias Bizannes.
Meet the teams
Getrz aims to disrupt e-commerce by turning it on its head. If you want to buy something, you’ll put out a request and retailers will then come to you with their best offers, competing to win your business. In addition to price, other factors like length of warranty and availability of customer service can be taken into account. To help keep the service safe, it will provide an escrow service, holding funds until the goods have been successfully delivered.
The 8-person Getrz team was the largest on the bus, and included Arne Hulstein, one of the two men who brought StartupBus to Europe. I chatted to Hulstein on the penultimate evening of the trip about his team’s idea:
Invoi uses the Twilio API to make voicemail more useful. With a team featuring Timan Rebel, who along with Arne Hulstein brought StartupBus to Europe, the service picks up on set words spoken in voicemails and turns them into actions. For example, “call me” could prompt a call-back to the person leaving the message, while “Meet me at 10am in Starbucks” could create a calendar event for the appointment.
Here’s the team’s pitch, recorded on the bus:
And here’s my chat with them on the bus:
Locafoo is built upon the Foursquare API but feels like a more violent version of the original guise of Gowalla. When players check in at locations, they can pick up items and use them to battle friends or strangers alike. Over time, you can work your way up a leaderboard.
The plan is to generate revenue by letting brands offer special items. I chatted to the team to find out how it was getting on as we made our way towards Zurich.
Wander is a mobile travel guide. Before you go on a trip, it will help you collect essential information about your destination, along with points of interest that you want to visit while you’re there. Then, when you’re at your destination, it will give you alerts when you’re close to places you want to visit, with offline access for when you’re roaming abroad and don’t want to pay for data.
There’s also a social element, with the ability to share travel guides and pull content from others’ guides into your own.
Twilio’s European developer evangelist, Stevie Graham was on-board the bus and decided to get involved, forming a team around the idea of voice messaging using the company’s API.
What started out as a conference call app, turned into something a little more fun. YoBro allows users to join a group voice calls on any subject. Just type in the name of a topic, and you’d be connected into ta voice call with anyone else who entered the same topic. It could be tied to Twitter trending topics – if #AmericasGotTalent was trending, anyone interested in the topic could jump into a group voice chat with like-minded folk.
To prevent too much noise, each ‘chatroom’ would be limited to a small number of participants, with additional rooms being opened as needed to accommodate extra people. The team now hopes to release the YoBro in the App Store, and even if it isn’t a success it at least spawned the catchphrase of the trip – everyone seemed to be shouting “Yo Bro!”
Here’s a chat I had with the YoBro team, during one of the occasional drops in Internet connection we suffered as we traveled through a particularly rural patch of Europe.
Pitching at midnight in Paris
After an intense three days of traveling, we arrived in Paris around midnight on the night before LeWeb. The teams then had to pitch in front of a panel of VCs and experienced entrepreneurs at a party held by Seedcamp in the offices of startup accelerator LeCamping.
Given that they must have been exhausted by this point, the teams did a great job of pitching their ideas, and after some deliberation by the panel, two winners were announced – Wander and Invoi. These two teams, should they choose to continue working on their products, will have applications for a mini-Seedcamp event fast-tracked next year.
It remains to be seen whether any of the teams will go on to turn the products they created on the trip into businesses, but as the audio interviews above prove, they certainly got a lot out of the experience regardless.
So, what does founder Elias Bizannes think of StartupBus’ first European jaunt? As we rolled into Paris, I talked to him about the experience, how the European teams have differed from those taking part in US versions of the event, and what the future holds.
Read next: The Devil is in the details