The Wanna-Be Event App Developed By Hackers On A Bus

Event Tech Brief

The Wanna-Be Event App Developed By Hackers On A Bus



By Michelle Bruno

Hackathons have long been a staple of Silicon Valley and technology companies all over the world employ the unorthodox approach to product development regularly. As part of the Startup Bus Americas 2016 competition, seven teams of entrepreneurs traveled to Colorado for Boulder Startup Week to pitch products that they developed and began marketing on a bus over a 72-hour period. One of the products is a transportation application relevant to event planners.

The purpose of Startup Bus, which organizers describe as “equal parts hackathon, road trip, and global community,” is to empower the technology community. Participants are vetted in advance through an application process. Many have work experience and advanced degrees. All have to fit into at least one of three roles: hipsters (to develop logos, marketing collateral and messaging), hackers (to develop the code), and hustlers (to get the product to market).

Event Tech On A Bus

Squad, the very recently developed mobile app that utilizes the application-programming interface (API) of ride-sharing service Uber, was born on one of the startup busses. It allows a user to schedule rides on Uber to and from anywhere (even if the pickup and drop off points are different) for an entire group of people. At present, Uber only allows a user to schedule one ride at a time.

The team behind Squad plans to initially market the app to millennials—the type that go clubbing and to parties and concerts in groups—to help them manage the logistics of getting everyone in the entourage to the right place at the right time. In the future, they’re looking to offer it to professional event planners, destination management companies, and corporate planners. They also plan to add other capabilities, such as ordering food, purchasing tickets, or making reservations from within the app.

The Squad team members include Nur-e Farzana Rahman, Ajay Desai, Alex Lester, and Kenneth Rettberg—all experienced in one or more areas of expertise including programming, business development, and marketing and public relations. They were all riding on the transportation-themed bus sponsored by Uber. None of the team members knew each other before they boarded the bus in San Francisco. They met during a part Survivor and part speed-dating process on the bus.

Keeping It Weird

The Startup Bus concept was the brainchild of a group of Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs who wanted to combine travel to the South By Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas with hacking. At the end of the line, riders pitched whatever product they hacked on the way. The concept has since grown and now startup busses travel the highways of North America, Europe, and Australia every year. This year in North America, busses are headed to Boulder from Cleveland, Mexico City, New York, Vancouver, St. Louis, San Francisco and Tampa.

Rahman admits that the startup bus concept is quirky. “This is about the most Silicon Valley thing I’ve ever heard of, to get on a bus with 30 strangers to ideate, originate and sell [a product] within 72 hours. There’s nothing more condensed than that to actually create something that’s tangible and has the potential to grow,” she explains. It may be par for the course for millennials though. “Most of us are dreamers. A lot of ideas start on a napkin, right? So here we are on a bus,” she adds.

Lots Of Ideas, Little Sleep

The Startup Bus isn’t for everyone. “It’s an intense 72 hours. We were up until 2:30 this morning pitching ideas while Alex and our other teammate Ken were writing code. Then we got up at 7:30 and were pitching again,” says Rahman. Everything takes place on a bus in bus seats. Market research is done over the Internet and at infrequent stops to get gas, eat, or practice yet another pitch at startup-friendly companies and co-working spaces along the route.

The short 72-hour window for developing an idea and bringing it to fruition is integral to the process. “Hackathons are quite common. Coding to build something that is at least stable is a way to test out an idea. The time constraint pushes people to try things and be more ambitious than they would be just sitting at home on their couch,” Alex Lester explains. In Squad’s case, Lester had a glimmer of an idea before he hopped on the bus. He pitched it in the first hour of the trip and other “buspreneurs” came forward to offer help.

Hackers Welcome

While a few event-industry companies, specifically event technology firms, use hackathons to develop ideas, startup busses have yet to emerge. That said, the event industry needs to address challenges like making the data gathered at events actionable, managing the multitude of event apps, sharing data across apps, improving customer experiences at large events, discovering new revenue streams, driving attendance, or competing with other marketing channels. Perhaps a bus full of millennials could provide some new perspectives if not a new app or two.

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