All aboard — Adam Peruta, assistant professor of strategic communication, hopped on the StartupBus on March 6 in Washington, D.C. Seventy-two hours and 1,500 miles later, before getting off the bus in Austin, Tex., at the South by Southwest interactive festival, Peruta and about 25 colleagues, including designers, developers and business people, were tasked with collaborating on making a startup company.
Peruta’s team of two eventually conceptualized RateMyClass.com, a rating system designed to harness the power of opinion with real-time ratings for live events. To present the idea, the team focused on evaluating college courses.
Contributing Writer Jamie Swinnerton spoke with Peruta regarding his business and personal experiences during his time on the StartupBus.
Jamie Swinnerton: What is the selection process for the StartupBus?
Adam Peruta: First, you have to be invited. You can only be invited by someone else who has been invited. I went to Twitter and asked other invitees to invite me. After you have been invited, then you can apply. The application was an open form that you used to your best advantage, so I did some writing, an infographic resume and redesigned my personal site. After that, it was a series of interviews. There were 10 buses, and I checked three that were in driving distance — New York, Boston and D.C. The people who drive the buses are called Conductors — they call you if they are interested, and you have a phone interview.
JS: What was your time like on the bus?
AP: It was one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had. When you get on the bus, you are given a specific task. You become hyper-focused — sometimes you forget to eat.
JS: Could you expand on the idea you came up with? How does RateMyClass.com work?
AP: We made a video as part of the deliverables. Each team had to make one. The whole idea with RateMyClass, it’s a platform that allows students to give professors live feedback throughout the semester. Anything that the professors change after your end-of-the-semester evaluation does not impact you. I sent an email to students, asking them to answer some questions about their classes. What do you like about the ones you like? What do you not like about the ones you don’t? Does your end-of-the-semester feedback matter? Would you want something to allow you to give feedback throughout the year? I got some good clips to work into the pitch video.
JS: What was it like being in such cramped quarters with 25 other people?
AP: At the surface, it was very uncomfortable. It was a coach bus, with an arrangement of tables at the front, which kind of gave people room to spread out. It was very tight, very cramped. Everyone was nice enough to do a rotation because everyone wanted to use the tables. On the third day, with everyone plugged in, we blew the power on the bus. We were without power for about two hours. The bathroom — we all agreed to try not to use it and wait until we stopped.
JS: How often did you stop for breaks?
AP: About every six hours — it was pretty ambiguous. One of the stops that was pretty fun was Memphis, Graceland. We had three stops where we pitched our ideas.
JS: How much sleep did you get?
AP: The first night I got about three hours. The second and third nights I got about two hours. The last night, in Texas, I got a good five or six hours of sleep. We stopped at hotels each night for about five to six hours. Everyone was pretty much working throughout the night.
JS: Is there anything in particular you’ve taken away from the experience?
AP: The practice part is a very tight deadline, working under pressure. You’re in close quarters with a lot of different people — lots of personalities you have to manage. You look around at the other people on the bus and realize that no matter what kind of skills you have, there is someone out there who can do so much more. It’s a bit of an ego check. They are constantly making you pitch your idea — you have to get people to communicate. Get them sold.
JS: Would you do it again?
AP: Yes. I encourage anyone interested in startups to apply. It’s a great opportunity.