December 15, 2017

StartupBus 5: Friday

by StartUp

Background show artwork for StartUp

The Story

All this week we’ve been following StartupBus, a hackathon on wheels, where a bunch of strangers come together to launch companies in one week, all while on a bus. If you haven’t heard Monday’s episode, start there.


It’s Friday, the fifth and final day of StartupBus. By the end of today, one company will be crowned the winner of the competition. But before the final pitches take place, a mysterious opponent emerges to challenge the five finalists.  

The Facts

Andrew Dunn and David Herman mixed the episode. Mark Phillips wrote and performed our original theme song. Bobby Lord wrote the special StartupBus theme song. Build Buildings wrote and performed our special ad music. Additional music by James Apollo, Michael Charles Smith, Jeff Whitcher, Golden Gram, Cassorla, Jagged Jaw, and Bobby Lord.

Where to Listen


LISA CHOW: Before we get started, a quick warning: there’s some swearing in this episode.

ERIC MENNEL: New Orleans has always had a unique relationship with death. Perhaps most famously, the elevation here is so low, and the water table so high, that the city historically had trouble keeping people buried. One doctor was at a burial in the 1840s—and he watched as water filled the grave so quickly that men had to stand on the coffin to keep it below ground. The cemeteries of New Orleans are known as cities of the dead, because the architecture and layout match that of an actual city so closely. Not to mention the funeral parades and the voodoo kitsch sold to tourists around town. In a lot of ways, death is celebrated here as just another part of life. It seems impossible to walk around the city and not feel that.

COLLEEN LAVIN: They said I was free this morning.

ERIC: Nice!


ERIC; It’s Friday morning. The final day of the competition. In just a few hours, Colleen Lavin will be pitching Daisy, the funeral planning app, in the finals. But she’s never spent any time in New Orleans. So she woke up early this morning to take a walk, see the sights. And she let me tag along.


ERIC: We left our hotel on St. Charles, and headed east, past the Walgreens on Felicity

ERIC: This is the most epic Walgreens I've ever walked into. Why is this playing outside of a Walgreens?

COLLEEN: It’s better than the typical muzak, or Matchbox 20.

ERIC: That’s true. I love Matchbox 20.

COLLEEN: Yeah, but it’s in every Walgreens.

ERIC: We pass under the Pontchartrain Expressway and jog to the left. Neither of us has much idea where we are or where we’re going.

ERIC: Wanna turn right?


ERIC: Despite having spent an entire week on a bus with Colleen, I don’t actually know that much about her. And she doesn’t know that much about me. So she asks me about work and whether I like it. I ask her about growing up. Turns out, before being a computer whiz and hackathon regular, she was a bit of an athlete.

COLLEEN: I was once the Illinois Knights of Columbus free throw champion for girls age 14.

ERIC: What? 

COLLEEN: I was like getting my school volunteer hours, helping my dad at the free throw contest, and I was in the right age range, so he made me compete. I made two baskets, because I was not a basketball player. But no other girls in my age range showed up, and he made me go to the next competition and no other girls my age range showed up. Finally, I was almost sent to D.C to compete in the nationals after making a total of like four baskets.

ERIC: Because nobody had showed up?

COLLEEN: In my age competition!

ERIC: So that is how you became the Knights of Columbus of Illinois State Champion.

COLLEEN: Age 14, 13-14.

ERIC: Wow.

ERIC: We cross Canal Street near Rampart. There are signs for the French Quarter, so we head in that direction. Colleen grew up outside of Chicago. Her mom teaches elementary school and her dad (when he wasn’t entering Colleen into free throw competitions) spent most of his career working for a big market research firm.

ERIC: During your Q&A yesterday when someone asked you about the origins of Daisy, you had mentioned, was it your dad?

COLLEEN: Yeah. He asked me what the origins were. And I mentioned that I'd been worrying about my dad’s health, because he’s been having some heart issues lately. I don't know all the medical terms. But I do know he’s had like three or four heart surgeries. His carotid artery was like 98 or 99 percent clogged. And when they removed the blockage they damaged his vocal cord. And so he can't talk really.

ERIC: Really?

COLLEEN: Really. And my dad had this large booming voice beforehand. Like, when I met my college roommate, the first thing she said when my dad left the room was, “Oh my god, that voice.” He had a radio voice.

ERIC: I had no idea.

COLLEEN: Well, it’s not something you randomly bring up in conversation. Have you talked about your family's health problems?

ERIC: I haven’t, that’s fair. But I guess, like. Oh boy, run across the street. Um. I feel like when I asked you about, like how you came up with the idea for Daisy that first day you were like, I think if I remember correctly you said, ‘Oh, I just thought about it like five minutes on the train over here.’

COLLEEN: I did. Not even train over there. I thought about it when we were on the bus. My original idea was a packing calculator.

ERIC: A what?

COLLEEN: An add-on on for travel sites, they tells you how much to bring on a trip based on where you're going and how long. It’s a really bad idea. But there's no major competition.

ERIC: Well then what was it that made you go with Daisy?

COLLEEN: Like my strategy for hackathons is I think of things that have been bugging me the past week. Like packing. So I thought of like something that I was worried about and I was like, “OK, death.” And there weren't really that many death apps out there.

ERIC: Yeah.


ERIC: Good car honk. I can use that for a transition later.

COLLEEN: Oh good!

ERIC: How long has your dad been going through some of that stuff?

COLLEEN: I think it was January or something?

ERIC: That's really new.

COLLEEN: Pretty new.

ERIC: How do you feel like you've been dealing with it?

COLLEEN: I live far away so. I haven't really been dealing with it. My mom and my brother are more in the thick of it, because it's their everyday reality. And my dad obviously. And he’s not bedridden or anything like that. Well he was. But now he’s not.

ERIC: I mean, like I live pretty far from my family too, and I know…my dad, he hasn't had any specific troubles yet, but he's like getting to the age and he's like, every time I get a call from him that's like at a weird time of day I'm like, oh shit.

COLLEEN: Yeah, like what happened now?

ERIC: Yeah. So I think about it a lot too, especially being far away.

COLLEEN: Right, how are you going to deal with that? It’s easy to not notice the changes over the phone and then go home and suddenly like, who are these old people who replaced my parents? Not you, mom! I feel like people deal with death in different ways, and like my way is super healthy. It’s called repression and humor. It's great.

ERIC: Yeah. Are you scared by it?

COLLEEN: Of course. If I wasn't scared of it why would I like build this whole thing around making it easier.

COLLEEN: Oh, Knights of Columbus we were talking about them.

ERIC: We should see if they got a hoop out back.


ERIC: I’ve heard Colleen pitch maybe 20 times over the course of the week. I feel like I could almost give the pitch myself at this point. But this conversation, about our parents getting older and the hard decisions we’ll have to make—it does more to convince me of the value of something like Daisy than any of those pitches. But as Colleen walks back inside the hotel to get ready for the finals, I remember: I’m not the one she needs to convince.

ERIC: This is StartUp, the show about what it’s really like to start a business… on a bus. I’m Eric Mennel. After four days and multiple rounds of pitching we are now down to the final day, the final five companies vying for the title of StartupBus Champion, 2017. And these companies are pretty diverse in terms of what they do. There’s Daisy, of course. They’re the only New York company still in the competition. Then there’s Course Align, run by those two fast friends from Tampa, Fl.

ROBERT BLACKLIDGE: Yes. Validated validated validated!

ERIC: They’ve built software to help University syllabi match what jobs are on the market for college grads. Then there’s Drop-In-Pedals—a device that converts racing bike pedals into regular pedals so you can wear normal shoes on your fancy bike. Initiate Today is an employee onboarding program. And finally there’s Del Campo—a Mexico City company connecting farmers to retailers. In the hours before the finals, there’s a strange mood flowing through StartupBus. People are whispering, to each other, to me, about how they think something shady is happening in the background of the competition. Something that caught everybody off guard. To understand what’s going on, we actually need to jump back a few hours, to Thursday night.

COLLEEN: We probably have enough that we could….

ERIC: We’re in a hotel room with team Daisy and Alex Romero. Alex is the developer who created Phishly, which was knocked out in the first round of competition. Since Daisy is in the finals, they’ve asked him to help spruce up their site. That’s allowed. So Daisy and Alex are in this hotel room, coding, joking about all the stuff that happened this week.


ERIC: And then someone mentions: the sixth team. See, after the qualifying round ended, the founder of StartupBus, his name is Elias Bizannes, he told everybody who wasn’t moving on to the semis, to come to a room for some feedback. Alex went. And now he’s telling Daisy what happened.

ALEX ROMERO: They told me go to a room, they’re going to give you constructive feedback on your pitches.

REBECCA BATTERMAN: They told you that?

ALEX: Yeah they told me that. So I go to the room, and it’s the guy pitching, one of the judges, the Australian guy.

ERIC: He’s talking about Elias, the founder. It turns out there was no constructive feedback. Instead, Elias tells everyone that he is forming a sixth team, a team made up of all the people who lost today, from all of the busses. And this massive sixth team will automatically get to compete in the finals. Elias has an idea for the product they’re gonna build, this team just needs to do it in the next 24 hours. And here’s the idea: A blockchain voting app. Remember the technology Denari was using to do bitcoin donations? Elias wants to use that same technology to build a secure, transparent voting platform. And he wants the people who didn’t make it to the finals to help him do it. When Alex Romero heard this, he wasn’t exactly jumping at the opportunity.

ALEX: He was like, democratic, blockchain, change the world, and I was like… I heard this pitch the entire bus ride here. So the guy starts pitching us and I was like like, “Hell no.” I wasn’t even like subtle about it. I was like, I gotta go. I’m leaving. The second I knew they were trying to get us through this, I was like, I’m out. I felt phished.

ERIC: The way Alex tells it, he wasn't the only person in the room who felt like something was off. People started filing out, and pretty soon after that, all these questions started to circulate. If the plan all along was to have a sixth team, why wouldn’t they announce it until just now? And if a bunch of people built this thing for Elias, who would own it? StartupBus? People kept coming to me to speculate, but they didn’t want to be on mic. At one point someone looked at me and said, “Eric, there is some dark shit going down right now.” Before long, it was a full-blown conspiracy theory, the theory being that the competition was rigged so certain teams would lose and they could then help build a product for StartupBus, that StartupBus would own. At first I wasn’t sure how seriously to take these claims. I mean everyone was tired, I was tired. But enough people seemed concerned that I figured, I don’t know, maybe I should look into it. So I went to a hotel diner, sat down in a corner booth, ordered a chicken sandwich and some fries, and tried to outline the evidence for what, if anything, was going on here. Exhibit A: Denari. There was only one team in the entire competition who built a blockchain product. And as far as anyone knew, they were the one team with developers who knew how to build stuff using blockchain. When Denari was eliminated, and then they were immediately asked to be part of building another blockchain app—to some people that looked fishy. And in the end, nobody from Denari joined the sixth team. Exhibit B: The question of IP, who would own this new product? This is a very big deal. Entrepreneurs can become overnight millionaires because of the things they build and the intellectual property they own. When it came to the blockchain voting app everyone just assumed: this is the StartupBus founder’s idea, so StartupBus would own it. What’s in it for me if I help build it for free? Sitting in my booth, considering these questions, it all starts to feel like maybe there is something here. So I call back to the office in New York to tell my boss that this whole competition might not be what it seems. That maybe there’s something shady going on, and I’ve been following the wrong story all week. She tells me I sound very tired, and I should try to get some rest if I can. And maybe get to the bottom of the rumors after we see what happens in the finals. So I finish my fries, and stare at the complimentary slice of pickle on the side of the plate. I didn’t ask for this pickle, but now that it’s here, somebody’s gotta deal with it. I pay the bill. There’s still one last round of pitches to cover. After the break…

COLLEEN: Hi, I’m Colleen, and I’m here today to talk about everyone’s favorite topic.

PARKER MCCURLEY: Thanks to our sponsor,

ERIC: It’s ten minutes before the final pitches begin, and the venue needs to do a mic check.

PARKER: And now to hear from Daisy.

ERIC: Parker McCurley from Team Denari, and Colleen Lavin, who’s about to pitch one last time, just happen to be by the stage. So, at the request of the sound guy, they grab mics and start talking.

COLLEEN: Woof. Woof.

ERIC: There’s a slideshow playing behind them, showing the different buses and listing the conductors by name.

PARKER: Max Gaudin. And Allison Guilday.

COLLEEN: Parker proving that he is literate. We’re very proud.

PARKER: New York City bus conductors Madelena Mak, Ajay Desai and Amy Hua!

COLLEEN: He reads at at least a third grade level!

ERIC: So Colleen seems to be doing just fine heading into the pitch. In the lobby, however, Madelena, the conductor, is not so relaxed.

MADELENA MAK: I mean, I'm really nervous right now. I mean like, when I was in 2014, my team was a finalist as well. And that memory is coming back to me right now. I feel like as if I’m in team Daisy.

ERIC: You’re definitely, you’re more nervous than they are.

MADELENA: I'm more nervous than they are?

ERIC: I think so.

MADELENA: I mean, I'm definitely a little sad that it's all coming to an end. I cried like when, when the bus was driving away. I was like, oh no. When will I see the bus again?

WILL YAWORSKY: Alright StartupBus, let’s give a big round of applause for our finalists.

ERIC: Back inside the auditorium, the finals kick off. They’re in a fancier space today, called the New Orleans Jazz Market. It seats about 350 people, the stage is this luminous, light wood. The floor is a dark gray polished concrete. And it’s kind of jarring to see all these familiar people—people who I know didn’t shower for much of the week—in such a beautiful setting.

WILL: Our finalist teams. We need two people from all of the finalist teams.

ERIC: The teams gather for some last minute logistics.

ORGANIZER: Do I have Del Campo? Yeah. All right. Do I have Daisy? Do I have Initiate Today? Did I hear a yep? Where’s Initiate Today? Right there. Alright, Course Align…

ERIC: There are five judges for this round, only one of whom sat in on an earlier round. The teams will each get five minutes to pitch and then five minutes Q and A. And from the moment the pitches begin, it’s apparent. This is a very different level of competition than yesterday. The presentations are all well-crafted. Each of the products makes sense. You could imagine people making these pitches to actual investors. This is Initiate Today, the employee onboarding company.

INITIATE TODAY: So, what did we do? We created a solution that integrates to an applicant tracking system. So that as soon as you hire on a new employee we start triggered communications with them immediately. Hey, what type of computer do you prefer? Is it a Mac? Is it a PC? Hey, here’s a video from our CEO welcoming you. We’re really excited to have you here. Feel the impact.

ERIC: They say they’ve only got one competitor, an Australian company. And they project they can bring in 1.2 million dollars by year three. Big numbers. The team building the device to convert racing bike pedals is up, and they make a real entrance.

WILL: So up next is drop in pedals. Come on up. Oh wow, look at this. What are we in for?

ERIC: They take the stage with one guy riding a fancy racing bike, and wearing those fancy shoes that lock into the pedals. And then they pull up a picture of their friend Zach, a cyclist.

MORGAN THACKER: So Zach is going to use his high performance clipless pedal system to go on his usual 40-mile loop on Saturday. But he also would like to take his bike out to the bar on Sunday night with his boys. But, there’s a problem.

ERIC: The problem standing between Zach and his boys? His fancy pedals. Zach could carry regular shoes for when he gets off the bike; he could switch out his pedals entirely which takes fifteen minutes and a bunch of tools; or…

TYLER BAUMGARDNER: Enter Drop In Pedals. It’s a universal clipless adapter system. All Zach has to do now, instead of spending 15 minutes, is this.


ERIC: Boom! They snap this pedal adapter onto the bike, and, like magic, you can ride this bike with any shoes. Next…

ANNOUNCER: Del Campo from Mexico, let’s get up on stage.

ERIC: Del Campo takes the stage. It’s probably the most surprising of the pitches so far, because they’re going after a totally different market than the rest of the teams. They’re building a platform to help small farmers sell directly to retailers and food companies, knocking out middleman distributors.

DEL CAMPO: So we met on Monday. We met Monday morning at 7am. In the past two days since this online platform has been functioning, we’ve been able to sell $723 worth of products. These are products that range from corn all the way to honey…

ERIC: Then, of course, is Course Align, the two guys from Tampa wanting to match school curriculum with job opportunities on the market. All week they were confident in what they were making, and rightfully so. They’ve made it to the finals, and not only that, they’ve got traction with actual universities.

TREY STEINHOFF: This solution has proven to be so valuable that in just three days we got commitments from the University of Florida, the University of South Florida and the University of North Carolina to pilot our program this fall.

ERIC: The pitch is good. The software seems valuable. And the crowd can tell.


ERIC: When the sixth team, the blockchain voting app, gets up to pitch, the room gets quiet. This was the team pulled together by the StartupBus founder, the team that got people thinking there might a conspiracy afoot. They’ve chosen the name Project 24, and when they’re called up, you can sense how uneasy the audience is.

WILL: Let’s check it out and find out what they did. Project 24 where you at?

ERIC: The cheering only starts after the organizer kind of forces it…


ERIC: And the woman doing the pitching takes the stage.

PROJECT 24: It’s just not working. I’ve thought a lot about it. It’s not me, it’s you, it’s also probably you. And I don’t know you, but it’s probably you too, and, in fact, it’s all of us, and it’s the way we make decisions, and it’s just not working.

ERIC: The long dating analogy leads to an explanation of something called dynamic voting, and the idea that you could let someone cast your vote for you, who could then pass your vote on to someone else, who could then pass your vote on to someone else. It’s kind of confusing and the idea seems a little problematic. There’s a demo but it doesn’t really clear anything up. Watching all of it, the team just doesn’t seem like the threat the conspiracy theories made it out to be. That feeling I’d had of suspicion, now it’s just confusion. What was the point of the sixth team? What did the organizers think would happen? Later I would call up the founder of StartupBus, Elias Bizannes. And I’d ask him about the sixth team, about Denari being eliminated, and the fear that the competition was rigged. He’d literally laugh.

ELIAS: Laugh

ERIC: He’d tell me he wasn’t surprised people started thinking that way. It happens every year… people always think there’s an agenda...

ELIAS: I’ve had people storm out of the audience yelling at me about how could they not be selected, and then they go onto YCombinator just to prove me wrong. And not responding to my emails after that because they’re still angry about it.

As for the IP, the other thing people were concerned about—it turns out it would be open source. So, nobody would own it, really. So why even bother having a sixth team? According to Elias, it’s pretty simple.

ELIAS: To mess with people to be honest. Because that’s what we do with StartupBus, we push them and we break them. And what happens is this remarkable thing comes out when people go beyond the limits they think they can, they actually step up. And so by introducing a new team, it was gonna add another level of competitive threat to the finals.

ERIC: Honestly, I should have seen it coming. It’s classic reality TV. They did it on “The Bachelor” just last season, when they brought back one of Nick’s former loves. It was just before the finale, and they were trying to resurface old feelings, to throw him off his game. StartupBus is meant to mimic what it’s like to start a company in real life. And it does. But it also mimics reality TV. And in every reality TV show, there are producers in the background pulling strings, creating drama. That string-pulling got the sixth team onto the stage, but it does not guarantee them a win.

PROJECT 24: We are creating a platform that empowers users to make dynamic decisions. I guess you could call it a revolution.

ERIC: It’s a few minutes before Daisy’s final pitch. Outside the auditorium, Colleen Lavin and her teammate Cal are making their way through the hallway that leads backstage. They see the guys from Course Align and give them a high five.

COURSE ALIGN: Good luck you guys are gonna kill it.

ERIC: Cal is doing his best to keep Colleen’s energy up before she takes the stage. He’s shadowboxing with her.

CAL COSTANZO: Shadow box, Shadow box.

ERIC: And then—there’s a surprise! Back by request for an encore performance. It’s Marilyn! From Yetigram!

YETIGRAM: You just got to enjoy the ride, and always shine!


WILL: Sorry Colleen for putting you up after that. But I think if anybody’s going to be able to do it, it’s going to be Colleen from Daisy. Let’s go.

COLLEEN: Hi, I’m Colleen, and I’m here today to talk about everyone’s favorite topic. Death. We’re all going or die. Many of us have friends…

ERIC: She walks the audience through the numbers, the average funeral costs between 8 and 10 thousand dollars she says, and costs are rising, fast. Then, she shows us the site.

COLLEEN: Enough of talking about it. Let’s see Daisy. Alright, first thing we do, fill out your form. Now lets say we want to choose our flowers. Now let’s get our event page so we can send it out to our guests. Seymore Graves, all his friends know what to do now.

ERIC: And I gotta say, the bright lights, the beautiful venue—it all feels a little surreal. When this is all over, Colleen will still be looking for a job. Adam, from Denari, he’ll head back to Cleveland, where he and his wife will welcome a new daughter in just a couple of weeks. They’ll name her Lilah. Madelena will spend the next several months trying to get her own startup off the ground. But right now, during this pitch, the world is in suspension. Like a snowglobe, with a young woman in the middle, wearing a bright orange tank top, reminding us in her very particular way that our time here is limited.

COLLEEN: With no major competitors, Daisy is poised… to kill it. Thank you.

ERIC: The rest of the team joins colleen for the Q and A before making their way backstage. Rebecca, the team’s CEO tells them what a good job they did.

REBECCA: I think it went really well, you guys did great. I was just on stage.

CAL: Bring it in. Team hug.

REBECCA: Microphone…

ERIC: Everybody heads out to the lobby. Anne-Gail from team Denari is there to congratulate them.

ANNE-GAIL MORELAND: I’m so proud of you guys. And honestly, that was such a difference from yesterday. Such a difference.

ERIC: Over at the bar, Alex Romero is sitting with another member of Phishly. Alex, remember, helped clean up Daisy’s design overnight. But he told me he noticed something during the presentation.

ALEX: Did you notice there was an error? No? When they showed up the list? Did you look at it? You didn’t see anything?


ALEX: Oh that’s awesome.

ERIC: The problem was on the checklist page.

ALEX: So the way the checklist was, “1 2 3 4 4.” Like it had the number four repeat twice. So I pointed it out to these guys and they’re like, “You fucked them up, man.” And so I kept asking people, like, “Did you notice the error? And nobody notice so I was like… they’ve got a shot.

ANNOUNCER: The judge have deliberated for quite a while, that was a very long deliberation session. And they have decided that they would like to be the ones to announce the top three of StartupBus North America 2017.

ERIC: The auditorium is packed for the final results, standing room only. The judges will announce third place. Second place. And then, the grand prize. I’m sitting toward the front with Daisy, Madelena and a handful of other New Yorkers, all staring at the stage in anticipation. One of the judges takes the mic, and the room goes silent.

JUDGE 1: The third place is for Del Campo from Mexico.

ERIC: The entire Mexico bus jumps out of their seats, shouting, cheering, hugging their teammates.

CROWD: Mexico! Mexico! Mexico!

ERIC: Another judge takes the mic to announce second place. The New York bus is looking more and more anxious.

JUDGE 2: So the second team is the team that did a great job of demonstrating what is possible on three days on a bus. They have really kind of taken a solution that kind of caught me by surprise. I referred to it in the preliminaries as, how is this not an upside-down ketchup bottle. How did this take, how the hell did this take so long to come up with. So, from Tampa, Florida. DropIn Pedal, second place.

ERIC: I lean over to Colleen. She’s pretty sure she knows who’s going to win at this point.

COLLEEN: It is definitely going to be Course Align, I called it.

ERIC: One last judge. One last team. The winner.

JUDGE 3: This was tough. I say this every year. I say some version of this bullshit story every year, which is like, Oh, we argued and argued and fought and we had conversations and like…. It’s Daisy, guys. Congratulations!



ERIC: Everyone is up, leaping over chairs, screaming—other members of the New York bus appear seemingly out of thin air, slamming into each other. It’s a lot like that first morning on the bus, when the riders were fighting their way through the aisle trying to find teammates. Everyone starts jumping in unison and chanting.

CROWD: New York! New York! New York!....

MADELENA: I’m so happy for all of you. Oh my god.

COLLEEN: Holy shit! Don’t put me swearing on the podcast, my mom’s going to listen.

ERIC: Daisy makes their way to the stage for photos. Alex Romero, from Phishly, sits back down in the audience, and I sit next to him.

ALEX: It’s just. It’s crazy. Wow. I’m so glad to be part of that bus, right? It feels like everything on that bus is now worth it. You know it’s now, it brings validation to the pains and struggles that everyone on that bus went through, just to see one of your peers make it. Like, everyone came together to help them out. And I think it’s… wow. I love it when a plan comes together. I guess nobody noticed, I guess nobody noticed the error. If they didn’t win, I would have felt guilty.

ERIC: In the weeks after the competition, the teams largely remained in touch, but fell back into their regular lives. Adam, the dad from Cleveland—just a couple months after his daughter was born, the company he and his teammate Parker were working for folded. And on the verge of being unemployed with a toddler and a newborn, Adam went down to Austin, Texas with Parker for a blockchain conference. While they were there, they found a lot of people who need help building blockchain products. And so they have gone all-in on their own blockchain development startup. It’s called Decent Technologies. They’re now booked with work for the next several months. StartupBus, Adam said, was the first step in making that change. Colleen Wong, Denari’s C-E-O—she took the idea for Denari and entered it into another hackathon, a month-long hackathon focused exclusively on blockchain. And she won! And this one actually came with some prize money. She now lives in Myanmar where she’s working for an NGO. Phishly, the phishing app, they’re still up and running! Apparently, on the last day of the competition, Alex Romero forgot to turn off some Facebook ads he’d set up for the company. And when he got back to his room that night and realized what had happened, he’d already spent like $450 on these ads. Because it turns out, a lot of people clicked through. There was a lot of interest in Phishly. So, they’ve been working to get it ready, and now they’re in beta. And the winners: Daisy? Well, the thing about StartupBus it isn’t really set up to support companies after they win. There’s a network of people, but no official follow ups or intros to investors or anything like that. Colleen Lavin and Rebecca, Daisy’s CEO were having weekly calls after the competition. They were trying to determine what it would take to really get the company off the ground. And they decided to put Daisy on the backburner for a while. But, just recently, they’ve started talking again about moving it forward. In the meantime, Rebecca is working as a marketing consultant. Colleen Lavin is still looking for a full-time job. When I first got on StartupBus, I was trying to understand why people would sign up for something like this. It’s stressful, you don’t win anything. There’s certainly no guarantee you’ll walk away with a viable company. But after spending a week with these people and seeing where they’ve wound up since, I realized you get on the bus the same way you try on a new outfit at the mall, or the way you walk across a room to ask a stranger to dance. It might only be for a week, a night, or that brief moment standing in front of the mirror, but even for that short time there’s a possibility you can be exactly who you want to be.

ERIC: Oh, and one final update. At the top of the show, Colleen Lavin mentioned how her dad had been sick and lost his voice—his radio voice—because of a surgery. Well a few weeks ago, his voice came back.

JOHN LAVIN: I had surgery the last day in May. I lucked out…

ERIC: And so he and I are gonna close the show out together. Take it away John.

JOHN: This StartUp miniseries was hosted by Eric Mennel. The show is produced by Bruce Wallace, Luke Malone, Simone Polanen, Amy Standen, and Max Gibson. StartUp's senior producer is Molly Messick.

ERIC: We’re edited by Annie-Rose Strasser, Lisa Chow, and Alex Blumberg.

JOHN: Mixing by Andrew Dunn and David Herman. Our StartupBus theme is by Bobby Lord. The credit song, “Roll Bus Roll,” is by Jeffrey Lewis. You can see the full music credits on the website.

ERIC: Special thanks to Emmanuel Berry, Phia Bennin, Katelyn Bogucki, Jorge Just, Julia Botero, Matthew Boll, Jim Grau, Ali Bengochea, James Cabrera, Victoria Barner, Kevin Turner. To Jagged Jaw for the song at the end of the episode. And to the entire New York StartupBus. We had special artwork made for each episode this week - by the illustrator Josh Kramer.

JOHN: You can see more of Josh’s work at And you can listen to more of this show at While you’re there be sure to sign up for the newsletter for exclusive behind the scenes content. And check out all of Gimlet’s other great podcasts.

ERIC: Startup will return in the new year with new seasons. The show is going back to covering one story over many episodes, embedding with people as they try to get their big ideas off the ground. If you have something you think would be good for the show, send us an email to And put the phrase “next startup” in the subject line.

JOHN: Thank you so much for tuning in. We’ll see you soon. And one last thing—hire my daughter, she needs a job. That was her idea. That was her idea.