For those of you who wish that a reality TV version of StartUp existed, you’re in luck. Was anyone asking for that? I have no idea. I wasn’t. The latest season of StartUp, this time StartupBus, launched today, but I was fortunate to get an early peek on the first few episodes.
StartUp, the flagship podcast by Gimlet Media, originally focused on the creation of a podcast company, Gimlet itself, and then for five additional seasons followed other companies as they ventured through the trials of starting a new business from idea to dating app, t-shirt company, social network, and more, over the course of months. Sometimes StartUp followed one company over the whole season and other times covered several per season.
In this miniseries, StartupBus, they’re doing things a little differently by hopping aboard a hackathon bus from New York to Louisiana and releasing one half-hour episode for each of the five days of the trip. Twenty want-to-be entrepreneurs collaborate in teams to win a pitching competition in New Orleans.
StartupBus strips out the thing I loved most about StartUp, taking a whole season to provide an in-depth look at what it takes to create a viable business venture. I especially loved seasons one, two, and four that focused on a single company the whole time, with the natural drama and tension coming from creating a company, the anxiety to approach investors, the indecision of including a co-founder, and the tension of launch day. As an entrepreneur myself, there was a ton to relate to.
In StartupBus, the tension and drama stems from the small groups’ infighting due to the close proximity of being on a bus with strangers, and it almost feels inauthentic. Instead of hearing a person or group passionate about a product and seeing it grow from idea to reality, every decision feels forced and ethereal. None of the choices they make, from picking a CEO to what the product actually is, seem to matter at all to them—it’s all about money, fame, and winning. It’s like listening to business summer camp; they’re all bickering like kids, and I doubt any of the products will last.
From previous seasons, I know that StartUp can be amazing, and this miniseries does have some redeeming factors. The audio and production throughout is the top-notch quality expected from a Gimlet project. The host and previous StartUp contributor Eric Mennel, who is fulfilling his childhood dream of being on reality TV by being central to a reality podcast series, does a more-than-competent job explaining what is happening, translating from entrepreneur-speak to plain English, and interviewing the contestants as they share strategies and ideas on how to throw together a company quickly.
I’ve listened to the first three episodes so far. By the third episode, the people on the bus are either realizing they cannot work together and avoid each other, or they are forming better bonds and the banter becomes a bit more tolerable.
StartupBus is my least favorite season of one of my favorite podcasts. Previous seasons are for those seeking the story and challenges of starting a business, whereas StartupBus is better suited for listeners interested in drama, or participation in a hackathon themselves. In my opinion, I just don’t think Gimlet or StartUp had to change a winning recipe by adding a gimmick, the bus itself. There will always be compelling entrepreneurial stories and – at least for me – this is what made StartUp special.
Here’s the trailer for StartupBus:
I finished the full season of StartupBus and wanted to add an update to see if my thoughts changed or continued through the entirety. I’ve also added a rating system for all the seasons of StartUp if you’re interested in hopping in somewhere.
|Season 2||Dating Ring||★★★★★|
|Season 3||Various Startups||★★★★✩|
|Season 4||Dov Charney||★★★★★|
|Season 5||Various Startups||★★★★✩|
|Season 6||Driverless Cars||★★★★✩|
Episode 4: this episode is mostly filled by an intermediate pitch competition where some of the New York bus group’s don’t make it to the finals. Distractingly, there are many periods where clips from the first three episodes are played for context and to remind you what’s happed, but when the series is designed to be binged and released daily, this just feels like repetition because it’s unlikely you’ve forgotten.
Episode 5: finally some deep human conversation and meaning! … Then conspiracy and drama starts to overtake the narrative because the losing teams from the previous episodes are asked to form a super group, but who would own it? ooooOOOOoooo *jazz hands* That’s resolved uneventfully, as expected. In the end, there’s a nice resolution to the whole competition with some wrap ups and check ins, like the end of a biopic where you get to see where everyone ended up.
Like I expressed in my first impression, there is some great story here about the people and the companies, but the extra drama and confusion could have been stripped out. StartUp is great; no need for a bus.