Monday March 12
Flying from Atlanta with just a few clean t-shirts, I arrived in Austin at 9AM CST. I knew an Air BnB approved, 36-foot RV trailer was waiting for me as accommodation for this trip. I took a Lyft, expecting to arrive at a trailer, but instead, I arrived at a property with a small, worn down house — with no RV in sight. I was not in a place to be picky; I just needed luggage storage since I planned to participate in the 24 hour SXSW 2018 Hackathon. When I met the host, I immediately knew something was off. The front door had a notice on it from some city officials; not an eviction notice, but a warning of some kind. She introduced herself and immediately explained that I would not be staying in the RV because Air BnB “messed up.” She also noted that I should ignore the “crazy lady” renting the back of the house. So far, so strange. I did not have any options in the moment, so I locked up my luggage and told the host I would be back later.
It had been 7 years since my last SXSW. I previously worked as a seasonal worker in 2011, but left the music world to pursue a career in technology. As I went into the city, I thought, “Man has the city grown!” What used to take up a sliver of the Texas sky now resembled certain parts of Atlanta, like Downtown or Midtown. Hotels and banks covered the skyline of Austin, which is always a good sign for economic growth and this city had definitely grown. I decided to trace the old steps of downtown, visiting some old venues and resting spots where once great venues existed (miss you Emo’s on Red River). After an impulsive decision to buy a music badge, I decided to explore “Choose ATL” and listen to Peaches from Outkast (the most disruptive band to rise out of the ATL) give an inspiring talk at Maggie Mae’s on 6th.
Later in the day, I decided to try and find some of my former SXSW colleagues and friends. Catching up with them was one of the richest experiences of the week. To Frankie, Cary, Mary, Tamara, Luann, Scott, Chris, Todd, Brad, Eleanor, Linda, Amin, Catlin, Justin, Jason Carter and Roland (r). It was amazing to see so many familiar faces. Next, it was time to go visit my old friend, Walt, at Cherrywood Coffee House who also worked for SXSW in the past. So much has changed and for all these friends of mine. It seems you are all doing great, and that makes me so happy to see. After meeting with Walt in the evening, it was time to go home and rest up for the Hackathon. This is where things got a little crazy…
As I walked into the house, the door was unlocked. The host’s boyfriend was smoking in the kitchen and did not even acknowledge my presence. When I walked into my room, the host was in her underwear, reading the paper and smoking a cig. Obviously, in so many words, I asked “what was going on?” She immediately jumped up, put her clothes on and exclaimed “I thought you were coming home later!” I guess she did not read the “Terms & Service” for Air BnB. There was definitely a lot of sex and drugs going on in that house, but no rock n roll. Maybe all 3 would have made it less creepy, but I immediately grabbed my bag, hailed a Lyft, and started calling everyone I knew. Luckily, David Fireman of GetGet offered a couch for me to sleep on for the evening. Though freaked out, I was safe, and had a roof over my head. I spent the rest of the night on the phone with Air BnB resolving the situation, and they were gracious enough to refund my money and throw a little money towards a future Air BnB stay. That was great, but there was still one problem… I was at SXSW and could not afford to rent a room for 4 nights.
Tuesday March 13
I woke up early Tuesday morning, eager to get to the Hackathon. I left my bag at David’s place, grabbed my tech, and headed downtown. I went straight to the Omni Hotel, got a coffee and a couple famous Austin breakfast tacos, and sat in the bar till check in at 1PM. Check-in was a nice smooth process and the organizer, Travis, seemed to have things in control. Harvey from USAA(the major sponsor for the Hackathon) was the first person I met and he gave a warm intro to the space and USAA’s involvement. As a USAA member myself it was nice to get the same pleasant experience in person from a USAA rep as I do when I call their customer service line. After everyone settled in, we had announcements from the sponsors, including USAA as the head sponsor and support sponsors AWS, Facebook, ConsesSys, Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, Capitol Records and several more. After announcements, each of the estimated 120 attendees had a chance to share what they were thinking, technical roles they needed filled or what they could offer technically to a team. I decided against this. I had a remote team of five that had everything covered; We just needed to build out our idea. After everyone shared, we spent an hour or so chatting as people began to settle into teams. I knew most of my team would not be able to start until after the workday, so I spent some time chatting with the AWS architects about some data stacks. I also managed to make the USAA developers uncomfortable by asking about open API banking and how many patents they had, which was impressive at over 694. I also tried to ask if they had a Symitar core bank(which we both knew wasn’t true since they are not a credit union technically), but again, they would not tell me much…oh well back to the project.
As 6PM rolled around, my team started to end their day jobs. At this point, I was halfway through the architecture and needed some database call info from my security guy. As I began to nudge him, he said me he was sick and sipping Nyquil. In a panic, I began to understand what I could produce on his piece, so I started to work on it. Knowing I would eventually get stuck, I started to look for alternative solutions in SQL and Catena as redundant backups. It was going to be too difficult to try and learn MetaMax and Truffle from Consesys though the security provided by the 2 looked very impressive. The night flowed for a while, with half an architecture and half a data solution I still felt I could get the concept across. For the remainder of the night, I worked on the presentation with fingers crossed my AWS Certified Architect could produce the server-less architecture and that my Security Officer could finalize our data flows. Around 2am, my Security Officer wrapped things up on his end just as my Architect gave his stamp of approval on the architecture. I got about an hour of sleep on a row of 4 conference chairs, and used the massage chair (twice) trying to get some sleep for the next day.
Wednesday March 14
Presentations began at 1PM; everything in-between is a haze. I stepped out to the bar for a quick shot of tequila and patiently waited for Team Applesauce/ scalpV’s chance to present their hack in 1 min or less.
When my name was called, I approached the stage, set up my tech, and took my glasses off. If you know me, you know I can talk A LOT (LOL), but on a stage, the nerves were real. I found that being blind to the crowd’s faces provided a blank space to stare into, which helped me present confidently. It did, however, cause a problem while trying to read a computer…but I managed. I gave my presentation, and just like that, it was over. I answered a few questions from the judges, and then bailed out of the room to catch my breath. After getting some fresh air, I made my way back into the room to watch the final presentations. The talent was amazing, and from all over the world. The hacks were very impressive, and each team created a challenging and inspiring room to work in. After the presentations, votes were tallied, and the judges began announcing the winners.
Each sponsor offered up some kind of tech for the teams to use. Side note, I was most impressed by Capital Records opening their entire catalog for use. THAT IS HUGE! Anyway, the teams with the best hacks for each sponsor won a prize. To my surprise, the AWS team picked scalpV for hacking at their serverless architecture! And I won 2 Raspberry Pies! I was stoked. As soon as I accepted my award, I sat down to tons of Slack messages from my team, asking how it went and thinking that was the end of my road. I told them we got runner up for our AWS tech hack, and left it at that. Before I could respond to their reactions, the judges announced scalpV as the overall 1st place Hackthon winner for SXSW 2018. I was in shock. I applauded because it was all I could do, and stumbled onto the stage like an idiot to receive $6000 in prize money, a SXSW Music Badge, and an invite to stay and incubate the idea. It was surreal.
For the rest of the day, I attended after parties, shook hands, gave interviews and got a ton of business cards. At this point, I still I had no place to sleep. After telling a few people my story, Jean a volunteer at the Hackathon, offered me a couch for the evening (I am so thankful to you Jean!). I decided to stay in Austin for a few extra nights to incubate the ideas presented at the Hackathon. After a fun night on the town, I headed back to Jean’s to catch some sleep and let the win soak in.
Thursday March 15
I woke up early the next morning as my excitement quickly turned to anxiety as I thought about the day before. People began contacting me as word spread about what Team Applesauce had accomplished at the Hackathon. It was much bigger than what we thought, and it was exciting to realize that this idea had real potential AND it was gaining traction. As I packed my bags from Jean’s to head back into the city for the day, I took a deep breath and went to enjoy SXSW. The only plans for that day were two hours in incubation at the Hilton and a meeting with StubHub at Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden (as Cold War Kids played on stage). As I made it through, NextStage was representing their philanthropy by supporting children and music. I decided to donate $10 and get myself a t-shirt. I had extended my trip and I knew I was going to run out of clothes soon, it was a smart purchase. The StubHub meeting was promising, thank you Brad Spies! I hope we can have more conversations together soon. Next, I went to the incubator and met with a few folks that I hope to have continued conversations with (thanks Travis for coordinating).
For the remainder of the day, I hung around the conference center and found a stranger in the crowd. I approached him and he said his name was Jason and that he was in town working on the massive construction going on in Austin. I asked if he had a music badge for the event. He said no and I asked that he follow me to registration. My man Amin was working and helped me transfer my Hackathon winning Music Badge to Jason. I think its Jason? He asked if he could pay me for the ticket, but I declined and said if he saw me in town to buy me a beer. He agreed.
We parted ways and I never saw him again. By the end of the night I had a chance to hit the BMI showcase for some tunes that were right up my alley, Nina Carter you always kill it with your showcases, thanks for the invite. By the end of the night, I finally got in touch with the sweet and wonderful Mary and Linda who worked in housing, and they were able to help me get a hotel room. Lucky for me, the Fairmont had a room over looking the 7th floor pool, 25ft palm trees, and the Colorado river, all in one amazing view.
I made my way to check in, got cleaned up, and headed back to the lobby. American Idol star Zach Person & the ReIssue were playing some dirty Gary Clarke Jr. Instead of exploring the town, I grabbed an ice water and made myself comfortable for the evening in this over the top Vegas style lobby. I finally crashed at 3AM.
Friday March 16
I ran into my man Catlin the next day and we grabbed some street food. Indian food for breakfast? Yes please. I had not seen Catlin in seven years; he was married with a kid, but still the Austin man to introduce me to Rasta. I am proud to call you my friend! After I explained the Hackathon win, he asked if I would be open to meeting with his IT team. I agreed and we scheduled a meeting for later in the day. Until then, we reminisced on my failed experience working a SXSW event in 2011.
It was good catching up. We parted ways as I went to the Hilton for incubation again. That term is weird now that I have used it some many times… Travis helped me build business plans as I had a meeting with Ticket Galaxy that seemed like a promising next step for scapV. After my meeting, I spent the rest of the day with my man Guch. Guch, I already said this, but in my time recruiting people, you are still one of the hires I am most proud of. It was good catching up. I look forward to continued conversations from our time together. Let’s not wait to long for the next time, come to the A. Then, I ran into one of the most amazing, unique friends I have ever encountered. Jason Carter of Wicked Design in Austin TX. He moonlighted as a Production Manager for SXSW. I met Jason when I had wrapped up a Skatalities tour as their manager in LA in 2011, and he need to catch a ride from LA to Austin. His mother, the sweet Mary hooked us up. Jason and I, for 24 hours and half way across the country, became best friends. Jason, as busy as he was, let me shadow him venue to venue and see the music life I left behind. I even saw the great Stacey of SXSW Music, but she was busy handling business so I did not want to interrupt. Hi Stacey, third time should be the charm. We just missed each other in Amsterdam about 3 years ago. Do you remember? For the remainder of the night, I chose to hang out poolside and enjoy the amazing view.
Saturday March 17 (St. Patty’s)
When I woke up to travel back to Atlanta, I forgot it was St. Patty’s day. I bought a SXSW shirt because, again, I was out of clothes, and it happened to be green. I went to the pool deck at the Fairmont for one last breakfast and breathtaking view. To my surprise, two people down there, Ed and Karin were getting married. They were so friendly and they allowed me to crash their wedding. Thanks guys, it was a great ceremony… and champagne. Afterward, I packed my bags, found an earlier than scheduled flight, and hailed a Lyft to the airport. I got home around 6PM on Saturday, but the ride hasn’t stopped yet.
- scalpV has formally changing its name to verified immediately. You can visit our website at www.v4verified.io for more information.