Monday, March 4, 2013

The Storm Before the Calm... March-April 2012

It was decided.  I was going to Europe on a one-way cruise with my sister...
But before embarking on the giant boat into the great unknown, there were some things that had to be done, and done quickly.  Only six weeks stood between me and waving farewell to the Florida coastline. Each remaining day and each precious weekend was packed with life and possibility.
On the drive home to Louisiana, my head was still spinning with the wonders of the SXSW festival...
  the legion of sharp professionals and thinkers...
  the realm of technology companies and start-ups...
  the chance to impact with world with a handful geeky friends and great mentors...
Eager to jump into the action, I started crafting a plan to return to Austin, TX and launch a company of my own.  A dear friend and mentor of mine encouraged me to look into start-up competitions and events designed to help entrepreneurs and techies connect and launch  As luck would have it, HubAustin Coworking was throwing a Start-Up Weekend competition less than 8 days away.
But there was a hitch... the event was full.  I could only get on the waiting list.
I thought the opportunity was lost... until they issued the challenge.

"We thought it'd be fun to have a little friendly "competition" to see who should get a ticket!
So, starting right now, go make and post a 30-60s video of yourself creatively telling us why you should be allowed to attend our event. You can do your company pitch, or you can just pitch yourself as a great potential attendee. Whatever your creative juices can come up with, go for it."

So, on a Sunday evening I kicked my brain into high gear... 30 minutes later, the plan was set, the words were written and GarageBand was teasing me with it's arsenal of beats and loops.  By midnight, the sound was assembled but it was clumsy.  At 2:00am I recorded my first ever Rap track.  Around 4:00am I drank another glass of chocolate milk and a filmed the video on my phone.  The sunrise watched iMovie add and edit the text and the mailman dropped my Monday stack in sync with this YouTube debut.
It was just a homemade first attempt at a music video, and the timing isn't perfect, but I was proud of it.
Check out the video and read on.

Caleb Smith is ready to light up the Startup Weekend with ideas and passion.  A savvy leader, thinker and innovator, this creative entrepreneur is sure to be a valuable asset to any team but also hopes to find the people and resources needed to launch a company of his own.

Dear Startup weekend, in Austin, Texas

From the one who’s speakin’ to the one who checks this
I’m here to say in the way I know how
You should pick me today, Right here, right now!

I got the ideas, I’m a master with words
I‘m making a mobile game, but I need me some nerds
Someone to do the coding, a computer programmer
Someone to make the graphics play as smooth as MC Hammer

I know you got skills like Napoleon Dynamite,
We’ll form  an awesome team, it’ll be outta sight
We’ll make life a quest, earn a badge or two
But I still need some Techies and players like you

All that to say, I am the one you should pick
I got the skills to Crank it and make ideas stick
So let me come this weekend, and by the time its done
We’re gonna be in business and we’ll all be having fun.

So go on and LIKE IT, make your friends take a look
Tweet the link on twitter share it on Facebook
I want to start a business but I’m on a waiting list
So be a fan, cause I‘m your man, I‘m Caleb A. Smith

Over the next few days, LifeQuest Games evolved into A-Game Studios, developing playful tools to bring out the best in people... challenging players to bring their A-Game in life.

28 hours later, I was in.  Friday found me driving 400+ miles to join a room filled with bright-eyed future focused people with a broad slate of skills from studio art to system architecture, project management to mobile programming.

Aside from the friendships forged in that manic weekend, two significant things happened.
First, I became certain that this work was my home... my fertile ground.  I was in my element.
The open possibilities and fast moving creation, the collaborative creativity and make or break pitch presentations made me feel like a blowtorch in a fireworks stand...
I saw a colorful world about to explode with my fire.

Second, my team didn't win.
I was disappointed, but relieved.  The ups and downs of the weekend left me hungry for more, but the defeat also left my schedule open for a trip to Europe.  Winning would have meant free office space, great mentors, resources and support from a variety of key players, and momentum with a team of potential founders and allies.
But momentum rolls on without a pause button. It doesn't stop and restart easily.
Defeat burns in your mind like a fury that waits to be unleashed when the time is right.
Instead of crafting the code, user interface and narrative experience of new games and tools for personal growth with a team of expert programmers, I spent my April repainting my house alone.
Instead of heading west to the fast-paced world of technology start-ups,
I headed east into the open blue of the sleepy Atlantic.

The event that might have been an anchor to keep me in the country, was instead a seed... a seed of a dream that needed time and space to grow.  I didn't know what to expect from this passion-packed seed but determined to carry it with me to silently incubate in the ancient soil of Italy.

After the Austin Startup Weekend, the next three weeks were a blur of finishing things to leave and things to take. The closer we got to departure, the more things moved from the "Take-it" pile to the "Leave-it" pile.
My plans of launching a company that summer got put in the "Leave-it" stack, but my dream of some day returning to start a venture of my own was carefully packed with the few items marked "TAKE-IT".

Sunday, March 3, 2013

It began with a voicemail in Austin...

I was strutting down 6th Street amidst the chaos of SXSW on the last day of the Interactive Technology festival and the upswing of the music and film festivals, when my phone's vibration interrupted my carefree stride.  A voicemail seeped through the invisible layers of the internet and landed with a bump in my pocket.
I quickly pulled my phone out and read the transcription.  It was a little bit tangled, but mentioned something about winning a free cruise to Europe and instructed me to call my sister now to collect the prize.  Even more puzzling, the message appeared to come from my sister, Emily.  I stopped walking.  Standing there in the middle of the pedestrian packed street I called my little sister (age 27) to see what this was all about.
She admitted the winning was a joke, but that the cruise invitation was for real.  As she pursued her dream of traveling abroad and living in Italy, she found a deal on a cruise voyage that was cheaper than flying, and included beds for two.  Given the situation, I was the best pick for travel partners, so she offered the second ticket to me, on the condition that I help her carry her overweight luggage.

Little did I know, accepting her invitation would be just the beginning of a long and unpredictable adventure laced with hidden wonders, unusual characters, and precious moments together as brother and sister abroad.