During February and March 2016 I’m traveling North America to meet the Chew community, DJs, partners and investors.
This is part one of my updates on meeting and staying with top Chew fans and DJs. For updates on investor, brand and partner meetings throughout the trip subscribe the the Chew Insider newsletter using the form on my Chew Founders Blog.
After jumping in the dark grey Camry and speeding off into town I was sure that I was never going to make it further than the bottom of the marina wrapped up in a several bin bags.
But as we continued driving and picked up two more passengers my tension eased. My new friends for the journey were a hardware technician for a chip fabricator and an IT consultant in the medical field. After a little conversation I settled down to picking out cows along the dark roadside and pondering the mystery of what was actually in a 5-Hour Energy Shot. The ad repeated every few minutes on the radio without fail.
I got into the house at 1:30am in the morning. The invitation to Mountain View had called for special measures. The number of Chew DJs in the vicinity was lacking so I’d opted for an AirBnB. It was the name Lively Downtown Hacker Dorm that enticed me in. The lot was filled by a vast wooden house which was completely empty. As instructed I knocked on the door under the glowing dinosaur and was greeted with one question. “Are you a light or a heavy sleeper?”. Considering the length of the journey I went with heavy sleeper. In retrospect though I will never again answer that questions the same way. In the room I was staying in the snoring was so impressive the sound transferred as vibrations up through the frame of my bed.
The next morning Katy from the house showed me around in the light. The house is being done up to give a home to techies on internships in the surrounding Silicon Valley. When I visited they were still waiting for zoning approval and the house was standing empty. The outhouse where I stayed was full of a mix of programmers and engineers from around the world. Before heading to the event I got to know Stephanie. A Kiwi with a love for drum and bass no less. I seemed to be attracting fans of the genre wherever I went.
That afternoon I headed out to the Computer History Museum. Contrasting to the jammed streets of LA the wide grassy curbs of the Mountain View were appealing. The weather held out too keeping above twenty degrees the entire day. I approached the front desk to collect my badge. Looking down at my phone to pronounce my surname I glanced up half expecting to see security heading my way to escort me from the building. There was a short pause. My palms started to sweat a little. Looking up from the computer the attendant reached into the box of name badges flicking through and handing me the green lanyard. I was in.
The main hall was full of stalls set out by each of the forty companies from the current 500 startups program and those that were coming back for more funding. Wandering around I gawped at companies with names like PupBox, Kitterly and Cooleaf as if I was at a strange zoo filled with early stage startups. As Tony interrupted my blank stare and we greeted each other an announcement come over the PA to take our seats.
What followed was the most American introduction to an investor pitching event I could have imagined. The video that played was of the current cohort of founders singing a Rihanna cover they’d come up with entitled “Pitch Better Get Me Money” and ended with a batch throwing fake money in the air.
In the homeland of high risk venture capital the focus of the companies pitches was a solid recurring revenue base with consistent pipeline growth. Except for RapChat which lets you record rap over pre recorded loops and share them with friends. Hanging around their booth after the pitches were complete I failed to see a single investor approach their stall.
The event opened my eyes to the US investments scene. Back in the UK I often speak to founders who long to be in the US because the money would come so easily. The scene is bigger and takes a unique attitude. Speaking to the 500 startups team, investors and founders who are living the Silicon Valley tech scene every day I can see right how Chew will fit into this mix.
As quickly as I’d arrived in Mountain View is was time to go. San Francisco was the next stop as I moved around the bay and for the first night I was staying with Grant and his partner David. Grant I’d met the month before at a partner event organised for Crossfader at the Magic Roundabout in London. Crossfader is a DJ app that Grant co-founded.
Before I met Grant and between meetings I hunted for a coffee shop to update the blog and catch up with emails. I ended up in the Workspace cafe. If anyone is looking for a business idea in the UK take note. The Workspace cafe is a simple cafe come work space that charges $2 per hour. The whole experience is managed through a web app that allows you to order food and drinks to your seat. The space has great wifi and there are a full range of desks plus sofas and chairs. Some desks even have monitors you can plug into and use. Genius.
Linking up with Grant and David we headed for their local taco truck before heading home. The truck looked like it had come right out of breaking bad. Despite that fact they got my vote for the most tasty on the trip so far. Even with a stinking cold Grant was the ideal host and the next day we headed into the Crossfader office together. The office can only be described as the dream San Francisco flat for any DJ. Just on the edge of China town in the centre of the city each desk faced out a window and all sorts of DJ and production equipment were strewn around the office. In a side room-come-studio the other founder of Crossfader, Seth, was setting up many projectors for the first test of their new live streaming dancer project. On screen users in the chat were interacting with the breakdancer streaming from a bare white room. As members of the chat suggested tracks to dance to he would react by changing the track and jumping into a routine.
Completing the loop around the bay I boarded the MUNI to meet Justin from Wax n Cats at West Oakland station. Justin’s channel was one of the first on Chew. He now has over 150 episodes. Also living in the space was Vivien a visual artist. Called Main Drain Studios the building was twenty minutes from central San Francisco. As you came down the ramp from the Francisco to Oakland bridge you were there. The roughly 1600sq ft space costs about the same as a one bedroom flat in Croydon. I was stunned and jealous. The studio was complete with art in various stages of completion, Justin’s decks and full live setup and Vivien’s work area and tools including a home built CNC machine. At that still left room for the kitchen, bathroom and dining benches that could seat twenty.
For the two days I was there I was accompanied by the two stars of the Wax n Cats show. Greyseph Kittenger & Samsung McWhinestein were at first they a little wary of me but by the next day they’d warmed to me enough to meow at me when I laid in to late.
After crashing the first night and waking bright and early I began looking through the amazing vinyl collection in the studio. The show Wax n Cats is strictly vinyl or laptop. This rule is enforced by the fact Justin’s only CDJ is a Numark model where the jog wheel skips back or forward by around six whole seconds when spun. Justin’s collection is one of the best mixes of ambient, minimal, breakbeat and drum and bass I’ve been through. In the end I was only able to look through three shelves before lunch. Within the hour I had a small stack of records to play. The process of picking out and listening to each record one at a time is truly special. Looking at the small stack of vinyl reminded me of my collection at home.
Just as everyone was arriving to play Justin offered up some of California’s recently legalised weed. Sold to me as a $5 special from the local store it was definitely the strongest I’ve ever smoked. A fact that became incredibly clear. I’ve only mixed breakbeat vinyl a few times in the past so the situation made that my inaugural Chewhiker set one of the most intense DJing experiences of my life. I gained a new found respect for Justin’s mixing abilities that day and found a new found affinity for ambient music I’d never felt before.
The next day I had to wait for an red eye flight to New York with red eyes myself. Before the plane departed I had a whole day to kill. Letting the locals take the lead we started the day by driving up into the hills of Berkeley. Despite Justin walking with a cane we charge around the hills looking down over the entire bay from our lofty vantage point. My host pointed out the bridges, towns, the famous island Alcatraz. The cranes in Oakland harbour had inspired Steve Spielberg to invent the ATAT’s making the town appear to be under constant slow motion attack. Somehow by lunch time we ended up in a botanical garden. Before we could look around and leave a volunteer approached us. There’s usually only so many plants I can look at but after the first minute of his guided tour of the plot I was engrossed and an hour later we’d both been taken on a journey through the state of Californian. Each region represented and cataloged from desert to forest in ordered beds.
Heading back from the hills and meeting up with Vivien we headed out again for lunch. The night before over dinner Justin asked if I’d like to break into a military base. As a teenager I’d been into many a military base in the so I jumped at the chance. We hopped into his Prius and headed over the bridge. Half way to San Francisco we turned sharply down a concealed slip road and found ourselves on the small island between the two cities. The lanes of the bridge passing through a tunnel of rock. From the side of the natural rock grows a tumorous man made island. Piled up from radioactive and asbestos laden debris in the 1930’s the island is named Treasure Island. We found the only cafe on the bizarre spit of land and settled into lunch.
After lunch we walked out to explore the rest of the island. A network of boarded up and abandoned military accommodation blocks took up almost half the island. Exploring these we found a clear whole through the boarding. The whole scene made me feel fascinated while uneasy. A little way over the other side of the island we came across the original military prison on the island. Enticed in by a sign for free wine tasting we headed inside to find a short man with a rouge smile standing behind twenty bottles of wine. For the rest of the afternoon we sampled some great tasting wine that got better with each glass. Each bottle was companies by a unique story of how each wine came to be and the history of the island and the property. With each taste of wine the story tellers glass filled up again and again.
Two bottles in the bag we headed home.
As Justin drove me to the airport I was struck with how different my experiences had been in the first two cities just an hours flight apart. Every person I stayed with was so unique. What linked them was their hospitality and kindness beyond measure. We’d shared stories, music and experiences and all because of the Chew community. The bay had opened it’s arms to me more than Los Angeles. If every city could be like this I was in for a great journey.
There were 2 people ahead of me in the security line. I boarded the flight and fell into an uncomfortable snooze as an entire continent passed below me.
Find out about my time in New York right here on the Chew Founders Blog tomorrow.