This is one of those build the parachute as I’m falling through the sky type of things. I’m starting 2021 by sharing 100 stories in 100 days. ☁️
Yes, I realize this is being sent to the same list as my regular newsletter. I assume you folks will enjoy these stories as much, if not more so, than my regular weekly musings. Unfortunately, Re-poo 💩 (revue), the email service I use, can’t give me a copy of my own list, and I’m not sure why– the download file said it must be opened by 9:09 am today…yet I received it at 10:39 am. Further troubleshooting made me wanna shoot somebody. 🔫 It’s one of those services that is just crappy enough for me to be annoyed but not so bad that I’ve quit– similar to my experience with banking– every one I’ve found has been generally terrible. I don’t know anybody who keeps a gratitude journal and writes a single word in it about their bank. It’s also like when a restaurant slightly screws up my order- I’ll keep coming back and feel bad if I don’t tip the waiter, but I am still grumpy that my hamburger became a cheeseburger. 🍔 I don’t know anyone who loves their email service provider. If you do, please tell me. I will happily churn this baby like butter.
Rather than using that as an excuse not to share, I decided to get things rolling. Hopefully, they will have this fixed by Monday. At that time, I’ll segment this list separately. In the meanwhile, please hang in there with me! Unsubscribing from this right now will also unsubscribe you from the weekly newsletter. If you don’t want these daily stories to blow up your inbox but do want to keep the weekly, please hang on till I have things segmented out :)
Anywho…on to the first story, we have quite the century ahead of us. 📆
The Time I got Drunk With “The Mayor Of The Internet” And He Bought Us All Waffle House
Back in college, after spring break my junior year I quit all my clubs and joined two and went whole hog 🐖 with Entrepreneur Club and Boxing Club. I later set the Boxing Club’s conditioning record, but that’s a story for another day, perhaps number 82. Joining E-Club, what we called the Entrepreneur Club, put my life on a completely different trajectory.
I was hanging out with the smartest kids in the school. They were cool and fun to hang with, and they were all working on their own ideas. Their existence proved to me that doing this was possible and served as an invitation to begin working on my own ideas. I loved E-Club and went to every meeting since. When I came back for the fall semester that year, I was Vice President of the club. This dovetailed sharply from my experience with the Model UN Club, which I had diligently attended for nearly 3 years, working my ass off, and lost a leadership position due to nepotism. An outgoing senior voted his roommate into the presidential spot. I lost by that one vote. This is like voting for the president of a country where you’re not a citizen. The outgoing senior wasn’t in the club for a single day that his roommate served as president.
I was livid. But, as is often the case, this was a huge blessing in disguise. Sometimes we have to give up good things to do great things. Ironically, it parallelled the regular UN, a body that is generally dysfunctional yet markets itself otherwise. With E-Club, once I joined, the sky was the limit. I could participate as much as I liked, and in that environment, I thrived.
While I was thrilled to have found the E-Club, I was also frustrated and sad. Where was this thing my first 3 years of school? I wanted to make sure every student at Virginia Tech knew about us when they showed up on campus, so they wouldn’t have to repeat what I did. I drooled at the idea of having joined as a freshman, soaking up the deliciousness for my whole college career.
Much of the E-Club meetings involved having local entrepreneurs come and speak about their experiences. While these were often valuable for the students, they weren’t necessarily relatable. Students wouldn’t soak up all the knowledge due to the relatability gap. So, as a club, we did some thinking. Who could we get that kids would know about and would love to see?
Hayden, who became president after me, mentioned the founder of Reddit. For the record, Hayden is a total stud and worked as CTO of a VR startup for years, traveled the world, and is now at the big fruit company 🍎 in Silicon Valley. Everyone I met at E-Club is among the most successful students I met at Va Tech. Back to Reddit…we had the right person. We just had to get this guy to come to our school. The “guy” is named Alexis Ohanian and is currently married to tennis superstar Serena Williams.
It turns out that he went to our rival school down the road, UVA, and had a girlfriend at the time who was a VT alum. These may have slightly worked in our favor. He also was writing a book and about to go on a national speaking tour– we knew none of these things, but I imagine they helped us.
But what did we know?
I had a friend who went through Y Combinator, the up and coming startup accelerator program. I knew Alexis was involved with Y Combinator, so I hit up my buddy. He then connected me with James Beshara, the CEO of a company called Crowdtilt. James happened to be closer to Alexis. James said that there was a chance for us to get Alexis to come. We needed a website to make things look official and plan out the event.
I hadn’t realized it at the time, but this was totally a case of “fake it til you make it.” We had to make it seem like the event was real and was happening and that he could easily hop on, rather than making it seem like the whole thing hinged on his attendance. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle. We got a few companies from Silicon Valley to come, naming the event SV to BB- Silicon Valley to Blacksburg. Virginia Tech is a fantastic engineering school. But, the town of Blacksburg is not somewhere you go. It is somewhere you end up. This makes it hard to attract talent. It is also nowhere near a major city and cold much of the year. Mind you, I lived there for 5 years and still love the place, but we need to be honest. Blacksburg is a tough sell.
It turns out it’s much easier to get a famous person to visit you if a bunch of their friends are already going. Alexis already had friends coming to town. All of them could write off the trip as a business expense– it was a great recruiting opportunity for their startups, and Crowdtilt already had people working in Blacksburg at the time. Their CTO, Khaled, was a VT alum. To Alexis, even if the event was crappy, it was an opportunity to hang out with some of his friends, which is always a good fallback.
So, we had to get an official-looking website. I hit up Jonas Weigert, another member of the E-Club. Jonas is now the CTO of LawnStarter, which has 75 employees and $30MM in annual revenue.
Jonas made an amazing website from scratch in a hacking marathon, and we grabbed the domain SVtoBB.com. We had a nice graphic of a US map, with a GPS route highlighted from Silicon Valley to Blacksburg. We threw up the logos of the other startups and made a tentative schedule of events. We confirmed with James that it was all good, made some final edits, and then he went to talk to Alexis for us.
Yahtzee! He was in. I still have his cell number, which makes me feel a little bit cool. Now we just had to finalize logistics. Ashu Desai and John Fallone, the founders of Make Games With Us (now named Make School) and SendHub, stayed at my apartment. John attended Virginia Tech briefly before transferring to Florida State, where he did shot putt. He was also a tight end under the legendary Bobby Bowden. Notice the trend here– lots of tiny little connections that worked in our favor.
Apparently, it can be nerve-wracking to get a big name person at an event. This is something I was clueless about. He said he was coming. His friend confirmed this. That was enough certainty for me. Apparently, a number of my fellow E-Clubbers weren’t sure we were really going to pull the thing off until it happened. Naivete for the win! We had a coworking space, a big lecture hall at the school picked out, and the event went as smooth as we ever could’ve hoped.
Afterward, we went out in downtown Blacksburg to party. We bar hopped for a while, then a bunch of us ended up at Waffle House. Remember, currently, Alexis is mega-famous. He was only famous to nerds at the time, and he wasn’t mobbed on the street. He’s a tall, friendly, nerdy dude who has polished himself quite a bit, and I suspect that this event was one that helped him realize his potential stardom.
At the Waffle House, in true baller fashion, Alexis picked up the bill for everyone. It was one of the best drunken meals I have ever had. Years later, when Alexis opened a new Reddit office in the Bay Area, they got a Waffle House restaurant in the office! It’s the only Waffle House on the west coast. 🍳
This experience taught me the power of teamwork, friendship, and belief in possibility.
I hope you enjoyed this story. Tomorrow’s will be The Story Behind The Stories, a tale about the background of this 100 in 100 days experience.
Thank you sincerely for your time and attention. I predict these will only get better with time, as quantity begets quality, and I am attempting to go from amateurlific to prolific.