Two years ago I emailed my friend Jesal and told him to meet me in Union Square to talk about an idea that I had.
I had known Jesal for years. He was one of my good friends at NYU and we shared the similar passions of music and entrepreneurship. In my sophomore year we lived on the same floor at Palladium and the first time we hung out he showed me his make-shift recording studio in the dorm room closet. It cracked me up but told me he was an individual that went for what he wanted.
When I started to connect the dots on a future conference I wanted to put together he was one of the first people to come to mind that could make it a success. At that time my mind was infatuated with all things startups. Techcrunch became my homepage and I researched the details of every top 10 list of founders or entrepreneurs that were doing interesting things.
There was something that jumped out at me as I began to learn more about tech startups. It became clear to me that there was a certain segment of the tech ecosystem that were making waves but not receiving their due recognition.
In the social media world I noticed that a lot of rappers were the primary drivers of conversation. They created world trending hashtags, popularized memes and sometimes sat on the receiving end of internet jokes. Whether it was twitter, instagram or facebook it was clear that they had a very deep understanding about how to use the web.
On the surface this revelation might not have been too surprising. They had legions of fans and could obviously dictate conversations online whichever way they pleased.
However, there was another facet of the hiphop industry which revealed a more direct approach to technology and startups.
50 Cent and Nas were quietly building investment portfolios with an emphasis on tech startups. It was apparent that they had advisors to guide them through their investments but the simple fact that they were interested in the technology space was very interesting to me.
On top of that it seemed that every CEO or Venture Capitalist cited hiphop music as a driving motivator or inspiration for some of their companies. There were some that even included a rap lyric in each and every one of their blog posts (I’m looking at you Ben!).
Taking a look at the landscape I knew that this would be a perfect opportunity to host an event that looked at the intersection of these two powerful industries. The relevant media during that time period either neglected to showcase this parallel or downplayed their involvement as a “rapper who threw some money at xyz company for the fame factor.”
I wanted the world to understand the nuances of each side and how they respected each other. It was the DJs in the early 80s who became the first music hackers, using turntables for something that they were never intended for and splicing records on top of each other. These were the stories that people could glean valuable insight to help their businesses. These were the stories I wanted the world to hear.
Jesal was curious when we finally met up next to the statue in front of Union Square. For the next sixty minutes we must have walked about ten laps around the union square park.
I told him about the intersection point which I saw between hiphop and technology and why I felt the world needed to hear these stories. He listened with a keen ear as I ran off countless examples of hiphop artists that were becoming super active in the tech space and CEOs/VCs that swore by the music.
At the end of the hour I could tell Jesal was just as excited as me. He thought it was a great idea and was in it 100%. In one hour I found a partner and had already come up with a name for the conference, Tech 808. Tech because that is obvious and 808 for the Roland 808 drum machine (808’s and Heartbreak is still one of my favourite Kanye albums alongside MBDTF).
Over the next few months we started to draft up business plans, speaker lists and conference formats. We were fortunate to be introduced to James Lopez and Anthony Frasier who were doing something similar with The Phat Startup. After a few initial discussions we decided it would be best to join forces to make Tech 808 a reality. We now had a team and it was time to get to work.
Fast forward two years later and I’m at a loss for words to see this vision come to fruition. The event was phenomenal. We had truly remarkable speakers and an audience to match. The questions, insights, connections and lessons learned that day will last a lifetime.
I feel blessed and couldn’t be more proud of my team for making sure everything went smoothly.
And just know that this is just the beginning!