20X2 During Austin Startup Week: What Were They Thinking?

By SUSAN LAHEY
Reporter with Silicon Hills News

20X2 - "What were you thinking?" event at Austin Startup Week, Photo by Susan Lahey

20X2 – “What were you thinking?” event at Austin Startup Week, Photo by Susan Lahey

There were artists and musicians, comedians and luminaries of the Austin tech scene including Bob Metcalfe—representing gravitas in his suit and tie—Hugh Forrest, Bijoy Goswami, and entrepreneurs Eric Bandholz and Josh Kerr as well as Valerie Cason, ATC’s director of sales and marketing.

They were charged with getting up in front of a crowd in the dark bar to answer the question: “What Were You Thinking?”

But instead of 20 origin stories, as might have been expected, they told stories about wandering into a gay biker bar, stories about comedian Katie Pengra biting her grandmother’s fake breast, comedian Ralph Hardesty’s take on gay life in Alabama and a showering rain of f-bombs.

20X2 is an event launched at SXSW in 2001 that brings together people of all creative stripes and asks them one question. In this case: “What were you thinking?”

Participants have two minutes to answer the question. Founded by Kevin Newsum with Jeff Rider and Mark Couvillian, it landed at Elysium bar for Austin Startup Week.

Steve Basile, publican of B.D. Rileys, told the story of working for Tivoli as a “tech guy,” then quitting when IBM bought it, joining a startup that had five business plans in a year, then leaving it all to return to New York when his father got sick. A friend who had started an Irish pub asked him to help with marketing and paid him in Guinness.

“I’m thinking that if you move in the direction of something you truly love, you don’t have to think about anything else.”

Goswami gave a litany of what a lot of other great thinkers were thinking, from Galileo to Jobs, including the conversation in which Steve Wozniak warned that Apple Records was the name of the Beatles’ label and Jobs retorted that it didn’t matter because “We’ll never be in music.”

Valerie Cason, ATC’s director of sales and marketing, photo by Susan Lahey

Valerie Cason, ATC’s director of sales and marketing, photo by Susan Lahey

Cason told the story of her startup ZeneScene, being invited to join the SXSW Startup Bus and falling in love with the Austin tech scene, and staying in love with the Austin tech scene through the demise of her company.

Writer Erin Passons shared what many people are thinking—Mopac or I-35? Though, she said, “Mopac is a hinderance,” she said, “On Mopac, if you’re in a fender bender, you don’t have to worry about getting murdered” because the other car will likely be driven by a soccer mom or Matthew McConaughey. Whereas I-35 is “a cesspool of disaster and disgustingness.” It’s pavements are made up of missing person’s bones, heroine needles, and the skeleton of the Lindbergh baby.

Josh Kerr at 20X2, photo by Andy Aguiluz

Josh Kerr at 20X2, photo by Andy Aguiluz

Kerr, Written founder, was thinking that if he launched his company, Zosh, at DEMO and beat the crap out of a fax machine on stage to demonstrate that the app replaced the fax machine, he would make the crowd go wild and win the biggest prize. He was not doing the math that would have prepared him for the fact that the youth baseball bat he bought lacked the mass to smash a fax machine. He expected pieces to go flying. The bat bounced off the machine. So he picked up the fax machine and smashed it on the ground. Parts went flying, the crowd went wild, and he won the biggest prize.

Bandholz, founder of Beardbrand, said he was thinking about the money “which makes you do wicked, evil things, awful things, you can buy anything you want and save more money than most people make in a year.” The bearded entrepreneur explained how he’d bent his whole life to the founding of the company, showing a picture of himself, clean-shaving, vaguely resembling Opie Taylor, and saying “When I worked for a bank, I looked like this.”

Singer, songwriter Mike Wiebe got the whole crowd singing choruses of: “What was I thinking? Must have been stoned. Rushing into shit like this is was why I’m going die alone….”

Hugh Forrest, was not thinking in January 2000, when a stranger sent him an email proposing an SXSW event in which 20 people would speak for two minutes, that this would become a huge event. He was not thinking it would travel to Chicago and London and hundreds of tech celebrities would get involved and it would cover questions ranging from “Where am I?” to “What’s the big idea?” But since that has happened for 20X2, he said, he’s thinking that “The community has the best ideas for cool SXSW content and maybe this is one more opportunity to demonstrate the power of the community.”

Bob Metcalfe was thinking, after a gin and tonic, while he watched f-bombs falling and body parts and various sexual references punctuating most presentations: “The next two minutes are dedicated to the idea that you f’ing care what I was thinking.”

He reviewed the landmarks that happened the year he invented the Ethernet—the opening of the World Trade Center, Nixon’s confession to covering up Watergate, the invention of gene splicing and the Bic lighter and cell phones. “Today,” he said, with wifi “There are a billion new ports of Ethernet and I get less than a dollar for each one….

Then he told the story of the club to which he is a member, the club of people who invented things that plug into computers, like the USB, HDMI and so on. This club meets regularly but then the inventor of the USB died. The other club members served as pallbearers and lowered the coffin into the grave.

“Then,” Metcalfe said, “we lifted it up again, turned it 180 degrees….”

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