VAN’s American adventures (part 1)

Chris Quigley - April 23rd, 2013

The more observant of Team Rubber will have noticed that I’ve been around even less than usual for the last month – which is largely due to the fact that I’ve been travelling around the US, on a magical mystery of a VAN tour – spreading the good VAN love and running #KittenCamps across the country with Liz and Catherine (my girlfriend).

To share some of our experiences, here’s a few tidbits from the various places and people we’ve stumbled across:

SXSW (Austin)

The key to SXSW’s awesomeness is its mix of awesome speakers, awesome attendees and beer, giving it a university-type of feel – with a healthy mix of learning and LOLZ. The most inspirational talks I went to this year included hearing Elon Musk openly talking about his work, from founding and selling PayPal, through to dedicating his life to electric cars (through his Tesla Car company) and space exploration (through his Space X company). Given his track record, it was easy to impressed by him, however his dedication to huge ideas matched by his intelligence (during the talk he gave a comprehensive explanation of battery technology) was truly inspiring. Possibly the most interesting question he gave an answer to was a question about his biggest mistake – which he said was *hiring people based soley on talent and not character*, which I thought was a fascinating response (and one to which I’m wholly signed up to).

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New York

New York was the true start to VAN’s US adventures. Given the size of the city and its reputation as a hard-working / hard-nosed city it felt like a bit of a baptism of fire – however, from the very first meeting we had Liz and I were very much welcomed with open arms by all agencies we met. Testament to the good will for us was the turnout at our New York #KittenCamp event – which was a complete sell out (180+) and a huge success. Special thanks goes to Mark Fallows @ McCann for his heroics in a cat suit, along with Faris and Rosie for their heroics in horse and dog suits 😉

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Along with the title of the Windy City, Chicago’s best known for its amazing architecture, extraordinary deep pan pizzas, home of ad agency DraftFCB (whose founder Howard Draft has a whole Chicago street named after him) and the home of the Chicago Bulls basketball team. What we also discovered was that Chicago is perishingly cold in March, which made experiencing all of the above a little bit more of a challenge. I’m pleased to say that we did manage to experience all that Chicago offers, highlights including watching the Chicago Bulls end Miami Heat’s 22 game unbeaten run and see modern day basketball legend Le Bron James in near tears. From a work perspective the number of meetings was less intense, however we did meet some great people doing awesome viral stuff (including this corker from Draft) and we finally had some time to dedicate to organising our San Francisco #KittenCamp extravaganza.

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San Francisco

Having spent the previous week in sub zero temperatures in Chicago, the sun and pleasant spring clime of San Francisco was a relief; and so was the laid-back and assured self-confidence that life on the West Coast brings. San Francisco again saw an intense number of agency meetings for both me and Liz, with Catherine starting to get a better understanding of the Silicon Valley investment space. An interesting trend we noticed across San Francisco was a love of awesome offices and dogs – and in Zynga’s case, a good mix of both (I particularly loved their *barking lot* concept!) Another standout office was Monkey Inferno’s, which included their own in-office chef, and boutique-hotel styled over-night bedroom.

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Running #KittenCamps in new cities is always a daunting prospect, however San Francisco seemed to come together easier than most – to the point that in the end we were turning people away for the fear of being over-booked! The only challenge we had was in finding a LOL Puppy to battle against, however in the end all came good with Ken Pontac (of Happy Tree Friends fame – Andy’s favourite web series and inspiration for Team Rubber’s DudeCorp) stepping in at the last minute to save the day (and lose the meme battle).

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Aside from the obvious fun that comes from experiencing new cities, the last month has been pretty exhausting, so I’m pleased to be off to South America travelling. I’ll be back in New York for mid May to continue VAN’s US work – living in-between there and San Francisco ’til the end of July when I’ll be back in London. A huge thanks to everyone from Team Rubber who helped organise the adventure so far, especially Matt for the late nights organising meetings and Liz for enduring 4 weeks of travel with me. And as a final note, I can’t imagine traveling for a month without the help of AirBnB hosts to provide awesome accommodation. My favourite of the trip was our San Francisco SoMa loft apartment . . .

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