AUSTIN, TEXAS -- The thing about SXSW is, it's eclectic. Pay no mind to the stereotype of bearded hipsters with ironic t-shirts and neck tats stumbling around actual reality trying to pioneer enhanced reality. This is no more than 80% of the crowd . . . 96% tops.
But in the space of four hours here Saturday, I ran into so many other distinct characters pursuing distinct endeavors. The first was Robert Scoble, the blogger oracle, here to flog his new book (The Fourth Transformation, with Shel Israel) by describing the Augmented Reality world we are about to be jettisoned into. Like, soon.
“If you're an Apple customer, and you buy everything as soon as it comes out, you're gonna have it this year. Apple's coming out with three new iPhones, a new iPad, a new TV box, a new watch and a new pair of glasses that can put stuff on the world as we walk around. It's gonna be pretty mind blowing.”
And it will be. So will the meat situation.
While chatting up that other oracle, Guy Kawasaki, I met a woman who is raising money for a mobile butcher shop to sell organic meat off of trucks. Later I dined with Tristan Snell, the former assistant attorney general of New York, who prosecuted the Trump University fraud case but now is founder of a video start-up called Snakt that connects YouTube videos to one another like Lego blocks for social media conversations. He is a Princeton-grad lawyer with heroic looks along Mitt Romney lines. You'll likely be hearing from him in the future.
But I digress, because this is mostly about Max. A. Max Baron. I met him at a restaurant, where he overheard some conversation with the prosecutor/starter-upper, and with appropriate apologies, butted right in. Unlike every other soul in the city of Austin, he was wearing a business suit.
“I'm looking to make some more connections that will help me to forward my entrepreneurial pursuits,” he told me, in stone-cold-dead earnest with the studied formalism such as you'd hear in a high-school debate competition.
Startup guy, too, of course. His business is called PrepReps. He buys geotargeted ad inventory through Snapchat's DIY portal and hyper-localizes it for clients interested in reaching clusters of youngsters. Because the CPMs Snapchat fetches through the portal are a fraction of what brands pay for a national buy, he can aggregate micro audiences targeted within a space as little as 20,000 square feet. A pilot with Beats by Dre for its Be Heard initiative was gangbusters, Max said.
“I would add a quote for you -- 'We were able to deploy hundreds of filters. The program was success. And we remain very optimistic about the service and our ability to continue to successfully implement our methodology for our clients'."
Max was most generous with ideas for the construction of this article -- and yes, obviously, that quote sings, but whether this all scales -- PrepReps uses the agency commission model -- remains to be determined. We'll see what happens after prom.
Oh, yeah, Max Baron is a senior. In high school. St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire, to be precise. He's taking calculus, Spanish, statistics. He’s a varsity skier and tennis player. And yes, he's representing the U.S. next month at the World Individual Debating and Public Speaking Championship in Sydney.
And running a business out of his dorm room. Have you seen Rushmore? The Wes Anderson flick? To meet Max Baron is to wait for Bill Murray to pop into the scene.
“I started my first business at around 12 years old,” he said, “the summer right before 7th grade. We sold baked goods by subscription. I was going door to door selling subscriptions. That was when I first realized I had an interest in my entrepreneurship.”
In high school, he graduated to PrepReps, which recruited 2500 influencers to rep brands on 500-some campuses. Then the Snapchat opportunity dawned. The chance for a teenager who understood where teenagers congregated, he saw, meshed very well with the micro-targeting capabilities of the DIY ad portal.
His business partners are grownups on the West Coast. His mom and dad live -- most likely in a state of astonishment -- on the Upper East Side.
With the understanding that at any moment Snapchat can change its rules and incapacitate PrepReps, his goal, he told me, is to be “a very, very good vendor for my clients and excellent friend to my peers.” Plus, of course, college. Max, where did you apply?
“That's not information I'm willing to share for your article.”
Alrighty then. I moved on to my next prodigy, Ryan Pamplin, vp of sales at Meta, who is 29 now but went to college when he was 15 at institutions he freely discloses. He gave me a tour of the AR state of the art with a Meta headset that -- backed by $100 million in capital -- is being shared with developers worldwide. As Scoble was saying, it adds a holographic dimension to the physical world with the promise of summoning not just apps and useful data, but all contemporaneous human experience in real-time.
Not by September, but soon enough. It will change life. It will augment not reality, but humanity. It will also be scary as shit. So run down to the corner. Grab yourself some meat. Fortify yourself.
What SXSW reminds us is that the future -- bold and eclectic -- is en route whether we're ready to share it or not.