AlumNY Spotlight: JS Tan on Art, Viral Marketing, and Founding a Creative Startup

Today we’re featuring a guest post by JS Tan (hackNY ’14). Along with two classmates, he founded Hello Velocity, a creative agency in New York. In this post he shares the story of Hello Velocity’s founding, some of their strangest and most exciting work, and what he’s learned about art, viral marketing, and working on a team. 

My name is JS and I was part of hackNY 2014, where I interned with Buzzfeed! I graduated this past May from the Brown+RISD Dual Degree program where I studied Computer Science at Brown and Furniture Design at RISD. After graduating, I founded Hello Velocity, a digital marketing agency X creative studio, with my classmates, Lukas and Kevin. We’ve been working out of NewInc, the New Museum’s incubator since September.

Being a part of hackNY was an invaluable experience. It not only provided me with the technical competency and confidence to take on any of our projects, but also exposed me to a community of talented and incredibly generous people. Coming into hackNY, I didn’t expect the community to interested in the kind of work I, as part of Hello Velocity, was doing – making marketing campaigns for celebrity meat (bitelabs.org), trying to buy McDonald franchises to put in churches (mcmass.com), making fake Chinese artists for political commentary (godplayground.com). But my hackNY class flipped those expectations; throughout that summer, I ended up having many fun and useful conversations about each project.

BiteLabs' homepage looks surprisingly believable.

Hello Velocity began in 2014 with the creation of a project: Bitelabs, a satirical marketing campaign advertising meat grown from celebrity tissue samples and made into artisanal salami. At that time, the three of us, Lukas Bentel, Kevin Wiesner and I were still 4th year students in the Brown | RISD Dual Degree Program. Having already collaborated on many art projects, from making large scale installations to building in-browser art games, we already had years of experience working with each other. But unlike those other projects, we knew Bitelabs was different.

Within 2 weeks of launching the campaign, we were tweeted about tens of thousands of times and had been picked up by Wired, Vice, LA Times, Huffington Post, USA Today and many other international publications. We even got written about in the hardcopy of Time Magazine. Shortly after the campaign, we created “Hi Sorry We Died”, an anonymous art collective who would claim Bitelabs, which would eventually grow up to become Hello Velocity.

What began as an art project about celebrity culture in the social age led us to larger question that we spent our final year of school trying to answer: how do ideas spread in the social age? After Bitelabs, we went on to create The McMass Project, an indiegogo campaign with the goal of raising 1 million dollars to buy a McDonalds franchise to put into a church, as well as Genecoin, a startup that wanted to store customer DNA into the bitcoin blockchain. Like Bitelabs, both these projects went viral.

JS with the Class of 2014 hackNY Fellows. His internship at Buzzfeed helped him something something

In the midst of these projects, I had joined hackNY 2014 and been paired with Buzzfeed. Aside from having a wonderful experience as a software engineer and a fantastic mentor at Buzzfeed, I was also immersed in an environment obsessed with the mechanics of sharability, and discovered that it was a great space for me to explore how ideas spread in the social age. By the end of that summer, the hacker-centric environment of hackNY had given me the confidence to be the technical spine for Hello Velocity, and Buzzfeed’s sensibility for sharable content had became part of Hello Velocity’s everyday practice.

Today Hello Velocity works out of NEWINC on 231 Bowery, an art incubator hosted by the New Museum. We spend half our time doing client work, creating brand identities and marketing campaigns for customers. And we spend the rest of our time developing our own research projects, where our topic of research has shifted from how ideas spread in the social age to more specifically how do brands command identity in the social age.

The Hello Velocity team at BYU, where they were invited to speak about digital marketing.

In February of 2015, we were invited to Brigham Young University, Utah, to give a lecture in a bio-tech entrepreneurial seminar series about bringing emerging technologies into the media’s attention and the power of the speculative image.

Having only graduated 6 months ago, we’re still trying to figure out what it means to run our own digital marketing agency / creative studio. We’ve grown from a small group of 3, to a slightly bigger team of 5, and do projects that range anywhere from developing toilet seats to web services. In the coming year, we plan on working with bigger and more exciting clients, as well as working more closely with startups.

Five years down the road, I think Hello Velocity will be completely different. I think that my founding partners and I will continue to challenge what it means to be working as a creative business, and will continue to explore how brands exist an increasingly social world. I’ve also been thinking about what it means for Hello Velocity to scale – but unlike software startups that typically have a user base, there isn’t a clear model for how digital marketing startups or creative studios should grow. Do we scale out by get more customers and hiring more people? Or do we scale up by becoming more selective and charging higher premiums? No matter which it is, I’m sure Hello Velocity will continue to grow.

Fall 2015 hackNY Student Hackathon Winners Wow the Crowd at the New York Tech Meetup

Two winning teams from the Fall 2015 hackNY Student Hackathon presented their projects at the November New York Tech Meetup this Tuesday. Team Roam, our First Place winners, and team Lights, Camera, Location, winners of the 8-Breaker creativity prize, demoed as smoothly and impressively as the startups on the program. After their demos, they answered questions from the audience about their technical processes and plans for the future.

Here’s a full video of the NYTM demo lineup. Skip to 47:08 for the hackNY demos! You can also view all the photos from the night on NYTM’s Facebook page here.

Team Roam, winner of First Prize at the Fall 2015 hackNY hackathon, and team Lights, Camera, Location, winner of the 8-Breaker prize, getting ready to present at NYTM.
Team Roam, winner of First Prize at the Fall 2015 hackNY Student Hackathon, and team Lights, Camera, Location, winner of the 8-Breaker prize, getting ready to present at NYTM.

Roam, a team of Stony Brook students Amit Bapat, Bethann Polinsky, Philippe Kimura-Thollander, and Varun Sayal (Bethann wan’t able to attend the meetup), impressed us at the hackathon with their Android app that allows users to get directions, check the weather, and call an Uber all without using phone data or wifi. Their polished app hides the details of interacting with APIs using SMS, and presents data beautifully and naturally.

Roam preparing to present their app.

Lights, Camera, Location’s team, Alina Lalji and Zain Hemani of the University of Western Ontario, flew all the way from Toronto to present their hack. Their app scrapes internet databases all over the Web to provide filming location data for any movie you search – all in under 9 seconds. The NYTM audience especially enjoyed their visualization of NYC filming locations.

Photo credit: Craig Williston of QoolFoto / qoolfoto.com
Photo credit: Craig Williston of QoolFoto / qoolfoto.com

After the demos and Q&A, the hackers attended the NYTM afterparty where they talked with attendees about their projects with cake and swag. Many of their visitors had to ask again how long they’d spent on the projects, barely able to believe that they’d completed so much in 24 hours! We are very proud of our hackers, and hope to see them again at future hackNY events.

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AlumNY Spotlight: Emmett Butler (’12)

Welcome to our AlumNY Spotlight blog series! This November, we’ll be profiling some hackNY AlumNY who have continued to do great things at the startup where they spent their hackNY Fellows summer.

In this post we interview Emmett Butler (Class of 2012), who worked at Parse.ly as a hackNY Fellow and has helped it grow into one of NYC’s hottest startups. Parse.ly provides an analytics platform for digital publishers, helping them to act on audience insights with a data-driven approach. Emmett is a great contributor to open source projects, and develops games when he’s not working. He also has great advice for applicants to our incoming hackNY class!

Emmett at his home workstation, where he works remotely as a software engineer at Parse.ly
Emmett at his home workstation, where he works remotely as a software engineer at Parse.ly

Continue reading “AlumNY Spotlight: Emmett Butler (’12)”

Fall 2015 hackNY Student Hackathon Recap

Last weekend we celebrated our 12th hackNY Student Hackathon! Over 220 students, representing over 50 schools, journeyed to New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences to build projects for 24 hours. At our opening ceremony, we opened applications for our Summer 2016 hackNY Fellowship – apply now!

Hacks ranged from civic hacks using NYC Open Data to hilarious API mashups and adventurous hardware hacks. One team even worked with a Keurig machine hackNY donated to NYU years ago, fixing its mechanical problems and adding their own functionality. Throughout the hacking, 25 technical ambassadors from local startups and companies were there to mentor, debug, and help develop ideas. Volunteers from NYU’s ACM chapter as well as hackNY Fellowship alumNY made sure the event ran smoothly.

When our hackers weren’t coding, they had plenty to do. Our Ladies Storm Hackathons Meetup was a great success, including our traditional cupcake decorating and crazy LSH selfie! MLH organized a cup stacking competition. Several late night runs to NYC classics like Halal Guys were organized among hackers. To keep our energy up, we ate delicious tacos (and 4am nachos) from Five Tacos, sandwiches from Perfect Picnic and The Schnitz, and kolaches cooked on-site by the incredible Kings Kolache. Our midnight surprise was Insomnia Cookies plus mooncakes to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival. 中秋節快樂!

Once hacking ended, our team of judges (meet them here and here) used their technical knowledge and startup experience to pick our Top 3 hacks and 7 special awards, 5 of which were completely new! Sponsors and community members also gave awards for API and hardware excellence, the best domain name, Rube-Goldberg-tasticness, and creativity with Unhackathon’s Springboard Projects. Check out our prizes below, and all the hacks on Devpost!

We’ll update this post, and our Flickr account, with more photos this week! Thank you again for a great event – we’ll see you in the spring at our next Student Hackathon!

Winners

Our Top 3 hacks get to present at one of the next New York Tech Meetup events!

First Place

Roam, an Android app for getting directions, checking the weather, and calling an Uber – all without using any of your phone’s data. Instead, it cleverly compresses the data used by each API so it can run on nothing but text messages!

First place winners, Roam!

Second Place

Informant, a Chrome extension designed to enhance YouTube videos. It links to more information on celebrities after identifying them with facial recognition, and performs sentiment analysis on the speakers’ tone and content, indicating the overall relationships expressed throughout a conversation.

Our 2nd Place winners, Informant!

Third Place

Project Horus aims to make language learning more natural, letting users learn new words by seeing pictures of them in context. Users can circle an object in a photo they take, and see it identified with the Clarifai API with several different translation options.

Our 3rd Place winners, Project Horus!
NYU Hackathon 2015 Date: 9/26/2015 AND 9/27/2015

The 8-Breaker

This award is given to an extremely creative hack that isn’t one of Tess Rinearson’s 8 Kinds of Projects You Meet at Hackathons.

Lights, Camera, Location displays movie filming locations on an interactive map. Users can view all the locations a movie was filmed at, or see what movies filmed near their current location.

Most Technically Impressive Hack 

This award is given to a hack with serious technical work on hardware or software, even if it isn’t flashy on the outside.  

Vizu is an augmented reality application that inserts 3D images into any scene. It is especially useful for educators, who can insert symbols that correspond to 3D models into any document and have Vizu display them when it recognizes them.

Best Hack Design

This award recognizes great visual design and UX. Judges look at user interface, graphics, and product design.

HackHub is a central hub where hackathon organizers can post information and announcements about their hackathons. Participants can view it without having to create accounts, and receive desktop notifications for important announcements.

Best Hack Using an NYC API 

Supporting the NYC Tech Community is very important to hackNY. This award goes to the best hack using a local startup’s API to do something awesome.

CoWork24 is a mobile app that allows users to create coworking spaces on the go by setting a location and inviting others to work in their shared environment.

Best Civic Tech Hack

This award was created by our judges during this Fall’s event! 

WaterNY uses inexpensive tools compatible with any smartphone to allow NYC residents to analyze their water for microscopic contaminants.

Best Hardware Hack 

Webapps don’t have all the fun. This award goes to the hack that best incorporates hardware.

After their first hack idea failed, the Keurig Machine team took apart an old and broken NYU Keurig coffee maker, fixed it, and created a hack that allows users to brew a cup of coffee with a simple gesture detected by a Myo armband.

Best First Hack 

This award recognizes technical and creative impressiveness of hacks by first-time hackathon participants, and their learning over the 24-hour hack.

NYC Vehicle Collision displays collision information from NYC Open Data in a visually striking and easy to read format. Users can sort by location and date to view information about incidents and their causes.

Community Prizes

These prizes are created by our sponsors and NYC tech community members.

Best Use of MongoDB

Encabulator, a webapp that maps the best place to hail a taxi – without machine learning.

Best PayPal Hack

PhoneWTF connnects two people over the phone without telling them who is calling, and then records the ensuing hilarious conversations in exchange for PayPal donations.

Most Rube-Goldberg-tastic Hack (Sponsored by Datto) 

The Keurig Machine gets a very simple job done with many complicated and technical steps, leading to hacktastic awesomeness.

Best Use of Twilio

Roam uses text messages instead of data to get directions, check the weather, and request Uber.

Most Creative Hack Starting from an Unhackathon Springboard Project

Draw Anything started from a simple Springboard Project designed to teach websocket programming, and developed into a fully-formed and cleanly designed webapp with multiplayer Pictionary-style gameplay and in-game chat.

Best Use of Presto 

Awkscape helps you escape from awkward conversations by calling your phone when you snap your fingers, detected by Presto’s gesture detection API on Android Wear.

Best Use of Pebble

Pebble Vote lets users easily rate places from their Pebble watch.

Best Use of AWS

Project Horus uses Clarifai, Yandex.translate, and AWS to power a photo identification and translation webapp.

Coolest Use of Domain.com

Domain.com chose Bruhzzfeed‘s bruhhh.co as the coolest domain of the day.

Meet the Fall 2015 hackNY Student Hackathon Judges, Part 2

hackNY’s Fall 2015 Student Hackathon is less than a week away! We are especially excited about the knowledgeable and influential judges we have lined up for the event. Read more about three of our judges here, and see our our previous blog post to meet the rest of the judging team.

Catt Small
Product Designer at SoundCloud and Independent Game Designer

Catt is an expert UX and product designer at SoundCloud. She develops games at Buttered Toast Studios and Brooklyn Gamery, teaches coding and game development with The Code Liberation Foundation; and speaks about the future of gaming and web design. She says, “Hackathons helped me grow tremendously as both a designer and developer. I hope to see lots of designers collaborating with people who have other skillsets to make amazing things!”
Christina Wallace
Founder of BridgeUp: STEM @ AMNH

Christina Wallace is the founding director of BridgeUp: STEM, a new educational initiative at the American Museum of Natural History with a mission to captivate, inspire, and propel girls and minorities into computer science. Previously Christina was the founding director of Startup Institute New York, the Founder and CEO of venture-backed fashion company Quincy Apparel, a management consultant with the Boston Consulting Group, and an arts manager at the Metropolitan Opera. She brings expertise in technology, education, and design to our judging panel. She says, “I’m thrilled to join the judging team for the hackNY hackathon — I’ve attended the demos for several years now and am continually impressed with and inspired by the projects that arise. Looking forward to seeing what the students create this year!
Minerva Tantoco
Chief Technology Officer for the City of New York

As NYC’s first-ever CTO, Tantoco directs the Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation with responsibility for the development and implementation of a coordinated citywide strategy on technology and innovation and encouraging collaboration across agencies and with the wider New York City technology ecosystem. While still in college, Ms. Tantoco co-founded technology startup, Manageware Inc, which was successfully sold five years later. Since then, Ms. Tantoco has led emerging technology initiatives including artificial intelligence, e-commerce, virtualization, online marketing and mobile applications. She holds four US patents on intelligent workflow and is a speaker and author on mobile, security, big data, and innovation.

Thank you again to all our wonderful judges. We are so looking forward to this weekend!