Tweeted from the bottom now I’m here

 

4 years ago today, I sent a tweet that would become the defining point of my career.

But before I get to that story, I need to give you some context. It was early 2011, and I was an unemployed 24 year old living in my mom’s house in Santa Clara, California. This was the house I had lived in throughout most of my high school years, and the room hadn’t changed one bit since then — the walls were still painted a splotchy shade of turquoise, decorated with set lists peeled off of the stages of San Francisco’s concert venues and signed by obscure indie bands.

I had just moved back after spending a year and a half in London, where I did an MA degree in International Broadcast Journalism at Westminster University. After the initial excitement of catching up with family, friends, and getting thoroughly reacquainted with proper Mexican food, the dreaded quarter-life crisis came in like a wrecking ball. My student loan money was nearly all spent, and I had no job prospects.

At this point, a typical day was something like:

10am: Eat a bowl of cereal while transfixed by games of Plinko on “The Price Is Right.”

Afternoon: Halfheartedly scour job sites, anticipating rejection before even writing a cover letter because the job market was so grim.

Evening: Crap, dinner time already? Guess it’s time to get out of pajamas and take a shower…

That PJ life though…

Late night: Distract myself from thoughts of, “what’s wrong with you? Why haven’t you found a job yet? You had a stable job before, why did you have to give it up for London? Look at you now, you unemployed slacker!” by reading books, watching TV shows/movies, and browsing the internet until passing out.

So yeah…it wasn’t one of the happiest periods in my life. Luckily, the power of Craigslist and my mom’s instinct joined forces to get me out of this funk. She was also unemployed at the time and, while on her own search for work, came across a Craigslist posting that she thought I should take a look at. It was at a small startup in Mountain View, and they were looking for a summer music writing intern. Because I had been doing music journalism since I was 18, she thought it would be right up my alley.

Initially, I dismissed the posting because I thought that with a Master’s degree, I deserved a job way beyond internship level. Besides, it wasn’t supposed to start until summer and it was only early February. What would I do until then, even if I applied and managed to get the internship? But after taking the time to thoroughly read through the posting, everything that was written in it resonated with me. I remember feeling physically tingly with excitement while reading the tasks this internship would require. At this point, I decided it was worth it to dig a little deeper and to find out everything I could about this company, 955 Dreams. Mostly to make sure it wasn’t really a phone sex hotline (“for a good time, dial 955-DREAMS”).

In actuality, they had just built this cool iPad app called The History of Jazz, which was an interactive timeline of jazz history.

History of Jazz app

In my research, I found the company’s Twitter handle and saw that they only had a couple hundred followers. At this point in my job hunt, I was so jaded that I just had a “meh…I kinda don’t give a shit about anything right now” attitude. So instead of just sending a cover letter and resume like any sane person would do, I impulsively decided to tweet at them, “You can take down your internship posting now. www.linkedin.com/in/amandavanwest.” To my surprise, just a couple of minutes later I received the following DM:

First tweet

 

The next thing I knew, I was invited to their History of Jazz launch party, where I had to meet all of the founders and their closest friends, family members, and professional acquaintances before going through the formal interview process. Luckily my decision to stick to a two drink maximum (while encouraging other party-goers to imbibe more…) meant that I made it through the party without embarrassing myself, and I was invited in the following Monday for the interview. I was given an assignment to pick an up-and-coming band and write a short review on their music, so I wrote this review of The Vaccines self-titled EP. 

Shortly after, I was given an official offer and I became the company’s first hire.

Welcome to the family

Four years later, I’m now the most senior woman in the company, singlehandedly running our music discovery app Band of the Day. I’d like to think that my geeky inner 17 year-old Strokes/indie band fangirl would be proud if she could see me now.

It’s been an incredible learning experience, peppered with a heavy hand of surreal moments like judging a Battle of the Bands competition in the Bahamas, speaking on a music tech panel in Spain, and putting on a showcase during SXSW that resulted in tens of thousands of people wanting to get in.

Needless to say, I’m excited to see what this next year at Applauze (a necessary name change!) will have in store. Like any other tech startup, we’ve gone through our fair share of ups and downs, but I think our strength lies in how we’ve used the downs as learning experiences, and so that’s how we’ve managed to prevail.

I’m not sure if anyone besides my mom and the spambots reads this blog, but if you’ve somehow stumbled over here, feel free to leave a comment. Or, y’know, just tweet me.

Megabus

I can hear the crinkling sound of a packet of crisps being opened. Crunch. Crunch.

We’re speeding along the left side of the road, and my bladder is cursing me for that cup of lukewarm mocha so inconveniently consumed right before the journey started.

The couple in front of me are joined together in holy naptrimony, and I can’t tell if that little snorty snore that just escaped from its olfactory prison was from the man or the woman.

The seats are upholstered in a tacky velour fabric, royal blue with yellow and orange geometric Pacman-esque shapes.

Megacool fabric on the Megabus from Bristol to London

It complements the shiny shell of the exterior, in the same shade of royal blue, with bright yellow letters spelling out “MEGABUS.”

It reminds me of Santa Clara High School’s colors, and I feel a twinge of nostalgia for my high school days across the other side of the world.

As I turn back to see if the bathroom is vacant, I notice that everyone is sleeping. Some people have their heads rested back, and others are sprawled across both seats.

It’s funny how, no matter what age or gender, everyone looks so serene and innocent when they’re sleeping. Normally furrowed brows become uncreased. Nervous, shaky limbs become tranquilized. Tranquil eyes?

Heads gently bob from the movement of the bus. Mouths are relaxed, neither smiling nor frowning, slightly parted to let warm air out. Expressions are even more neutral than Switzerland.

Some people are stirred awake by an unexpected bump in the road, or change in speed, while others soldier on through their slumber.

All roads lead to London

Next stop: London!

Christmas Lights (Out)

On my fifteen minute walk home from school, through a residential neighborhood in Wembley, something seemed off. I couldn’t put my finger on it. Something just wasn’t right about the scene unfolding around me.

Then it dawned on me: here I was, at the beginning of December, and I didn’t see any houses decorated with Christmas lights.

In the suburban neighborhoods of the United States, especially near my home in Santa Clara, the Christmas frenzy starts around Thanksgiving.

People try to outdo each other with their lavish and over-the-top exterior Christmas decorations.

Case in point: the house down the street that goes all out every single year.

Christmas: Santa Clara-style


It’s as if Santa had a little too much Christmas cheer, and this is what came out.

I guess Americans really do live up to our reputation of wanting to outdo everyone else!

Baby, When The Lights Go Out
Londoners are known for their British reserve. I mean, go on the tube and you’ll never see more people trying to be as invisible as possible.

I suppose this applies to Christmas decorations as well. Nobody wants to be that house. The one that so blatantly draws attention to itself.

As cheesy as Christmas decorations can be, and how detrimental they can be to your electricity bill, it is something of a cultural tradition for me.

To not see houses bedazzled with lights and other ornamentation makes it feel a little less Christmas-y.

As I pondered all of this on my walk back, I rounded the corner down the street from my house. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimmer of surprise.

There it was: one single house with a string of modest Christmas lights around the window. It may not have been much, but it was enough to put a little smile on my face, and to add some Christmas cheer on an otherwise unassuming walk home.