Daring to fail at 23: Australia's hackathon hero
Peter Watts is just 23, but the Australian networks like a seasoned pro and his app is turning heads in the music industry.
It's hard to convince those people to stay in Australia because there isn't the same environment for them to succeed.
The young entrepreneur from Sydney is on a six-month trip around the US spruiking his start-up Swarm.fm, financed by $20,000 in prizes he has won from coding competitions known as "hackathons".
Succeeding on the world stage ... 23-year-old Peter Watts.
With Swarm.fm Watts is developing apps to help people find new music and learn more about the artists they love.
His latest hackathon triumph was the $10,000 grand prize at an event run by music streaming service Spotify. In 48 hours, Watts built an app that made it simple to add a list of friends and then collate their music activity from Facebook and other services, using the data to build a dynamic Spotify playlist based on what the user's friends are listening to.
Fairfax Media followed Watts as he pitched his start-up to tech industry luminaries and music executives at a private party during the SXSW Interactive festival in March in Austin, Texas.
Peter Watts with his $10,000 hackathon cheque.
"They have a whole lot of band managers, Lady GaGa's manager and a few other high profile people in here that are interested in how technology can build the tools to help the artists really engage with their fans and really get their music out there," he says.
"People outside of tech are understanding that tech is what can really take them to the next level."
Watts appears in the new video series on this website, Digital Dreamers, which tracks Australian entrepreneurs making it big in the US. Episode 1 debuted last week, while episode 2 is published today.
At SXSW, Watts was among 48 finalists out of 650 entrants to make it into the Music Accelerator start-up competition.
Watts did not win - "lost to an iPad app with guitar-teaching cartoon animals" - but his networking and pitching paid off.
"It was definitely a valuable exercise and I got some solid feedback. In particular, I made a very strong connection to a music tech industry veteran, which has had a flow-on effect, leading to angel investor interest, potential advisers and even a lawyer," he said following SXSW.
Watts's six-month journey through the US has also taken him to New York three times and San Francisco for extended periods.
"The first half of the trip has been focused on building a network and refining the product. The next few months will be dedicated to growing the company and getting it out there," he said.
"We have a big product launch coming soon, and are in the process of raising a seed round of investment."
Watts, who lives in Mascot but plans to incorporate in the US, believes the fact that tech entrepreneurs such as he have to go offshore to succeed is a "lost opportunity".
"I think it's definitely bad for Australia ... but it's a tough chicken-and-egg problem," he says.
"It's hard to convince those people to stay in Australia because there isn't the same environment for them to succeed."
Peter Watts is one of the young entrepreneurs Asher Moses encountered on the road at SXSW in Austin, Texas. He and others tell their stories in Digital Dreamers, Episode 2. Coming next week: meet the Aussies making waves in Silicon Valley.