On The Curbs: The odyssey of East Sac based programmers

The bat coders Jon Shumate, Carlos ‘Los’ Rivera, Nicole ‘Coco’ Barnum, and Sonny Mayugba, ‘the silver fox’

The bat coders Jon Shumate, Carlos ‘Los’ Rivera, Nicole ‘Coco’ Barnum, and Sonny Mayugba, ‘the silver fox’

It’s October 6th and I’m in the early stages of a conversation about angels, superpowers, apps, vc’s, accelerators and bats. Four locals and I are gathered upstairs in an old theater room on the second floor of a building built in 1956 near 23rd and K streets. The building will house The Trade, an edgy new coffee shop co-working business which will be featured in another article. A black iron fence and gargoyle-like ravens still stand guard over the entrance as they have for decades. Right now, the five of us are settling in after making introductions.

Three of us are young, Jon, ‘Coco’, and ‘Los collectively referred to as The Bats. The Silver Fox is not so young, maybe a few years younger than my 48 years. He’s a well seasoned businessman and today has the role of the pitch man down to an art. The Silver Fox is leading the pack wearing light blue swim trunks and a cotton shirt. Although dressed casually, we all are, the Silver Fox is slinging silicon slang, name dropping, and calling out various emperors who wear no clothes with a hypnotic cadence that commands my attention. Unlike himself, he says, edging on bragging, those other emperors never really ran their own business.

This guy from Yahoo, that one from Google, the other from fill-in-the-blank .comville I guess I am supposed to know, but embarrassingly do not. The Silver Fox declares he has seen the best of the best and now can tell who’s really got it and who is completely fronting. He can quickly sense their weaknesses. He states that this superpower came to him as an epiphany experienced while attending some famous super sized conference back East.

This person’s really a this, and that one’s a that, he lunges forward now in attack mode. And do you know essentially what these so-called gurus do, the Silver Fox asks me. He boldly declares they are leaches, and then quickly retracts a tad, to demonstrate some tact in an industry that I am sure is rife with neutron bomb narcissism for a reason. Big money and big blokes competing for legitimacy and an opportunity to change the world through computer code, apps, and smart phones.

As he begins to trot me through the demo and the story of Requested, the new app the four have developed, I can sense another of the Silver Fox’s superpowers. Besides x-ray vision, the fox has some chameleon in his blood. This canine doesn’t act like the typical neighborhood pooch, at least on this occasion.

He’d probably admit it himself. His breed has been lapping up that Silicon Valley hype tide apparently now quickly headed towards our Sacramento turf. When in Rome, do as Romans do. I figure the Fox drank that Kool-aid as survival juice to woo the Bay Area venture capitalists, big name associates, and the rest of the power lunch cast. In those settings, you need the swag, an edge, and the ability to pitch your idea in minutes flat.

Jon, Coco and Los, all created the code which then manifests itself on the smart phone through which the Silver Fox quickly works the magic in this scenario situation. In a matter of seconds, using Requested on our iPhone, we have notified the mobile devices of the managers of three to five local hot spot dining establishments, that, within the next 15 minutes, we are willing to bring a party of four to at 3 p.m., a half hour from now, and spend only $80 to receive $100 worth of dining, a bargain we, as users, can set at whatever discount rate we want. A timer suddenly appears on the iPhone screen and begins a countdown of the minutes.

At this point the mangers’ phones have notified each of them of our request and they have the option of accepting or not. But, only the first to accept gets our hypothetical party of four’s business. A moment later, our phone chimes indicating our offer has been accepted and, in this role play, as we approach the establishment, the manager’s mobile device notifies them that we are arriving and they can now instantly prepare to meet and greet us as he or she wishes. We are quickly seated, enjoy our meal, some cocktails, and leave happy knowing we saved $20. The merchant is happy knowing that they just served a party of four during a slow part of the day. It’s the ultimate win-win.

There are tons of other cool details.

With Requested no money ever changes hands. It’s all done on the credit card just like with Uber or Lyft. The merchant receives a hard check after Requested takes a cut to pay transactions fees and stay in business. With Requested the merchant can rate the customer so that in the future they, and other merchants, are aware of the nature of the customer. During heavy business hours, and in a pinch, say if you are suddenly entertaining clients or simply want to impress, the user can notify the merchant that they are willing to pay an exact extra self determined amount to bypass the line and immediately be seated. If all goes as planned, this is available at your finger tips via Requested and the Apple app store beginning Oct. 16.

As the Silver Fox finishes his pitch, I realize the “.com craze” and its droves of garage start uppers is back and happening right here in East Sac.

If anybody is gonna be running in those packs, the Silver Fox and The Bats will make dang sure they are one of them. It’s hard to slow the Fox down to pry some reflective discourse from the momentum of his spiel. But, when done right you may glimpse the real Silver Fox, Sonny Mayugba, who lurks beneath the bells, whistles, and glam bam.

Who he is? It was the one question that I asked that caught him completely off guard. The Fox literally looked shell-shocked. There was an awkward pause as The Bats and I looked on somewhat in disbelief. Does the Fox know who he is? Finally after needing to think, Sonny stated he is someone who likes to have fun, build things, is easily bored and therefore craves excitement.

As we chat, it is clear Sonny has been stalking the Sacramento curbs seeking to turn dreams into realities probably before he was in that local band as a young rascal growing up in town. You know the band from back when. They were hot in Sacramento and beyond. They opened for yadda ya, and yadda ya, and played all the coolest venues. Sonny, along with the rest of us, thought he was destined to be a rock star. Of course then the band broke up, and he found himself working as a bike courier in the 90s and pretty much built himself up to where he is now.

The others, collectively referred to as The Bats, have remained perched in the background for over an hour now almost as if they don’t exist. Although they were all playing it cool, they remembered the launch date was a mere 10 days away. There is definite tension permeating the scene. A years worth of 12 hour days quietly haunts our table, the theater, the cables, computers, mobile devices, screens, dust, and the expansive void that surrounds us. They are all tilting forward through time. This is after all risky business. Even the Silver Fox has lost his footing, gotten tripped up, snared perhaps, and bit the dust before.

From how Sonny relays the story it was public failure, at least in his mind, and it rocked the Fox’s psyche big time. Sonny mentions it only briefly in the hours of our conversation. It was at the point when providing his background he said he told himself “Look I’m an entrepreneur and I’m not going to be afraid anymore.” Afraid of what I ask.

He tells me about it, how it hurt leaving stinging imprints of doubt upon him. Easy enough to understand, right? Who wants to be known as that guy who had that idea and actually thought it would work, and sacrificed, and was willing to risk playing the fool, but in the end it failed. He failed. And failures can’t do most things, especially lead a pack back into the rattling wars of the marketplace. How to recover? Shake your mane, lick your wounds, learn your lessons, lose the fear, break more rules, believe that gravity may not exist and that you indeed can fly. Risk again. Jump off the edge and execute.

So it is fitting then that the anxiety of the Requested pack is not evidenced by swollen bloodshot eyes, dark circles, ulcers, high blood pressure and burn out weary face creases. Quite the opposite, it’s the “we think Requested might really take off” anxious. We really may make it big. Get rich, be ushered through the pearly gates. Become one of the new and improved .com chosen ones.

And besides, Requested is truly the baby of the Silver Fox and The Bats, and they are now in labor, pushing, pacing, birthing it together as a team right here in this now abandoned theater room. As such they have already beaten the odds. They did it. They pulled code out of raw ether, breathed their breath of life into it, made it as real as anything else on your smart phone, pitched it, got the seed funding, and are now going live taking it to the streets where you too can use it quite literally on the curbs.

To get to this moment in time they all paid the price.

Each of The Bats and the Silver Fox himself quit the steady pay and gave back the security blanket provided by agency employment that was in fact killing them, slowly starving their creative hungers and frying their minds and bodies with non-stop, dog day, doing it all for some other person’s wallet, pure unadulterated grind work.

Perhaps, an assignment here, and a client there, allowed a teasing taste of artistic expression and ownership, but those never truly satiated the pangs of The Bats, or the Wolf. Instead the agency environment diverted those needs through built-in defaults, deadlines, and drudgery. Their hunger only left to more painfully fester deep in their innards. So they all quit and went hunting down trails self determined.

First Nichole Barnum (aka Coco), Carlos Rivera (aka Tos) and Jon Shumate left to form their own team. That was truly gutsy. Being young and relatively unestablished quitting entailed a huge financial hit. None had much, if any, money saved up, so essentially they were risking financial ruin. Soon Sonny followed suit, but in his case the financial risk was not so high, but indeed still there.

They formed their own pack. They say theirs has a vibe unlike any other. Why I ask. They say it’s hard to put your finger on. They just all work together well even though their personalities differ. They are all from the Sacramento area. Sonny lives right here in East Sac, so does Coco, in fact she is just down the street from Sonny. Sonny owns a nice restaurant with a bar, so he had a point earlier when he said he has skin in the game. In this case the skin tastes a bit like hare as the Fox co-owns The Red Rabbit, a hot spot in prime locale on J Street near Harlow’s, Barwest, and Blu Cue.

Carlos came from Mexico. His mother divorced and they relocated often. I sensed it was anything but easy for him, and as he reckons he got lucky. Somehow he ended up at a school that offered instruction in IT skills and got the attention of teachers that encouraged him to explore the tech professions. He was good, real good, and before long had landed an internship where Nichole, Jon, and Sonny were working. His superpower is that he possesses the unusual gift of a top-notch code writer mixed with an eye for detail and a natural bend towards the arts, especially graphic design.

Nichole was raised in the hills near Auburn where she discovered an innate love for the outdoors, nature, and playing the piano at her folks’. Here, in our hood, Nichole misses her free time in front of the old piano of her youth, but still gets out once in a while to hit the parkways and trails along the American River. She is by far the quietest of all The Bats, programmers who stay up all night working and sleep all day. Her superpower is the ability to manage complex projects while at the same time contributing in a big way as a programmer herself.

As for Jon, the only member without a nickname, he too is a local and describes himself as just a regular guy who also loves music. Playing it, making it, and listening to it. Jon comes across, much like the other Bats, as very down to earth, friendly, fun, and probably more intelligent than the average Joe. His superpower is his unbeatable ability to create code. Mostly self taught, like the others, Jon gets off by making something real in the realm of technology and making sure it’s done right.

Two or more hours have passed. We get ready to end the discussions. So what’s next for this motley bunch I ask. They all just smile, lean back, laugh, and shake their heads. Who knows? Right now their eyes are on Requested. But, I can guarantee that no matter what trail the Silver Fox forges next, and no matter what cave The Bats find themselves in, it will be on their own terms, in their own style, and to the beat of their own hearts, for at the core they are all fearless artists making dreams real in their down home techno way right here on the curbs of Sactown USA.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *