Big Tech, Big Sean... and Kanye West? Raptor House Gears Up For Fourth Year at SXSW

Nas, Roc Nation president Jay Brown and Raptor House founder Jim Pallotta attend the 2014 Raptor House in Austin, Texas.

Roc Nation president Jay Brown has been coming to Austin during South By Southwest for years, but his "first pleasurable experience" didn't truly occur until he attended a 2012 hack-a-thon at Raptor House -- an intimate, two-day tech, music and culture meetup founded in 2012 that runs adjacent to SXSW Interactive.

"I didn't know too much about the event, but I just loved that it wasn't pretentious, and it was a great opportunity for creative guys to meet players and tech people and musicians. It was this place where all three of those communities didn't otherwise meet."

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That's why Brown teamed up with Raptor Group founder Jim Pallotta in 2013 to co-curate the more hipster-friendly take on the Davos-style executive summit. Though Deepak Chopra, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, music manager/investor Troy Carter and former Facebook marketer Randi Zuckerberg number among the execs who've spoken in years past, they've often been in the mix alongside artists like Nas, J. Cole and even Kanye West, who made an appearance at the 2014 event. Musical performances have included Willie Nelson, Jimmy Cliff, K'naan and Solange, as well as early-career sets from the likes of Haim, Haerts, Caveman and Rudimental.

"I went to Allen and Co. for 15 years, which started out a great conference and you'd wonder if you'd wake up in the morning and a deal was done," says Pallotta, a well-known hedge fund manager who serves as president of Italian soccer team Roma and minority shareholder in the Boston Celtics. "This was different. We wanted a place where you could do a deal in the parking lot but also share a beer while you listen to the CEO of Chanel discuss emerging markets."

And the curated guest list is key too. "Jay and I went into our event last year and said, 'First and foremost, no assholes,'" Pallotta says. "And if someone was like that, they wouldn't be invited back."

Looks like Kanye behaved himself in 2014, because he's already rumored to be the surprise guest at an already-packed two-day lineup ("We always like surprises," Brown teases). Saturday kicks off with remarks from Pallotta and Joi Ito, director of MIT Media Lab, with appearances from the likes of Bon Jovi co-manager Anthony Piedmonte, NetSuite CMO Fred Studer, Honda Motor Co. assistant VP Tom Peyton, Yahoo senior VP Lisa Licht, advertising vet Charlotte Beers and Machinima founder Allen Debevoise, among others, concluding with musical performances from emerging acts David Beck and Blue Healer, Wildling, Charles Bradley & His Extraordinnaires and Dorothy. 

Sunday's programming will continue with a premiere from Jason Schwartzman and talks from Joe Zee, Tyler Oakley, Rainn Wilson and Elijah Wood. Musician Elle King will also share a stool with Big Sean for an intimate chat, with both artists sticking around for live sets later that night alongside Melanie Fiona, Sam Dew and Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears.

In addition to scoring the occasional celeb spotting, Raptor House has also become the place to score some fresh funding ("We've done an awful lot of investing in people we've met at Raptor House," says Pallotta) or even a new job. "I've found a couple employees who've decided to leave the company they're at and come work for Roc Nation," Brown says. "It's been great because we don't know it all -- having a place with that added value is great."


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