Courtney Markgraf was a graphic designer at an ad agency in Tempe, Arizona before she won our SXSW sweepstakes. After a whirlwind week in Austin, she was inspired to move to San Francisco to pursue her dream of working at a startup. Read more about her life-changing experience below.
First and foremost, tell us about yourself!
My name is Courtney Markgraf and I’m from Phoenix, AZ but will be moving to San Francisco for a new opportunity this June! As a graphic designer, I was always interested in learning front-end web development and that’s how I found General Assembly, as well as the SXSW sweepstakes.
What was your first thought when you found out that you won SXSW Sweepstakes?
I literally thought it was a sick prank my coworkers were playing on me, since we all entered the sweepstakes. Plus, I had just landed in Bangkok when I got the news so I figured they all wanted to mess with me since I was on the other side of the world. After I figured out that it was legitimate, it was almost hard to even enjoy Thailand because I was so excited to get to Austin and meet everyone at SXSW!
You received VIP access to a lot of different events and parties at SXSW. Which one was your favorite, and what did you find most inspiring about them?
My favorite was “Dinner at the Mill” hands down. We had no idea where we were going, the venue was 20 minutes outside of all the hustle and bustle of SXSW and on top of that we were greeted at the door by an officer who looked just as confused as we were. After verifying that we were on the list, we walked through the lumber mill and were greeted by several General Assembly folks as well as the co-founder, Matt Brimer. As if that wasn’t already cool enough, we shot some hoops with Sir Mix-A-Lot, played air hockey with some amazing entrepreneurs and innovators from NYC and got some news tattoos (courtesy of Tattly) with Annie Kadavy of Charles River Ventures. Plus, the Herschel, Pact Appael, Michael Stars and Nike swag was sort of a big deal in my book.
What was some of the best advice you received from the influencers you met?
It’s hard to pinpoint which advice was the best from all the influencers I was able to meet considering their diverse backgrounds: Shiza Shahid (co-founder of Malala Fund), Michael Siebel (partner at Y Combinator), Kal Penn (actor, producer and civil servant) as well as Kathryn Minshew & Alex Cavoulacos (founders of The Muse). All of our meetings were so different as we talked about our stories, SXSW experiences and what was to come for each of us. There was definitely a trend when asking about career advice though: know what you’re passionate about, what you truly want to accomplish, and work your ass off for it.
What did you learn from this experience?
I completely agree with the past winners of GA contests and would have to say that all the influencers and entrepreneurs I met at SXSW are no different from anyone else. It was absolutely amazing to be able to chat with them as if we’d been friends for years. I’ll never forget this experience and I’ve already been able to tap into this new network of mine to help advance my career in San Francisco!
What’s next for you?
San Francisco was always a dream for me, and this sweepstakes definitely got the ball rolling in turning it into reality. Through all the advice and networking at SXSW, I’m now trading my #agencylife for #startuplife and couldn’t be more excited!