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What RootsTech was Like for an Innovator Showdown Finalist - Sun, 12 Feb 2017

Just back from RootsTech and what a week it was! As one of the ten semi-finalists in the Innovator Showdown, and the ultimate third place winner, I had some extra special experiences that I’ll always remember.


Pre Roots-Tech

Even before I entered the contest, I was planning to go to this year’s RootsTech. I had been there in 2012 (its second year) and 2014. I was thinking every 2 years is worthwhile and was planning to go last year, but the 10th Unlock the Past Cruise was just too close to it to make that possible. So this year I had to go. I submitted a proposal in June for a talk on “Using NoSQL Databases in Genealogy Software” that got turned down, but for making the submission they did give me a really nice discount on the RootsTech plus Innovator Summit pass.

On September 9, I got an email: “Enter the 2017 RootsTech Innovator Showdown! … $100,000 in cash and prizes. Submission portal closes December 1, 2016”. I had just released Double Match Triangulator a few weeks earlier, and I thought “well, I would think DMT is innovative”, so the next day I created an account for myself on Devpost and submitted DMT to the Innovator Showdown. I believe I was the first submitter, since the date of submission appeared to be the default order the entries were listed. On September 16, I booked my flights to Salt Lake City and my hotel.

It seemed to take an eternity to get to December 1 as the number of submissions grew to 40. Then on December 14, I received an email from Matt Misbach that I was officially a semi-finalist. Open-mouthed smile 

Of course, life takes its toll. Playing squash on December 19, I tore my two peroneal tendons from the bone. I would have surgery on December 30 and I was looking at 6 weeks in a walking boot non-weight bearing (meaning on crutches) and 4 more weeks after that still in the boot but without crutches. Calculating 6 weeks forward from the surgery took me to the Thursday of RootsTech. Oh oh! Being on crutches for RootsTech would have been near impossible. Fortunately, my surgeon was good to me. I had my six week follow-up a week early and she said I was good to go without crutches. All I can say is I’m glad this happened when it did. If it happened 4 weeks later, I might have had to cancel RootsTech and my Innovator Showdown entry. Richard Thomas of Clooz wasn’t so lucky. He emailed me on Feb 1 that he had hoped to catch up with me at RootsTech. He went on to say that he just broke his ankle and had associated surgery and had to cancel his trip and would have a vacant booth for Clooz in the exhibit hall. I felt so bad for him, but so fortunate for myself.

As semi-finalists, we were given two free RootsTech registration passes and an invite to the Tuesday Media Dinner with one guest. I mentioned to Matt that I was going alone (my wife is not a genie and was not planning to come), so I asked him if I could give away my 2nd pass with a contest on my blog like the Ambassadors did and he said that would be fine. So on January 9th, I put up a blog post with the contest that would be open for a week. On January 16th, the random winner chosen was Carole Steers from London, England. Carole came to Jill Ball’s Commonwealth meetup on Monday night and joined me at the Press Dinner on Tuesday. We became great friends and Carole went above and beyond and became my biggest DMT cheerleader.

Our semi-finalist presentations were due by February 5. On January 27, we were informed that T. Craig Bott of Grow Utah was available for business and presentation coaching. I emailed Mr. Bott and he asked me to send him my presentation. I did, and he sent me an email back tearing it apart. He told me I needed to stress the “pain point” and its solution and then talk about the market potential that DMT had. He was right. I made changes and it was stonger and to the point. He said I could send him the revised presentation and he’d review it again. When I did, he said that was much better and made some additional suggestions which I then incorporated. That became my semi-final presentation which I sent in.

I flew into Salt Lake City Monday night catching the end of the Commonweath meetup that Jill Ball organized.


Tuesday – BYU Workshop

On Tuesday, I woke up at about 5 a.m. to catch the early FrontRunner train to Provo, Utah, for the one day Brigham Young University Family History Technology Workshop. I was really looking forward to this, because these were Computer Science and Family History students and professors who were presenting their latest technologies. I had two presentations myself, a 15 minute Developer talk on the programming challenges in building Double Match Triangulator, and a 5 minute Lightning talk on future ideas for genealogy software. Also talking were two other Showdown semi-finalists: Banai Feldstein talked about her CSI: Crowd Sourced Indexing and Tony Knight about his Qroma Tag. Speaking as well was Tammy Hepps who won the Showdown with her program Treelines in 2013 when it was then known as the Developer Challange. Also at the workshop was Brooke Schreier Ganz who whose program LeafSeek came 2nd in the 2012 Developer Challenge, the same year I entered Behold and Dovy Paukstys entered AncestorSync. The most interesting talk for me was Amy Williams of Cornell University talking about Inferring Parent Genomes Using Sibling Genotype Data. Amy is trying to use crossovers of children to determine the parent’s DNA and that is right up my alley and similar to the analysis I want to be able to implement into DMT. Amy was the first of maybe only a dozen people that I met during RootsTech week who I was overjoyed to be able to have in-depth talks about analysis of crossover boundaries and what might be possible with DMT.


The day was highlighted by the wonderful hospitality afforded to me by James Tanner and his lovely wife Ann. James picked me up at the Provo train station and took me to the workshop. After the workshop, he invited me to his home to pick up Ann, and drove us the hour drive into Salt Lake City, all the while being a fantastic tour guide providing me with an amazing review of anything and everything about Utah. I was totally enthralled and honored to get the extensive one-on-one with James. He’s an amazing man.

Tuesday evening was the Media Dinner. From 6:00 to 6:30 prior to the meal, the ten semi-finalists set up displays of our products, and we got to meet each other for the first time.


For the meal, I got to sit with Pat Richley-Erickson  (Dear Myrtle) and Mr Myrt as well as several of the other Showdown semi-finalists. Pat gave me the blogger beads right from her own neck for me to wear, which I did with pride.


After the dinner, each of the semi-finalists had a time to go to Ballroom B for ten minutes to ensure that the slides from their presentation were set up correctly and were ready to go.

Brothers Jonathan and Joshua Fowlke going over their Cuzins presentation.

The technical and logistic team for the Innovator Showdown at the back of the Ballroom.

Cathy Gilmore of Kindex rehearsing.


Wednesday – Innovator Showdown Semi-Final Day

7:00 am sharp! Don’t be late. Innovator Showdown semi-final rehearsal in Ballroom B.

Christophe Marin (Champollion) and Heather Henderson (RootsFinder) getting miked up.

Jason Hewlett (the Innovator Showdown and RootsTech host) and Heather Henderson during rehearsal.

We were done well before 9 a.m., when the Innovator Summit sessions started,

Jason introduced Steve Rockwood (President & CEO of FamilySearch) who then introduced our keynote speaker Liz Wiseman, president of the Wiseman Group for a dynamic talk.

This was followed by T. Craig Bott (who reviewed my presentation) moderating a discussion of of Investment Opportunities, Technology Needs, Business and Consumer Trends in the Genealogy and Family History Industry, with a panel made up of Heather Holmes (Tap Genes, the 2016 Innovator Showdown winner), Ben Bennett (Executive Vice President, International), Robert Kehrer (Product Manager, FamilySearch) and Nick Jones (JRNL, Inc, a 2016 Innovator Showdown finalist)

That was all we had time for, because next were the semi-finals. We had to pick up a bag lunch and bring it back stage. I was starving and devoured mine prior to the rehearsal.

First we got made up. That was something completely new for me. This day and Friday would be the first two days I’ve ever got made up in my life. It’s sort of nice getting pampered like that.

Tony Knight (Qroma Tag) getting his make-up.

Then it begins. We’re lined up at the front right-hand side of the room so that we can be miked up and go on stage in sequence. I’m 9th of the 10.

The room probably holds about 1000 people and was full. The judges for the semi-finals were sitting at the table with the black shroud in the first row facing the stage.

Banai Feldstein giving her CSI: Crowd Sourced Indexing presentation.

Bill Nelson giving his Old News USA presentation.

Below is the full video of the Showdown Semi-Finals. I’m 9th of 10 at the 48 minute mark:

About an hour later, we semi-finalists were brought together to be told which of us would be the 5 selected as finalists. We were all told together. Double Match Triangulator was named first and my internal reaction of shock, disbelief and joy was such that I didn’t even hear the names of the other four. None-the-less, there were 5 teams that did not make it and I felt really bad for them. The toughest part of it all was that we were not to tell anyone of the results because they were not being announced until 7 p.m. at the RootsTech Welcome Party.

We were being told because the 5 finalists were to get one last mentoring session that followed immediately. My session was with tech entrepreneur Cydni Tetro. Cydni’s advice to me was that my product seemed like an advanced tool and can I indicate somehow that the general public could use it. She also said I should put a bit of a personal story to it. Very good points.

We now had some of the afternoon left to check out other talks that interested us. I headed to the 3 p.m. panel on: How will DNA Continue to Disrupt our Industry. 

Scott Fisher (ExtremeGenes.com – Syndicated Radio Show) moderated the panel of three genetic genealogy experts: Dr. Scott Woodward, CeCe Moore (a keynote speaker on Saturday), and Angie Bush.

During the panel, CeCe said: “everyone is clamouring for third party tools to organize and interpret DNA results for the general public.”  I headed back to my hotel to adjust my presentation to reflect Cydni’s advice, I also included the quote from CeCe.

Then, off to the Welcome Party at the Mariott Hotel. A little fun with 80’s music and games.



At 7 pm at the Welcome Party, they made the announcement of the 5 Innovator Showdown finalists. It was exciting to get all the congratulations from my friends, but I was also saddened for Banai and the others who were there that didn’t make it.

Thursday – Innovator Showdown Rehersal of Finals

We had to have our final presentation on a USB disk by 10 a.m. I spent until 9 a.m. finishing it off at my hotel. By the time I got to the Convention Center, most of the Property Brothers’ keynote was done.

I went to the Expo Hall that had just opened for RootsTech. At Innovation Alley, I met the other Showdown contestants, who by now were all my friends. They all had booths for their products that they had for their products. I turned mine down since I came alone and was told I’d have to have someone manning it at all times.

Bill and Kathy and I were talking about our final presentations and we were all trying to get hold of Jesse Hyde who we were supposed to give our USBs to prior to our Final rehearsal which was at 12:30.

While waiting for Jesse to get back to me, I went to Kitty Cooper’s 11 a.m. talk on How to use DNA Triangulation to Confirm Ancestors. Kitty came up to me when I came in before the talk started. She said she downloaded DMT the night before and tried it and incorporated it into her talk for today.

Kitty Cooper – Triangulation

Me and Kitty

Kitty gave an excellent talk and plugged my program very nicely to a packed crowd of maybe 300. Near the end of the talk, Jesse met me at the back of the room and I gave him my USB.

I snuck out of Kitty’s talk 10 minutes early to get to the MyHeritage sponsored lunch. I sat down with Drew Smith, Randy Seaver, Janet Hovorka and Judy Russell joined us a few minutes later. Unfortunately, the lunch was from 12:00 to 1:30 p.m. and the rehearsal for the final was at 12:30 p.m. I told one of the waiters my dilemma, and they gave me my meal early. I ate quickly and conversed quickly and excused myself with good reason and everyone understood.


This was where the rehearsal was, and where the Finals would be:WP_20170209_037
Hall D had seats for 10,000.  There’s another section to the right that is not in the picture.

Behind the big stage was an exciting new world that few people get to see.

We go onstage for instructions.

This is the view we have from onstage, and the teleprompters we’ll have where we’ll see our presentation slides and our notes on them.

The world is quite backwards behind the stage. And it’s hard to hear exactly what they are saying on stage because of a big echo.

At 4:30 pm, I attended Heather Holmes’ lab on TapGenes, her Innovator Showdown winning product from 2016:
My impressions after working with TapGenes during this lab was that it was a fantastic program. My wife and daughters are not at all interested in genealogy, but they just may be interested in family health history (I’m hoping). To my great surprise, Heather gave everyone who attended this lab a lifetime full subscription to TapGenes. The lab writeup said we’d only get a free year. I asked Heather afterwards how she could do such a thing for 30 people in her lab. She said that it was in appreciation to them for being willing to pay for the lab (money she didn’t get) to see her. Wow.


At 6 p.m., I headed to the Legacy Tree Genealogists booth in the Expo Hall. With Jessica Taylor, Scott Fisher and a few others, I headed off, over the fence shortcut behind the Convention Center for a 3 block walk to Finca, where the Genealogy Business Alliance group was about to meet. The GBA was formed less than a year ago by Janet Hovorka and Jessica and I only discovered them a few days before RootsTech started. I was allowed to join their Facebook group and I started participating in their interesting discussions.

There were probably about 20 of us who got together at Finca. It was great seeing Ed Thompson of Evidentia again and talking to him. I spent a lot of time talking to Deena Coutant and Jenny Joyce who were both very interested in Double Match Triangulator and could understand what it can do and were both loading me with ideas. 

Also at Finca was Thomas McEntee. I had run into him a few times already. One of those times was to get a “Canada” ribbon from him since I was told he was giving away all the countries and a “Geneabloggers” ribbon from him as I’ve been part of Tom’s GeneaBloggers community for more years than I can remember. But Tom was one of the Innovator Showdown judges, so all I could really feel right saying to him for now was: “Hi Tom. We really shouldn’t speak until it’s over”.

We broke up about 8 p.m. Tomorrow were the finals so I decided to skip the concert at Temple Square and just go back to my hotel and get a good night’s rest. I did some email, Tweeting and Facebooking until about 11:00 pm and then got over 6 1/2 hours sleep according to my FitBit which is good for me.


Friday – Innovator Showdown Finals

I got to the Convention Center around 9:30 so I missed most of LeVar Burton.WP_20170210_002

At 9:45 a.m., I headed behind the stage as I was supposed to, to prep for the Finals. We all had trouble finding the “Green” room where we were supposed to meet, likely because the room was black and white:

We again got makeup put on us, got miked up, and here’s a selfie of us lined up in order ready for the Finals:

I was up first. I wasn’t nervous at all, but very excited to go up. Once again, we could see (backwards) what was happening on stage, but it was very difficult to hear with the echo:

The whole video of the final is available here. I’m 1st of 5 at the 6½ minute mark, we come out for the People’s Choice at 52 minutes, and then again at 1:05 for the results:

I received Third place for Double Match Triangulator. I was really thrilled. And I was very happy for both Tony and Bill who got 2nd and 1st:

The three of us as well as Cathy who got the People’s Choice then went to the Media Center for a group interview.

I took my picture with (G)root(sfinder).

and checked my check:

went to Paul Woodbury’s lab on loading Kitty Cooper’s Chromosome Mapping tool:

got interviewed:

and ended the day very late at the MyHeritage RootsTech After-Party:


Saturday – Post Mortem

I woke up at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning. By the time I got to the Convention Center it was 10 a.m. and I had missed the Buddy Valastro and CeCe Moore keynotes. Looks like I’ll have a lot of the live streams to watch when I get home.

I spent the rest of my time wandering the Expo hall and saying goodbye to all my friends. I did get to spend five minutes to actually talk with Tom McEntee. My RootsTech ended with a group GeneaBlogger photo taken at 12:15 p.m.
(Thanks to Lillian Magill for giving everyone permission to display her photo)

and I then I headed to the airport.


A Few Coincidences

I’m always intrigued by these, so here we go:

I knew I would be late for the Commonwealth get-together at the Blue Lemon. It was from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and I was arriving at the Trax station a block away. Right after I get of the train, the first person I see and call over is an Australian, none other than Alan Phillips. The second person I see and call over is another Australian, Jennie Fairs. They both were leaving the restaurant a bit early to go to their hotel.

I was really surprised that among all the people I might just run into, there was Tony Proctor from Ireland. I’ve known Tony on the web for years from the early days of Better GEDCOM with Pat Richley-Erickson in charge. I knew he flew in for last year’s RootsTech, but I never suspected he’d come all that way two years in a row. It was great finally meeting Tony in person and talking to him. The coincidence wasn’t the first running into him, but the 2nd and 3rd and 4th and …

On Friday night I was invited by Lara Diamond to a small get-together of just seven people. One person there was Amy Richmond. At 8 pm, I had to head to the MyHeritage After-Party, and Amy was going to her hotel in the same direction and we had a pleasant talk. So Friday morning, who’s the first person I see at RootsTech? It’s Amy.

Saturday morning on my last tour of the Expo Hall, who should I just happen to see in the public computer area but Ryan Heaton, and I went over to talk with him. Ryan had also given a talk at the BYU workshop but I didn’t get a chance to talk to him then. To see him my first day and then at the end of my last day is one thing. But I also went to Ryan’s talk on GEDCOM-X at my first RootsTech in 2012 and it was the first day of that conference as well. (Important note. I learned shortly after then that photographing slides of a presenter is verboten and stoped doing that. But GEDCOM-X was open and designed to be shared, so I’m sure Ryan would forgive me this time.)

Saturday following the bloggers photo, I headed out the front of the Convention Center towards the TRAX station to go to the airport. There weren’t many people on the sidewalk, but who is coming in the other direction: Bruce Brand, one of the organizers of the Innovator Showdown, and we had just emailed each other a few hours earlier. We stop and talk one last time.

At the Salt Lake City airport, awaiting my flight to Minneapolis, I’m surprised when Laura Hedgecock sits right beside me. She was connecting to Detroit through Minneapolis and was on the same flight as me. It would have been really amazing if we were sitting next to each other on the plane, but alas, she was 6 rows ahead of me. We enough time for a great talk before we had to board for the flight. A nice way to close RootsTech for me.


Final Statistics

Lara Diamond’s tweet of her Fit Bit statistics for Wednesday inspired me to pull my statistics from my Fit Bit. This is what I got:

When What Hrs Sleep Steps
Mon 6 Flight 5h 26m 12040
Tue 7 BYU 5h 2m 10277
Wed 8 Inn Sum 3h 53m 15577
Thu 9 RT 1 2h 58m 15529
Fri 10 RT 2 6h 11m 14414
Sat 11 Fam DD 4h 26m 13866
Average   4h 29m 13617
Normal   5h 55m 6579

My steps were double my normal. My hotel was three blocks away which was about 1200 steps to the Convention Center and took about 12 minutes to walk.

I was averaging about 4 1/2 hours of sleep a night, almost 1 1/2 hours less than my normal of 6 hours a night. Thursday I made sure I got a good sleep before the Showdown finals. And this was all without my normal coffee intake of 2 cups a day, so I was obviously running on adrenalin. I only had 1 cup on one morning (although I did sneak a few Coke’s in for a bit of caffeine kick).

(seen outside Caribou Coffee in the Minneapolis – Saint Paul airport)

Followup: March 17, 2017. Read Nicole Dyer’s excellent assessment of the different aspects of innovation taken by the five finalists.


4 Comments           comments Leave a Comment

1. infodoc (infodoc)
United States flag
Joined: Mon, 13 Feb 2017
3 blog comments, 0 forum posts
Posted: Mon, 13 Feb 2017  Permalink


Thank you for the very complete and candid view of the RootTech experience of an Innovation Showdown contestant. I was fortunate to experience many of the same events from the Media Dinner onward. I had the good fortune to sit at the same table at the Media Dinner will Bill Nelson and his wife.

Thanks also for the tip about the Amy Williams article. In my ignorance I am going to assume that it is about a process similar to the “visual phasing” process that Kathy Johnston has attempted to help me master as we tried to use the genomes of three siblings to identify the part of their genomes they might have inherited from a specific grandparent (minus the genome of the intervening parent).

I downloaded your Double Match Triangulator and ran it on myself and a first cousin just before I left for Salt Lake City. I have not yet had time to analyze the results data but plan to get back to it in the next week in spite of having some minor surgery.

Good luck as you continue to invent tools for us.

Dave Dowell

2. klemens (klemens)
Germany flag
Joined: Thu, 5 Sep 2013
9 blog comments, 4 forum posts
Posted: Wed, 15 Feb 2017  Permalink

Sounds like you had a good time! :)
Congratulations on the prize - well done!

3. Tony Proctor (acproctor)
Ireland flag
Joined: Wed, 8 Aug 2012
9 blog comments, 0 forum posts
Posted: Sun, 19 Feb 2017  Permalink

Great to finally meet you Louis. We had lots still to talk about but I was called back a day early so apologies for that. I’d like to make it a “hat trick” and come in 2018, too, but they’re moving the dates so it will then clash with my European skiing. Oh, decisions, decisions … !

4. Louis Kessler (lkessler)
United States flag
Joined: Sun, 9 Mar 2003
237 blog comments, 226 forum posts
Posted: Tue, 21 Feb 2017  Permalink

We’ll likely get to meet again Tony, somewhere, sometime. I don’t go to RootsTech each year. I previously was there in 2012 and 2014. I usually need a good reason to go, and not being there for 3 years was my good reason.


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