My SXSW Tips
I don’t care what anyone else says, I love SXSW! No, it’s not a small, underground, intimate event anymore… get over it! It’s spring break for nerds. A lot of tech mixed with a lot of after hours fun. I value hearing speakers from the companies and leaders I admire, the quality of people the event attracts, and getting my hands on the newest things in tech.
SXSW has been the best event up to this point in my career for networking. So how do you make meaningful connections at such a massive event? What ended up working best for me was reverse engineering sessions. I start by seeing what people from what companies are speaking on panels in the breakout sessions and put those as a priority on my schedule.
Think about it, just like you would go to support your friends and colleagues if they were speaking, other people do the same thing. So if there is a particular company or person you especially want to connect with, find a session with their people in it and go. Breakout sessions are better for this since they are smaller, quieter and easier to navigate. Be able to clearly articulate the value you can provide them and how you can be helpful. This approach worked out well for me.
Don’t cling to just the people you know. Divide to conquer the sessions, parties, and events.
Get to Sessions Early
Sessions fill up fast, so make note of your must see speakers and get there early. SXSW also hosts book signing events for a substantial number of authors that host sessions. My favorite was meeting Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup and upcoming The Leader’s Guide. His methodology has been at the root of how many companies think about their product roadmap.
The conversation on women in tech has exploded and is something I am very passionate about. My favorite session was the Girl Power(ed) panel with Surabhi Gupta, Hui Li, and Tracy Cho, moderated by Joelle Emerson. These women are kick a$$ and it was amazing to hear about how each of them navigate the engineering field.
Eat all the BBQ!
You cannot leave Austin without devouring your fair share of barbecue and breakfast tacos. Torchy’s, Salt Lick, and Country Line BBQ will not treat you wrong.
Play with the App of the Moment
At SXSW 2015, Meerkat, a live streaming video app was the dominant breakout app of the event. I started playing with it a few weeks earlier at Jason Calacanis’ Launch Festival. It really appeals to the nerd in me to get my hands on new tech and it was fun to see this app take off at South By. Now, a year later, the app is pivoting. If you’re curious to know more about that, check out their Medium post.
Take Note of Creativity
Airbnb was not only the most cost effective option for us, but pretty much the only one. We decided a month out from SXSW that we were even going to go and all the hotels in a reasonable radius were booked. Airbnb will forever have a place in my heart because of how they treated my team at SXSW.
It all started with a tweet:
What Airbnb’s team did was super special and just goes to show how a creative way a brand can really make an impression during such a large event.
Mr. Robot pulled off one of the most interesting awareness campaigns. A big group of people wearing black Mr. Robot hoodies flooded the space outside Container Bar and over the course of 15 or so minutes re-arranged letters spray painted on newspapers to spell out “Who is Mr. Robot?” At the time there were very few details on this USA Network show, but it sparked the curiosity of everyone on Rainey Street that night.
In my opinion, Mashable house was the best event setup last year. The theme was about “Breaking the Internet.” They did a really good job at capturing recent pop-culture events and creating experiences out of them. Cases in point:
Some of the best opportunities and experiences came from just saying yes and letting the night take you where ever it does. You can sleep when you get back home is my motto. Soak it all in!