BBQ, Beers, and Brands — A Tech Marketer’s First SXSW

For years, I have been mystified by the stories of South by Southwest. Each year, the city of Austin, Texas plays host to this festival that celebrates the latest and greatest in film, music, and as of late, technology. I lived vicariously through Facebook posts, tweets and blogs since learning of the event a few years ago. I watched companies over the years as they had massive parties at this event, but never truly figured out as a marketer, how a company manages to drive new business in doing so. 2017 became the year that I came to understand the appeal of SXSW.

Rewind to the end of 2016, as my team and I built out our events calendar for 2017. Among our usual smattering of DevOpsDays events, the triumvirate of Velocity conferences, AWS Re:Invent, Catchpoint Elevate, and a bunch of Gartner conferences, was a line item for SXSW. Knowing full well that a solid year of planning needed to go into planning something of significance at the vaunted festival in Austin, we decided that I’d pop down for a few days and get the lay of the land so we could do something really cool in 2018 — the 35th anniversary of the original DNS RFC.

On a wintry Friday night in Boston, as a de-icing truck tipped over and made for a rather bad time for one plane trying to get out of Logan, we sat on the ramp waiting to taxi out to the runway for somewhere decidedly warmer and less snowy. In a few short hours, after taking to the skies, we finally touched down in Austin. It was late, easily 1:30 in the morning at this point, so I made a bee-line for the baggage claim and car rental pickup. Hotels were damn near impossible to get at a reasonable price, even 3 months out, so Airbnb was the way to go. Thankfully, my hosts were very accommodating of my 2 hour flight delay.

Saturday morning, March 11th. I ventured downtown in search of breakfast as light rain fell from the sky, and used that time of walking around the town to bask in the sheer enormity of the exhibits that had been set up in storefronts and buildings in the area. As I realized that so many others had the same idea as me with regard to the most important meal of the day, I found a food truck that hit the spot. Fed and happy, I continued my journey through the city for the better part of the day, stopping in at various exhibits along the way.

Saturday night, I learned that one of our investors was in town and we decided to meet up. He gave me what I thought was the name of a bar and an address somewhere east of I-35. Well, wouldn’t you know it, it was a house party put on by a fledgling startup with The Shins playing! Starstruck, I made my way around the party talking about the cool stuff we’re doing here at NS1 and retired for the night shortly thereafter. I knew I’d need a good night of sleep to be ready to attend the TechBreakfast Showcase at Fogo De Chao first thing in the morning.

Sunday, March 12th — Fogo De Chao Brazilian Steakhouse. Our friends at TechBreakfast had a last minute opening for us to have a table and give a 7-minute demo of our tech over a smattering of breakfast tacos. What a way to start my 35th birthday! Despite the prevailing wind and drizzle that were less than optimal for an event on a rooftop deck, a brave and hungry crowd amassed and got to learn about Application Delivery, principal among the other technologies and products that were being shared. As always, it was great to learn about the cool stuff that is being created and chat with the entrepreneurs that are bringing it all to life.

Sunday night — V Lounge. Our friends at Distil and SendGrid took over an entire nightclub to host an epic party. The sounds of DJ Jazzy Jeff filled the club as he spun all manner of tunes on stage as I met up with other tech-minded folks whose startups are poised to do great things as they grow.

While in town, I still had my usual NS1 duties to attend to, so for the remaining weekdays in town, I really only ventured out into town for the evening events. However, I was able to connect with some folks that I met at Sunday morning’s event and had opportunities to discuss all manner of things around Application Delivery as well as marketing.

So what was my big takeaway from SXSW? I have a couple of thoughts around this.

First, the event pass is worth its weight in gold. This year, I went rogue and just showed up for the event we had sponsored, various VIP events like the one with Distil or the one where I got to see The Shins playing in a random living room. I feel as though I missed out on a massive part of the SXSW experience by not attending the event itself, as the rest of the town was one big party and I’m not nearly the party animal I was 10 years ago.

Second, I think that brands have a great opportunity to grow their following by participating in the event itself. I know that when it comes time to start thinking about 2018, which I think is starting as I write this, that I want to see NS1 as an exhibitor next year in the trade show. While Internet infrastructure is about as dry a topic as any, the way that we’re changing the landscape at NS1 needs to be shared with a wider audience. Application Delivery is a consideration that needs to be baked into every move that any company who relies on the Internet makes.

As we #buildasmarterinternet, and keep pushing that message harder and harder in our own space, my hope is that we can break out of the minds of the engineers and into the minds of everyone who cares about how the Internet runs from day to day.