SXSW roundup: Women, blockchain, goats

Taking a startup to Austin & pitching, pitching, pitching.

Last week we went to SXSW with the UK Department for International Trade. Their annual Trade Mission awards a few coveted places to companies that show innovation within the creative and tech industries.

We saw sxsw as the perfect platform from which to announce the new This Here, tell the story of our shift in direction — fundamentally to share our belief that influencer marketing is simply the most human way to build a brand.

As it was our first #sxsw we took advice from a true professional, Nik Roope at Poke London, whose annual poolside parties have quite the reputation, as alongside the time spent ‘presenting’, sxsw offers MUCH else 🍸. As a result, we produced a little magazine to hand out, and tote bags of course: #swag.

If you’d like to grab a copy head here and give us your (postal) address.

This post is a summary of our founder’s experiences on the ground, and the themes that emerged. Over to you Jem. 👋

1. Women, right?

In the year of #MeToo, SXSW was duty bound to feature prominent discussions of diversity and discrimination, particularly as the festival represents industries with a heavy gender imbalance and a culture that seems to be inhibiting real change, particularly amongst the developer community.

Attendance was also skewed — HYP3R did a great analysis of attendees and social buzz, discovering that the audience (discussing sxsw online) were 65% male. I can verify this first hand on the ground: there was a distinct shortage of women, and sadly sxsw aren’t working to change this as others are.

But it’s worse in the investor world

2.19% of VC dollars went to Female-Founded companies in 2017. Average funding deal secured by women was $5m, compared to $12m for men.

Source: Female Quotient —

This (shocking) stat was mentioned at almost every female-focused talk I went to, and there were MANY — all of them diverse, inspiring, and brilliant.

I swung past:

  1. Dell’s Women Funding Women Pitch & Investor session, with the Dell’s Women Entrepreneur Network.
  2. Create & Cultivate day-long event (also sponsored by Dell) featuring an impressive array of female founders telling their stories. In fact, the queue of 500 (women) was twice the venue’s capacity, and so I skipped this one.
  3. Girls Lounge organised by Female Quotient, with basically the most amazing women in the world just hanging out.
  4. Capital Factory (a local Austin start-up hub)’s Underrepresented Founders Pitch Competition.

As you’ve probably gathered, I was at sxsw to pitch — to pitch This Here as a creatively-led influencer agency, plus a not-so-little side project of ours.

SXSW offers unparalleled opportunities to network with experts on everything, and it’s well known that the best business opportunities come when chatting to someone else standing in line for a taco.

So you’re always being asked ‘Hey, so what brings you to south by?’.

This usually leads to a quick scan of their badge, a flick through your mental rolodex of ‘things I could pitch’, and finally hopefully a compelling elevator pitch to inspire and entice them to keep discussing when there are dozens of other people all around you (plus, tacos).

The protocol was to “always be pitching”, connect in real time on Linkedin, follow-up with an email straight away, and even send something charming and personal in the post for when they get back to their office. Full on.

As a female founder, there was extra emphasis and focus on delivering a particularly clean and well rehearsed pitch, and I saw some fairly incredible ones at pitch events. Basically, if you think your pitch is good, come to sxsw, and discover that it isn’t. I had the incredible pleasure of watching Ashley Crowder of VNTANA, and Samantha Snabes of re:3d present on stage for ~3 minutes each, and they blew my mind.

Best thing? Both spoke to me after, offered me advice, we were on email within an hour, and even have meetings in the diary. The thing is, these female founders seem to want to help each other out, and THAT pretty much rocks. Let’s change the ratio. Go girls.

2. Blockchain

At sxsw one day I unexpectedly found myself sitting in a shack eating ribs with some of the most prominent VC investors in the world, and they were talking about one thing, blockchain. I decided to dedicate an entire day of sxsw to a blockchain stream, and it genuinely blew my mind.

Forget every complex explanation of blockchain you’ve seen, and just remember these words: consensus, disintermediation & immutability.

  1. Blockchain creates a distributed consensus rather than a central knowledge, it puts the power in our hands, not that of a government, a ‘facebook’, or a bank.
  2. The goal of the system is to disintermediate us from the things that we need — i.e remove the bank as the middle man between us and our money.
  3. The blockchain cannot be defrauded — it creates an immutable truth; you cannot change what has been written.

The brightest people I met were calling it the building blocks of the new internet, and when I mentioned it within a pitch I occasionally brought out, their eyes lit up, they stopped me, and they said — THAT is your idea, dump the rest and GO for it. Right. Now. (and offered to help)

It is now clear to me that we, people working in the internet, cannot be blind to this —it’s not a trend, and it’s not niche, and YES it has its risks to be used as a tool by bad people, but so does the internet, and facebook, and so does everything. I’m currently half way down a blockchain rabbit hole and don’t expert to emerge for some time.

But I’ll come back just for the final point — goats.

3. Goats

Was it worth it for the brands and sponsors?

Here’s one video… you tell me what you see.

I see a Viceland activation enticing people with goats, but actually giving them a pretty dull bus party, seats on a lawn (it was warm, but not that warm) and branded Rizlas. And I see SONY showing off robotic puppies, which feels a lot like CES 2005? Oh yeh.

So, who smashed it? The most discussed brand activations were:

  1. HBO’s (apparently amazing) Westworld interactive experience. Film, meets theatre, very interactive. All the sxsw Whatsapp groups I was on were talking about it non-stop, and some people queued for 5 hours and got turned away (which is why I didn’t try).
  2. READY PLAYER ONE Experience— Also an interactive experience. Also Film meets theatre. The film itself was also premiering at the festival, but the discussion was more on the experience. Also, queues down the street.

So how did they perform for the brands? If you look at the stats, HBO’s Westworld (which got the most chatter in my experience, and reflected in HYP3R’s research) only got 8,000 mentions. Think about that. They probably spent, conservatively, £3m–£5m developing and executing it. 8,00 albeit ‘influential’ mentions, but still… I mean. As a reflection of their overall ROI, this doesn’t seem positive. Which is why brands are moving away from sxsw.

As a result there was a lot of discussion about the evolution of sxsw — where has it been, where is it going, or simply, what is it?

What purpose does it serve for brands when the emergence of the fringe events (that require an rsvp but not the very expensive badge) are now over-taking the main ticketed event. One piece of completely serious advice I received before the event was to NOT buy a ticket, and from what I hear sales were down 50%.

We know this: SXSW is music, film, and it’s internet (interactive).

But what is it to internet people really, when the physical technology is at CES, the rest is at Mobile World Congress, and the keynotes are at, well, every internet conference around the world? The consensus was that SXSW is where you see the convergence — and the two leading events (Westworld and RPO) perfectly illustrated that. It’s where the internet gets to be filmic and musical all at the same time.

…Oh but let’s not forget that it’s where you meet your next board member whilst grabbing some BBQ ribs, and your next investor at a fringe event in the hills, and your new geeky lawyer in a queue for brunch the next day.

The immutable truth is that, of course, sxsw is what you make of it.

Jemima @ This Here

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This Here is a data-fuelled creative agency (of the digital & social persuasion) with a 🇪🇺 European capability, a particular taste for influencer marketing, and a love for emojis 🙋 if that floats your boat.

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