6 Thoughts From Attending SXSW

(and how I spent less than $100 in the process)

I went down to South by Southwest (SXSW) this year to learn, catch up with friends from around the US, connect with brilliant minds and embrace the serendipity of being down there.

This was my first time going down and despite my best efforts to prepare, the experience is quite overwhelming — yet one hell of a ride. Also, I will note I didn’t have a badge while down there.

The advice I got before going:

  • Make a list of 10 people to meet with. Be happy if you meet 3. (I hit my 3)
  • Sign up for everything that comes your way before you get to Austin. (In unsubscribe mode now)
  • Schedule everything on your Calendar. Prepare to miss out on things. (New events and things to do popped up while I was there)
  • FOMO (Fear of missing out) will happen. Go with the flow. (I missed out on a lot)
  • Follow up with everyone. (Tout is a great tool to streamline this)

Here are a few of the observations after my 4 days in Austin:

•You can ball on a budget at SXSW (and you don’t need a badge)

Once I got to Austin, I set a goal to spend less than $100 outside of lodging costs. With so many parties, brand activations etc. I knew I could make it. My only costs the whole weekend was a sit down dinner and a few late night food truck stops. All coffees / adult beverages / breakfasts / lunches and most dinners came from brand events or some promotional experience. It was a hustle, but it’s possible. Next time I’ll look to indulge a bit more.

When I talked with people with a badge they felt the conference was too overwhelming with too many crowds, lines, and a far too robust list of things to do (decision fatigue?). So I’m pretty happy with my choice to hang with folks on the outskirts.

•There’s still an ignorance towards people building in flyover country

Late one night myself and buddy of mine found ourselves at a table by food trucks breaking bread with some folks from around the US — pretty much all from major metro areas. When we shared we were from Iowa / Arkansas — there was chuckling and complete disregard for any of our efforts in building companies / entrepreneurial communities in the middle of the US. This was easy to brush off, but I was still annoyed by the arrogance. Despite the efforts to highlight the “Rise of the Rest” some stereotypes prevail.

•Consumers? Segmentation is taking on a whole different meaning

In companies everywhere today, there will be a senior leader that boldly states “consumers won’t want this”. What the hell is a consumer in 2015?

As I talked with a number of people working on software companies there was an overwhelming evolution of hyper niche segmentation to laser focus on target customers.

Consumers are not all people. Consumers are not just men or women. Age ranges no longer tell a thorough narrative. Location won’t do the trick either. Now companies must segment down to the interests, hobbies, careers, locations, ages, web browsing patterns and any other data points to identify their “consumer”. Once companies get that data, they then have to figure out how to uniquely share their message across these different layers.

So the next time you think about “consumers” — know you can dig a lot deeper.

•Everywhere else wanted in on the action at SXSW

As I walked through one of the trade events and through some of the parties, cities, states and countries invested significant dollars in booths, parties and activation experiences to let visitors in Austin know they should give them a look. The trade events saw booths from 20+ countries, the state of Iowa threw a party to attract expats and general intrigue and companies from all over swept in to recruit the best talent (better luck next time on the last one).

This shows that SXSW has become one of those “it” destinations to expand economic development efforts. It’s also a great sign that smart economic development groups are no longer solely chasing smokestacks.

•Brands spend a lot to activate and engage, some were pure brilliance

Brands threw parties, offered free breakfasts, lunches, dinners and happy hours, they held info sessions and interactive experiences. All of this was to generate new sales, likes, followers and expand existing relationships.

The best brand activation I experienced was by Mophie — the smartphone charging case company. They were brilliant. The activation featured beer, puppies and solved one of the most widely known problems at SXSW: dead phone batteries. The puppies brought phone chargers to those in need and then you got to drink beer. How could you not love a brand after that!?

Conclusion:

There’s a lot I missed out on, but being able to see friends from around the US, meet great minds from around the world and catch up with people from my own backyard that happened to be down in Austin made for a worthwhile journey. Austin is one hell of a city and certainly a case study of how cities across the middle of the map can build a vibrant and desirable culture.

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