Posts Tagged ‘seth priebatsch’

Will I attend next year? Perspective of a SXSW first-timer

March 19, 2011

I should’ve clued in sooner. About a week before SXSW I reached out to several former colleagues in Silicon Valley to see if they would be at SXSW. All of them said something to the effect of “never in a million years would you find me there.” I’ll circle back to this point of view at the end of the post.

Will I attend another SXSW? Perhaps. Whether or not I do will depend on whether I think it’s worth the investment (of time, money and energy.) So, before this year’s experience gets completely foggy, here are some observations of my first trip to the heartland of geekery.

1. You need a year to learn the ropes. I was in Austin only from Friday night until Monday morning. I felt it took me that long to just learn the ropes – where to get the shuttle, how to navigate the Convention Center and various venues, what parties were worth attending, etc. Although I had received good advice before going, you really have to live it to learn it.

2. If you go, stay at a hotel within easy walking distance to the Austin Convention Center. This was probably the biggest frustration of the experinece. I stayed at a hotel aboout 10-12 minutes from the Convention Center by shuttle but these 10-12 minutes made it near impossible to drop stuff off or pick stuff up, to take a short rest, to change clothes before an evening event, etc. Kudos to the shuttle company – they did a great job keeping the route moving and all the various drivers I met were friendly, great Texans. But still, the distant hotel location makes for a tough visit. (PS I still think buying a shuttle pass beats the option of renting a car.)

3. Bring lots of vitamins (Richard was right.) I talked about this in my “pre SXSW” post. I was warned people get sick at SXSW. And they do. You run yourself ragged, eat enough bacon and pork and beef products to last a year and then chase it down with vast amounts of alcohol. Not the most healthy atmosphere. Bring vitamins. I did and I managed to stay healthy. Yay.

4. Pick your parties wisely. There are parties everywhere and all hours of the day in Austin. It’s crazy. Frat party for geeks.

By far the party I enjoyed the most was the Small Business Web party – great venue, fun people and good food and drink. The venue allowed for a variety of activities and it was a nice mix of fun and business. I did not attend parties until the wee hours, but it’s my hunch and observation that it’s best to ferret out and get invited to some of these “offsite” parties to avoid the ridiculous crowds at the main SXSW events. I heard some friends of mine from MA stood in line for parties they never got in. That can’t be fun.

5. Dedicate time before you go to figuring out what sessions look appealing. Then plan strategically. I could ramble on for a long time on this topic. But I won’t. Summarize it to say the sessions were mostly packed and for some, if you didn’t get there early (sometimes an entire session early) you didn’t get in. This was highly frustrating, given what you pay for a ticket. SXSW could and should do better.

I was busy starting a new job before I left for SXSW so I didn’t study the schedule carefully. And once I got there I was busy from morning to night – again, no time to study carefully. So I felt I was winging it the whole time so the sessions I attended were hit or miss.

In particular I found it frustrating when some panelists (example: the authors of Content Rules) totally “winged it” and used their session to take questions from the audience. This was lame. One of the best moderated panels I attended was a session on Sunday on female entrepreneurs. It was moderated by Jessica Vascellaro of the Wall St Journal and all the panelists brought a helpful, engaging perspective to the session. Kudos also go to Seth Priebatsch of SCAVNGR who delivered an excellent keynote on Saturday that was a perfect blend of vision, geekery and story-telling. Very compelling.

6. Don’t miss an opportunity to eat Amy’s ice cream. Especially mexican vanilla. Enough said.

So back to my Silicon Valley colleagues and they’re snarky attitude about going to SXSW. My conclusion is they don’t really need to go to SXSW because they live in a SXSW-type atmosphere 12 months in a year. For the rest of us, it’s a good place to go, drink from the fire hydrant and take in a good dose of geekiness, industry trends and forward-thinking idea sharing.

So will I go next year? Time will tell.