SXSW ’14 – How to succeed at the interactive festival

Janeece Keller is the founder of Bound Round, the educational children’s travel app, available on the iPhone.  A local Sydney native and successful entrepreneur, she’s attended SXSW for the last 2 years, and recently was kind enough to sit down for us and recount her insights and tips of attending.

SXSW-festival-logo

South by south-west, or SXSW Interactive, held in Austin, Texas each March is the largest digital technology event in the world.  It’s become known as a place where the next ‘big thing’ gets launched from, a reputation drawn from experience with Twitter and Foursquare, but seemingly on the wain in recent years, with Highlight the last app to break out there, having failed to build on that early momentum.

Over the last 21 years there have been big name keynote speakers – Mark Zuckerberg, Evan Williams (former Twitter CEO), Al Gore and this year Edward Snowden.

I was a first timer in Austin in 2013 – I went on my own to understand what it was like and to figure out if it would be the right place for us to launch Bound Round into the American market.

This year I took three of the Bound Round team, and while we all had a different focus, what we were there for was inspiration, ideas and to connect with people we wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity to meet.

Here’s what I learned:

Number 1: Take every opportunity to chat to the people around you

With 71,000 attendees, getting into the scheduled sessions is often difficult. But in my experience it’s the accidental conversations that happen in the Starbucks queue or at the bar, that are what’s most valuable about the event.

In 2013 I was chatting to the guy next to me in the Starbucks queue. It turns out he is an Indian telecommunications tycoon who’d recently stepped down from the board of the Guggenheim in New York. Once we’d heard each other’s elevator pitches and realized that Bound Round wasn’t the right fit for his investment fund (a process that took long enough for both our coffees to arrive), we spent an hour discussing luxury travel destinations and where he might find fantastic fly fishing without needing to get his feet wet.

We’re still in contact and he’s given me feedback on the Bound Round investor pack and provided invaluable advice about how to tackle the US market.  Since we met he’s opened an accelerator program in New York and launched a shirt label.

I can’t think of another event where our paths would have crossed, and if I hadn’t just said hi to him in the queue, I’d have missed out his advice and support during a critical time for Bound Round. I’ve left SXSW this year determined to stay open minded and chat to people around me… who knows who else I might meet.

Number 2: There are loads of cheap and creative ways to promote your brand

boundround-app-sydney

Twitter and Foursquare are possibly the most famous brand launches at SXSW, but you don’t have to be part of the conference program or advertise via the official channels to make a noise about your brand.

This year Chevy had cars driving between session venues and hotels to supplement the official bus service. The Chevy drivers were from all over the USA. Officially they were tallying how many people they drove, unofficially they were running a competition to see which driver could get the most social traction. Every driver I spoke to was an aspiring performer or entrepreneur, the social mentions, linked to SXSW was great exposure.

There are open surfaces all over the convention center and the city where you can post flyers, stickers, or as we did this year, Bound Round luggage tags for people to take. The ideas that really stood out for me this year were:

  • Free pizza delivery to anywhere in the conference zone by a social start-up
  • A remote controlled robot wheeling around outside the convention center
  • Handing out branded ponchos on the rainy days

These initiatives and many of the others have sparked a raft of creativity in the Bound Round team. It’s now time to prioritise before we put them into action

Number 3: Use SXSW social and set up meetings before you go

Similarly to learning number one, SXSW presents an opportunity to meet people you’ve been flowing digitally but never met face-to-face.  The only catch is, that everyone has the same idea!

So the big learning for me this year was to use the SXSW social tool, essentially a list of attendees and speakers, to set up meetings with people I was keen to meet.

SXSW-Social-app

Find out who’s going, connect with them via SXSW and if they’re not listed there, use any of the other social tools you’re already active on. LinkedIn and Twitter worked best for me.

This year I found out that the CTO of a travel business I’d been trying to find a connection with was attending, I sent him a message via SXSW Social and next thing you know we had a meeting lined up.

Another example is that I’ve been following Moms with Apps, a Californian group working to support web and app businesses who work with kids in this very regulated market. I’d never met the founder, but we’d had plenty of Twitter conversations. Now we’ve met face-to-face, and know much more about what each business is doing and how we can support each other.

With so many people in the same place, the likelihood of bumping into the specific person you want to see is low.  You’ll bump into fascinating strangers, but if you want to meet an individual who can open up an opportunity or provide an in to a business you’ve been wanting to approach, pre-planning and setting up the meetings in advance is key.  Once the event starts, everyone is busy going to scheduled meetings and in their spare time there’s a good chance they’ll be distracted by the people around them.

Janeece Keller

Janeece Keller wrote on