It’s that time of year again. Here are some ideas, tips, and tricks we have learned from years of participation. Let us know if there is anything we missed you feel must be included. We make changes to this every year.
Where to Stay
If you don’t have a hotel or a place to crash by now, all hope is not lost. In fact, increasingly over the last few years I have seen more and more last minute accommodations in the downtown area outside the SXSW hotel holdings. Also, keep in mind that SXSW will release rooms that are not filled, booked or that get cancelled opening up even more opportunities.
While it’s great to get a place for your whole team to share expenses, also keep in mind it’s not bad to mingle among the attendees and spread your resources around. You never know who your team may meet getting coffee or on the bus to the event. Depending on your company culture, an Airbnb house may be appropriate as well.
You can still grab Airbnb or get on the waitlist for SXSW hotels. You can find the SXSW hotel FAQs and process here. Saturday night is the hot night that may be difficult to secure but if you find yourself in a rush, book what you can around Saturday and make the hike for just one night. Even if you end up near the airport or a few miles outside of town, all is not lost. While not ideal, it’s not too bad and they do run shuttles.
What to Do
While many attendees buy badges, many don’t. While badges make it easier to get hotels, parking and into many events, they are not needed for everyone. A lot can be done without a badge or by limiting or sharing (officially taboo – but it happens all the time) badges. SXSW Interactive is so much more than sessions or official events.
It’s one of the few gatherings each year where I can find many industry leaders and connect. I can get more done in that week than most of the full year. I can meet with most of my contacts, reconnect with friends and get a glimpse into the future with new start-ups and technologies.
For startups and small businesses, it’s mission critical to have a strategy. If you think buying badges and just showing up is enough to make it successful, you would be wise to sell your badges and stay home. The value you get out of it is directly related to the effort you put into making it a success for your company. Just like your product marketing program, have a meeting acquisition strategy, understand how you can best connect with potential customers at the event and staff accordingly.
You don’t have to have a large activation, sponsorship or party to make a big impact on the event as an non-sponsor. Also, keep in mind that each year is different. What worked the year before may not work next month. Assess the landscape each year as if it’s your first time. Years ago the Four Season’s lounge was the place to be and hold meetings. However, when the JW Marriott was finished, it became the go-to location. There are several locations this year that are primed to take the Marriott’s spot and next year it will be the Fairmont. If you have questions or need help with your strategy for 2017, let us know.
What to Bring
Be smart. Don’t carry more than you absolutely have to. If you have to work and need to check in to work from time to time, consider a backpack. Otherwise, look for ways to carry smaller bags or nothing at all. If you are the tech person like me that carries
three computers, 2 tablets, 2 phones, 2 battery backups, a charging hub, multiple devices. try to limit yourself. Unless you have a need for your backpack, try to travel light during the event. I have found you are often more present in conversations when you’re not distracted and managing a pack. Also, if you are out all day and then going to dinners, parties, etc., backpacks just get in the way.
However, if you are holding meetings and conducting work during the event, be sure you and your team think strategically and always have a base camp of operations with someone that can do a demo, provide information or meet with attendees. Here is a short list of things my teams have found helpful to bring at SXSW:
- Charging equipment. At a minimum, pick up at 6+ ft. charging cable in case you are in a hotel lounge, restaurant, bar, etc. and need the cord length. 6 ft. is manageable and can fit in your pocket easily. I strongly advise getting a mophie or battery pack for your phone, but any battery pack will do. This year I’m just bringing the mophie and a cable. More and more hotels are putting out charging strips and thinking about the power needs so you should be able to get by with just a cable. If you are new to SXSW and events of this nature just recognize that you will use your phone far more than normal and the battery will go faster than you think. If your team will be working or basing together, bring at least one powerstrip.
- Business cards. You would think we don’t need this with today’s tech – but nobody has solved that yet despite many attempts (here’s to you Bump!). After about 11 pm on any night of interactive you should assume your introductions will forget your name, face and that they ever met you. Providing a card helps at least clue them in when you send a LinkedIn invite the following week.
- Calendar of events / A plan – Evernote, Google, whatever it is you use to stay organized, plan it out in advance. You never know when an event is too full, or you can’t make it to one you planned to attend. A nice plan with numbers, addresses and options keeps your event trucking along. Plus, you can share a calendar with friends. There are a few party lists that are often circulated in advance. It’s also advisable to put a meal plan together for your team so you have reservations for clients at the last minute.
- VIP Passes – Plan for options! The rule is to accept all invites in the event you can attend those events. If you have not received an official invite, never assume you are on the list or actually invited. This happened to me this year – and it hasn’t started yet! When I checked, I was left off the list despite the co-founder assuring me otherwise. There are too many events and things to do at SXSW to waste your time. Plan your options and make sure you have access. (Also, VIP is not always VIP. There are different levels of access and sometimes a Super VIP level for some events which really upsets some of the attendees left outside the door.)
- Wifi Hotspot – Usually a great plan but internet is a prized commodity at this event. Consider gotenna as well just to have a backup plan for your team on their own mesh network in the downtown area.
What to Avoid
- The trade show. It’s mostly a waste of time and unless you enjoy becoming a target of pitch after pitch, or see a participating group that you need to talk with, your time is best spent elsewhere. If you’re a start-up and spending money at the trade show you should apologize to your investors.
- Long lines. There’s always something going on somewhere and if you don’t have a VIP pass or special access to an event, go to one you do. Standing around and waiting is a waste of time and not going to be productive on any level. Consider your options and always make sure your time is spent in best way possible.
- Stalking Brands. If you think you’ll meet the Samsung execs at the Samsung lounge, guess again. Keep in mind most of the lounges, events and activations by sponsors are staffed by their PR teams, hired help and sometimes volunteers. While their brand teams do attend, they usually don’t hang around all day and are sometimes in a private area that is inaccessible. Regardless, even if you did meet them at their lounge, it’s the worst possible moment to engage with them. They are at those events for other attendees, not to be sold or pitched. It’s not the right time. If you do happen to run into someone from the brand, be polite, acknowledge they are busy and follow-up later. Don’t make a rookie vendor mistake.
- Foods and alcohol. It’s no secret there are a lot of opportunities for food and drink at various events, but just remember where you are and who you are with. Pace yourself. It’s easy to forget which foods don’t sit well with you or which alcoholic drinks don’t mix well with your body when you are immersed in an event. Make a point to pay attention so you can enjoy the event and the people you are with.
- Staying up all night. Even if you are younger and able to handle an all-nighter, avoid it if you can. You won’t be your best for potential clients or connections the next day. Worse yet, you might make a bad impression if you can’t actively engage in conversation. Luckily you can virtually guarantee that after 12 am you won’t miss many opportunities for networking.
- Regret. You will miss something. It’s impossible to attend everything and to be everywhere. You can’t live with regret or get anxious or stressed over “what could have been.” Get comfortable with this concept and you will enjoy your week much more easily. Remember that even if you do miss something, it will be in the media, on blogs, on YouTube, etc.
What to Wear
The Austin, TX tuxedo includes jeans. You’re overdressed if you wear a suit anywhere. Be comfortable. Dress for the weather. This year features lows in the low 50’s and highs near 90 degrees (read: layers!). Avoid new shoes or anything that could become too painful wearing all day. I know fashion over function is often the choice of those who “dress to impress” but you can’t do a marathon of 12-14 hour days on your feet like that. If you feel really strongly about it, at a minimum be comfortable during the day and change before dinner.
- Pace yourself. It’s a marathon, not a race. You’re probably going to get sick from all your contacts at SXSW, but no reason to start it on day 1.
- Plan ahead. A badge and registration does not open doors or get you into the best events. Network ahead and know who is going and where you might want to be. Showing up at registration and assuming it will just happen for you is the worst thing you can do.
- Join a team. If you are by yourself, make a friend or find a friend to go with you to talks or events. You can be much more effective in networking and getting around with a partner in crime. At a minimum, it’s someone that can hold your place in line for a quick run to the restroom or to grab some water. It’s also helpful for networking and you can work a room twice as fast.
- Franklin’s , Stubbs, Salt Lick, Lamberts. Unless you don’t eat meat or have religious beliefs that prevent you from doing so, don’t miss an opportunity to taste some of the best bbq around. (Pro tip: Salt Lick sells full frozen brisket and sauce AT THE AIRPORT in a cold pack that will last about 3 hours on a plane)
- Remember where you are. Unless you’re in a hotel room, it’s difficult to have private conversations in the open and even more so at SXSW. Remember where you are so that you don’t accidentally share private or confidential information. I have heard private revenue numbers and many other secrets in public spaces.
- Get your registration badge early. The line gets notoriously long on Friday. Go early and avoid the dreaded lines. Also, last year they offered a great option to recycle the materials you are handed at registration right outside the exit door. I highly recommend it as most of the material is online and who wants to carry that around?
Yes, there are cabs. Yes there are cars. Yes, you can find a bike or walk on foot. But if it rains, all bets are off. Cab waits will go to hours. Relying on Uber or Lyft? You won’t find them in Austin. Good luck. If you’re from out of town, I strongly suggest at least one person on your team acquires a car. Not everything is within walking distance and if you have meetings outside of downtown, you won’t regret it. In the event of bad weather, you’ll have at least one way to get to your meetings. Bring an umbrella and a light jacket just in case.
SXSW Startup Strategy
Need help with an action plan? Dinner recommendations? Help to secure space? Let us know. RealHive is happy to help and provide some guidance on the local landscape prior to the event. Send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance or use the booking engine below: