Sunday, 18 March 2012

Lessons and Experiences from SXSW

The troop from iWishfor recently got back from the 2012 edition of SXSW! To say that SXSW is a conference is like saying that a Lamborghini is a car. It was an amazing experience; at times overwhelming but always action packed and relevant to what we are trying to accomplish with iWishfor. In the following posts, we want to provide some summaries of the sessions we attended but we thought we would first give an overall summary of our experiences and the lessons we learned.

Lessons from SXSW 2012

1) You will not get much sleep. We all went with varying degrees of sleep deprivation and going to SXSW did not help. There was something going on all the time. From the early morning sessions, the meetups and the conversations in the halls to the parties and after parties, you could go a full 24hrs without needing to go to bed. Finally, we just had to go to bed knowing that we would probably miss something but having to be okay with that.

2) The conversations are the best part. We met so many incredible people at SXSW. We met VC's, people from facebook and lots of great people from all sectors of technology life. Even on the plane there and back, we met incredibly talented and passionate entrepreneurs. The conversations we got involved in helped make us feel like an important part of the entrepreneurial process. It also helped us realize that many people are going through the same process, ups and downs as we are.

3) Don't be afraid to engage people. This is probably one of the most important lessons. Not being the most extroverted, we had to initially force our selves to engage other people and initiate conversations. But we were so glad we did. The relationships we built will not only help our brand and startup but also give us a link to a support network of fellow entreprenuers. Not only that but we also took the opportunity to sign up to speak to industry leaders and VC's that we may not have otherwise been able to get in touch with. Without being proactive and willing to engage, we would not have had this opportunity.

4) Don't try to find food after 11:00 pm.  Don't get us wrong. We think Austin is a brilliant city. But trying to find food after 11:00 near our hotel was like an exercise in futility. Most places nearby turn into bars after 11:00 which means their kitchens are closed making it near impossible to find food. Now, you're probably thinking that we should have found food earlier, but when you are going from workshop, to meetup to conversations, somehow time disappears and you are suddenly looking at your watch which is now saying 11:30 and you are realizing that you have not eaten all day. This happened to us on more than one occasion. The one place that did have a kitchen open forced us to eat in front of a bar tv showing one of the most gory movies I have ever seen. Needless to say, not a great culinary experience.

5) The Hilton Downtown is the place to stay. As one of our founders discovered last year, if you are not staying anywhere near the convention center, you have a hard time staying involved and connected to the conference. We stayed at the Hilton this year and it was a wonderful. Not only were we across the street from the Convention Center, but we also had one of the major section of sessions located right at the hotel (Startups), the meetup tents were located right around us and we had easy access to everything. Definitely worth the more expensive rooms.

6) The Startup America area was brilliant.  As a startup, we spent a lot of time in the Hilton taking in all the startup workshops located there. However, one of the best places was the Startup America area. From discussions with Steve Blank (The Startup Owner's Manual) to getting a chance to meet personally and one-on-one with important and experienced people in the industry, it was a great place to be and we would often find ourselves drifting back there throughout the day. Not only that but it was a great place to practice your pitch, which we did often there.

7) Pitches are great but making it sound like a non-pitch is even better. I think that everyone expects there to be a lot of startups pitching their products at SXSW and, while they want to connect with people, they don't necessarily want to subject themselves to someone trying to sell them something. One of the things I was told was that my pitch didn't come off as a pitch; it was just a natural part of the conversation we were having. I didn't make it like I was just trying to sell them something. And that was something I tried to remember when I was connecting with people. Don't be in their face with my product. If they want to know more and are interested, they will ask for more.

8) The SXSW app was our go-to Bible. Forget the program. That book was hardly opened and actually was way more intimidating than the app. We actually don't know why they still publish it other than for the advertising space.

9) Bring a backpack. While nerdy looking, we were so thankful for something to carry all the stuff we collected throughout the day. Many times, we had people say, "Good call", to us as they lugged their side bags around.

10) Line up very, very early if you want to see any of the big speakers. There were a couple of times where we wanted to see a big name person, and were not able to because we had not lined up early enough. This happened in particular when we wanted to see Al Gore. By the time we got there, we were no where close to being able to get in. We did go to the satellite locations but the wireless connection was so bad, the feed kept having to buffer. If you really want to see someone big, make sure you are there very early. On the plus side, we did meet with a couple of really cool people from facebook, so it actually turned out to be a positive for us. Go figure.

11) Take a breather, even if you don't want to. We could have gone continuously for all 5 days we were there. However, we needed to just go back to the room once and awhile and just have some downtime. This downtime got us out of the hectic pace and gave us time to digest and think about what we actually had done that day. It was good just have some time to relax somewhere quiet. We also spent that time thinking about how it related to our own startup, which was important.

12) You will be encouraged and inspired. There is so much hope at SXSW. So many people in our same position. While there are of course the big name people and products, the majority of the people there are just like us. Startups with a hope and a dream that their's is going to be the next big thing. And somehow, that was encouraging for us. That there are others in our same position that we can relate to and that are going through the same issues we are. The one inspirational note we all got was from the session where the Pinterest creator was interviewed. There was so much that he said that made us feel good about our journey and took some of the pressure off of us; that he had struggled for a few years with few users and not much happening before Pinterest took off.

And that was really the ultimate benefit we got from the conference. This sense that we were not alone; that there are thousands of other people there for the same reasons we were, who also have a desire to change the world and are trying to navigate this world of uncertainty and advice bombardment with the rest of us. We were inspired by the stories we heard and the people we met. And came back encouraged to continue our dream.

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