I’m writing this a few days after returning back to the UK after attending “South by South-West” (SXSW) Interactive, Austin, Texas. It’s an enormous conference or festival of all things digital and web related. In Silicon Valley it’s known as “spring break for geeks”, an apt description which describes the attendees and the atmosphere just a little too well.
It’s spread over 5 days, with talks, discussions, panels and keynotes running all through the day with parties running all through the night. There is simply no other conference like it. You won’t see people in suits, instead, flip flops, shorts and a T-shirt branded with your company logo is fairly typical.
It was my second time at “South By”, but this year thing’s have changed, not only is attendance up a whopping 40% but this time round I have a business to promote!
Last year I came when Teamly was at the idea stage and I didn’t know anyone. All the networking I’ve done in the last year in London – helped in no small part by being a member of TechHub – meant that this time round I kept bumping into familiar faces; the world’s web industry was in attendance.
But crucially Teamly was also taking part in the official UKTI Mission, a group of 40 British digital and web businesses. It’s well worth taking part as through the mission events and support from UKTI and organisers, Chinwag, you will definitely get more out of SXSW, and crucially maximise the ROI on your trip.
Meetings with the UKTI team and other mission companies take place in the UK ahead of departure so they understand what you are looking for and this helps them ensure you get the most out of the experience.
Once in Austin there’s specific events for the mission companies, including a morning seminar on doing business in the US, a hands-on breakfast with key industry players to provide advice and intros, a general open-to-all networking breakfast, and finally another open-to-all networking event over beer and BBQ.
Combine these with the hundreds of talks, discussions, keynotes and seminars in the official programme – not to mention all the parties! – and SXSW will be one of the most crammed 5 days of your life!
Separately, Teamly was lucky enough to be shortlisted for the finals of the prestigious Microsoft Bizspark Accelerator startup competition! Both that and the UK Mission helped us to raise our profile amongst the thousands of businesses in attendance; SXSW is a noisy place, so don’t expect any attention as you’ll have to work really hard for it. Instead focus on meeting people that will help your business, and go for making quality connections. Seth Godin offers two excellent pieces of advice on SXSW strategy, here and here.
Last year I spent much of the daytimes in the fantastic sessions, choosing between them all is impossibly hard; frequently you find there are 3 things on at the same time, but you can only go to one!
However, this year I spent less time doing the official panels and more time just meeting and talking to people, making new friends and meeting other entrepreneurs, bloggers and investors. Even when pitching a VC, the laid back party atmosphere means a pitch at “south-by” is not like a pitch elsewhere.
My main goal for SXSW was to connect with potential investors as we close our seed round for Teamly. There were lots in attendance, but with so many people around, finding them is going to be the big challenge. I seemed to hit it very lucky, having checked in at SFO for my flight to Austin I turned around and found myself face-to-face with a VC!
A rather craply delivered elevator pitch then followed, but it was enough to secure a 30 minute slot later on. Other opportunities to meet with VCs came about simply because I knew who I was targeting, and was following their activity on Twitter, Foursquare, Gowalla, (a.k.a. stalking), or had found some of the unofficial VC pitch events listed on Plancast or Eventbrite. (This is also how you will find out about the cool, unofficial parties, so don’t dismiss them, use these channels to your advantage!)
In total I did 3 formal pitches, and had chats or catch ups with another 7 investors. As VC Mark Suster – one of the ones I bumped into, over a glass of wine – says, investors invest in lines and not dots; the point being the more times you meet and connect with people in different ways, the better.
Oh, and if you need one final reason to come to South-By, it’s March and it’s mid 20s and sunny; you can’t beat getting off the plane from London and finding yourself in the middle of summer!
See you next year!
This blog originally appeared on the Chinwag blog, the organisers of the UK’s mission to SXSW