The Importance of SXSW & Why You Should be There Every Year

South by Southwest is officially over which means that it is only 51 weeks away until the next SXSW festival which mean you have plenty of time now to save up and buy yourself a badge for next year and attend. For those that can not afford SXSW badges, I will explain to you what I learned doing SXSW this year for less than $20 dollars. Yes you read that correctly, having done SXSW so many times, being a resident of Austin, and living right next to downtown has its many perks.

SXSW had tons of opportunities for everyone to enjoy and experience so saying that it had nothing that appealed to you means that you really have no clue why this festival is considered to be one of the top festivals to attend in the whole world. It is ranked number one by Fuse website for Music Festival, which is understandable since half of the week is dedicated to just music acts. Business leaders, investors, and startup wannabes all come to SXSW from all corners of the world to find out what the latest trends are. Film makers, producers, and celebrities all come to Austin to screen their movies and make deals and talk about what new projects studios have in the works. The number of new movie ideas that blossomed during the film portion is enormous considering all who were here. If you went out walking about you would have seen celebrities all over the place just enjoying themselves. I told a friend some of the hot spots celebrities like to relax and enjoy themselves at and you know what he did? He spent most of his time at those places getting to meet people he thought would be surrounded by body guards just sitting down and enjoying a drink and talking to people. It completely took him by surprise how approachable some of them were but he was happy because he got to meet some of his favorite movie stars all in person.

Understanding SXSW Hype
You hear about this festival down in the southern region of the US and think, “what could those people possible know down there? They are so far away from where all the action is going on how could they say what the trends are?” Easy, SXSW brings the best minds down here to get away and talk with similar minded people about what it is they do all year. People attend these events because they all are trying to find the same answer to the same question, on hopefully what is the company’s dime, “How’d you get so successful doing that?”

The hype about this festival is surrounded around the same idea of seeing all these successful and important people walking about with those special badges around their necks that get them into private events. If you don’t have the money for those badges then you miss out on all the big stuff (hint: I got into some pretty big events and didn’t have a badge so it can be done). The truth of the matter though is that most of those badge holders are there trying to keep up with the trends so they can run back to their companies and help them prepare for what is coming in the next few months.

The big stuff for nerds, educators, and geeks all happens a week before the music festival portion. The education portion brings teachers, educational entrepreneurs, school district administrators and even technology companies down to learn about some of the new teaching styles, innovation in apps that improve learning, and other ways teachers can engage more people to learn now that we live in a world where being connected is constant. The challenge for educators in any form is how do you get people to take learning seriously now when information is always there online now?

This poses a challenge for many other people, especially companies that have to hire those students later on. People with shallow educations are a liability to companies later on that depend on creative individuals to innovate. Hence why they send their best employees down to SXSW to catch up and stay ahead.

SXSW is all about finding out what will be happening in the coming year, in terms of, technology, startup companies launching (remember Twitter exploded at SXSW in 2007), and new gadgets but also what films to look out for later in the year. So when you mix all this information together with other little films trying to screen and small businesses trying to expand their brand at SXSW with a zero dollar budget you begin to understand why hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world come to Austin for a week or two.

Remember SXSW does everything it can to help those first-timers navigate the large open space that is Austin by creating a page on their website for newbies. You can check out their page but I will point out one thing that their page does not cover, how to get the most out of the event and what to pay attention to, with or without a badge. SXSW does not cater to those without badges so that is why other opportunities have popped up to fill that need. SXSW has the official events they list on their website, twitter, and app but they do not list the unofficial events and knowing how to find that stuff takes skill and talent.

What I got out of SXSW 2015
Every year I learn something new about SXSW and the people who come to Austin. This year they included this in an infograph and the books they hand out only to badge holders. I got my hands on one and found some surprising information.  The average age this year was 36 and the top skill that all badge holders had was social media skills. This tells you that this is not a young person’s festival for Interactive and judging by all the tweets that I read over the past week, while showing people how to do SXSW, I learned that a lot of them couldn’t wait to get back to their hotel rooms, lock the doors, order room service, and enjoy the peace and quiet that they don’t normally get back home because a certain portion of them have kids.

One of the first events I attended was the Job Market fair that was in the new JW Marriott hotel. I went, not looking for a job, but to find out what kind of jobs companies were hiring for but also the kind of people they were interested in talking with. I will say it is funny when recruiters find out that you are not there looking for a job but instead want to learn about the new hiring trends because you already have a job. That is when their whole personalities change and they switch from presentation mode to letting down their guard. They are so used to selling all day long that it is rare for them to talk with someone that is NOT looking for work.

Here is what I learned from that job fair
– Companies are mainly looking for coders in all languages
– Sales, marketing, business, finance, and all the other regular areas they are hiring for as well
– The well prepared come dressed up ready to hand out resumes but few ready to relocate
– Most had just resumes to handout but nothing different to offer – here’s what I mean
– Recruiters are only interested in a few things about your skills – how many years of experience you have doing one or two skills really well, what have you created recently on your own, if you are willing to move, & are you currently employed. They don’t care about the name of your school.
– The well prepared carry business cards with them everywhere
– The top items of swag given out were tech gadgets (powerbanks, USB mini stereos, flashdrives, & styluses for tablets and phones)
– Employers will ask to see some of your work right there on the spot if you are a coder
– Companies expected that most people attending were either proficient or experts with basic business software programs, used social media fluently, and understood mobile technology well.

All this information is great to know if you are looking for a job but more importantly it tells you what companies are expecting people to learn in school and college. Coding is not just a skill that only a select few should learn now it is a skill that all people will need to learn because right now companies do not have enough of them. Check out my list of education resources to find out how to get started learning how to code for free.

Attendee Statistics
People come from all corners of the world to attend this great festival but what are most of them looking for? I pulled these stats from the interactive book that polled their badge holders asking what they were after. Here were the goals for those that attended
– 62% said Find New Business Opportunities
– 36% Connect with Existing Clients
– 24% No Particular Goals
– 16% Seek Employment/Contract Work
– 15% Hire Talented People
– 11% Launch a new Product or Service
– 9% Seek Investors
– 6% Invest in New Companies

The last stat corresponds with the number of attendees who are considered wealthy and probably investors, which is around less than 10%.

So what do these stats tell you about what people are looking for at this festival? Remember, these are all those people who purchased badges and look important walking around. Most of the people there wanted to either quit their job or find more work and a quarter of them had no clue what they wanted to get out of the festival. If a quarter of the people had no clue then that means they were just walking around and taking in all the sights and probably only attending a handful of lectures at a time.

The part that got my attention was the last few stats. This is the section that tells you who are the ones with money and/or influence. They attend the festival to sit in on a few talks and see what products are being demonstrated but to find those diamonds in the rough. They walk around looking for companies trying to launch grassroots style and find out a little more about what they do. They attend the official events but they also attend the events that are not official in hopes of finding that one unique idea.

People I Met
In the class before SXSW I taught, “How to Grow Your Business with SXSW.” One of the things I mentioned about the festival was that you were going to see a lot of posters and people passing out flyers everywhere and even chalk signs on crosswalks. Low and behold that is exactly what I saw as I was exploring; I had one guy introduce himself to me while we were waiting in line, he gave me his flyer to ask if I could check out his youtube page. Another time I got handed postcards that were an invite to a special screening about the American Inventor (you can watch it here now available on YouTube that screened at SXSW) and how it is harder now to bring an idea to life because of current patent laws.

I attended a lecture on how to build, run, and manage a kids’ maker space for STEM education. The thing that surprised me the most was that the event was open to anyone but there were very few people there. Maybe less than twenty at most but I did make the most of my time introducing myself and talking about how other people can improve their locations. I met one interesting man who told me he was having trouble getting people to teach at his locations but he had plenty of space. I informed him that he had the opposite problem of mine, I have the teachers but no space to teach in. So you see a great connection was made from being at these events.

I met a musician who provided free rides at SXSW that was working to become a DJ and said that he tried to take advantage of many of the opportunities there to meet some big names. He is hoping he can turn his work into something he can do at next year’s festival. I was glad to find the main options of getting free rides because getting around SXSW on foot can be difficult but good exercise.

Then while taking a break at Starbucks I saw two company employees from the Yo app so I introduced myself to find out what Yo was hoping to accomplish at SXSW. I was told they were promoting their brand by offering free breakfast every morning if you just sent a special Yo message but unfortunately their campaign did not work since the service was terrible judging by these tweets. I know that other people did get their meals but it doesn’t look like they got the reception they were after according to this tweet. Hopefully the founder was joking. In all the tweets being sent during SXSW I saw very few talking about Yo though.

Another time my friends and I were all enjoying some free lunch when one of them sat down at this table and started talking to people there. Well it turns out one of the people at the table just so happened to be a speaker for the Interactive panels. My friend kept asking this person questions about their job and what they plan to talk about and the more my friend asked the more amazed he was to find out who he was talking to. He didn’t think he would run into a speaker for SXSW that also happened to work on a show that he enjoyed watching. It turns out the guy was a writer. I told my friend that he needed to make sure they exchanged information and kept in touch, which they both did.

The one app that took SXSW by storm was MeerKat. This awesome app is set to change the whole streaming world by taking a new model of communicating to large audience members in real time and improving on it. I will talk about this more in the trends section.

This is just a small portion of all that happened to me while I was there. I’ve been told I need to put together a business that teaches people how to do SXSW. I’m considering it.

SXSW Trends from this Year’s Festival
In this article that was just posted, as of the writing of this article, you can see that people are still writing about all the stuff that happened during Southby. The conference covered a number of items that will soon start to impact out lives, one that just launched today actually, driverless cars and personal robots. The issue of robots and A.I.s entering our lives is quite profound as Dr. Cynthia Breazeal talked about in her SXSW talk on, “The Personal Side of Robots.” If you are not familiar with who she is this is the lady who created an Indiegogo campaign to bring Jibo, the world’s first family robot, into people’s homes. Her campaign caught media attention for going way pass her goal and raising over $2 million dollars from a goal of only $100k.

While walking around one of the things you caught a lot of people doing was holding cardboard boxes in front of their faces. If you are familiar with this idea then you know it was Google’s campaign to teach people about how to create their own virtual reality headset, much like the one for Oculus Rift, out of cardboard and their smartphones. You simply fold the cardboard pieces and you have something that looks like this below

All you do is drop your phone into the slot and it changes your dept of vision to make it look like virtual reality. This is a layout of how it folds.

Pretty cool little toy which is why I picked up two of them in case one broke from wear and tear. So why were people playing with them? Well Google Fiber decided to make a big push during Southby by setting up shop in their downtown location where people could come in and pick up a free headset and some stickers saying where they wanted Google Fiber next in Austin. I got a few of those plus a nice t-shirt.

I didn’t get to attend the Robot Petting Zoo, yea I know just the name sounds awesome, but I did get to meet some of the makers of one of the top robotic sport’s team. It turns out the little guy was busy playing soccer but I took his picture anyways.

Robots

Alright so after all the fun here is what alot of people were after while they were down there taking in all this information. I will mention some of the trends but then list a few of the topics that were covered at Interactive.

1. People want to learn from other people about how to improve what they’re doing back home
This might sound like common sense but it is how people behave and operate in new places. People go to conferences in hopes of finding that one person who has the solution to their problem back home. I would talk with so many people about the struggles of their business only to tell them where to look online about how to fix or improve what they were doing.

One business owner said that they were using a portion of their retail store to encourage kids to learn how to build stuff. They told me this came from the idea of seeing so many bored kids in front of their store so they figured why not make a separate space for the kids to teach them stuff while the parents shop. The parents and kids loved it but they ran into a problem of growth so that is when I told them about this TED talk about how one tutoring center turned into a world wide phenomenon. It had a few ideas that any business struggling with growth can learn from.

2. Businesses are becoming more of a secondary degree for work than a standard option
Chances are today you probably know someone who is an Uber driver or works as a freelancer cutting hair through hairstylist apps or even people who do odd jobs here and there. This new consumer-to-consumer economy is taking off faster than most companies know what to do. People can earn a very comfortable living with just service apps alone now and the best part of about them is that there is no set schedule to follow, you simple log in when you are ready to start work and log off when your tired. This creates an easier way for people to connect with others instead of going through an temp agency or having to apply for jobs online all the time. (Maybe the end for Monster.com? Who knows)

The interesting thing about this new way of living is that many major companies are getting in on the action too by creating new brands under their company name in order to keep consumer’s focused on the service instead of the company that owns or runs it. The challenge is that major companies have the money to sink into these apps in order to get a large share of this new collaborative sharing economy that is going on between consumers. All these apps make money by taking a share of the money that is transacted between the two parties. Basically the app is a more efficient method of connecting two people with similar interests and needs.

3. Meerkat Dominated Apps
If this is the first time learning about Meerkat then let me tell you why it was the new hot commodity that everyone was talking about. If you are a gamer than you know all about Twitch and how it has changed the whole landscape of video games by turning it into a spectator sport now. Video game players can turn on their twitch account and start streaming their game playing to all their followers and anyone watching. Well, Meerkat does the same thing except it is on your phone now. So you could build a following of people to find out what you are doing right at that moment and stream it.

Think Facetime but instead of 1-to-1 call it is 1-to-all your followers in real time. That is why so many people love the app because now instead of sitting at your computer and using a web cam to stream what you are doing you can now use your phone and stream wherever. What does this do to the internet and service usage? It puts a huge demand on internet service and requires high amounts of bandwidth. Curious to read what people are saying about this breakout hit? Click the articles below.

Meerkat Restores Faith in SXSW’s Startup Magic

Meerkat stole the show at SXSW. Sorry, Twitter

Why Meerkat, the breakout app of SXSW, is more than a flash in the pan

4. SXSW encourages the Entrepreneur Scene
If you walked around chances are you probably ran into a few guys and girls shoving flyers into your hands trying to get you to attend their launch party or swag party, which is where companies give out swag in hopes that you check out their products and learn more about who they are and what they do. I got a pretty sweet expensive swag bag from one of these little parties. During my time at one of these parties I talked with a lot of the CEO’s who were right there to talk about their products. One guy was happy to talk his product and how he started his company so getting to meet the people in charge is not hard to do if you know how to put yourself out there. You never know where they might be in a few months or next year but at least you got to meet and learn about how they got their idea and turned it into reality.

SXSW created the startup village which has grown to help startup companies gain more appeal and attention. But why is the startup village so important to entrepreneurs and why would you want to get your company in there next year? Easy, it connects existing companies that are failing to innovate with up-and-coming companies. There might be a consultant who is flown into check out what new businesses are coming up and what products they have to offer, so “John” might be asked to find a new business that his company might be able to do business with. This is how startup companies find new clients so it keeps them growing. What you don’t hear about are those meetings during dinner time with the startup CEO and co-founders and the consultant to talk about the details and work out a contract together. That is how the movers and shakers work.

5. Advertising is all about Getting into People’s Habits
Ex Machina is a movie that premiered at SXSW and it touches on the issue of robots and intelligence, but more importantly emotional intelligence. In order to get more people aware of the movie the studio created a brilliant ad campaign to get people interested in watching the movie by playing with their emotions. They launched a tinder account that looked like a normal 25 year old female just looking for love in Austin. If you were one of the unlucky ones to fall for it then you were not alone. Many guys apparently fell for it because just when you thought the conversation with her was getting interesting she linked you over to her instagram page where , at the time, it listed a film trailer for the movie and the poster for the film, the studio has since added more content now. All in all, it got a lot of people talking about SXSW and the innovation of marketing and advertising that went into that campaign.

6. Interacting with People Face to Face tops them all
All the apps and wearables and technology out there is pretty damn impressive now but nothing beats and probably will never beat face-to-face interaction. The best part about SXSW are the connections you make for a brief moment during the day and if you know how to make the connection you ask to meet for dinner and talk more in person. You want that face-to-face connection before that person heads back home because without it there is not much to learn about the person except what they write in their email.

The after parties are where the real deals happen and the magic takes place. The movers and the shakers all know this so they attend as many after parties they can get themselves into. They work the rooms for the free drinks and then see if they can connect with anyone. The whole idea is to find someone that has the “it” charm in what they say and do. They are looking for someone who looks like they know what they are doing, and once they find them then they see what all they have to offer that might be of benefit to one another.

Maybe you are shy and not sure what to do, but the best thing you can do is just to get out there and talk. This is why during SXSW there are so many parties with free drinks to help loosen people up to talk. Yes the free drinks also draw in the crowds but for the shy people who need a little pushing it helps them to not be afraid to go up and talk to someone. This worked for a number of people and the connections they picked up in the end were well worth it.

7. Robots are becoming more a part of our lives
It is hard to imagine that our lives are becoming more like what we watch in movies. Minority Report is one of those movies that when it came out people were astounded at seeing people swiping in the air to move things like it was magic and now we have those kinds of TVs and motion detectors, like Kinect and Leap Motion. If you show a kid that movie today it will not impress them except the cool cars and flying suits but everything else they can pretty much do today. But where do you think they got the inspiration from? That’s right, movies.

Now that driverless cars are going to become the norm in the next few years and robots have already been slowly entering our homes it will start to be our responsibility to learn how to treat them properly and what they should be allowed to do and not do. The latter part will be difficult seeing how we now have robots that are designed to learn on their own so how will we be able to regulate how much they learn or what they learn or even what they are allowed to do with that information once they’ve learned it?

In the robot petting zoo there are drones that can act as search and rescue but also ones that can build things so it will be very interesting to see how robotic drone technology will evolve in the coming year. This is why the FCC is having a hard time figuring out the rules because the potential of what drones are capable of is enormous and they don’t want to limit that but they also have to protect and respect people’s privacy, but seeing how nothing on the internet or our phones is private anymore I don’t see why they are worried about drones as the problem.

A few of the topics at Interactive were

– What Tech Startups Should be Doing Next – Jessica Lawrence
– The Future Role of Tech in Dining and Food – David Chang, Matt Buchanan
– Secrets of Growth Hacking: From Zero to $50M – Neil Patel, Sean Ellie, Tammy Camp
– You Are Everywhere – Kristina Halvorson
– World Leaders on Twitter: What they can teach us – Alexander Ekkelenkamp, Aurelie Valtat, Matthias Lüfkens


SXSW is an amazing festival to attend and if you live in Austin there really is no reason NOT to be here experiencing it all. It is just one week out of the year to plan for this that thousands of people make the time to be at. One of the best part is also the gaming portion.

The Gaming Expo was a fantastic experience that all gamers should experience at one point. For all the kids and families who did attend I commend those parents for doing a great job of taking their kids there and for the parents who just dropped them off to experience the whole thing on their own, I say, you are a great parent for doing that. Keep it up!

Gaming Expo

I learned quite a bit at the gaming expo and since I had all the time to enjoy myself here is what I did there. I attended a Zombie quiz show and got some free swag for it. I finally learned how to play the famous board game The Settlers of Catan and another game by the same makers called, Patchwork, which was a lot of fun. So how did I learn how to play? The game makers had tables set up with different versions of Catan setup on each one and if you wanted to learn how to play all you had to do was sit in on a tutorial, taught by one of their instructors there, and play along. So now when someone asks if I have Sheep in exchange for two coals, I know what they mean. After playing for awhile they gave me a nice swag bag that came with a character expansion pack for free including a Catan metal pin to wear which I got for having learned how to play.

I also made it a point to get a picture with the sweet Delorean from BTTF

After that I played a lot of video games that are still being tested out and got to see some cool video game characters walking around which I got my picture with. Afterwards I made my way over to the Maker Square space set up at the Long Center where I got to make some cool things, including a badge that I had to solider together in order for it to work, which looks like that in the picture.

All in all the whole experience was a lot of fun but also a lot of learning about where the gaming industry is headed. So now to the part you have been waiting for, what do I get out of all this? I’ll tell you.

How did you do SXSW for less than $20 bucks?
Easy, here is how I did it. I monitored twitter ahead of time (about a week or two) to find out what all the special hashtags were for finding the free events, free food, and free parties. I left those tabs open on my phone the whole time I was there and checked them ALL the time. I managed to get free food starting from the official day it started (Friday) until midday Tuesday. I got some free morning snacks during Pi Day (3/14/15). In the picture below they had little Pi’s in both apple and raspberry, because you know, Raspberry Pi? Get it? haha. I also found where my birthday was in Pi, and if you want to learn where yours is at then go to mypiday.com.

Pi

Not bad for managing my time there considering I also got to see Jimmy Kimmel live at the Long Center as well. You need Twitter in order to get around SXSW otherwise you miss all the free stuff popping up all around you. All you really need to survive is free food and then you can just walk up to events happening all around you. The cost for me was the bus rides into downtown and extra things I wanted to buy. Parking downtown is a nightmare during that time and not worth paying for.how to get around SXSW

How people did SXSW before Twitter just amazes me but it also says that you had to have a badge in order to get the book that told you were all the official stuff was. I have no idea how people found the unofficial stuff without Twitter.


Experience SXSW at Home
In case you missed SXSW, guess what! You can still watch all the panels that took place from the comfort of your own home. SXSW has put up majority of the lectures on youtube so I will put the link below so you can find the talks you want to watch. Then after that link I included the visual representation of those talks created by ImageThink. A lot of those images are very helpful in getting the main points from the talks.

Interactive Talks SXSW YouTube

Visual Form of Interactive Talks

Just find the video title and match it with the slide title to see the talk visually.


My time at SXSW was absolutely fun and I always tell people that they need to get out and enjoy it because there is no reason to pass up one of the best festivals in the world if it is right in your own backyard. People spend thousands of dollars to be there so why not take advantage of it for practically nothing?

Thanks for all the fun SXSW, I had a blast and can’t wait to do it all over again next year, hopefully this time as a speaker at Interactive. Austin you look beautiful and I had so much fun walking around everywhere.

Skyline of Austin

If you would like to learn what other cool festivals you should attend this year I posted the link below to some of the best ones including one for women.

Festivals Female Entrepreneurs Can’t Miss

9 Conferences in 2015 that are worth your time and money

Considered one of the Most Innovate Festivals to attend, Invite-Only (Awesomeness Fest)

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