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This article was published on March 11, 2014

5 things smart entrepreneurs did at SXSWi this year

5 things smart entrepreneurs did at SXSWi this year
Juan Diego Calle
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Juan Diego Calle

Juan Diego Calle is the CEO of .CO Juan Diego Calle is the CEO of .CO

Juan Diego Calle is a serial entrepreneur and the CEO of .CO.

Take off your branded sunnies and pack up all your swag – SXSW Interactive has wrapped for another year. This was my fourth year at SXSW with my company .CO, and while some are doubting whether this geek spring break can sustain the Austin takeover for many years to come, 2014 bubbled with smart people, big ideas and tons of energy.

Here are five things that stood out to me as helping entrepreneurs make an impact despite all the noise at SXSWi.

1. Owning the spirit of your brand

Whether it was HBO turning pedicabs into Thrones again or Brivo Labs handing out webcam covers (the company launched a security API, and privacy was a hot topic due to appearances by Snowden and Assange) – brands that made strong connections between their offering, their audience, and their shtick were clear winners this year.

Being timely and sticking with your best core products gets people excited to interact with your brand.

2. Breaking a few rules to meet a need

While criminal activity can’t exactly be lauded, brands that broke a few rules to serve a higher purpose definitely earned some extra credit.

For example, in the face of the Austin Police Department warning people not to use Uber (since the service fails to comply with strict local taxi regulations), SXSWi attendees took to Twitter en masse, proclaiming #AustinNeedsUber! And the more it rained, the more they tweeted in support of their beloved Uber.

Whether you’re willing to pay the surge pricing, of course, depends on your loyalty and wallet size.

3. Having some fun with the community

There’s never a shortage of sales bros, wanna-be tech celebs and snake oil salesmen peddling their wares at SXSWi, which is why the people and brands that help to create the carnival-like atmosphere without going for the hard sell are big winners in my book.

I really appreciated the super-hero clad pedicab drivers, the party bus overflowing with overzealous karaoke singers, and the truck that stopped in the middle of traffic to feed my whole team free cookies. These are the people that make SXSW fun, not the booth babes adorning logo-ed short shorts.

My good friend Dave McClure, founder of 500 Startups, was also a huge hit with his “Super Fantastic Half Baked Extravaganza,” a hysterical startup improv party held with our friends at Up Global where, in between fireball shots,
entrepreneurs competed for prizes while being given 60 seconds to pitch their best ideas for nonsensical startups. Think “NascarSquirrels” (“the fastest on-demand pit crew ever powered acorns and Red Bull…”). No real product pitch, just good, geeky fun.

4. Making a little mystery

From Secret’s SXSW feed to AT&T’s mysterious mobile pop-up (that later resulted in good news), companies that built buzz through an element of surprise certainly got people whispering.

5. Bringing diversity to the forefront

While the ratio of male to female was still low this year, the instance of International Women’s Day on Saturday got people talking across the show. Panel after panel covered how to break down barriers for women in tech.

While there’s a lot more to be done, organizations like Springboard Enterprises and WIM were rallying the troops at SXSWi, and are leading the charge.

While I’m fairly exhausted from all the mayhem, you can be sure that I’ll be back in 2015, eager to see what savvy marketers and entrepreneurs have in store. If you plan to stand out from the crowd, you’d better start your brainstorming now… and if you’re really smart, you’ll start booking your hotel rooms soon too!

What was your favorite innovative move from SXSWi this year?

Image credit: Alfie Photography/Shutterstock