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Why do people go to SXSW Interactive?
“To meet my Twitter friends in real life,” was one girl’s twee answer. “To get people excited about my startup!” exclaimed one entrepreneur.
Hate spammy ICOs and crappy cryptocurrencies?
So do we.
For many, SXSW Interactive is a convenient time for business meetings, company bonding and relationship building. “It’s the people you meet on the street corner or in line at the taco truck at midnight that matter, these people could be your customers, a future investor or your next business partner,” said one female CEO.
In 2009, Foursquare hit it big at SXSW with an audience of 11,000 attendees. Just three years later, this year’s SXSW Interactive welcomed a whopping 30,000. It’s not just techies from startup hubs in the U.S., but Internet lovers from the world over who descend upon Austin, Texas for 5 days of panels, breakfast tacos and interviews, and long nights of free drinks, dance parties and meeting up with dozens of friends via GroupMe, the breakout app of 2011’s SXSW.
This year at SXSW, I flew into rainy Austin, Texas on Friday night and was greeted by the Tagged team, a social gaming network based in San Francisco. The team had arranged a champagne-stocked stretched limo to take a group of us (one notable VC, one rock star in a fuzzy, blue bear hat, one Californian startup dude and me) into downtown Austin. It was an epic start to an epic week.
First stop of the night was the Google+ Happy Hour with Vic Gundotra and Bradley Horowitz where lucky guests walked away with Google-themed Tom’s Shoes. For dinner, I joined a crew of entrepreneurs and VCs at Maria Maria where we washed down chips and guacamole with acai-cucumber margaritas. It was here I finally met Jordan Kretchmer of LiveFyre who recently (and amicably) poached Greycroft’s David Rodriguez to join his team as Senior Vice President. From there, a group of us showed up for the dance party at the #FEED event at Austin’s Arthouse. My night faithfully culminated with fellow TNW team members at Maggie Mae’s where the Amsterdam Fellows were hosting their opening party.
We woke up to pouring rain on Saturday morning. Armed with a GroupMe poncho and a borrowed Four Seasons umbrella, I met up with Kinvey’s CEO and Founder Sravish Sridhar, a Boston-based entrepreneur whom I’d been wanting to meet in real life [IRL] for nearly a year. We walked to the W Austin to check out the Urban Airship event and inspect their 16-person bicycle powered, keg-loaded air mobile.
After grabbing a mimosa and croissant, I received a text from the Shelby.tv team (who’d been walking around Austin with two real, live goats). It was time for my secret, celebrity interview! While I was betting on an Ashton Kutcher cameo, I was surprised to find an adult man dressed like a robotic dinosaur when I walked into the upstairs interview room at the Driskill Hotel. Shelby.tv CEO Reece Pacheco was really excited to introduce me to @FAKEGRIMLOCK, a “GIANT ROBOT STARTUP DINOSAUR THAT WRITE CODE, DRINK COFFEE, KICK ASS.”
Meanwhile, I was extremely confused and am a little bit ashamed to admit I still don’t really know who this Fake Grimlock character is– even after the jerk decided to eat me. Alas, it wasn’t the first and I’m sure it won’t be the last time I interview someone when I have literally no idea what’s going on. (We’ll post the video interview soon.)
I decided it was time to interview a few entrepreneurs whom I actually knew so I booked it to the Hilton Hotel for back-to-back chats with Path’s VP of Business Matt Van Horn, Highlight CEO Paul Davison and Karma CEO Lee Linden. We wrote up Karma before SXSW, the instant gift-giving app that pulls friends’ status updates to keep you on your toes. Highlight was undoubtedly the most hyped and talked about iOS app at SXSW this year. While I wasn’t sold at first, I decided to give it another whirl after having an enlightening interview with Davison: “Love it or hate it? Highlight, SXSW’s most talked about app could be the way of the future“. (We’ll have a video interview Matt from Path coming soon!)
Next up, I skipped over to the Tech Cocktail Startup Life Celebration, where armed with a bottle of Hard Core hard cider, I judged pitches from 33 entrepreneurs in a row. Startups that stood out to me included Grandstand, Fitorbit, Dead Soci.al and StitchLabs, which took home the award for Best in Show. Tech Cocktail posted a great video of the event here.
After some much needed R&R (listening to entrepreneurs pitch their companies in 90 seconds or less is exhausting!), I caught up with a few Google friends at dinner, again over chips and guacamole. Afterwards, I was sent an address for a “secret party” that I assumed was Gary Vee’s annual “Secret Wine Party.” It was not. Upon arriving at Kenichi, a local sushi restaurant, we found ourselves in the middle of Mobli‘s party, an Israeli-based startup, where I was just 12 inches from my school girl crush Leonardo DiCaprio, an investor in Mobli, and apparently the next wannabe Ashton Kutcher. I tried to ask several of the scantily clad girls in Mobil outfits what the app did but they had trouble explaining.
Thankfully, I ran into my old friend Ami Ben-David, who showed me his newly designed app Everything.me, which was a massive breath of fresh air as it’s not a location-based, social anything. It’s an HTML5, browser-based app that’s redefining mobile search.
On Sunday, the sun finally came out just in time for The Daily’s annual pool party, which gathered a wide crowd of media superstars, startup founders and B-list celebrities. Led by Digital Development Manager Nick McGlynn, a small group of us decided to jump into the freezing cold water to claim the RecordSetter world record of “Most People to Karate Chop into a Pool.” It looks like this, and yes we got badges.
After drying off from the epic pool party (produced by IRL Productions), we decided it was time to check in with the home team at the Made in NY party hosted by NYTM‘s Jessica Lawrence. The party, which had a waiting list of over 1,500 people, featured over 30 NY tech companies providing attendees with opportunities to do everything from pitching angel investors to having drinks with leaders of some of New York’s best-known startups. I still have fake tattoos and stickers on me from this party. So does Cezary…
Next, we swung by the “secret” Path Party for some sushi and sake bombs, followed by the always epic Foursquare party, which turned into a full-on dance rager. We decided to leave at one point in order to say hi to the guys at Federated Media, only to find ourselves back in a Pedicab an hour later racing back to Foursquare for more fun. No trip to Austin, Texas is complete without a Pedicab ride.
By Monday morning, word had spread that Nike was in town selling their newly launched Nike+ FuelBands. Earlier last week, Path announced that it would be opening its API with Nike as its first partner. The integration allows Nike+ and Nike FuelBand users to update their Path stream with information about their runs using the app and device. We also found out that Nike will be joining SXSW’s Managers Hack, Backplane, the music-focused hackathon in a huge way. Along with crowds of health data junkies, we lined up outside of Austin’s Spaghetti Warehouse to “get fitted” for our first FuelBands, which conveniently doubled as wristbands to get you into Nike’s parties all weekend. [Don’t miss our hands-on review of the device.]
On Monday afternoon, I swung by the Austin’s Four Seasons to meet with Nihal Mehta of Local Response, another entrepreneur I’d been wanting to meet in real life for over a year. Afterwards, I gathered a group of NYC’s top fashion entrepreneurs including the founders of Fashism, Of A Kind and Lyst to discuss TNW’s April iPad Magazine issue. It’s going to be sexy…
Sexy like free tickets to an intimate Jay-Z show? Thanks to American Express, Monday night’s hottest show in Austin was the 2,000 person Jay-Z show at Austin City Limits.
But while I danced with RWW Founder’s Richard MacManus, CNN’s Laurie Segall took the crown for the hardest working reporter at SXSW.
On my way home from the Jay-Z concert, I spotted this:
By the time Tuesday morning rolled around, the digerati began to clear out of Austin as music fans started to pour in. I woke up early to prepare for my panel, which although it was titled “Becoming a CEO: Lessons from Four Techette Leaders“, was a complete success with over 100 attendees who didn’t seem to turned off by the name “Techette”. A big thank you to my awe-inspiring panelists Meredith Finn-Ripley from HeyWire, Donna Wells from Mindflash, Julia Hartz from Eventbrite and Alexa Von Tobel from LearnVest.
After a long walk home and a 7am flight, I’ve never been so happy to be in my bed… Except maybe for that time after CES.
Enjoy this? Missed out? Check out all of our SXSW coverage here and see you there next year!