Building a company, going to a party, travelling in the US … they have one thing in common: you need staying power. The same is true for SXSW. It had already started when I left our NYC office and the woman at the front desk wished me a great time at “south by” … it must have been my “this-is-going-to-be-a-great-time-face” or just that basically everybody in our neighborhood was en route to SXSW too. And the connecting, bonding, sharing and meeting continued for the whole trip. At one point I had a startup developer on the right, a movie critic on the left, two actors in front of me and a mojito in my hand. Confused? Well, get used to it, because that is what SXSW is all about.
Sex on the Big Screen - Plan but Go with the Adventure
One moment you talking to a world changing founder and the next moment you talking to the actor that just had sex on the big screen in a movie that was entirely shot with the iPhone. There are simply too many sessions, panels, parties, movies or bands to pick from, so you need to plan your day but keep an open mind and allow for surprises. My personal adventure was KingKelly. Drawn by the idea that the movie was shot with the iPhone, I went on an emotionally disturbing roller coaster ride with a teenage girl that makes a living with online sex and drug trafficking, seducing a State Trooper while her best friend is close to overdosing and her ex almost kills somebody. If you have kids, don't watch, or better yet, take your teenager and learn from an All-American nightmare. See the picture below for the cast, the director, the camera man and the writer (of course also shot with the iPhone).
Is there Business? Say it in 90 seconds (or 25)
Depending on who you talk to, the event is not as good as it used to be or not a real business event. Personally I couldn’t care less, as for me it is just what I needed. Meeting dozens of people with great ideas, inspiring each other while dreaming about their break through. Let's face it, this is just one big speed dating event. Everybody is pitching something: a company, a band or a movie. Some, in a quest for funding, others just to answer the ever present question "what brings you to 'south by'"? Some do it really well, definitely much better than me. After about 30 elevator pitches I landed at my very own 25 seconds version: "We build great companies, we support founders and their innovations to turn an idea into a real business. With a strong team of former entrepreneurs, we love to support you in making your dream a business reality." Like it? Tell me how I'm doing.
Panel of Experts, Panel of Jerks - You Get More Than You Give
You would not believe how many jerks manage to get on panels. I mean, really smart people behave like spoiled rock stars just because they had some nice exits or wrote a book about how to become rich. But the good ones outnumbered those. A refreshing one was a panel about community building. The group provided some great insights on how to build a local entrepreneurial community. I took many notes but the three things I like the best were: ‘don't think about moving to the valley, care for your home’; ‘if you build a community you get much more than you give’ and ‘make sure you don't let people build walls’ (e.g. investors) to restrict access. They all came from Paige Craig of BetterWorks who did an amazing job looking really bored while pointing out those crucial things. The panel included many great contributors including Andrew Yang of Venture For America, Brad Feld of Foundry Group, Marc Nager of Startup Weekend, Mark Davis of the NY Venture Community, Nick Seguin of the Kauffman Foundation, Shane Reiser of StartupWeekend.
Artificial Intelligence is Human Stupidity
Another experiment was a conversation with Jaron Lanier. I can't say that I agree with all of his statements but he has some very good points about our relationship to technology. While it wasn't new to me that we effectively have two digital profiles, the one we see and the analytic one, it was great how he put things in perspective. Since Facebook, Google & Co gain from our activities on the various networks, he suggests we should all be compensated for our contributions, e.g. our pictures, likes and shares. He even suggested that in a near future we'll see not just digital footprints but even brain scans, which wouldn't be a problem as long as getting we're compensated for our contribution. Definitely influenced my ideas for my next TEDxTalk.
Go to Hell and Come Back Next Year
It’s hard to explain SXSW holistically, as it is effectively three events: Music, Film and Interactive. Yes, it is getting more commercial every year but why wouldn’t we allow the SXSW Virgins to join us for something so different. Where else would you have the chance to pitch your company, talk to the actors after a movie and rock all night to a band and claim one day to your kids: I was there when it all started. When we took a bus to a party, somebody asked to bus driver: “Where are you going?” and she said: “I Go to Hell.” Sorry that this is out of context but I had to say it somewhere. Personally I walked away inspired and full of new energy and really, really tired.
What has been your greatest adventure?
You might also be interested in my next webinar: The Founders Handbook: How to Build Great Companies. And since you made this far in this very long blog, I share with you exclusively my elevetor pitch as a drawing ...