How Smart Startups Win At SXSW Interactive

Each March the global tech community comes together to share, learn, and celebrate technology at South-By-South-West-Interactive (SXSWi), Austin Texas’ signature tech event. The Internet, mobile devices, wearables, Internet Of Things (IOT), and thousands of tech related subjects are shared, discussed, and ‘celebrated’ in a way that you won’t see anywhere else. At the center of this discussion are the tech startups: Looking for connections, for traction, for money — in search of all the things that new ideas need to make it big. The role of startups has changed a lot at SXSW, and along with it the best formula for finding success at the event. Being a native Austinite, I have been up close and personal with SXSW for years, as an attendee, a startup founder, SXSW book-event author, and event sponsor. Let’s take a look at how SXSWi can work for your startup:

Visibility– Startups love SXSWi because of the promise of all the exposure that it can bring. With big names like Twitter and FourSquare making it big at SXSW in prior years, it has reputation for being a true startup launch pad.  The image of a giant wave picking up your startup and carrying it to the promised land in a swell of media coverage and frenzy is appealing, though in reality, the vast proportion of startups at SXSWi find that such ‘lightning in a bottle ‘is hard to find. In terms of visibility, you can expect some press coverage if you work hard to earn it. Expect some opportunity for social media sharing, and the social proof that comes from being associated with the event.

Learning– The sheer amount of information that is available at SXSWi is huge. For Startups, the opportunity to listen and learn is one of the key benefits of attending. The spirit of sharing is a huge benefit of attending, and substantial listening time should be planned for. The mantra is: “Mouth shut, ears open.”

Customer Interaction- Depending on what venues you are a part of (see below) you can expect to have a lot of conversations with potential members of your niche or business ecosystem. This includes customers, partners, investors, potential employees, suppliers, competitors, and the like. Each of these groups holds some number of keys to your startup’s success, and if you are in tech a lot of them will be represented at SXSWi.


The Tactics List – things that startups can do at the event:

SXSW Trade Show- It used to be that small startups were a common sight in the trade show. Not anymore. It had been within reach for very small startups to rent presentation space, a booth at SXSW, and get lots of foot traffic and interaction. That has become less and less common. The ‘concept and pre-demo stage’ startups are now usually at SXSWi under the umbrella of some other group, like an accelerator, or government or economic development organization. Localities, universities, and governments are now aggressively sponsoring their own presence at SXSW, and often bring along demo startups to co-display with them in their space.

SXSW Presentations- Appear in panels. Plan a year ahead and submit your ideas to the panel picker. This gets you access to a captive audience for your part of the presentation, and legitimacy as an official speaker. It also gets your startup name on the official schedule.

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Kevin Ready

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