Kenny Tomlin – CEO
Overall Impression: SXSW is the single best event of the year to connect with existing customers, potential customers, industry peers and partners, startups and the ecosystem that supports them including VC’s, angels, incubators, etc.
Standout brand: I was most impressed with Amex. They were the most in demand party, almost everywhere I checked in on Foursquare there was a promotion for Amex card holders. I also saw integrated promotions for their new Twitter discount service. When leaving Austin, they were at the airport handing out free wi-fi cards. From check-in to checkout Amex, integrated their brand through offering value, not just presence.
Amex also sponsored one of the most talked (and tweeted) about events of the conference.
Best advice: Do whatever you can to book early and get a place downtown. Being in the middle of things makes the trip so much more enjoyable and accessible! You owe it to yourself to drive out to Salt Lick for one evening.
Dave Knox – CMO
The “big launch” is a big risk: If the weather showed us one thing on Friday & Saturday, it is the danger of a big launch that doesn’t have a contingency plan. Microsoft for instance turned one of the largest parking lots in Austin into a Bing Experience. The center of this was meant to be a live show by John Mayer on Saturday night. but thanks to the downpour (and what happened at Indiana’s State Fair last year), the show was cancelled. Bing lost likely hundreds of thousands of dollars on Friday and Saturday with their big launch that didn’t have a back up plan. This is an example that can extend to the digital world as well.
Marketing on the fly: Be nimble enough to take advantage of opportunities. While some brands had their plans “rained out”, others took advantage of this. Branded Umbrella’s popped up everywhere on Friday and Saturday as some brands were able to print things super fast, or were smart enough to see the rain in the forecast and printed them in advance. Kraft Foods was one of those that made it happen.
What NOT to do: BBH Labs has been getting lots of backlash for their “Homeless Wireless Hotspots”. As evidence by this article.
The place to be: The power of SXSW is the entrepreneurial density. What makes SXSW such a powerful event is that it is a time where all the major players in the digital ecosystem (startup founders, venture capitalists and brand marketers) converge in a single place. It gives the ability to schedule things back to back and meet tons of interesting people. Taking full advantage of this density requires hard work to plan and coordinate.
No breakout star: Leading up to SXSW, everyone was asking who would be the next Twitter, FourSquare or even GroupMe. Lots of folks got on the Highlight bandwagon predicting they would be it. But in the end, I really don’t see anyone breaking out from this year’s show.
Michael Stich – CGO
Big ideas: Big advertisers, including CNN, Microsoft, Intel, Amex, GM, went big with tents, new cars, and more.
What’s next: This year’s emerging topics of greatest attendance and discussion included ambient computing, geo-fencing, social ROI, NFC, Next-gen User Interface, Future of digital education, and personalization.
Apps that made an impression: Some of the best apps of the week included Highlight, ambient discovery of people nearby with common connections and interests, and Intro, similar to LinkedIn, but with a killer design and interface.
Calvin Ly – Associate Creative Director
Talks: RGA’s @flytip and @bunch gave a great talk on the sports fans of 2015. They discussed how tablets such as the iPad will be used for multi-screen sports game view (not just broadcasted from television stations, but also from friend’s devices that’s watching the game at the venue) to see different POV of the game. They also discussed how NFC would make payment easier and provide custom tailored service for season ticket holders such as access to stadium and custom-tailored food service. Also, season ticket holders will also get to be involved in press conferences by allowing them to ask questions via mobile device.
Disruptive start-ups are taking a lot of lessons from Steve Jobs about the value of design. Lytro, Jawbone, and Nest are all creating the hardware and software combined with customer service to create a controlled and optimal user experience. Travis Bogard (VP at Jawbone) phrased it best by saying “the most important thing is not be the first one to get it out. It’s the first one to get it out right.”
Amber Case discusses the idea of an invisible interface or a space layer where there’s no buttons. Instead of interacting with your hand, sound would play a big role in driving the space layer. Her company, geoloqi, has created an app that tries to apply these concepts.
Apps & Gadgets: There were three apps that really got my attention during SXSWi. They are Highlight, Lanyrd, and FuelBand.
Highlight allows you to learn more about people near your vicinity. The more things you have in common (interest, people you know, etc.) the more likely it will give you a notification that that person is near you. You can either bookmark them or send them a message. I definitely see positives in this app, such as being able to find people with similar interests. The few negatives are the batteries and current penetration. When you don’t have Highlight on, it will still track your location and that will drain your battery life fast. Also, since only geeks and early adopters are currently using Highlight at the moment, you probably won’t be able to connect with much people outside of SXSW.
Lanyrd is an app that allows you to find and schedule conferences. You can find popular speakers and speakers in your social network. One of my favorite features is that it will also show schedules that are not official to the conference. For example, for SXSW, it has had non-official events and parties that you’re able to schedule. This app really saved my sanity as I was trying to sort through the thousands of panels and events.
Nike+ FuelBand is a device that you wear that tracks your steps, calories, time, and Fuel (Nike’s measure of activity). There is also an iPhone app that syncs with your FuelBand via Bluetooth. I’ve been using the FuelBand for almost a week now, and it’s amazingly addicting. Aside from the slick design and UI, you’re able to compare your stats with friends and join competitions from people around the world. Another perk is that it will give you priority access to all Nike parties during SXSW (via sxsw.nike.com). I will a more in-dept analysis of the FuelBand in another post.
Conclusion: My brain is overloading on steroids. SXSW is like a marathon for my mind and there were times where I just needed to pace myself. My favorite times were when I could get a few minutes away from it all. A few shots of espresso and pressed coffee at Café Medici usually did the trick. I met up with a lot of old friends and got introduced to few new. Places were extremely crowded but the people were generally nice and friendly. Austin is an extremely weird, unique, and fascinating place. There are only two other U.S. cities that I can say that about (NYC and New Orleans). I keep telling myself that this will be my last year coming to SXSW. But for some reason, something keeps drawing me back. Haven’t quite figured it out yet, but I always end up feeling better after than before.
Chris Ridenour – Developer/Startup Bus
StartupBus experience: I was really impressed with the broad range of ideas coming from the Bus. We had great ideas from an online marketplace for personal gardeners to finally providing good tech to the waste management industry. The expertise on these buses allowed the majority of teams to not only build out business models but fully functioning prototypes and beautiful designs – including the Cincinnati bus. It was definitely a proud moment for the region.
John Back – Developer/Startup Bus
First thought: Texas is supposed to be hot. We left Cincinnati in 70 degree weather and arrived in San Antonio, TX to 40 degrees and rain – something’s not right about that.
Bubbles at RackSpace headquarters in San Antonio.
More on the StartUp Bus: If you’re ever going to take a bus from Cincinnati to Texas, tryto start a functional company with 5 strangers in that time, I promise you it will be an interesting experience. 72 hours after we left, arriving in San Antonio at Rackspace, we were so delirious from lack of sleep that we all felt out of it. I was slurring my speech, mixing up people’s names, and dozing off inappropriately mid-sentence – and I hadn’t had a drop of alcohol.
Welcome to Austin: Austin itself is a beautiful city. Clean, shiny, and new, it was definitely not what I had in my minds eye when thinking of the big, hot, flat, dusty state of Texas. There’s also something invigorating about being surrounded by fanatically driven, creative, innovative people… Who happen to be partying in the middle of 6th street on a Monday night.
Goodbye SxSW: Overall SXSW was an insane trip, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I bonded with my teammates, had a great experience building a working product in under 3 days, and made new friends and contacts. Also had some killer Mexican food.