Fun Advice for SXSW Launches

Scott Francis
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Since SXSW is about to start, another short post on SXSW launches… Larry Chiang’s article “How to Launch your Startup at SXSW for Only $217” illustrates his best and worst – funny and irreverent, but also (in my view) unlikely to get your product “launched” in the sense that a foursquare was launched, or twitter.  Still, you can definitely make the most (or more) out of your SXSW experience if you borrow a few of his tips – even if you’re not launching, and just want to catch up with your friends. In particular, my thoughts on each of his ideas: Minimum Viable Party.  My take on this is simple: people will get enough to drink at SXSW without your party adding to it.  If you have a short gathering you can compromise on the expensive drinks and just meet at a good location.  If you’re ahead of the game, pick a venue with good music and just show up.  Venues that *don’t* have official SXSW activities going on are often near-empty in the early evening hours.  There are enough over the top parties – if your MVP gives people a little quiet space to breathe and interact, you win. Leverage a parade.  There are certainly good example of people doing this in the past.  It is more obvious if you look at SXSW content year-over-year.  The startup-themed topics and events have gotten bigger each year – leading to the Lean Startup day last year, and Startup Village this year.  There’s a parade forming, all right.  Figure out how you can help, and you may get yourself noticed in the process. Produce a Party Within a Party.  I doubt this will really help you launch your product, but it is a great way to make sure you get to meet with your friends and colleagues, or people you’d like to meet, if you can zero in on 30 minutes to an hour, within a 4-6 hour party.  As Larry says, “When do you show up for a 630-2 party?? I don’t know and neither does anyone else.”  Narrow the window so you have a better chance to run into people you want to see. Host an Unofficial Panel before SXSW.  This is getting harder to do, and still get people’s attention.  Already, there are “unofficial” events for literally days before SXSW-interactive starts.  One big downside is that the only likely attendees are people from Austin, and the few early-comers.  A second downside is that it is now a crowded landscape, and most people are trying to get power through a last day or two of work before heading to the conference. Help others get an ROI.  This one should be obvious, but it isn’t to everyone.  Often the effort you put into helping others comes back to you. Build your pre-launch foundation.  Larry uses this last point to plug his own event in SF, but my take is that the most successful “launches” at SXSW were mostly by companies who had a product in the hands of users before SXSW.  It also helps if your launch is of a product that will be particularly useful at an event like SXSW: twitter, check.  Foursquare, check.  Hashable, check.  You can get good press for other product launches, but you won’t get the “viral” buzz of SXSW attendees passing it around and using it, instantly goosing your share of influential users.  This year it looks like Highlight is getting a good early start, for example.  Last year Hashable did a good job of preloading quite a few users. At the end of the day, where you launch should be where your product is likely to find its best reception and use.  If SXSW isn’t the best place to launch for your product, it may still be a good place to build on the momentum from a successful launch elsewhere.