Austin: Good Things Are Happening
- August 9, 2017
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Next week we’re hosting Driven 2017, our annual conference for customers and our own team to explore the latest in technical and business solutions in the digital experience space. One of my favorite things about Driven is having the chance to share Austin with out-of-town coworkers and our customers and guests. I fell in love with Austin more than 20 years ago, and as someone once said “Austinites are absolutely shameless about Austin” – giving others the chance to experience it is a great feeling. Heck we’re even trying to fix our airport food!
So for those coming to Austin next week, let me share some background on the zeitgeist of Austin:
Startups and Venture Capital
There’s been a tug of war debate in Austin around venture funding for years, but in particular since Austin Ventures closed down – they were the biggest VC firm in Austin for decades, and utterly dominant locally. Last year was the first full year without AV participating in any deals in Austin (that I’m aware of), and there was a bit of short-term doom and gloom about the state of fundraising at that point. But also, there was hope that a new investment scene would emerge that would be more decentralized and bring more parties to the table.
Here we are in 2017, and Q2 was up 73 percent over last year, and the investors are more diverse than ever – both from inside and outside Austin. With local funds raising more money (LiveOak raised $110M), it feels like things could be on the upswing for the time being. That’s not to say that venture funding and startup funding in Austin is “fixed”. I think if we all feel like funding just isn’t a challenge, that we’ll know we’ve jumped the shark. Part of Austin’s charm is its scrappy startup scene.
Of course, we also have a few other news items. HomeAway, the division of Expedia based in Austin that was acquired last year, is building a shiny new headquarters in North Austin – for 2000 employees. And Oracle is building a new campus in Austin. Amazon is buying Whole Foods.
The concern about Amazon is that it might hurt jobs or investment in Whole Foods- but that isn’t always the case, as the Expedia investment in HomeAway shows. Merck opened an innovation center in Austin (into which they’re hiring 600). USAA is opening a user experience center in downtown Austin:
Hartwig said USAA will open an office in downtown Austin where a staff of 100 or more will focus on designing an enhanced user experience for its customers.
“USAA will be opening an office location in Austin at the same time that will house more than 100 IT and design employees focused on creating the systems that impact our members’ and employees’ experience. Their expertise will be as designers and developers,” he said. “These announcements are part of USAA’s strategy to leverage multiple markets across the country, including Phoenix, Tampa and Colorado Springs, to employ the best talent in a given specialty, and we expect that to continue as USAA strives to meet the needs of our members.”
Big companies are investing in Austin talent, and small companies are starting and building up here. We’re excited to be among them and I think you’ll feel the energy in Austin if you spend time here.
Conferences and Events
Austin is home to some of the very best conferences as well. Let’s not forget homegrown enterprises like SXSW, which reinvents itself every year, but has managed to parlay an amazing series of conferences into swank new headquarters.
SXSW, for example, is pretty much the best thing. Any event that can reasonably put Sally Field,Henry Rollins, and a flying freaking car on the same marquee in the same year is clearly doing it right.
SXSW is getting permanent roots in Austin; anchor tenant in a 12 story building designed by Pei Cobb Freed and Partners, who are pretty clearly awesome, scheduled to break ground this coming summer. Not just the offices are getting a makeover: Austin Convention Center, where the events themselves go down, is scheduled for an expansion. As the article makes clear, the Austin community is maintaining close scrutiny on the planned expansion, and there are more than a few skeptics among them.
If the convention center is expanded, it is largely on the strength of the SXSW conference itself, and the additional attention, press, and conferences it has drawn to Austin. Friends in the event business tell me that the biggest reason that a conference or an event will choose somewhere outside of Austin is the size of the meeting space (convention center). Not all conferences can do what SXSW pulls off – holding meetings in a dozen or more venues all over downtown. The biggest hold up used to be hotel space, but with so many new rooms on the market in Austin, and the availability of HomeAway and AirBnB rooms, the pressure on that front is declining, and the pressure on the show room space is expanding. Austin may well surpass San Antonio for tourism at the rate it is growing.
Nothing captures the intersection of tech, art, and social the way SXSW does.
In addition to SXSW, which includes music, film, and interactive (think tech meets startups meets gaming meets social innovation), Austin also hosts the ACLFest – one of the biggest outdoor music festivals in the world, at our biggest centralized park: Zilker. The pictures are iconic and the music is great. There are a series of festivals and more business oriented conferences all year round.
I have blogged many times about the fine eats in Austin. I won’t repeat that here, but you can get a quick sense of it by looking at blog posts tagged “foodie”.
I know our guests at Driven 2017 are in for a treat next week. Our speakers and content are excited to show what we’ve been cooking up. And excited to learn from our customers about their journeys. I’m already excited about what we’re going to do for NEXT year in 2018!
Update: Oh, and the new Austin Central Library is opening October 28th in a showpiece location downtown, just a few doors down from City Hall, and across from Lady Bird Lake.
And does it seem like there are a lot of cranes in Austin? There are. The soon-to-be tallest building in Austin is currently under construction (the Independent aka the Jenga Tower), and another building is now planned to be the tallest in Austin, to begin construction next year! It tops out at 850 feet by design, but could be taller if needed. Looks like the Austonian (our current tallest building by a wide margin) will soon have good company!