Nerdpocalypse 2017: #SXSW still has it
- March 13, 2017
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The ever-evolving SXSW conference is still he premier happening for digital natives, techies, and creatives. I’ve been coming for some time now, and every year the value proposition changes.
My first year at SXSW, I certainly didn’t sit in on any healthcare panels. Or Ridesharing panels. Or mobile app sessions (it was 2009). In 2009 and 2010 and several more years, the startup tracks exuded a gravity I couldn’t escape from. Compelling content and speakers – and so much of it was appropriate to get into my thinking as a leader of a startup company in a space that was giving us the time we needed to really grow the firm.
In the inbetween years, a proliferation of sessions on mobile apps, viral apps, responsive UI, and design took precedence in my schedule for SXSW, sprinkled with early exposure to how CRISPR works and other “outside my normal box” thinking. SXSW has been a mix of the practical (in the now) and inspirational (Elon Musk on going to Mars and solar energy). SXSW served up a buffet of great networking, socializing, and content, with a side of inspiration.
And here we are in 2017. I listened to a healthcare panel that discussed the merits of chasing patient behavior vs. spending behaviors and the panelists were so honest and sharing about the failures in their past, near past, or even right in front of their windshield. I talked to an entrepreneur with an application that addresses the behavioral change and community support required for diabetics to maintain their health. Serious health topics abound this year at SXSW.
And increasingly, executives from top firms are here – from Banks and Manufacturers and tech companies. Scouting the startup and creative scene for who they might work with, invest in, or acquire. I used to expect that I wouldn’t meet executives from customer and prospects at billion-dollar businesses. That’s no longer true. This year I met with a couple of executives who not only represented such businesses but knew all about business process management and had an idea about how it fit in their digital business initiatives.
It’s a different world.
And the next day I attended a session on “When the Ride Sharing economy is taken away.” My summation: Austin moved on. When Uber and Lyft exited our market, Austinites stepped up and built so-called “ride-sharing services” to fill the need. For all but a handful of days in the last 6 months, these services have performed admirably. Downside: you need to install one of the apps that works here in Austin (e.g. RideAustin or Fasten or Fare).
Today (Sunday) I attended a panel on the “failing” New York Times – which was an excellent window into how the news business is being overhauled. Digital subscribers are up over 400,000 since the election, and there has been an awakening for “real news” that doesn’t just depend upon ads. It was a refreshing take on the news, and really humanized an institution that I could never really relate to before (despite enjoying reading their product).
I also watched an interview on the subject of persuasion and pre-suasion. Really interesting insights for anyone marketing, or selling, or running for office. Guy Kawasaki interviewed Robert Cialdini masterfully in a give-and-take conversation. I walked the Expo floor and was again impressed by the startups from Japan in particular – their attendees again excel at visually interesting displays. Audio-focused companies – guitars, amps, mics, speakers, headphones – were in abundance and super interesting. Also: VR and AR were literally everywhere. Maybe 20% of the trade show space was allocated to someone talking about VR/AR.
Of course, I’ve also had time to reconnect with colleagues who are in town for SXSW. At a Stanford alumni happy hour (there are alumni events for many schools, Ivy League or otherwise), the entrepreneur’s lounge hosted by Laura Beck that is the hottest ticket in town, the Hometown Hangover Cure – a networking event for locals, and the Trilogy Alumni happy hour. Not to mention just lots of great serendipitous conversations. It is maybe the best part about SXSW.
On Monday there’s another great schedule of events – capped off by the ATX Startup Crawl – which is traditionally held Thursday night before SXSW kicks off, but for the first time it will happen during SXSW – giving all the attendees a chance to mingle in Austin’s biggest startup event.
Overall, SXSW is Austin’s unfair advantage. There isn’t another intersection of music, film, and tech anywhere in the world that quite competes with what we have going on here in Austin. And the payoff for Austin in terms of talent, deal-making, and economic benefits is extraordinary. My thanks to everyone who make SXSW happen – whether you’re a volunteer, a musician, a film maker, a speaker, or an organizer – you’re making it special.