SXSW 2018: the Nerdpocalypse in Austin

  • March 5, 2018
  • Scott

Omar Gallaga of the Austin American-Statesman has penned another article about the pros and cons of yet another SXSW descending upon Austin.

LaRue is one of the tens of thousands of people who will come to Austin for the March 9-18 conference, which in 2017 had about 70,696 attendees. In total, South by Southwest last year had 421,900 direct participants, SXSW says. Its economic impact in Austin last year totalled $348.6 million, according to an economic impact report.

There have been articles – again – purporting that SXSW has jumped the shark.  There are concerns that it isn’t attracting the big spending of agencies anymore.  Observationally, over the ten years I’ve been attending, it appears to be more that there’s a rotation of sponsors and agencies that make a splash at SXSW.  It may not make sense for example, for Twitter or Foursquare to re-up every year at SXSW – but they each had a couple of years in the sun.  Banks – once persona non grata at SXSW – are now prominent attendees and sponsors of technical sessions and activities in Austin.  Fintech is hot – even if you’re not counting blockchain, there’s more fintech content than ever this year.

AI used to be a side show at SXSW 4 years ago, and now has prominent showing.  Blogging once dominated the conference and now I daresay I can’t find a session about blogging – though I do see a couple about podcasting (which I don’t recall from recent memory).

So SXSW just keeps evolving with its special blend of community-generated-ideas, and community-generated-selection, as well as just the right sprinkle of organizer-driven featured speakers. The combination has clearly been working – and even so the organizers continue to tweak the formula.

And so the main problem appears to be the perception of gauging by hotels in Austin (not to mention home rentals) – but every year the situation gets better- this year, 1000 new rooms in the Fairmont are online:

Also new for 2018: despite some delays and recent problems, the new Fairmont Austin hotel will provide 1,048 new hotel rooms and lots of conference space for SXSW, making it one of the top venues for the event. Forrest said content that has typically been found at the Hyatt Austin Downtown will move over to the Fairmont.

Last year, attendees were dealing with the absence of ride hailing companies Lyft and Uber from Austin. This year, both companies are fully operational in town.

(I’d still recommend trying local vendor Ride Austin, as drivers get a higher share of the fees)

As the years go by, parking lots that once hosted elaborate outdoor activations – I’m looking at you, JW Marriott – now host sessions in ballrooms and visitors in thousands of hotel rooms.  SXSW may have moved more indoors, and into more “permanent” venues rather than pop-ups.  But SXSW is likely still going strong (possible exception: the Music festival may be getting smaller – my advice to organizers is to take a step back after this year and figure out how to either make Music stronger, or how to get more interactive attendees into music events by having more overlap). The build-out of Austin’s downtown, in my view, coincides with the escalation of SXSW.  The hotels bring more events, and the events bring more hotels.  In my mind, there’s no chance of the Fairmont being built without SXSW bringing so many people to Austin every year.

Events like the Meatup – the Entrepreneur’s Lounge – are hard to pass up for networking, and talks like going to the Moon to Stay, stands apart from practical fare like How to Integrate to any EHR (Electronic Health Records).  There are opportunities to reconnect with alumni groups from a number of universities around the country (no joke), and there’s an annual Trilogy Alumni (OTB) meetup.  And that is, I’m sure, just the beginning.

I’ll be returning to SXSW this year to connect with other entrepreneurs and creators, and to get inspired by what they’re doing.  But I’m also looking for opportunities to learn. Also: I guarantee the breakfast tacos will be on point.


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