What your startup can get from going to SXSW

What your startup can get from going to SXSW 2

SXSW 2013 is over. But the effects (or memories, in Memoto lingo) prevails. Especially so for Memoto. Let me share some insights on what being at SXSW 2013 meant for us.

1. Connections

Austin during SXSW is probably the most dense place I’ve been in terms of people-I’d-like-to-meet per square meter. Everyone you know and don’t know seems to be there. Not only your first grade connections, but your second and third and fourth grade too (heck, I think Kevin Bacon himself was there) so odds are good you’ll get introductions to people in the most distant nodes of your network. You can’t go two blocks down the street without bumping in to someone who turns out to either a) have a brilliant biz dev idea for your startup, b) know that person you’re looking to get in contact with, or c) want to buy you a beer and talk about nothing.

During the five days me and Martin were at SXSW representing Memoto, we got introduced to a dozen of people and companies that we hope will make a big difference for the company. Plus, a gazillion others who were super fun to hang out with and made our days in Austin awesome.

None of these, I dare to say, would we have met sitting in our offices in Sweden.

The key to meeting these people were, in my opinion:

  1. Keep a loose schedule. We maintained this until about 2 hours in to SXSW… Still, we were able to move things around and split if needed. There were very few people we had to say no to due to a crowded agenda (although the unknown number of how many we could have met if we had had more time is of course… unknown).
  2. Talk to a lot of people. Not just people you know. Not just people that you think will be interesting to talk to. Take 5 minutes to chat with the guy in the elevator. Ask a policeman what they think about your product. The more people you take the time to meet, the higher the probability it will lead somewhere.
  3. Be sure about what you can bring and what your are looking for. To get something “valuable” (in quotation marks, because “nice chat over a beer” can be truly valuable too, but not counted in this very paragraph) out of your conversations you should be able to spot when someone is offering you a solution to a problem, or when someone is asking for your help.
  4. Believe it or not, but there are still people in your network back home. Tell them you’re going to SXSW and ask them to make introductions for you to people they know are going. (Again, the degrees of separation…)
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Bonus! I’m extra happy that we got to meet a whole bunch of Memoto Kickstarter backers and early pre-order customers. Getting the opportunity to meet face-to-face and thank them for their support meant a great deal for us. (You know who you are.)

Anyway, connecting and meeting-and-greeting have the extra benefit that you from time to time stumble upon someone working with number 2 on this list.

You can look like this but still get to meet people at SXSW.

You can look like this but still get to meet people at SXSW.

2. Press

Going to SXSW for the sole purpose of getting press for your startup is probably a bad idea. With a seemingly infinite number of cool, innovative and well-polished startups in town, the competition for attention couldn’t get tougher. Add to that an equal amount of cars-dressed-as-rabbits, girls-in-bikini-on-honking-vespas and scary-giant-mega-heads crowding the streets and it’s obvious that you need to both be and do something very special to stand out.

To be honest, we really didn’t do much to be heard. In part, because getting attention wasn’t the main reason for our trip. In part, because we have a lot of other stuff on our hands.

This is what we did before boarding the plane to Austin, in chronological order:

  1. Applied for SXSW Interactive Accelerator Awards (appr. 5 months in advance)
  2. Applied for Tech Cocktail’s startup competition (appr. 3 months in advance)
  3. Sent a press release and blogged about Memoto being a finalist in the Accelerator Awards plus our schedule for the event (appr. 2 weeks in advance. A little late…)
  4. Arranged a meetup for local lifelogging and/or Memoto enthusiasts, which quickly was moved to/merged with another meetup (appr. 2 weeks in advance.)
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These are the interviews we ended up doing at our five days SXSW:

Memoto on the cover of International Herald (who didn't interview us...)

Memoto on the cover of International Herald (who didn’t interview us…)

Plus, and this is almost ridiculous, we were followed for three days by a crew from a major US national morning show. (Better not say which one since it hasn’t aired yet. I don’t know. Better safe than sorry). They got in town on Saturday, put microphones to our shirts on Sunday and didn’t take them off before Tuesday. How did this happen? Because the producer called me in December asking if it would be OK.:)

So, what I’m trying to say here is:

a) It’s not worth trying so hard to get attention at events like this. Memoto would probably not have had any more attention (more likely less) should we have run around like mad dogs showing off for media.

b) If you do get the chance to talk to media, take it. The interviews at SXSW kept messing up our schedule but we worked around it so that we could fit in everyone asking to talk to us.

c) We have been open with what we are doing and always tried to make it easy to report on Memoto. The attention we got was in part because of previous relations with media. “In part”, because…

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d) … the kick-ass product in our briefcase helped a lot too. 🙂

3. Energy

Or inspiration, or feeling, or having fun. The spirit and the vibe at SXSW is hard to resist and sprinting between media interview, clubs, business meetings to Fitz and the Tantrums gigs and pitch competitions gives you, more than anything, an energy boost that lasts long after landing home in your office.

If the connections don’t give you what you hoped for and the press seems sour, you will still have had a lot of fun along the way, which can only mean good things for your startup.

So, now it’s time to use these connections, press mentions and energy (and cash fillings they resulted in) to get the Memoto Lifelogging Camera out the doors. While Martin and I were away, the team back home made additional tunings on the app, which we will tell you more about shortly. And after months of hard work, we could finally show the world the first photos taken with a Memoto Camera. Check it out. They’re gorgeous.

/Oskar

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