A Newbie’s Introduction to SXSW Interactive

A Newbie’s Introduction to SXSW Interactive image logo1
A Newbie’s Introduction to SXSW Interactive image logo1

Yeehaw! Time to buckle your belt and get your sh*t kickers on for South by Southwest! Hold your horses, what in the name is South by Southwest? It’s only the best thing that’s never happened to you, unless of course, you’ve already been.

SXSW is a 10-day trifecta of film, technology, and music festivals that embark upon Austin, Texas every spring (usually in March), attracting more than 60K people from around the world. Because SXSW as a whole is quite beastly, we’re going to focus on the largest of the three: SXSW Interactive.

SXSW Interactive, specifically and/or more affectionately known as “South By” or SXSWi, is one third of the festival that focuses particularly on emerging technology. Back in 1987 SXSW was just a music fest, but Film and Interactive didn’t follow far behind. Now in its 20th year, SXSWi brings in more than 25,000 people to the festival alone, making it a pretty big deal. According to their site, SXSWi “has earned the festival a reputation as a breeding ground for new ideas and creative technologies.”

This year’s SXSW Interactive spans five days (March 8th-12th) and is comprised of “compelling presentations from the brightest minds in emerging technology, scores of exciting networking events hosted by industry leaders, the SXSW Trade Show, and an unbeatable lineup of special programs showcasing the best new digital works, video games and innovative ideas the international community has to offer.”

Essentially, the whirlwind of a festival is a massive conglomerate of educational, branding, marketing, PR and networking opportunities for you and/or your business, and, it’s what they designate an “inspiration overload.”

A Newbie’s Introduction to SXSW Interactive image sxswspeaker2
A Newbie’s Introduction to SXSW Interactive image sxswspeaker2

Speaker Bruce Sterling. Credit: Mindy Best

SXSW Sessions
With badge in hand, SXSW Interactive sessions are held during the day at more than 10 different locations/venues in downtown Austin. The sessions include a plethora of speakers covering various new media topics including mobile programming and design, social media, new technology, etc. There are also book readings, panel discussions, mentor sessions and more. A list of 2013’s SXSW Interactive sessions can be found on their site.

SXSW Startup Village
The SXSW Startup Village is a fairly new addition, and the hub/essence of SXSW Interactive all in one place. It showcases startup events, panels, meet ups, lounges, mentor sessions, networking opportunities and more. The creative startup culture at SXSW Interactive has become so popular, they’ve also developed a new branch off, or “addition” to the SXSW family in the form of SXSW V2V. V2V is an “extension and re-imagining of the legendary SXSW experience with an emphasis on the creative spark that drives entrepreneurial innovation,”and is will be held in Las Vegas, NV, August 11-14, 2013.

SXSW Trade Show
The SXSW Trade Show runs for 4 days, and “is the heart of the converging industries.” The trade show also houses block parties, entertainment, and a B2B networking pavilion. If you want your company to be a part of the trade show, they have advertising, exhibition, sponsorship information online, as well as a Marketing Deck with interesting stats about attendees.

SXSW Interactive Awards
The SXSWi Awards competition “uncovers the best new digital work, from mobile and tablet apps to websites and installations, while celebrating those who are building tomorrow’s interactive trends.” The categories range from activism to social media, motion graphics to music. Aside from gaining major exposure, winners get also get bragging rights amongst industry peers, SXSW Interactive tickets, and tech-related goodies. Here’s a list of the 2013 finalists.

SXSW Parties
Put your (comfiest) dancin’ shoes on, ‘cus the SXSW parties don’t stop! The insane number of parties happening at all times during SXSW put all fraternity houses, combined, to shame. Official SXSW parties include free entrance with a badge, however, most SXSW parties are unofficial. Unofficial parties are still excellent “get crazy!” er, networking opportunities and typically require an RSVP. This “Allhat Cowboys & Cowgirls Gone Wild” brunch co-hosted by Richard Binhammer and David Armano is just one example of the many unofficial SXSWi parties.

A Newbie’s Introduction to SXSW Interactive image iStock CowboyHat
A Newbie’s Introduction to SXSW Interactive image iStock CowboyHat

The number of parties and RSVPs are frankly overwhelming, but there are companies who will automatically RSVP you to 300+ parties for free, or a small fee. Be prepared for inbox overload though:

And, if you want to keep up with the party details on Twitter, there are a plethora of SXSW party Twitter handles to follow:

Planning for SXSW Interactive
Ready to saddle up? Whoa now… Ask any SXSW Interactive veteran and they’ll tell you it’s too late. You’ve got to start planning for next year, now! Hotel reservations around the Austin area (which are booked through SXSW’s Housing Desk) fill up in a nanosecond, and also require SXSW registration first. Purchasing badges well in advance (say, September), not only presents you with a stellar early bird discount, but also a one up for hotel reservations. You can always go the Craigslist/Airbnb route as well, but be prepared for inflated prices. As far as transportation goes, get yourself a reliable pair of walking shoes and save a horse, purchase a shuttle pass. This is especially vital if your accommodation isn’t anywhere near 6th street downtown, as hailing a taxi requires more than a miracle.

Whether you’re attending, exhibiting, speaking, or freewheeling it down to Austin for SXSW, the festival proves to be a valuable, educational, and networking event. It’ll leave you with endless ideas, contacts, insight and knowledge (especially for next year) that could greatly benefit your business. So, to end our SXSW Interactive newbie introduction, we present you with some wise last-minute advice for your journey:

  • Bring comfortable shoes, socks and Band-Aids (for blisters), as there will be A LOT of walking

  • ABC – Always be charging. Bring your tech devices a plenty and plug in when you can to recharge, so you’ll never miss a moment

  • Pre plan out some events, sessions and/or parties, but otherwise, try to “go with the flow”

  • Don’t be shy. Introduce yourself and meet lots of people

  • Pace yourself (see parties above)

  • Eat a lot of BBQ

  • Stay hydrated

  • Take notes and pictures, check in, tweet and blog about what you learn

  • Pack: chargers, batteries, portable wifi, earplugs, business cards, schwag, vitamins, hand sanitizer, patience and a good sense of humor

  • Most importantly, have fun!

Are you headed to SXSW this year, or are you planning to in 2014?

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