SXSW Diary: The Good, the Bad, and the Schwag

sxsw_logo.jpg Editor’s Note: This is another in our series’ of founders’ diaries of their experiences, good and bad, attending tech’s biggest confabs. Also see, CES after 2 AM: Diary of a Founder’s ‘First Time.’

A mere 3 weeks before SXSW, my startup, (MMS) was nominated as a web award finalist. Before I and my two cofounders could celebrate, we panicked! None of us had been before. So with almost no warning, little preparation, a gigantic stack of business cards and suitcases filled with t-shirts and jeans, we hopped a flight to Austin to see what opportunities SXSW would bring. This is my account of our first pilgrimage to Web2.0’s latest confab-Mecca.

I. Observations:

1. It almost hurt to see the sheer amount of waste in the SXSW schwag bag. schwag.jpegBesides most of it being junk, it represents an environmental disaster for every conference of this type (Here’s our full post on all the SXSW junk).
2. SXSW is not a place to find funding. It is the perfect place to encounter your next evangelist. You’ll see innovative web ideas, get press coverage, find new collaborators and partners. Still, as far as we could tell, not many companies launched or re-launched at SXSW. The established come to SXSW to mingle.
3. Excellent place to find contrarian advice for your startup. In fact, the established come to SXSW to give advice as much as to help themselves, and it’s good much of the time. 37 Signals’ Jason Fried and Bill McKibben gave great presentations.
4. Geeks are not dorks. We know how to party. More importantly, we know how to party, and then go home and write a blog post for an hour.

II. Opportunities:

1. Startups need to answer an essential question: “what does a geek want?
2. VC’s and Angels should come to SXSW to begin to understand the power of tech-evangelism.
3. Traditional marketing materials were unnecessary. We expected more interactive, online marketing and you cannot imagine a greater accumulation of PDA’s and laptops and an audience more plugged-in. We hope that next year conference materials will be made available exclusively online with a brief 3 second ad in order to view…after all, that’s greater than the amount of time most conference attendees spent looking at fliers.
4. Be a sponsor! The food inside the convention center was awful. If your startup needs to advertise, do it by sponsoring a caterer, or have a display with free food available.

MMS’s Score Card

* 6 “official” press meetings, about 6 unofficial
* 4 hours sleep/night
* 100 business cards collected…the good outweighed the useless!
* 5 panels attended (37 Signal’s Jason Fried and Bill Mckibben take top spots)
* 1 panel sorely missed: [our own Katie Fehrenbacher’s panel] Green Software, Really?
* $7: the total amount spent on drinks and food at networking events
* 70% chance of returning next year

We had no plans to attend the conference. We weren’t featured on any panels. We are a small, angel-funded start-up, whose web product is still in its early public Beta stage. It was an honor and surprise to be nominated for the web awards, but any young web company can benefit from the SXSW adventure.

David Delcourt is cofounder and COO at MakeMeSustainable, a green networking portal designed to educate and empower individuals and communities to reduce their environmental impact, launched with cofounders Ben Brown and Adam Schrader-Brown in 2007. Previously, David worked in investment banking with Banc of America Securities, where he specialized in natural resources finance, and with NERA Economic Consulting, in Boston, where he served as a Research Analyst. David jumped at the opportunity to transform his passion for the environment into a tool for change with MMS. It is his first entrepreneurial endeavor. As long as there is less then a few inches of snow, David can be spotted riding his mountain bike around Cambridge, where he lives.