Every year at SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas, I meet the most amazing people, and sometimes a few jerks. The following ten tips will help you avoid jerk territory.
(Context: I’m a 31-year-old CEO of a tech and creative agency, iStrategyLabs. This year will be my fourth trip to SXSW.)
- Ask everyone what they’re up to before you pimp what you’re doing. Nobody cares about your crappy startup (even if it’s not crappy). People care about what they’re doing and what their problems are. If you can help them with what they’re doing, or solve their problem, then they’re instantly going to love you.
- Don’t sell too hard or you’ll just look like a schmuck. Although SXSW is only a few days long, it is both a sprint and a marathon. I’ve done deals with people two or three years after first meeting them at SXSW. Those have been the biggest and best deals of my career, and they didn’t come about because I went to SXSW to sell something.
- Love first. Sales second. There’s plenty of time to sell after SXSW. But there’s a limited amount of time during the conference to meet lots of people and make them absolutely love you. Focus on getting people to fall in love with you, and everything else will follow.
- Working a room of 100 amazing people is better than hitting 10 events filled with less-than-awesome people. Party and panel hopping is great. I do a ton of it, but I only leave if the people aren’t awesome. If they are amazing, I stay there as long as it makes sense. Amazing is subjective. You need to figure this out for yourself. For me, amazing people are those who teach me something new. If I’m not learning, I move on.
- Shticks are valuable social devices. Have at least one. You need something to talk about other than your startup. For example, this year GE hired us to hack one of their appliances so that people have to use Foursquare check-ins to get the beer GE put inside. That’s cool. I can pimp that to everyone, and tell them to go check in to get free beer. They don’t care about “iStrategyLabs’s new Social Machines offering that does blah blah blah.” They want free beer. They’ll tell other people about the cool way I hooked them up with free beer. A few months from now, this will lead to someone hiring me and paying me $200,000. All because they remembered the free beer.
- Don’t linger. Lingerers are lame. Absolutely never sweat the web-celebs. Even if you see Shira Lazar, Pete Cashmore, Robert Scoble and Kevin Rose hanging out at Six Lounge, don’t get all up in their grill like a high school basket ball fan meeting LeBron James. Talk to people like they’re just as influential as you are and that they’re normal humans. Say hello. Try to make a real connection. And move on — quickly.
- Forget about balancing work and fun. Eat this festival alive, and come out the other end ready to step up your game. If you’re at SXSW, your work is probably really fun. If you work isn’t fun — then you should be looking for a new job at SXSW.
- Guys: Don’t be a non-stop hit-on-cute-tech-and-Texas-girls machine. That’s the creepiest thing you could do. It could damage your personal brand and your company, and you might miss an opportunity to connect meaningfully with the opposite sex – cutting off the possibility of a great business outcome or long-term friendship.
- Gals: Avoid the mechanical bull at the Rebels Honky-Tonk. Seriously. You don’t want to end up tagged on Facebook by colleagues when you’re half (or fully drunk) and potentially exposing yourself. I’ve seen this happen.
- Geeks of all stripes: Don’t trust anyone who says SXSW sucks. That’s like saying chocolate doesn’t taste good or that sunsets are ugly. It’s just crazy talk. Your SXSW lanyard is your golden ticket to personal and professional nerd heaven. Enjoy it!