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Three Questions To Ask Yourself Before You Attend SXSW 2015

Nathan Kurtz

nathan_kurtzPeople everywhere. Parties that seem to be on continuous loop all day. Vendors marketing new ideas, new startups or new swag everywhere you go. And then there's the conference with its many speakers presenting on topics ranging from anything to everything. With 30,000 people in attendance, the South By Southwest Interactive Conference can be overwhelming. So from a recent SXSW newbie to you, here are three questions to ask yourself when preparing to attend SXSW 2015.

SXSW_conference1. Why are you going? There were some companies in attendance that spent tens of thousands of dollars to throw a party with the purpose of garnering awareness and following for their new product.  In years past, that was pretty effective for gaining adoption. With SXSW as big as it is now, that's much harder to accomplish, and I saw several companies that didn't get the return on investment from this type of event as they had hoped. On the flip side, I saw a few companies do a great job with grass roots (low dollar - high volunteer) marketing blitzes, showing off their wares and earning memorable street cred. Remember, nothing beats a personal touch.

2.  Do you really (really) need investment or sales?  Sales isn’t as sexy as investment, and sometimes that’s a problem.  I went to parts of two concurrent seminars on Saturday of the festival.  One was about entrepreneurial sales.  There were about 40 attendees, sparsely filling this room that would easily hold 400. The presentation illustrated the step-by-step process that a serial entrepreneur used to work his way into a well-known tech company. The result was success, with commentary around the trials discussed in-detail along the way. 

The concurrent seminar was about how to get seed money from a panel of five successful entrepreneurs.  The energy-filled room was packed with over 350 attendees, and the impressive panel was giving input to the attendees eager to earn some quick cash for their businesses in exchange for equity.  The meeting started with the importance of the capital-seeking entrepreneurs having a personal connection to these angel investors.  Not only that, but several times the panelists repeated the need for the entrepreneurs to figure out which potential common contacts these angels like and dislike.  An introduction from a contact the angel investor doesn’t like is a potential permanent black flag.  

I recognize some businesses need capital to launch.  Having raised multiple rounds of angel funding myself, I know this is sometimes an early requirement.  But for all the effort of going through contacts to try and find the right connection to get to an angel investor that may or may not fund an early-stage idea, I question if perhaps 40 attendees should have been in the angel investment how-to class, while the 350 would have been better suited in the entrepreneurial selling seminar.  Note to sales: reconnect with those that need you most. Splurge for a new dress or a nice clean shave at the local barber. Reclaim your sex appeal.SXSW_quote

3.  How can I get real help?  The Kauffman Foundation and Up Global sponsored a 3-day off-site event, providing mentoring to startups and bringing together organizations such as Sprint, Tech Cocktail and #Iowa throughout the weekend.  The mentors volunteered their time doing what they love: helping entrepreneurs work through their business problems and focus on growth.   The festival’s seminars were great.  The parties were fun and often eclectic.  But there’s nothing like leaving SXSW with personal one-on-one advice from a business expert, knowing you can return home and build the business you want to build.  Particularly since, if you pick your locations right, this can be done without buying an expensive badge to the main event.

If you’re going to SXSW 2015 – do your homework; know your motives and intended outcomes. Know where your business is at, and follow the course that will get you to where you want to go. 


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