SXSW Protips

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This will be my fifth SXSW interactive. It’s also, notably, the first SXSW that I am an Austinite. Since SXSW starts next week, the usual flood of tweets asking for advice or emails asking me to provide tips or asking me to be their guide began. It started earlier this year (back in January) than in years past. I’m chalking that up to the fact that I’m also living in Austin and am expected to “know the ropes”.

Trust me. I do. On Austin and on SXSW.

I’ve got a rant going up on Get Off My Lawn next week. But this post is not a rant. This post is about trying to be helpful to the many attendees coming here without having to commit to coaching each of you. This is my coaching. :-)

There are 18,000 Attendees this Year

That’s right. 18k. That’s more than every other year of interactive and is now the largest of the three SXSW festivals, eclipsing music for the first time and dwarfing film. You can’t meet everyone. Don’t try.

Attendees will be everywhere. They will be at the convention center. At the bar getting a beer during the day. In the Hilton Lobby, a place WP Engine Advisor Ben Metcalfe (@dotBen) posits the following observation:


Sitting in Hilton lobby bar during SxSW is like sitting a safe distance away from the car stuck on the level crossing with the train comingless than a minute ago via YoruFukurou

My point is… people are everywhere. Don’t be in a rush to be someplace. Ever. You’ll miss out on an opportunity.

The Right Place, The Right Time

Continuing that thought, if you’re scheduling your day out, you’re doing it wrong. As my friend Jeremy Wright (@jeremywright) puts it:


@duanebrown most of southby is knowing your options, and then making a choice on the fly.less than a minute ago via TweetDeck

Use your Plancast, Google Calendar, or whatever. Use these tools. Give yourself options. You may have some things that are required items and are non-negotiable (i.e. you’re throwing a party… it’s your party. You better be there). Other times, you just need scaffolding to give you options. Then you make your decisions in real-time. If you plan everything out and try to stick to that plan, you will miss out on opportunities and people.

Anecdotally, because I was in the right place at the right time, I’ve met NBA Dallas Mavericks owner and serial entrepreneur Mark Cuban, former Twitter CEO Evan Williams, Fark.com creator and Chief Looney Officer Drew Curtis just by being at the right place at the right time.

If you rush, you’ll hate SXSW and you’ll miss opportunities.

Hydrate!

I cannot emphasize this practical tip enough. In Austin in early March, you’re going to have warm days (the long-range forecast at this time shows mid-70s most of the time) and cool nights. (We’re also good for a monsoon-like storm at least once… it happens every year). You’re going to be drinking a lot at night. You’re going to be walking a lot during the day. With a bag on your back. Hydrate. And take a 5 hour energy* before you start going to town on booze… you’ll thank me in the morning.

Strategic Locations for Some Random Product that May be Launched on Mar 11

Apple Store – Barton Creek Mall
2901 S. Capital of Texas Hwy
Austin, TX 78746 (map)
Estimated Cab time: 15 mins

Apple Store – The Domain
11410 Century Oaks Terrace
Austin, TX 78758 (map)
Estimated Cab time: 25 mins

AT&T Store
1011 W. 5th St
Austin, TX 78703 (map)
Estimated Cab time: 5 mins

Verizon Wireless
9600 S IH-35
Austin, TX 78748 (map)
Estimated Cab time: 20 mins

You know… just in case.

Food

Go to @peachedtortilla, my favorite food truck in town, and say hi to Eric and Lou. Get some Banh Mi tacos or pork belly sliders. I think they plan to be around Congress and 6th 5th and Colorado but follow them for more details.

Also, on the Saturday of SXSW (Mar 12), Franklin BBQ is opening up a short walk away from the downtown center at 11th just east of I-35. Franklins is somewhat legendary in Austin because of their original restaurant farther north.

Grab the chicken fried steak and a Mexican Martini for lunch at Cedar Door 3 blocks away from the convention center at 2nd and Brazos (behind the Hampton Inn).

Enjoy some Absinthe-based drinks at Peche on W. 4th St in the Warehouse District. It’s a mere 6 blocks and worth it. Don’t ask for vodka. No, really…

Finally

Don’t be a douche. We welcome visitors and want you to enjoy this fine city. Leave it the way you found it. Remember, you are a guest and we have long memories. Tip your bartenders well. Did you hear me… WELL. If it’s an open bar, assume no one is tipping them. Carry some cash for the occasion. Bartenders do remember bad patrons just like patrons remember bad bartenders.

You’re not entitled to anything. Don’t jump party lines or use “Do you know who I am?” lines. No one gives a shit and you look like a prick. Treat people respectfully… Most of you do. Some of you don’t.

And that’s it. Any veterans have some protips to share as well?

* 5 Hour energy tip given by D’Ann Faught :-p

Working SXSW (And How I Will Be Hired)

SXSWi at the Austin Convention Center

SXSW Interactive is now over and with it comes a big long exhale. For those who were here who I saw, it is always good to catch up and meet new people. For those I missed, let’s connect online somewhere.

This year I came with one goal in mind: to find a job. I didn’t come for the parties. I didn’t come for the constant, lame fist pumping and business card sluttery. I came to find a job. To that end, I did not get a badge. That may seem counter-intuitive but, in fact, worked tremendously in my favor. Every day of the event, I tracked down people who I thought could help me in some way. Shameless? Perhaps. The reality is that karma is always something that goes around.

Photo by AllAboutGeorge on Flickr

I’m not about to do the namedrop thing where I list everyone I talk to. That’s lame and it’s really no one’s business but mine. But what I do want to address what I do because, as much as I have been a public face, there are a lot of public faces and it’s become clear over the past few months that a lot of people really have no idea what I do or what I want to do. They want to help, but when all I can be introduced to an executive at a company as, “a really famous blogger,” then there is a disconnect in my own personal messaging. As more companies are discovering that I am on the market, they really want to know what I’m about.

In short, my official bio can be summed up as: “I am a business-savvy author and PHP developer who has led development teams, managed technical product lifecycles and have built up enough social capital and marketing prowess to put any agency to shame.”

In greater detail, I come from a PHP development background having coded for the last 10 years. I still do that. As part of that, I have been part of the WordPress community as a core contributor for years and have built a reputation as a high-end WordPress “data guy” (as opposed to a design guy). I build plugins and do architecture stuff, for the uninitiated. I have led development teams. Remotely. Which is hard to do. We built products for the internal growth, analytics and monitoring of our company and for our investors. Very nimble, very small, very distributed teams.

Somewhere in the past five years, I became a marketer. Not really because I don’t have a degree in communications and I don’t really do marketing. But I know how to do marketing well and can run circles around Agency types who like to ask, “Do you have Agency experience?” and then don’t want to talk because I don’t. Son, I could school your entire Agency.

I came to SXSW to find a job. Specifically, I came to find a job in Austin or a job where I could at least move to Austin. I have several solid leads from the resulting conversations and introductions. I did it by being real and not trying to be someone bigger than I am. I did it by acknowledging my own strengths. And my own weaknesses. I didn’t get caught up in the scene. It’s a distraction.

As a result, for the first time in four years, my SXSW experience was better during the day than at night during all the parties.

I don’t know if I will find the technical job with a business and public-side interface that I’m looking for. But I do know that there are people now who know that I can run a development team to build a kickass product that is going to need the grassroots, public-facing social capital that I’ve built up. I think I met a few this week. Here’s to hoping.

Your SXSW Survival Guide

Julia Allison, Brittany Bohnet and Randi Zuckerberg at SXSW 2009

Next week begins the 2010 edition of South by Southwest (SXSW) with the Interactive and Film festivals. This will be followed in the following week by the legendary music festival. As a veteran of SXSW (This will be my fourth year), let me share my tips from a Pro standpoint. Mind you, these tips are an aggregation of lessons learned over the years. Many new people come every year, and most have no idea what to expect. You can review my SXSW power tips from last year.

Parties

SXSW is known less for it’s sessions and more for its parties. For better or for worse, the best networking and results come out of the parties. It is not a drunk fest like many think it is. Okay, it can be. But generally, it’s just a bunch of industry folks catching up with each other, enjoying the early Texas spring night times, having some drinks, blowing off steam and rebuilding relationships. Good business comes out of good relationships.

Julia Allison, Brittany Bohnet and Randi Zuckerberg at SXSW 2009

As a veteran, I am constantly asked if I can take newbies under my wings and guide them. Let me be unequivocally clear: No. I cannot. I will not. Now that that’s out of the way, understand that there are 10,000 people wandering around for SXSW. There is plenty to do and my agenda won’t be everyone’s agenda. RSVP for any party you think you might go to and blaze your own path.

Alcohol

There are more than enough opportunities for free booze. It is not hard to take advantage of this. It’s also not hard to get drunk and all. Be very careful. Maintain your buzz. Don’t get drunk. If you get drunk, you run a chance of being hungover the next day. That ruins the next day. Then you’re likely to get drunk again the next night. Instead, maintain your buzz. If you absolutely have to get wasted, wait for the last night before you go home (You didn’t get a 7am flight, did you?). It’s much easier to maintain a flatline than to have the up and down effect of multiple drunken nights and the impending hungover day.

Meet People

This is somewhat cliché but I swear, if you come to SXSW looking for someone to introduce you to people, then you’re going to be disappointed. You get out of SXSW what you put into it. Don’t rely on someone else to make your trip productive. Get outside of your industry. Get outside your comfort zone. I’ve heard SXSW described as the one event where the attendees come to see attendees, not speakers. Go meet people. Say hi to Guy Kawasaki. Don’t say hi to Loren Feldman. ;-)

You Can’t Be Everywhere, You Can’t Meet Everyone

So don’t try.

Hotels and Lodging

At this point, it’s too late to get a hotel near the convention center. Rent a car and stay out by the airport, but realize you’ll pay cab fees or the car rental – depending on your choice. While hotels are cheaper, you will make up for it in travel. And it can be darn inconvenient in the evening. If you know people who are going, pay them to sleep on their hotel room floors if you can. It’s uncomfortable but probably worth it. Don’t ask me. I’ve already got similar arrangements.

Anything else? Veterans? More tips to add. Add them in comments below.