What a week at SXSW in Austin

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South by Southwest, or better known as SXSW, the monster of all technology conferences just wrapped up last week and yours truly, Phone.com had the privilege of participating in our own off-the-beaten-path event during the Interactive component of South-by. But before I get into that, lets set the scene for those who aren’t familiar with SXSW and all its ridiculousness.

This was my second year at one of the nations largest conferences which is split into 3 parts; Interactive- the technology portion, Film, and Music. And as you would imagine each of these draws a distinctly unique crowd- there’s the suit and business-casual clad investors, roaming amongst the stereotypical hooded developers and hipster designers, all mingling with thousands of film enthusiasts and the less kempt world of musical artists with their dreds, streetwear, eurostyle, creative facial hair wearing, leather sporting, hat flipping, rocker, rapping, DJ’ing musicians, and exactly what you would anticipate when cramming 2,500 bands into a single city for a week. As for myself, I’m probably somewhere in the middle, and far less fashionable.

It is, as you would imagine, an amazing opportunity for people watching & networking. But it’s this mix of cultures that makes SXSW so unique. The crowd is awesomely diverse, almost entirely out for a good time, and not at all the typical stuffy group you would sometimes associate with a technology conference. Then again, this is the era of the Nerd where “cool” and “technology” go hand in hand. And all of this is done at a scale and pace that puts even the busiest of NYC to shame.

SXSW is as much for badge holders (those people who spend big money for a pass) as it is for the freeloaders who flock to Austin to enjoy the plethora of free events occurring outside the walls of the Austin Convention Center. I don’t know how many badges are sold during SXSW but the number of people who assemble in Austin for both official and unofficial events number around a quarter million! That’s a lot of foot traffic for a relatively small downtown Austin.

And even though a large portion of SXSW is reminiscent of TSA security lines, or wandering too close to Times Square during New Years… this extreme hustle is made worth while by the phone book sized schedule of high caliber talks, panels, and events, much of which is spread out all over Austin. Gold Bond? Check!

What makes SXSW such an immersive experience (and also why it’s near impossible to escape for Austinites living downtown) is the spiderweb of events and sponsored locations which literally take over downtown Austin. Restaurants, bars, parking lots, garages, yoga studios, car dealerships, event spaces, cafes, hair salons…. practically any decently open space in downtown Austin becomes a converted, sponsored venue by any company looking to get a foothold in this anomaly of conferences. And that’s exactly what Phone.com did this year in conjunction with our venture capital firm ffVC. In our case, we took over a parking lot, a mechanics garage, a bar, and a venue… all in the name of putting on our own awesome mini-day of talks, company showcases, and concerts.

Phone.com participated in this company showcase alongside 20 other sister ffVC companies in the aptly named event ffMASSIVE. I was lucky enough to help ffVC plan this Saturday of events which included a jam packed schedule of activities running from 9am-2am. It was a long day. I’d list all the great companies who participated in the ffMASSIVE showcase but the picture in this blog does the job just fine. Check them out, they’re all very interesting and doing some amazing stuff.

Conference goers who managed to wander down 7th St. found a collection of budding startups all under a tent in a very lounge-like mini-trade show. Anyone who wanted to sit down with the founders of these companies could. In the Phone.com lounge we were lucky to have our CEO, Ari Rabban and CTO- the inventor of VoIP, Alon Cohen. As the day progressed, we talked, we networked, we participated in panels, we drank and we partied into the evening with a 4 act musical lineup that would make most concert venues jealous.

This was Phone.com’s first official foray into the world of SXSW, but hopefully not our last. Look out for us, larger and louder, at SXSW 2014!




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