Another South by Southwest Interactive is in the books, and while it will certainly take us a few days to process everything we saw, heard, experienced and learned, the final day did not disappoint. Overall, some common themes were “serendipity” when running into the right people at the right time while building your business, making sure that you’re still thinking logically about your customers despite all of the Big Data that marketers have at their fingertips, and the overall blurred lines between journalists, influencers, consumers and marketers. Indeed, the Internet continues to level the playing field in significant ways.
- Tuesday’s sessions were cut a bit short because we had to have a final (and somehow, first) tex-mex before departing and heading to the airport, but we were still able to take in three really great sessions. First up was a discussion about something we take very seriously here at GroundFloor, workplace culture. Dan Graham, the CEO and founder of Austin company BuildASign.com, talked through how he has grown his company to 240 employees while still trying to maintain a culture of giving back to the community. BuildASign goes as far as making their employees accountable for these initiatives, even reviewing them in performance appraisals. Interesting story.
- For our second session we had planned on watching Jonah Peretti, CEO of Buzzfeed talk, but the line into the main conference room was all the way down the hall and around the corner so we decided to throw ourselves a curveball and went to “From Coral Reefs to the Light Field: Making Waves,” which was a discussion about underwater photography, a niche interest with a very passionate group of participants. At the end of the session Eric Cheng launched a new product called the Lytro, a light field camera that does some extremely amazing things. I need to get one of these ASAP.
- Finally, our final session of SXSWi 2013 was a keynote address by Matthew Inman, the man behind the Oatmeal. Inman could’t have been a more perfect final speaker for us, adding humor and brevity to a conference that had for the most part, lacked it. For me, my favorite part was when Inman said, “it’s ok for your work to be a rhetorical question.” Inman doesn’t allow comments on the Oatmeal and it allows to to not be bogged down by the thoughts and opinions of the vocal minority.
- One of the comments that struck me from Dan Graham’s (buildasign.com) company culture session was, “You have to be willing to spend money on your culture, and also hire and fire because of it.” If you want to put an emphasis on your corporate culture, you need to be “all in.”
- Eric Cheng’s “Making Waves” session was the first session that technologically blew my mind. The light field camera Jon mentioned above is a non-mirror camera, or “a computer that captures images” as Cheng put it, allowing users to refocus, and even rotate pictures in a 2-D sense after the photo is already taken. Innovations and discussions like this are a huge part of what makes SXSW so good.
- Matthew Inman is the embodiment of today’s irreverent, snarky, funny, yet intelligent “influencer.” He’s built a career on snarky cartoons about web culture and cats, and yet, he’s taken that influence and raised $1M in nine days to build a scientific museum based on Nikola Tesla’s life work. He also turned a potential $20,000 lawsuit from a trolling Intennet lawyer into an opportunity to raise $220,000 for the National Wildlife Federation and the American Cancer Society. One of the lessons: Don’t mess with smart, snarky people who are also web-savvy. Another lesson: just because you’re snarky doesn’t mean you can’t use it for good.
That’s it for South By 2013! We’ll be hosting our second “SXSW Download” event with some of our clients and friends coming up in April, in the meantime, we hope our SXSWi blog posts have provoked some thoughts and provided some insights into the ever-changing world of digital communications.
~ Jon Woods and Jim Licko