SXSW holds a special place in my heart as it was the impetus to me deciding that I wanted to join the tech industry, and ultimately be part of creating Lighthouse Labs. It also happens to be the first ever situation I found myself in where I grew exhausted of talking, felt overwhelmed with the potential of business and couldn’t take in more learning if I tried.
The truth is that if you are a Canadian entrepreneur heading down to SXSW for the first time, you might not be quite ready to handle what you are about to walk into. That’s why I’m here. Let my past experiences and blunders be a roadmap for your success!
As one of the Techvibes SXSW correspondents this year, I decided to create a list of the 5 essential things to know for first time Canadian entrepreneurs heading to SXSW. There are plenty of blogs on the subject, so I have tried to keep mine away from some of the more mundane or obvious things. In case that’s what you are looking for here is a really quick recap:
Wear comfortable shoes, always have a phone charger on you, have a twitter account and use it, bring more business cards than you’re bringing, Food trucks are the best, free food everywhere is a close second, hydrate, seriously hydrate, download SXSWGo app, download and pay for RSVPster, set some meetings with the people you care about meeting most, set your objectives, listen to at least one session that has nothing to do with your work, find other Canadians, check out East Austin, enjoy yourself.)
But you knew all that. So here are 5 real tips to help you succeed at the best interactive event in the world.
1) Learn to drink and be a professional. Start practicing now.
SXSW has a heavily emphasized culture of drinking and networking. Add a little bit of alcohol to a group of intelligent, passionate and innovative networkers and you have some incredible conversations. It starts at 11AM and ends… well, it never really does. So, you need to get to know your limits, pace yourself and realize how to counteract the entire drinking process with well-timed water and food breaks. You’ll also need to build up some tolerance. This is a marathon, not a sprint. A lightly lubricated conversation often makes for a more comfortable and fun day, but being the drunk guy yelling his pitch or mocking an American loudly for their losses to Canada in hockey (guaranteed this comes up a lot!) is not going to help you meet your objectives. Say it with me: “I am not James Bond, I am a Canadian entrepreneur who says some silly things when I drink too much and need to make sure I pace myself.
Your ideal situation is to remain a slight stage of tipsy or happy until about 1AM. But feel free to encourage others to get there earlier!
2) Be interesting!
Look, pitching all day is part of what you are doing there, but remember that the best networking is a mixture of relationship building, as well as learning and informing. For me, a big part of enjoying SXSW was how much I learnt from others and how many interesting and progressive conversations I had with interesting and progressive people. If someone likes talking with you, they will give you more time to talk about what you’re doing, give you their opinion or advice and offer an opportunity to keep talking at a later point. Brush up on your current events, tech and non-tech alike, and bring up the speakers you have gone to see. Bring a couple of cool Apps that some people haven’t seen (mine last year was CardMunch) that can help you keep a conversation interesting.
This all may seem like some normal networking advice but it becomes extra pertinent when everybody’s whole day is spent talking and listening to pitches. People end up being selective, so you have to be able to offer more than just a quick pitch. Remember that the best networkers aren’t people who talk a lot but people who listen and contribute.
3) When I dip, you dip, we dip. No seriously. Let’s go.
Everyone has had a conversation that they absolutely don’t want to be a part of, but as a courtesy they stick around far longer than they should. Last year, mine centered around Russian conspiracies and their use of Myspace, which, resulted in me losing my group, missing a speaker I wanted to see and hating Russian conspiracies. What I needed to do was extend my hand at the first opportunity and say “really nice to meet you, good luck in Austin, I need to be getting back to my team as we are supposed to go see a speaker right now”. That or just pretend I needed to go to the bathroom.
As a Canadian you are polite, we get it. Just remember that the art of the dip will save you plenty of time and energy at an event that involves conversations all day.
4) Don’t network alone!
This is simple really. There are way more advantages to networking with someone else than doing so on your own. Your networking companion is able to introduce you to people that might be interesting to you, save you from conversations you are wanting to get out of (huge help on the dip!), help you talk about all the small little experiences you are having to better make sense of it all and offer a banter that will help lighten moods and make everyone more comfortable. At their best, a networking buddy is looking out for your interests and helping you meet the people you want to meet through an introduction instead of a random hello. At worst, when you have no one to talk to you have someone to sit and have a drink with and regale with tales of hilarious conversations.
One warning: There are 3 types of people you don’t want to have as a networking buddy.
- Selfish Sally: Moving all conversations towards her and her business and sabotaging all potential leads
- Awkward Andy or Criminal Clayton: Guys who either drag you down by not talking or by association. This also goes for people who continuously say things that offend people.
- Attention Deficit Danny? The guy that never wants to stay in one place and continuously says he wants to go somewhere else. This guy leaves you sitting in lines and with missed opportunities.
5) Follow Lighthouse Labs and the #SXSWCAN hashtag
Sure this is shameless self-promotion, but it’s actually to your benefit! Lighthouse Labs is worth following for three reasons while in Austin. The first is we will be responsible for leading the SXSWCan hashtag that will be letting everyone know where Canadian entrepreneurs will be meeting up towards the end of every evening. Around midnight each night, a tweet will go out announcing where and when Canadians will be congregating to finish off their nights (or at least close down the bars). 75% of Canadian entrepreneurs say that the most important business they did at SXSW is with a fellow Canadian.
The second reason to follow us is we will be putting up guides and itineraries for anyone that is interested in learning to code throughout the event. If you want to take in some lessons, whether you are a beginner, intermediate or expert developer we have you covered. SXSW has amazing workshops and speakers and we will do our best to let you know which ones you can attend at any given hour.
Finally, follow us because followers make us feel good about ourselves. There. I said it.
The truth is that you’re guaranteed to enjoy yourself at SXSW. You don’t need advice for how to do that. However, if you’re going down for business and spending your company’s money, make sure you set some objectives and follow through. SXSW can be an event that connects you with the right contacts, inspires new approaches, gives your product strong exposure and adds fuel to your already burning desire to succeed. It can also be an event that is filled with funny stories for your friends and no tangible successes for your business. Whatever your desire, Happy South by Southwesting!