Toronto at South by Southwest Interactive – A Final Look

All week long we have been asking the question: “Have you ever wondered what goes on at South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, Texas?”  And we have provided you with the answers.  We asked 5 members of the Toronto community who attended SXSW earlier this month.  All week long we featured individuals who attended the interactive festival, to get their thoughts. 

So far we have spoken to Erin Bury Melissa Smich Saul Colt and Dave Fleet

Today we wrap up our special feature with Lee Dale of Say Yeah!

Why was it important for you personally to go to SXSWi?

Inspiration, direction and focus are key drivers for business and SXSW really sets the tone for each year for me. While this was only my second SXSW, the timing of the conference (post new year, but still early) really helps in crystallizing plans for the year. The presentations and discussions that take place help define goals, affirm action, and challenge us in new ways. I feel completely invigorated following SXSW and bring this inspiration and drive back to Toronto, for both our team and in for our local community of entrepreneurs and creatives.  

I also make an effort to turn SXSW into a larger trip to help make broaden connections and balance ideas amongst clients, peers, and different conference attendees. Last year, I was able to attend SXSWi and O’Reilly’s Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco as part of the same trip. This year, my trip began in San Francisco and took me through New Orleans and Chicago. While I met some great people at each location, Austin provided two great opportunities to connect, beginning with the Social Business Summit the day before SXSW and throughout SXSWi. 

Why was it important for Say Yeah! to have a presence at SXSWi?

Last year, Say Yeah had the pleasure of launching our new website during SXSW. As a design consultancy this was our coming out party. While we spent the past year designing applications for our customers, this year’s SXSW marked the launch of our first Web app, Kipu. While we haven’t necessarily targeted SXSW for these launches they’ve provided great talking points for Say Yeah at SXSW and helped us connect with potential collaborators and supporters.

We’ve also spent a great deal of time at the past two SXSW talking about a project that we really believe in, the World Wide Web Foundation. We’ve been thankful to work with the team in Boston, lead by Steve Bratt and supported by Tim Berners-Lee which is, which is working to empower people the world over by using the Web to help improve health, safety and standards of living.

For both Say Yeah and the Web Foundation, SXSW has given us an opportunity to step outside of our existing network of colleagues to connect with people from across North America and beyond who have experienced challenges and defined processes around user experience, application design, and not-for-profits. Being able to forge new relationships and share ideas at this level has both an immediate and long term impact on the projects we develop and goals we set for ourselves. 

How did you expose Say Yeah! to the SXSWi community while you were in Austin?

Last year we had our “How do you say yeah?” buttons, which were a lot of fun and got shared out pretty well. This year, we pretty much went with a compelling story about time management and live/work balance based on all of our research and work that went into Kipu. A great story is always the best way to connect with any community, though it doesn’t hurt to have complimentary stuff to share. 

As much as I love connecting with friends from San Francisco, Boulder and elsewhere throughout the US, I also appreciate the opportunity to spend time with fellow Canadians, including friends from Vancouver and Toronto. Throughout the year I tend to spend a lot of time meeting people at social and charity events and connecting in a more casual way while the business side of things is often neglected. SXSW gives us an opportunity to connect to discuss why we’re at SXSW, what we’re hoping to gain and the projects we’re working on that can most benefit from our participation at SXSWi. There’s a real opportunity hear to solidify working relationships that we can call on throughout the year back in Toronto and also help one another make connections with our respective SXSW networks. 

What was something new that you learned during your time in Austin that will help you?

Last year, during my time at SXSW and at the Web 2.0 conference, a lot of the discussion I focused on was around agile development and applying game theory to apps to help increase adoption and interest. This year, at the Social Business Summit the day before SXSWi and throughout SXSW, I was drawn towards ideas around crowd sourcing research, innovation, support, and feature planning. Whether these were ideas we were already exploring or new concepts that we can now look to adopt, there’s real momentum to be gained from hearing success stories and to have peers affirm the direction you’re head in.

I’m now really looking forward to finding ways we can involve the Toronto community more openly and inclusively in the development of our products and to help support other great local projects. 

Were there any new developments or companies that you were exposed to that caught your eye?

For me conferences like SXSW are all about connecting with people. Certainly we talk about what we’re working on and I’m always interested in hearing what Andrew Hyde, Dario Meli, Hillary Hartley and others are up to, but I don’t really have a chance to dig into companies and projects until after SXSW; it’s just such a whirlwind.  

Who was the one person you met at SXSWi that really left an impression with you and why?

Last year the standout cat from SXSWi was Andy Budd who was affable and engaging. I missed connecting with him this year, but did have the pleasure of meeting a couple of the guys behind and a couple more from Kickstarter. was a great SXSW Web accessory. An app which highlighted conference sessions by day, showing which of your Twitter friends may be attending, allowed you to check in to not just a session but the area of the room where you were sitting so you could more easily connect with friends in the same session. This is something that could be a real standout at SXSW next year and, as with most great apps, it was developed as a passion project by the cool cats at Weightshift in Chicago as a way for them to better enjoy their SXSW experience.

These kind of passion projects are always great to hear about and reminds me of the reason we started the Toronto Events Calendar, to better connect our community and help make sure we all had access to great local events. Andrew [] at Weightshift also runs a great Chicago blog, Gapers Block [http://gapersblock], which is not dissimilar to our BlogTO or Torontoist: hyper local and hyper relevant. Andrew, wife Cinnamon [], and his two feline tenants were also kind enough to offer Rannie and I a place to stay on our drive back from Austin, which was just super kind and gave us a chance to hear more about Chicago from a born and raised local.

As for Kickstarter, for the past 6+ months I’ve been completely engaged with some of the passion projects found on there (there were two documentaries at SXSW film and and at least one SXSW interactive attendee project that I helped fund this year). It was great to have the chance to talk to a couple of their lead guys about a stronger Kickstarter presence in Canada and talk DJing and vinyl with Charles []. I’m certainly drawn to anyone who’s passionate about what they’re working on, and all these cats are certainly passionate. 

Why should a company, brand or an individual attend SXSW next year?

SXSWi is getting a little out of control with the volume of people and quality of sessions as a result of accommodating the growing number of attendees. If there are no changes to the conference format for next year, I believe it’ll be important to temper expectations around the quality of panels. To be sure, there are great panels discussing new ideas and providing inspiration, whether at work or at play.  Ze Frank [] and Paul Miller, aka DJ Spooky, [] stood out this year as top SXSWi presenters with great stories and showing how a diversity of projects, however small, can be really engaging and enriching. 

That said, if you’ve got a compelling story to share, want to bounce ideas of your peers, or learn from the best in the industry, SXSW is the place to be, whether you’re connecting in the hallways, at lunches, or at evening parties.