behance

Four ways to make SXSW better

I’ve just returned from year one of SXSW V2V — a Las Vegas spinoff of what has become an annual cavalcade of emerging music, technology, film, and an increasing number of really bad brand activations. You can read my take on V2V here, here, and here. What attracted me to V2V was the fact that it was smaller and more focused. I go to Austin for most years, and while I do enjoy it, I find it harder every year to justify from a business perspective, since the throngs of semi-pro tourists and the democratization of festival content seem to have taken a lot of the power out of the conference. I figured with only 1,500 people, and content narrowly covering innovation and entrepreneurship, we could collectively create a bit more value.

I was right, sort of. In general, I’d say that most of the presentations were at the Beginner level, but the small size and concentrated area kept the vibe more intimate and made for more productive conversations.

That said, here are five suggestions I’d like to offer the SXSW crew, not that they asked:

  1. Do more to facilitate connections between attendees. Sure, there are plenty of networking breaks, but that’s not enough. For example:
    1. The app and website should contain a social network. Contact me if you want to see examples of this done well.
    2. Badges should be scannable by smartphone. I met a bunch of folks without business cards. Their fault, to be sure, but you can still create more value here.
  2. Curate an Advanced track with speakers who push the boundaries of what practitioners need to know. The most common feedback I heard from friends after most sessions was “that was a lot of common sense.” I’d argue that common sense is good for people to hear over and over, but balance that with folks pushing the envelope.
  3. Offer videos of every talk for registered attendees to watch on the site. We can’t make every talk and sometimes have to skip one. We should be able to go back and watch it later.
  4. Let Behance (or someone) work with all of the presenters to design their decks. Some folks have great things to say but don’t have expertise in Keynote. Your audience shouldn’t suffer because you can’t make a good deck (although you really should work on your deck skills).

Three Things You Should Learn from SXSW, Day 1

This week I attended the first ever SXSW V2V conference — a gathering of 1,500 startup entrepreneurs, innovators, and me.

Since you're too busy working on important things to hang out with me in Vegas, I've distilled a few of the key lessons worth noting.

The first session I attended was by a group of Thiel Fellows. Rich guy Peter Thiel gives free money to entrepreneurs under 20 who look smart. Mostly, it was a bunch of guys starting out who didn't have too much to say, but seemed like they will someday. However,  Zach Hamed is a senior at Harvard and ran down a long list of free and inexpensive tools you can use to launch a digital product for around $100. Pretty badass. The list is too long to post here, but send me an email and I'll send you the list.

His big lesson: You can do things for a lot cheaper than you think, especially if you're going to start something, test, learn, and improve, which is of course what you should be doing.

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh gave the keynote for Day 1, an inspiring presentation about his efforts to revitalize Downtown Las Vegas, including a $300 million investment in real estate and entrepreneurship. He's already created one of the biggest e-commerce sites on the web, and influenced the way we do our business at Rebel, and is now tackling a much bigger challenge: how to create a real world community that increases in value as it grows. One of my favorite parts of the project is an outdoor mall made out of shipping containers, designed to be fun for kids and adults, and with both education and commerce built into the experience

For me the key takeaway was the power of what you can create if you're really focused on what's important to you. Sure, he has a lot of money, but there are a lot of people out there with a lot of money who aren't making any meaningful investments into their communities. What if the big money in Detroit was thinking this way? See his presentation here:

Tony's presentation was passionate, and the work he’s doing is amazing. The one downside was the graphics, which was sort of a common theme throughout the day. Makes me wish that SXSW had engaged Behance to design all of the presentations for the speakers.

Behance CEO Scott Belsky gave an extremely well-designed presentation about lessons he's learned from connecting a creative community.

He spoke about the concept of "credible mass" vs. critical mass. Too many marketers focus on the number of people they're reaching, without considering how much each of those people can do to help their businesses. He argued that if you can get 150 of the right people to like something, that can be more important than thousands of randoms, citing an example from 55DSL, who used Behance to crowdsource a new logo design. They got 15,000 entries, and found that each designer had spent 3-4 hours — six years worth of labor. Imagine what they could have accomplished if they had been more deliberate about how to use six years worth of people's time.

Finally, Jenn Dearing Davis of Union Metrics ran down lessons we can take from movie marketing. Here's the deck, and a few key points:

  • Let users peek behind the scenes. We tried to get a client (their agency, actually) to shoot b-roll of their TV commercial and release the storyboards and interviews with the creatives, so fans could see the process they go through in figuring out how to advertise their product.
  • Build up to an event. A lot of the speakers touched on the importance of cadence, which is essential to success in social media marketing, and all marketing, and everything else.
  • Run contests and other promotions that let people play with your content. Don't just give away iPads in exchange for entries.
  • Invest in high quality content. She referenced a couture fashion photo shoot with the cast from Hunger Games. We say that if you're only going to post pictures from your website onto your social channels, you shouldn't even bother.
  • Enlist opinions from your audience. Run polls and surveys. Make them feel heard, but also take their feedback with a grain of salt.
  • Ultimately, she says the key to success is good content shared consistently over time with lots of engagement.

    Stay tuned for more coverage from Day 2…