Technology and art. Entertainment, business and the business of entertainment. Where the coolest people are geeks and where nerds rule. SXSW is as eclectic as the city it takes place in. Austin is overrun with designers, developers, artists and scientists. A collection of curious people and things. There are movies, music and performances paired with continuous keynotes and breakout sessions. It’s non-stop cerebral stimulations… and that was only the first three days of the interactive portion of SXSW.
Although we only attended the interactive portion, there was no shortage of music. We saw plenty of artists, and it felt like there was live music at every place you passed. Gucci Mane took the stage in the rain at the Pandora VIP party, and we saw an incredible performance by a four piece band called Ponytrap where the fourth member was a 12 foot, 12 volt battery-powered robotic drum-contraption that absolutely killed it.
Each year, we make the trip to Dreamforce, hosted by Salesforce.com, and drink from the business, technology, data and application fire hose. We learn, teach and hope to inspire and be inspired, while generating interest and demand in our services and solutions. Dreamforce is a focused event built around a common theme. SXSW is much the same; however, the theme is broader. Originally started to get indy bands prominence in the competitive music landscape, today it is so much more. IBM and Dell had a presence but the left-coast tech segment felt very underrepresented. It feels like SXSW is about to hit the tipping point for these players, and I’ll bet there will be more cloud businesses in attendance each year going forward. It could be a tremendous recruitment and business development event but it’s just not quite there yet.
My three insights from SXSW:
1. Bots or chatbots are becoming mainstream. Siri and Alexa are the two most common. Driven by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning, bots have been designed to act as personal assistants to make our lives a little bit easier. They simulate real conversations and will be able to bridge the gap between self-serve and customer service. There are varying opinions on whether this technology will take jobs or create jobs, but the general consensus is that there are more jobs being created than eliminated because of technology.
2. Community is king. I attended sessions on retail, management, service, data and philanthropy, which all referenced the importance of community. Every business’s objective should be to build community. Technically, Traction on Demand has been doing this for years with our Salesforce Communities practice but organizations are just scraping the surface of this phenomenon. Regardless of industry or vertical, whether you are B2B, B2C or both, commercial businesses and not-for-profit should all be striving to develop their customer and prospect communities.
3. “The dining room is as important as the courtroom when it comes to making change.” This quote really stuck with me as I listened to Ben Watson, NFL star with the Baltimore Ravens and author of Under Our Skin, speak. Ben was speaking with fellow NFL player Torrey Smith and Asani Swann of Melo Enterprises in a session titled “Compassion on and off the field.” Important conversations about diversity and equality start in the dining room. It is so important that the strategies go beyond rules, policies and laws; they need to go beyond the HR office and into all areas of our businesses. Equality should be natural. It should be the norm. In order to ensure diversity and equality, we need to lead by example. Our future leaders will be a product of what we do and say today.
Finally, we spent some time on the last day touring behind the scenes with Mike Shea, executive director of SXSW. Mike has been with the conference for about 30 years, almost its entire lifetime. His team consists of 250 full-time and thousands of part-time and event-specific employees. The event is a huge driver for Austin with over 60,000 people registered, and I heard numbers as high as 400,000 for people who attend other shows and events around SXSW. Traction friend Jeff Duncan of Meetingmax is responsible for booking the rooms for the event and said that over 70,000 rooms get booked on the Meetignmax platform driving $25 million in hospitality revenue over a nine day period. When asked about his most memorable moment from the past 30 years of SXSW, Mike said, “Watching Johnny Cash get really nervous and sweaty before he went on stage.” So cool.
I have now added SXSW to my annual must-do list, and Austin is now tied with New York City for coolest city in the USA.