5 Things I Learned at SXSW Interactive as a Startup Founder

Ryan Baker

I’ve lived in Austin for 5 years now, and I’m admittedly late to the SXSW game.  But as a mid-stage startup founder attending my first SXSW this March, I thought I would put down a few take-aways from my experience at the festival.

 1. Don’t miss the opportunity to approach panelists.

Although it may be hard to have a long conversation with one of the Keynote speakers after a panel, asking any of the other panelists a question can yield insightful results or contacts.  Approaching them with a short introduction and an engaging comment or question can lead to big breakthroughs.

 2. Keep it short.

I’ve tried a few different approaches, but when I gave my entire back-story, I didn’t give them much of a chance to give a meaningful answer.  Keep it brief, it’s better to listen closely to their answer rather than giving the pitch for your start-up.

 3. Whether a startup, filmmaker, or musician, you’ll meet people who’ll give great advice.

Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to your fellow SXSW panel attendees.  More often than not, they probably have insight into a specific problem or dilemma you have with your business or project.  It doesn’t matter if you are trying to decide on a funding strategy, or simply trying to spread your reach over the project’s media channels, you won’t learn if you never ask.

 4. Meeting people in all stages of the startup community helps with setting long-term goals.

Once you dig into your startup or project, it’s easy to fixate on the goals for the week, month, or quarter.  Meeting people who cover the whole spectrum, from finding founders to making an exit, helps to put your efforts in perspective.  This SXSW certainly helped me to zoom out and look at the larger picture.  It’s easy to forget just how important that is.

 5. Do your due diligence on panel research before the week, (surprise) it helps.

Coming into SXSW 2014, I had very specific questions I wanted answered by my choice of panels, and researching well in advance of the event saved a ton of time.  Of course it is easy to do the research on your phone while walking around the convention center, but you’ll tune out during the panels or miss helpful events by doing it during the festival.  The final day of Interactive I waited until mid-morning, and I missed two really useful panels that I could have easily attended with prior research and planning.


This barely scratches the surface, but if you keep these things in mind for the SXSW 2015 you’ll be in great shape.  The most important thing is to be FRIENDLY.  For one, you’re in Texas and most people there live up their hospitable Texan reputation.  Secondly, everyone else is there to network and learn as well, use that to your advantage!

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