South by Southwest is big. So big, in fact, that smaller SXSW-branded events are scheduled in advance to prepare attendees for the 10-day film/music/tech conference that descends upon Austin, Tex., each year. Think of them as tasty event appetizers before the main course.
One such event, specifically focused on the tech-flavored South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) portion of the conference, took place in Boulder Monday night at Bácaro. More than 40 local residents, as well as visitors from South Africa and New York, negotiated severely cold temperatures to network and ask questions at Boulder’s first SXSW Interactive Mixer .
“It says a lot about the community that has developed around the conference, that events like this have become so popular,” said SXSW representative Tammy Lynn Gilmore, gesturing toward the assembled collection of local startup founders, creatives, marketers and tech lovers.
“The conference itself can be overwhelming, so we want to arm attendees with as much information as possible,” said Gilmore. “There are no dumb questions.”
Gilmore and two other reps from SXSW hosted the mixer, which consisted of a town hall-style Q-and-A portion, followed by prolonged networking. Fifteen official SXSWi Mixers will take place across the U.S., targeting cities with highly active tech communities.
Much of the mixer centered on advice for first-time attendees to ensure they get as much out of the conference as possible, which can cost upwards of $750.
For many of Boulder’s young startups, a trip to SXSWi can result in valuable connections and inspiration. Thus, getting an insider’s take on how to maximize their time there gives them a tactical advantage, especially when marketing dollars are scant.
“We’re a bootstrapped startup, so we analyze every financial decision we make,” said Chris Vieville, community manager for Boulder live-chat startup SnapEngage, which will be sending three employees to the conference. “We know that attending SXSWi is critical to extending online friendships to the real world and making new ones.”
The Q-and-A session addressed anticipated weather forecasts (unpredictable, bring a sweater), footwear (as comfy as you can afford) and the best donuts in Austin (Gourdough’s).
“They’re right about the need for comfy shoes,” said Jeremy Tanner, previous attendee and panelist. “You’ll end up on your feet late into the night. A bit of exercise prior to arrival probably wouldn’t hurt either. South by Southwest is an endurance sport.”
Gilmore explained that the biggest worry among attendees is which parties to attend, given the wealth of networking opportunities available and a landscape of sponsored shindigs peppered throughout Austin in the evening.
“There’s definitely a South by Southwest syndrome,” Krause said. “People always think there’s a better party just around the bend. It’s like seeing an oasis mirage in a desert. So they run off to find it and spend the rest of the night being terrified that they’re missing out.
“My advice is to stay put — wherever you are is usually the best place to be.”
The conference itself is still well over a month away, stretching from March 11-20 with the Interactive portion ending on March 15. More information can be found at SXSW.com.