(Editor’s note: Larry Chiang is CEO of Duck9. He submitted this column to VentureBeat.)
Austin’s South by Southwest can be a great place for your start-up to make a splash. Preparing for it, though, can be a nightmare. The festival has been called expensive and overcrowded, but I tend to be in a different camp when it comes to SXSW: I still think that promoting at SXSW is extremely cheap, even in this age of lean startups.
Here are six ways you can make the most of your SXSW experience as an entrepreneur
Use pre-blogging as your air support – Blogging is just like tweeting except that it is about 140 lines versus 140 characters. Pre-blogging, in this circumstance, means three paragraphs, two pictures and one focus
- Paragraph one: What where when is this. Three sentences.
- Paragraph two: What is your opinion of this. Why is it cool and worth trying to attend. 5 sentences
- Paragraph three: What are you looking forward to and who might be there. one sentence.
- Two pictures from last year or whenever (save the pictures the same name as your article and attribute photo with a link)
This entire process should only take an hour or so.
Host an unofficial afterparty – The idea of an afterparty is to leverage the audience that is already in existence. It is like a conference within a conference or a party within and throughout another party. If there’s already an official afterparty, then push back the time of yours.
You’ll want to augment the original theme and push your brand slightly up in stature and prominence. Don’t risk capital in the process.
If the party organizers like your afterparty, then you could migrate from ‘unofficial’ afterparty to ‘official’. It is similar to the accelerated networking maneuver of going from crasher to VIP.
Get a “welebrity” to your event – Getting a web celebrity to your informal gathering can be as cheap as $200. In this day of ‘3,000-books-pre-sold-can-get-you-on-the-NY-Times-Bestseller-list’, a few extra copies sold moves the needle. Some authors with books about to launch on Amazon can be bribed to show up.
Charge them to build awareness – At SXSW, there’s a business plan competition where teams of MBAs are given a $50 budget and break into teams for a weekend long competition. In the past, two teams have made respectable money by reselling gumballs and pumping up air into bicycles. One sold their ‘airtime’ to an investment bank for $50k.
You can charge people to build awareness.
Host an unofficial panel – There are over 1,000 panels at SXSW, so even if you were fortunate enough to land on one of them, you are in competition with eight or more concurrent panels
One solution is to do an unofficial panel. For example, last year, Lean Startup wasn’t selected so Eric Reis and friends did an evening session on the night of March 14. It focused on mentoring entrepreneurs about doing a startup where you get lots of early feedback.
Leverage the SXSW environment – Austin during March is pure mayhem. There are flash mobs. If two or three influential people tweet that they will be somewhere: Instant party. For example, Jeremiah Owyang and Brian Solis tweeted 30 minutes before going to Roy’s across from the convention center. They rallied up over 200 people.
For entrepreneurs, it helps to be like Charlamagne and Mark Sanchez.
Charlamagne used the environment around him and made the wind, birds trees into his allies. Mark Sanchez, QB of the NY Jets, calls audibles – a play change made at the very last second because of a change in the environment.
Zappos does a great job of reading the environment and calling an audible. One year they provided rain ponchos branded Zappos. Another year, they provided playing cards that forced you to network with fellow SXSW attendees. Another year, they offered a “happy tour bus” that provided transportation for people that tweeted at it
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