Dear NI – Does #SXSW shoulder rubbing actually pay off?

I’ve spent the last couple of days watching #SXSW tweets passing my timeline and the overriding sentiment is that it’s lost its shine a little. Turn to the tech press and the message seems to be that startups are staying away while the big lads come in with their large marketing initiatives and private parties.


So this all begs the question, is it really worth going. I had a conversation with a trusted voice and mind a few days before they left for Austin and gave me a quick run down of some of the companies going, I’m not going to name names but I was left very surprised. Most have no need to be there, for them it’s probably party time at someone else’s expense.

From an entrepreneur’s point of view statistically it’s impossible to network on the scale of numbers. Estimates bring 2014 SXSW Interactive at just over 30,000. In a euphoric state you’ll pitch your thing to anyone who’s willing to listen. So even assuming you’re a workaholic talking to one person every fifteen minutes 16 hours straight for four days you’ll only cover 0.8% of the attendees.

The best place for you is to present or keynote. If you’re there then your hit rate increases dramatically but only scraping the surface of what’s addressable.

Kudos to Kainos for presenting at #SXSWEdu but I didn’t see the sessions listed on the main site which was a shame.

Over the last four or five years I’ve gone from idealist to realist. In 2014 my thoughts have turned to what I could possibly support in Northern Ireland. We’ve got DigitalCircle and our own SXSW by way of @culturetechfest in September and a host of things going on in Belfast too. Coderdojo‘s all over the province, #Bloc54 supporting and encouraging the games industries and Women Who Code. There’s enough work to do here than travel 4619 miles to Austin.

Of course all of this doesn’t matter when someone else is footing the bill but the question remains, if it was your money would you do it at all? Does the tax payer ever get an update of the positive outcomes of the public money spent on getting you to a large party (remember, perception is everything).

Keep this fact in mind, I believe that investors are location sensitive. The greater distance between investor and founder the greater the mistrust and risk levels rise. Hence securing funding within the locality is far easier but possibly more costly in terms of equity. So while you want to believe you might get funding while you’re out there with your shiny startup the reality is you’ll come back with one expensive hangover and jet lag.

Hopefully you won’t have missed sales while you were away.

2 responses to “Dear NI – Does #SXSW shoulder rubbing actually pay off?”

  1. Through our humble and voluntary community work at Mobile Monday Belfast (uninterrupted for 6 years), we see far more start-up founders attending our local events, and we try to connect or promote them to local funders, at least for seed round. So we totally agree with you Jase about the distance-risk equation. Local (NI) angels can quickly find out about the founder(s) and participate in early rounds, even if they don’t know well the sector of the (tech) start-up, based on confidence factor alone. Having said that, further rounds closer to series A can be more difficult locally indeed. As to SXSW, we see more value in the Mobile World Congress (just finished last week), where 16 organisations from NI – of which 7 start-ups – saw real value for themselves and the taxpayers’ money (subsidised trip and NI stand).

  2. I suppose it depends on what you mean by pay off and what the company/individual expects to get out of sxsw. At the end of the day it is a huge party. A party that some of the most creative/smart/new-thinking individuals go to each year. It’s there to get inspiration. Being in the room with the right people at the right time could turn into a masterclass on entrepreneurship.

    In saying that I totally agree with you that there is lots of work here to be done and focus should be on it. If you’re asking where I’d prefer public money to be spent on. It’s on our guys, on our land every time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: