SXSW reflections

Paying it forward

Over the last couple of days I’ve been following up with many of the people I met in Austin at SXSW and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the percentage that will result in a specific outcome. It’s unusual to form such strong relationships so quickly, in my experience. Social platforms have made it easier to ‘meet’ people but its rare that there’s more than a shared interest – and usually everybody has something to sell – whether it’s a product or service, a persona or looking for investment. It’s also, often, the same experience at local ‘real-life’ networking events.

What I heard most often at SXSW wasn’t a pitch – although I heard a fair few of those – but, ‘what are you looking for? How can I help?’ and that was refreshing. Most of the emails I’ve sent since returning from Austin have been to provide links to third-party content, connect people I met with people I already know, or to look at co-operating on something that serves the interests of both sides. I could get used to it.

I’m still trying to work out why South By SouthWest was a different experience to the majority of events that I go to. When I do, I’ll share it with you. But, I’m wondering whether it is something about the entrepreneurial character that understands the benefits – the long term benefits – of paying it forward. Giving help before they ask for it in return. I’m hoping it is the case. We see it a little on Facebook and Twitter in particular – people retweeting posts or sharing content from others with their followers, but sharing a social post takes seconds. What I’m experiencing post ‘South By’ is people willing to do something substantial in order to help.

I’ve heard a couple of talks recently by Brad Feld about startup ecosystems and I’m a firm believer that it is this attitude that is a key part of building a strong and vibrant community. I do my best to help where I can, but I’m going to try to really step up in offering help to others and delivering on my promises. I’m also going to be a little more focused in the offers of help that I make to ensure that I really can add value.

SXSW – as big an event as it is is, it appears, a microcosm of the startup ecosystems we need to build in Canada. Communities that support each other with actions, rather than simply looking for somebody that can help you sell more.

A profound impact

It’s clear that SXSW has had a profound impact on both me personally and on the future of my business. I had a lot of time to think – 5000km’s worth – and that was a good thing. Too often as entrepreneurs and, increasingly in my role as a public relations and marketing problem solver, we sit at a desk staring at a computer expecting it to magically deliver inspiration or the answer to one challenge or another. Having hour upon hour to think without the usual distractions and a change of scenery – mine literally changed before my eyes – has allowed me the luxury to look at almost every aspect of my business.

SXSW also provided me with an opportunity to share ideas, hear stories and discuss common entrepreneurial challenges with my peers. It gave me opportunities to talk with people in similar positions but diametrically opposed industries and to meet people that I wouldn’t ordinarily talk with. The parties were good, that there is no doubt. But, the conversations over coffee, or stood in line for a hot dog or at the back of a conference session were the most valuable for me. It’s also where I met the people that will help me with the next stage of growth of my company. And, for that, I am very grateful.

It’s a lesson I need to remember and continue to build in to my life as an entrepreneur. We spend a lot of time networking but, all too often, it is with the same groups of people. I’m not suggesting that we stop this – it’s an essential part of building a business, but SXSWi has reinforced the importance of stepping out of these habits from time to time to get new perspectives on everything from the day to day operations of a business, to marketing, proposition and positioning and on industry trends. It enables us to both challenge and reaffirm our opinions and the way we approach growing a business.

SXSW has been a watershed moment for me personally as an entrepreneur and for my business. I’ve spent the day following up leads, new relationships and adapting my business plan based on conversations and experiences at the event.

Day 6

After a couple of days getting acclimated today was the day I started to understand why ‘South By’ is a must attend event for entrepreneurs.  It’s all about serendipity.  For me, I’ve never found parties – at least the ones that go late in to the night – as great tactic for meeting people that will help me grow my business, but the random conversations in bars, restaurants and meeting friends of friends are another proposition.  Today was one of those days where serendipity happened.

Today was all about the conversations.  I talked with friends old and new about everything from defamation law for bloggers, translating the value of social platforms in to the real world and also learning from the experiences of others.  I met some very cool entrepreneurs from Iowa, a great geolocation platform for mobile that allows users to connect multiple social networks to enable them to make new physical relationship and new contacts with accelerator programmes both north and south of the border.

I wrote about defamation law and its implications for bloggers and anybody using any of the social platforms last year, but a conversation I had today has inspired me to revisit the topic.  It started with a comment about whether all publicity is good for a startup [contrary to popular belief, it’s not] and how to deal with negative and factually inaccurate posts.  Having worked with a number of businesses to help them deal with the impact of negative posts on platforms like Yelp and third-party blogs I am going to provide some tips and tricks, as well as an overview of the defamation laws in the next couple of days.  If you’re an entrepreneur you’ll want to keep an eye out for it.

Day 5 – SXSW is the epitome of what startups face trying to be heard

Want to know what you’re up against trying to communicate in today’s real-time internet society?  Come to #SXSW and you’ll experience it.  I’ll be writing more about it later in a separate post.

Day 4 – Innovation will be the key to marketing and social success, but it’s sadly lacking at #SXSWi

Saturday was a busy day.  The volume of events at #SXSW is crazy and finding the quality ones is a challenge.  I met some really interesting people and, also, some not so interesting ones.  Some, despite claims to the contrary – a t-shirt that said ask me about…’ however, couldn’t.

One of the great things about being in Austin for #SXSWi is the opportunity to share creative ideas with others that get ‘it’.  It’s an opportunity to talk about where the industry is going, who’s doing what, who will do what and what isn’t working.  There’s also a fair amount of trying to figure out how to fix the things that aren’t working in the way that they were billed, or the way that we want them to.  Take QR codes – there’s still a worrying number of them around Austin this week and, as far as I know, not enough understanding of how to engage audiences with them.  Personally, I think QR codes had their day… it was probably no more than that in all honesty and they’re yesterdays marketing technology.

Samsung is using what will likely be the next big marketing tool – NFC.  Having just got in to the smartphone era again with an S3 [ditching a very slow and uninspiring BlackBerry 9900] I was keen to try out the NFC technology.  The tactic is essentially downloading an app. that gives you special deals from retailers around the city.  The problem is that the sign-up process is way too complex, the app. takes too long to download, then there’s a requirement to sign in to Facebook.  I did it because i was interested but I’d love to know how successful the tactic is for retailers.  I’m suspecting many people will have given up long before I did.

I split my evening between the Canadian party organized by North of 41, a great Toronto-based incubator, and an event organized by StartUp Texas.  The party had all of the potential to be amazing… but sadly it was a mess.  It tried to engage attendees in a conversation about crowdfunding – but nobody was listening.  A combination of alcohol and a PA system that failed to compete with a crowd keen to talk with each other meant it didn’t really work.  It was a shame, because run differently it could have been awesome.

The StartUp Texas event did get me thinking.  It’s the perfect analogy for the challenge businesses face these days as they attempt to engage a variety of publics [audiences].  They often get drowned out in the continual chatter and, without anything really compelling to say, or a killer deliver tactic, they rarely ever get heard.

One of the most surprising things about SXSWi so far is the lack of innovation.  Companies are doing the same old, tired marketing tactics they’ve been doing for years – with the same results.  There are a few exceptions, but in the main it’s a missed opportunity.  The result is that very few companies are actually doing anything other than   making noise.  I’ll be giving some examples as soon as I get time.

Day 3 – Social Media will NEVER replace face-to-face contact

Today was the start of my very first South By South West [SXSW] experience – and it was addictive.  It also reinforces that social media is a great tool for starting conversations will never be a replacement for multi-channel marketing or face-to-face contact.  It’s a valuable tool, but ultimately not able to deliver the richness that being in the same room delivers.

This trip has been all about meeting people and cementing relationships so far.  I stayed with a friend I met on Twitter in Nashville en route to Austin and as I write this post I’m the guest of another friend made of social media.  The conversations had in the short time I’ve spent with both far surpasses anything possible on social networks.  Call me old-fashioned, but networking will always trump social networking and it’s not something that comes easily for me… a confession – everybody assumes, incorrectly, that as a PR ‘guy’ and an entrepreneur networking comes naturally.  It doesn’t.  It’s something that I work at and push myself to do.

In reality, I’m far more of a journalist than a PR person , and what I really excel at is nailing how to ensure that the right message is delivered to the right audience at the right time – and helping companies to differentiate themselves in doing it.  There’s also an argument that journalists would much rather meet you than a hired PR person – but that’s a topic for another time.

That said, SXSW is a great place to network.  Man, is it a great place to network.  I’ve met people today that I would never have met via social platforms and had conversations  I’d have never had if I hadn’t been sharing the same space in a crowded bar in Austin.  Tomorrow I get to spend a whole day doing it – and I can’t wait.  I’ve officially got the #SXSW bug!!

If you’re in Austin and want to meet just drop me a line or give me a call.  I’m or +1 647.773.2677… or you can send me a message on Twitter at @THINK_Lyndon

The fun of entrepreneurship is, they say, in the journey.  They’re right.

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Day 2 – Another 1065km down.  Just 315 to go!

Today was a nice run down from Nashville Tennessee to Dallas – about 10 hours in total.  The last couple of days have been a great change from the usual 9-5 [or 7 – 10 as it often is when you’re starting a business] and I should get in the habit of getting away from the many screens that dominate our working lives.  I’ve had more ideas on how to move my business forward than I’ve had in a long time and that feels very positive.

I’ve just finished reading a great book by Ken Segall – Apple’s former Advertising agency creative genius – about the power of simplicity and I’ve been trying to work out how I can use some of the principles discussed in the book in my business.  Today I’ve had time to reflect on some of the things in my business that are way too complex [the arch enemy of simplicity] and come up with ways I can improve them.  I’ve also figured out how to improve the graphical branding that I used across many on and offline channels.

As a marketeer I’ve also spent a good deal of time looking at the array of adverts that litter the United States and have marvelled at how bad the majority of them are.  The majority are badly designed, lack a strong message and fail to communicate anything of value.  Now, I know that some are simple signposts – gas stations, hotels and fast food outlets – where there is no intention to build brand or engage potential customers.  They’re missing a trick.

We all know the 80 – 20 rule, right?  80 percent of our business comes from 20% of our customer base.  So, why do many businesses appear to focus their marketing on the 80% that are unlikely to be regular, loyal customers?  It’s something that most businesses need to review and rethink their approach to marketing.

I’ll leave you with one that really caught my attention – but missed a real opportunity to make people interested.  The Memphis, Tennessee outlet for Fireworks Factory has a billboard that says, ‘Buy One, Get Four Free’.  Talk about more bang for your buck!

I’m in Dallas overnight and will be heading down to Austin tomorrow morning for a couple of meetings and then Jeff Pulver’s “State Of Now” #SXSW party.  If you’ve not been to one of Jeff’s events before I’d thoroughly recommend you try one in 2013.

You can keep up with my #SXSW experience as it happens here THINKSXSW or by following the hashtag #THINKSXSW

Day 1 – 1200km down, 1250 to go!

For ten days every March fans of technology, movies and music descend on the Texas town of Austin.  It is, arguably, the largest festival on internet culture of its kind and a great opportunity to network and represents a huge opportunity for companies operating in that space to network.  I’ve been wanting to go for years but until the last few years has always required a transatlantic flight and even then, flights to any airport within 100 miles of Austin cost the same as a ticket to Europe.

As I bootstrap my business – a PR and marketing services startup specifically designed for small businesses – I’m always looking for ways to do as much as I can to promote my business, for as little cost as possible.  I approached Ford Canada, a company I’ve had some contact with in the last year, to see whether they’d be prepared to give me one of their vehicles, in return for some publicity, so that I could drive to Austin.  Yes, you heard that right – I’m driving from my home in Toronto to Austin, Texas – some 2500km each way so that I can attend the social side of the biggest event of the year for the companies I work with.

Today is all about preparation.  I pick up my car this afternoon and I’ve spent the morning organizing an additional print run of business cards and some promotional items.  This has all happened last minute so I don’t have time to get it done in Toronto… so I’m working with two local businesses in Dallas who will have what I need available for pick up on Friday morning.  I’m also working on a low cost in car video system – that will, I hope, cost less than $10.

I’ll be blogging throughout the trip and talking with Canadian Startups at the event.  If you’re attending, get in touch to arrange to meet up


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