Written while flying back from SXSW. Sitting next to some lady on a plane whose son is starting a payments company. It was strange. She didn’t know about Dwolla. I told her about it.
Things like deal flow and relationships don’t really mean much to anyone until they’ve been exposed to it. Here lately I seem to be getting more exposed to it. SXSW for Dwolla wasn’t about making a huge splash. It was really about meeting great people and getting to know one another. In a few cases we got to know a few people really well, really quickly.
My goal in recounting some of my experiences at SXSW isn’t to impress you. It’s to impress upon you that around these parts (The Prairie) we have a long way to go but the people “out there” don’t really have any preconceived notions about why the Prairie is bad. They just aren’t exposed to it because their tribes are so productive already and we’re just not included in them.
It would take us decades to accomplish what this scene already has and there’s no reason to even attempt to rebuild it. Someone elses platform already works really damn well. So lets learn from it, integrate with it, and stop being afraid of it.
From a builders perspective
What you can learn.
You aren’t alone. Builders, founders, creative people and everything else are roaming around in quantity. Investors, media, and every under the sun are there looking to talk about whats new and what is real.
Why you should go.
By simply attending your going to “take a pill” and you probably won’t know which until it’s all said and done . I realized after leaving today I had taken some type of pill. There are 2 situations that stick out in my mind.
1.I ran into Dennis from Foursquare in the elevator at the Hilton who just had to give me shit for some reason about not using Groupme. I didn’t really mention it to anyone at first because it felt normal.
2. I ran into the CEO at Media Temple who I talked to about payments for about 7 blocks. We were going to the same place for lunch and a conversation started. If that happened in Iowa I’d probably call my mom or something boasting with pride but at SXSW… This stuff just happens between other stuff.
You will learn a lot about deal flow.
From a PR / Getting users perspective
What you can learn.
Have a plan. Without one you are dead. I didn’t have a plan. I accomplished very little from a PR perspective.
Having some girls walk around to give away an iPad won’t earn you a tremendous ROI on anything. You may get some users but inherently people won’t be talking about the iPad you are giving away.
The more you hustle. The more you get out of it. Don’t be full of it and when someone says “get over here and meet this guy” drop whatever you’re doing, stop crying about how many blocks away it is, and haul it over there. These intros aren’t a everyday thing and this isn’t the time to watch TV in your room.
Why you should go.
So you can learn how to plan to be an effective contributor the next time you go.
Things to be self aware of.
A lot of things could or may happen to you that seem like something out of a movie. Mainly because some of it (and some of the people) might be.
Everything is free including most of the beer. Just know what you’re getting into ahead of time. Everyone is handing you everything and no one has any intention of stopping at 2AM. Most of my nights at SXSW extended until 4-5AM and every single one of them was epic.
Everyone wants you to be pitching. It’s ok to say no or to downplay what you do. If you’re not doing a deal or looking for one. Don’t BS about it.
Don’t wear your companies TShirt if you don’t want to pitch and if you use the phrase “Paypal without the fees” try not to do it on the Zappos bus after you’ve been out for 6 hours to one of the co-founders of Paypal.
I’m not exactly sure what I said to Tony before getting on the bus. My assumption is I said something and followed everyone else onto the bus thinking “are you sure this is ok”.
Only after such an experience would it be the opportune to walk into a lobby of hundreds of people to watch Dennis and friends do a back race in the lobby of the Hilton where you ran into Guy Kawasaki earlier that day.
If you happen to find yourself at one of Gary V’s secret wine parties at the Phoenix. Make sure you have your iPhone to grab some video. Prior to this experience you’d never know Danny Schreiber is a dancing machine.
You may run into Gary the next day and think “thanks dude”. He won’t recognize you. You should expect that going into it.
Consequently. You may also learn Shane Reiser is a dancing machine as well at another party. You may also learn that I am not a dance machine… But even I try once in a while. I am human after all.
You may also witness your friends (who are dance machines) start to demonstrate skills you weren’t aware of at a huge Microsoft party with live music and a few thousand really smart, really amazing, really happy people. You might end up with VIP access somehow and really have no idea what you are doing in the room because everyone around you looks smart and is a lot better looking than you are. You might have a glow in the dark Dwolla t shirt on and just roll with it.
They may make a dancing pit. You might get to see it happen. It might be pretty awesome.
You may hear the phrase “hey , isn’t this the guy you were talking about” while people who you hold in high regard just seem to be in the same room.
You might learn that the Startup Weekend mafia is quite real and full of ridiculously amazing people who care about helping start ups get off the ground. This experience (and the 200 created by this amazing group of people) may quickly show you why this is precisely the type of non-profit you should be donating and contributing to.
You might meet Bo Fishback and not really know who your talking to. He might kind of change your perception of a network instantly. You might start getting text messages and think people you don’t know are screwing with you because what is happening doesn’t really seem like it could be real.
You might get to know some amazing people at Twilio who turn out to be phenomenally smart and kind people.
You might get to actually meet people like Dave McClure and Naval. You might actually get to talk to them and ask their advice and they might actually blow your mind with how gracious they are.
It’s completely possible that through the grace of god you somehow end up at a Silicon Valley Bank party and just start randomly being introduced to people who invest with companies like Intel, Accel, or NEA.
That may be preceded one of the most obscene parties (or multiple in my experience) you’ve ever been to and be ushered directly into the next one where you meet half those guys who write the blogs you read.
You might actually get to have a conversation with Robert Scoble randomly at the W after talking to someone from Pandora who runs their PR/Marketing.
Then you might end up doing an interview and realizing that you aren’t worried about yourself… You just really want to see that panel from that guy who has that huge brain.
You simultaneously may realize that all of this emotion, celebrity, and excitement around these ideas is contagious and SXSW feels like nothing short of a drug.
You might get mentioned on TechCrunch. Even if it was just in the comments section.
And a million other things quite frankly I’m too mentally exhausted to mention. What you just got was the tip of the iceberg. My life quite frankly will never be quite the same.
You may not know if you made an ass out of yourself but you’ll probably let go of that fear.
Relationships are everything. Because of the generosity of Shane Reiser, Geoff Wood, Jeff Slobotski, Danny Schreiber, and Dusty Davidson I was able to get into rooms I never could have gotten into, parties I wouldn’t have been allowed into, and got to have conversations with people I never would have met. Thank you guys. Amazing stuff.
I have no idea if I made a good impression or just an unshaven one and I’m going to be too busy for the next 6 months due to experiences like this to care. I did meet a lot of people and I’m smarter for going. However next year I may start demonstrating my age a little more and make a conscious effort not to “keep up” with my friends… But that’s only because I’ve already had my fun. Now go have yours.