Last month, Nicolas, Edouard and myself, three Silicon Students currently interning in the San Francisco Bay Area, attended South by Southwest in Austin, Texas for the first time and the least we can say is that it was a mindblowing experience.
First of all, the trip from San Francisco to Austin itself was quite an experience. As student interns, we needed to find a cheap way to spend our nights there, we procrastinated a little bit and we hadn’t booked anything (neither flight nor room) one week before our supposed arrival date and figured out that even motel rooms were around $700/night. Therefore we decided to rent a van to sleep in and drive from San Francisco to Austin.
We’ve been joined by Dom Patrick a 25-year-old entrepreneur from California who founded Grip Note, company which is a marketplace that enables students and faculty to buy and sell their own digital content online. i.e class notes, course kits, study guides, etc. After a 30-hour drive, we made it in time for the first parties on Friday night.
Entrepreneurially-minded as we are, we branded ourselves “HustleMobile” and made some plans on how we could take advantage of this van during our 30 hour trip.
The first party was co-organized by Startup Weekend, Twilio and Zaarly. We met Alice Zagury and Elise Nebout from Le Camping, the first French startup accelerator and many Startup Weekend organizers. Among them, the Frenchies Maxime Granjean, Clement Cazalot, Deborah Rippol and Franck Nouyrigat who is one of Startup Weekend’s co-founders.
After that, we spent our first night actually sleeping in our van in a random public parking of Austin.
Saturday was very rainy, not ideal for some outdoor events which had been planned but it didn’t seem to weaken anybody’s enthusiasm.
We wanted to start the day with the French by Southwest daily gathering for lunch. Unfortunately, it was supposed to be in an Irish pub and it was the time of the Six Nation Rugby Game Ireland vs Scotland, we didn’t have much room to hang out so there were just a few of us. It was still interesting and above all a great opportunity to meet Cecile Fandos, journalist at Frenchmorning.com based in Austin who wrote an article (in French) about this meeting. Then we greeted Elise Nebout from Le Camping in our HustleMobile where she did this audio interview.
After spending a little while in the Hilton Lobby, which was a central point where a lot of startup people gathered during the day and doing another interview with Nilay Patel from The Verge (he actually used less than a second of each), the “partython” begun.
RocketSpace organized an outdoor event at the Bing lot where they gave people wristbands that autotagged you on Facebook using RFID. We immediately went on to the Decentralized Dance Party organized by Giftiki and Kiip, an outdoor moving party where the DJ has an Ipod and a device which enables him to transfer his playlist to an FM station to 100 to 300 boomboxes which were given away to people and that can go crazy like this. The party began pretty far from downtown but finished right where all attendees of SXSW were, blowing away every single person who saw this. A great effective marketing lesson from Giftiki. They didn’t have to rent a club and pay for an open bar, had 500 to 1000 people to their party and branded it efficiently with balloons, t-shirts and signs so that even the people who didn’t attend the party and couldn’t help taking pictures when the party passed by them would remember it and its organizers. Let alone the fact that it was crowdfunded using their technology.
While arriving downtown we saw something that would lead us to the next party. Gary Vaynerchuk was right across the street so we had to talk to him. After a quick chat, he told us that his secret wine party would be around the corner and that he would tweet the exact location soon. Therefore, while waiting for THE tweet we decided to hang out there and we met Gil Hirsch, co-founder of Face.com, which works on amazing technologies using face recognition and just released the Kilk app.
We finally headed to Gary’s party were the line was already crazy a few minutes after the tweet.
The party was in a good club, the wine was really good and we pleasantly got used to meeting ever more interesting people. It finished in the W hotel lobby where we had fun with the twin brothers Angus and Marcus Nelson.
The first event we attended on Sunday was the SXSWball tournament where companies like Appstack, 500startups, Twilio, TaksRabbit, VaynerMedia competed. It was kind of funny to see Dave McClure play basketball barefoot. On our way back, we gave a ride to the VaynerMedia team. They were waiting for a cab, but the Hustlemobile is much better. There were already three of us in the car but it was big enough to add AJ and Nathan from VaynerMedia, John, a former colleague of them currently working as a director of social media for Dr Oz TV show and Addison working on an app called Too-Do.
When arriving at the Hilton, we found out that Nicolas had just won the Startup Bus with his team Cerealize, company that deliver customized cereals at your doorstep. He was being interviewed by BFM (main French economic radio station) and all his team members were harassed by journalists resulting in coverage in Techcocktail , NBC, Techcrunch or Foxbusiness (just to name a few) and that showed us how quickly things can go in SXSW.
We had the Rackspace/Startup Bus party planned at 8.pm that night. To avoid lines we went quickly to our Van to put all our stuffs but when we arrive to our parking spot…the car where not there anymore!!! During a few seconds we thought we had lost everything. Our home that we didn’t even own and our way back to San Francisco in the same time. We then figured out that it had been towed by mistake, lost an hour and a half in the process of getting it back and went back partying not without a little souvenir on our window.
Therefore, the Rackspace/Startup Bus party was shorter than expected for us and we moved to the Path party. It was in a good club, we had the opportunity to test Drew Houston French speaking skills, joke with Shervin Pishevar about his haircut which was now back to normal and enjoy good music with a live performance.
On Monday, we had a HUGE problem, we still didn’t know what we would do during the afternoon and the evening while it was already noon…A look at twitter and a plan given by a friend in the Hilton lobby and we got it figured out. We would head first at a Foursquare outdoor happy hour under a wonderful sun, then to the Startup weekend/Microsoft Bizpark bbq, quickly to the Tracks party and end at the Amsterdam house sponsored by Viadeo for the last party of the night. At least, that’s what we thought. We actually ended up in the Hilton where many people were still partying. Even Robert Scoble was there, it was around 3-4.am and we talked startups and changing the World with him (it wasn’t the exact topic, but let’s say that).
Tuesday was the quieter day for us as it was the last day of interactive and the first day of music. We eventually attended our first panel at SXSW where Suchit Dash, Co-founder and VP of Product at Ifeelgoods was speaking with Dean Alms, VP of marketing at Milyoni on the topic “Facebook Credits: Not Just for Virtual Goods” and it was animated by Brittany Darwell lead writer at Inside Network. After that, the mix between interactive and music people was the perfect moment to spend the afternoon in the Spotify house, with good music, food, drinks and sun.
We ended SXSW by the Media Temple interactive closing party. An outdoor concert starring Mike Snow and Kasabian.
I think SXSW can be lived in a thousand different ways and it’s also a reason that will make us come back every year. Our experience may seem really (really?) party oriented, but we’ve also met a lot of very interesting people of the tech industry, probably more than in any other event in the same amount of time.
We had to be creative every morning to take showers and had a few troubles with our van but it was worth it.
On our way back we spent two days in Las Vegas, but what happens in Vegas…