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This byline was originally featured on FoundRead here.
A mere 3 weeks before SXSW, MakeMeSustainable.com (MMS) was nominated as a web award finalist. Before we could celebrate, we panicked! None of us had been before. So with almost no warning, little preparation, a gigantic stack of business cards and suitcases filled with t-shirts and jeans, we hopped a flight to Austin to see what opportunities SXSW would bring. This is our account of our first pilgrimage to Web2.0’s latest confab-Mecca.
1. It almost hurt to see the sheer amount of waste in the SXSW schwag bag. Besides most of it being junk, it represents an environmental disaster for every conference of this type (Here’s our full post on all the SXSW junk).
2. SXSW is not a place to find funding. It is the perfect place to encounter your next evangelist. You’ll see innovative web ideas, get press coverage, find new collaborators and partners. Still, as far as we could tell, not many companies launched or re-launched at SXSW. The established come to SXSW to mingle.
3. Excellent place to find contrarian advice for your startup. In fact, the established come to SXSW to give advice as much as to help themselves, and it’s good much of the time. 37 Signals’ Jason Fried and Bill McKibben gave great presentations.
4. Geeks are not dorks. We know how to party. More importantly, we know how to party, and then go home and write a blog post for an hour.
1. Startups need to answer an essential question: “what does a geek want?“
2. VC’s and Angels should come to SXSW to begin to understand the power of tech-evangelism.
3. Traditional marketing materials were unnecessary. We expected more interactive, online marketing and you cannot imagine a greater accumulation of PDA’s and laptops and an audience more plugged-in. We hope that next year conference materials will be made available exclusively online with a brief 3 second ad in order to view…after all, that’s greater than the amount of time most conference attendees spent looking at fliers.
4. Be a sponsor! The food inside the convention center was awful. If your startup needs to advertise, do it by sponsoring a caterer, or have a display with free food available.
MMS’s Score Card
- 6 “official” press meetings, about 6 unofficial
- 4 hours sleep/night
- 100 business cards collected…the good outweighed the useless!
- 5 panels attended (37 Signal’s Jason Fried and Bill Mckibben take top spots)
- 1 panel sorely missed: [our own Katie Fehrenbacher’s panel] Green Software, Really?
- $7: the total amount spent on drinks and food at networking events
- 70% chance of returning next year
We had no plans to attend the conference. We weren’t featured on any panels. We are a small, angel-funded start-up, whose web product is still in its early public Beta stage. It was an honor and surprise to be nominated for the web awards, but any young web company can benefit from the SXSW adventure.
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When we learned three weeks ago that we’d had been selected as finalists for a web award, we were ecstatic. Here was not only the excuse we’d been looking for to come down to SXSW, but also a great opportunity to push sustainability at one of the country’s most respected interactive, film and music festivals. We sped up our preparations for an interactive display that we are launching with bands and events this summer. The SXSW “Interactive Carbon Tree” would act as a powerful tool for SXSW conference attendees to participate in grass roots green initiative.
What is alarming is that SXSW is attempting to address sustainability issues, but just not doing a very good job of it. They are purchasing renewable energy credits to offset the conference’s emissions – now standard for any conference wanting to brand itself as “sustainable”. They are also however, consuming the equivalent of acres and acres of trees in useless promotional materials – the life blood of sponsorship commerce that drives these events. We needed only to peek behind the curtain of the gift bag desks to see an entire warehouse filled with thousands more – so big that SXSW volunteers drove around on pitchfork cars to grab bags and bring them to the desks well out of view (not to worry, the electric vehicles’ emissions were probably offset). More troubling, was that these bags were filled with 12 pounds of absolute crap – Isn’t this an INTERACTIVE conference (ok for music and film), you’d be hard press to find a group of people less inclined to look through pounds of paper flyers, handouts and stickers:
The truth is, this is standard for events and making events emerald “green” isn’t going to change the world – the people who attend them and the companies they run will. That is exactly why we wanted to get people engaged in an initiative we designed to reduce our collective environmental impact here and beyond these two weeks in Austin (read more…).
Unfortunately due to the sponsorship issues we were unable to work with SXSW on the initiative because we didn’t have the kind of cash lying around necessary to do anything official…oh, and when we tried to promote the Green Initiative guerrilla style at the event, a SXSW employee was kind enough to tell us security would be called if we didn’t cease doing so, because “people pay a lot of money to promote at SXSW.”
As a result of getting shut down by “the man”, we are looking to promote the event virtually. We have developed html widgets for the SXSW group that track all the users and their respective carbon reductions in real time. If you are interested in mobilizing greening of SXSW from the grassroots, you can help the initiative by embedding the following widget in your blog or site and spread the word: