In March 2022, a part of our team had a chance to explore the offerings of SXSW in Austin, Texas. So here come the 10 key takeaways from SXSW that our Michał Domański is ready to share right now!
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What is South by Southwest?
South by Southwest (SXSW in short) is one of the biggest conferences/festivals in North America, which builds up as a combination of three distinct worlds - Technology, Music, and Film. Each year in March (well, nearly - as we know, COVID-19 messed up the old world structure a little bit), a bunch of startups, businessmen, tech people, musicians, filmmakers, inventors, and regular folks, meet in Austin, Texas.
The goal? See what the future brings, network furiously, promote oneself, and have fun in the meantime. And our team couldn't miss the chance to try it as well - to meet, talk, and learn. Here's what I took out of this thing:
1. The drastic change of Austin landscape for over two weeks!
Streets are being closed, and people from all over the world walk those, wearing an SXSW badge - proof of being a part of the tribe. Or, to be more precise, one of the tribes. Tech people wore red, Film had blue, Music - green. But if you wanted to "have it all," you could go with the platinum one.
P.S. See THE badge mentioned above.
2. The gazillion of events and activities taking place simultaneously
The amount of those ongoing events can make you dizzy for real. Apart from the 4 "official SXSW" tech venues - Austin Convention Center, Hilton, Marriott, JW Marriott - there were corporate spaces (like: Slack's, Blockchain Creative Labs, or Dell's), national spaces (i.e. Germany Bridge or New Dutch Wave), or simple bars (remember Austin is a city of live music everywhere!). And yes - each place hosts fun discussion panels, meetups, and showcases around the clock.
Pic - Porsche external venue.
3. Web 3.0 everywhere
Web 3.0 was seen everywhere, talked about everywhere, but mostly in terms of NFTs and peer-to-peer/on-chain solutions.
Seriously, we even already had an inside joke about it on the second day of the conference:
- "Each startup is pushing blockchain even if that doesn't make any sense".
- "Oh, we've got a completely valid and working solution using "traditional" technologies? Let's put NFT minting on top of it, just because. Gas fees? What are the gas fees"?
And there was surprisingly little talking about cryptocurrencies or the financial market. Both within discussion panels and business presentations. But, on the other hand, most of the participants we talked to had their lion's share of savings already in crypto.
If you're a business founder, you're more likely to be interested in those. But if you're a developer, I'd recommend learning more about Solana to stay trendy. For those unaware, it's a decentralized blockchain built to enable scalable apps. It's here and doesn't seem to be leaving any time soon.
4. The great comeback of QR codes
QR codes seem like one of the greatest comeback stories in the industry. I remember times when those were considered unnecessary - or niche at best. Clunky, user-unfriendly. Now?
You won't get a menu in the restaurant without scanning the code. Many posters with promo materials around the city are just one large space of black squares that are selling you something or, on the contrary, offering free NFTs. Heck, even business cards lean towards having just the QR on them.
5. Metaverse-related Development
At SXSW it seems that EVERYONE is in and talks about the metaverse. As a result - the demand for Unity development (and other 3D modeling tech) has never been higher than these days. I know, if you have been a gamer for a while, the concept of a "massively multiplayer online open worlds" may not be an out-of-the-oven hot topic. But for everyone outside of gaming, it kinda is.
Naturally, it comes with dozens of questions that are still to be answered. Here are just a few from our lush:
- "How to democratize this space, considering large corporations already have their share in virtual reality?
- How will our brains function with the even higher level of plug'n'work and plug'n'play?
- How can we tackle the matter of creating new worlds from scratch by considering the lessons from the real world?"
6. Artificial intelligence on fleek
Are you interested in neither Web 3.0 nor 3D modeling? Then, reach out to the Machine Learning/Artificial Intelligence basket (with Python as your exemplary go-to stack).
Could you imagine a technology like Deepfake used with good intentions? At SXSW, we saw Deepfake used to revive your long-gone family members. Or, the AI analyzing how employees fill out their health check forms - to read in-between the lines. Or maybe you'd like a SaaS that replaces your brand designer with the complex market and pattern analysis in order to generate unique brand books?
Nonetheless, we're just at the very beginning of this ML/AI journey. Guess what comes next?
7. Boo!s to stationary booths
Want to visit Austin as a business/startup representative next year? Then, I do not recommend getting a booth.
But seriously. Don't get a stationary booth unless you've got people to rotate the post. SXSW is not about the Expo. It can be complementary to the general experience of meeting people, going places, shaking hands, and learning from all over. Personally, I believe there's much more to the event this way.
Well, if you insist on having a booth, the best solution would be to have a booth showcasing your product/business. With an army of employees manning events and meetups. But that seems to be a bit of excess to me.
In my opinion, it makes much more sense to bring free stuff. But not pendrives, God, please, we've got enough of those! Everyone loves free stuff, so why not make a nice first impression by giving out small gifts to people? I suggest bringing some food, drinks, and, of course, your company's merch to stand out. Some of our personal highlights are: free NFC custom business cards, and designer water bottles (and you HAVE TO stay hydrated - you're running around for the whole day, in a Texan heat.
Let's be honest - anyone who's been to the conference noticed the hot topic. Yep, you could hear from almost every corner that the cannabis industry is booming and that it's only the beginning. Lots of panels and discussions, heck, even a dedicated cannabis lounge - welcomed guests to learn more about the trend. Though, I found it rather peculiar to find this topic flared up in the middle of Texas :)
9. Not everyone came back, but those who did - did it hard
What I mean is SxSW 2022 was the first edition of the conf after 2 years of lockdown. For various reasons, lots of people decided not to go (around 20% of the previous attendees). Still, the city was full, and everyone present wanted to squeeze as much as possible out of the events they visited. What's more, the city itself is changing rapidly as more startups & corporations swarm there. Peaceful, calm Austin (when compared to lively Dallas, Houston, or San Antonio) now goes into a wild rodeo of growth.
10. Who's gonna enjoy the conference?
Tell me: what do you want to achieve, see, and experience during this conference?
Do you want to check out the newest technologies and become an early adopter? Or you want to walk through the Creative Industries Expo where startups got their booths or enter one of the next-gen spaces (like the metaverse domes).
Maybe you're the business angel looking out for new investment opportunities? Then, official and accompanying pitch events are your go-to. Are you an entrepreneur looking out for new business partners? There's no better place for you to be than countless meetup events.
Everyone from the tech industry will find plenty of stuff to do and places to be.
But one thing needs to be remembered! Let's be honest - SXSW is packed as hell, and you won't be able to attend everything. Neither did we. Although, that's not how this gargantuan event is to be experienced.
There were some words of wisdom everyone was telling us that we wholeheartedly embraced. Just meet with people, talk to them, team up, and go with the flow. The best solution is not to optimize the event attendance by calendar adjustments. It is going where folks you enjoyed are going. And, oh boy - trust me, it was the right decision.
Is SXSW worth visiting?
And to be done with the main question. Yes, it was worth attending South by Southwest!
We learned a lot about the state and the future of tech, got our minds stimulated with ideas, and met wonderful people. Hell, even made some new friends and fond memories! There are stories to be told.
We hope to see those whom we befriended and had such a great time with once again. And we hope to see you there as well in 2023!