Wednesday, January 16, 2013

An Entrepreneur Recounts First SXSW

Since its inception in 1987, South by Southwest (or SXSW for short) has grown to become the biggest gathering of all things music, film and interactive in the United States. In March, for 11 straight days, SXSW will showcase the best in up-and-coming musicians, movies and as of recent years, interactive. For those unfamiliar with the interactive portion of SXSW, it showcases gaming, comedy and our favorite—Startup Village.

SXSW Startup Village brings together the startups, entrepreneurs, investors and cutting-edge digital tastemakers within the SXSW Interactive Festival. It also includes the SXSW accelerator as well as startup-related panels, meet ups, lounges, pitch events and mentoring/coaching sessions. The accelerator is broken up into eight categories: entertainment technologies, health technologies, innovative web technologies, mobile technologies, music technologies, news related technologies, social media & social networking technologies and best bootstrap.

Jeb Ory, a member of the Think Big Accelerator, attended SXSW in 2012 with a company that he co-founded, 5Degrees. 5Degrees was selected as 1 of 8 finalists into the mobile accelerator. With 10 people in an 11 person passenger van, the 5Dgrees team made the roughly 17 hour drive from Chicago to Austin, TX. They were only given 2 passes that granted access to all that SXSW has to offer. With a total of 4 passes between 10 people (2 other people in the group had passes), 5Degrees’ SXSW experience was...well...jam-packed.

“There was a lot of juggling,” Jeb Ory explains.  “There is so much going on, you want to see and experience as much as you can. The first thing I noticed when I got there was how overwhelming it was.”

SXSW adds an additional 20,000-25,000 people to Austin’s already bustling population of nearly 60,000 undergraduates and residents. Needless to say, hotels are limited so one of the best options is an airbnb which are usually located anywhere from 5 to 15 miles outside the city.

Living conditions aside, the experience is all worthwhile.  As Ory recounts,

“All funded companies that have had multi-million dollar rounds with consumer-facing products...tend to spend some money to get some presence.”   

One of the most memorable moments for Jeb was linking up with location-based social network Foursquare.  The startup had a margarita area as a section for playing actual foursquare.  

“I remember playing and making it into the king square and was there about 15 minutes to go.  I even got Dennis Crowley out a couple of times.”

Adding to the memories for Jeb was pitching 5Degrees in the accelerator. They did so well on the first night they advanced to the finals, becoming 1 of 3 in the mobile category.

“You get to meet a number of VCs and interested community members who are very supportive of what you’re doing,” he explains.

But the success of 5Degrees’ presentation didn’t come without sacrifices.

“I realized that I built up this presentation into such a big deal that I missed a lot of things that were going on around the festival,” explains Jeb.

Jeb plans on returning to SXSW this year with his new company Phone2Action with a focus on absorbing everything he and his partners can.

“There are so many great talks that challenge your mindset, which is what I believe to be the real benefit of SXSW,” says Jeb.  

Hearing Jeb recount his first SXSW experience can make anyone excited to attend the whirlwind of a festival.  Our SXSW “expert” advises one final piece of knowledge: “The food trucks! The food trucks kick butt! The food is amazing. If you’re clever, you can get by with spending almost no money because many startups sponsor them.” 

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