import•io heads to Austin, TX for the famed SXSW picture courtesy of Slashathon
Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to fly out to the fabulous city of Austin, TX for South by Southwest (SXSW) 2014 – one of the hottest conferences in the tech scene. SXSW is the massive annual music, film and interactive conference and festival which brings a whopping $200million into the Austin economy.
We were lucky enough to score a booth in the interactive conference center for four glorious days. And here’s how it all went down…
The good times started before I’d even touched down on American soil. It turned out that practically everyone on my trans-atlantic flight from London to Austin was headed for SXSW (I told you it was massive)! This gave the flight a buzzing atmosphere and made the miles simply fly by (sorry for the pun).
I was greeted in the arrivals bay at Bergstrom International airport in Austin by our co-founder, Andrew – who is based in SF. En route to the hotel – in our ballin’ hire car – we drove down 6th st, in downtown Austin, where people were already spilling into the streets. Despite the jet lag, I couldn’t help but be psyched up and ready to go!
Our first order of business was to head over to the Swell Awards, where Andrew was pitching import•io alongside a host of other great startups. The building where the awards were held was on one of SXSW’s busiest streets. Big name tech companies like Dropbox and Funny or Die rent out houses along this street to host parties, live music nights and networking events. It’s kind of like the grown up version of a massive frat party – the beer makes its first appearance around noon and no one slows down until the early hours of the morning!
Next, we went over to the conference center to set up our booth. On the way we stopped by my favourite American invention: Walmart – where all my dreams come true. We picked up some furniture for the booth and snacks and drinks to keep the crowds happy. When we were done setting up, we ate some amazing steaks at a fantastic jazz bar called Eddie V’s.
After a hearty American style breakfast, Andrew and I went to the convention center to meet our new team member for the week. Ishaan had kindly agreed to volunteer to help out at our stand for the next couple days.
Our first day on the booth was great. The hall at SXSW is segregated by country and everyone from the UK to Japan to Korea was there showing off the latest in hardware and software. We had some really great conversations and gave a LOT of demos.
After a hard day, we did what any good SXSW attendee would do, and grabbed a cold beer – which turned out to be quite an experience. We quickly abandoned most of the bars we tried to get into because the queues were insane and found ourselves at an out of the way little western bar called Bangerz. It was an unusual place, full of bucking broncos, beer from around the world and every teenage girl’s dream….Justin Bieber. Yeah, that’s right. Bieber.
He performed an impromptu concert – the video for which has since gone viral on Andrew’s YouTube account – which was pretty hilarious. While I was chatting to some of the band managers, Andrew hopped off to speak to Fuse News. He even got an import•io t-shirt on screen!
It was day two on the booth and we were swamped yet again. Exhausted from the Bieber fever we caught the night before, we kept it pretty chill and had a few drinks followed by one of the most delicious hot dogs I have ever had at a traditional 24-hour American diner.
By this point the jet lag and long days were starting to catch up to us. To wake me up Andrew did a little festive jig:
After another great day at the booth, we went to a bar called Head to the Handlebar. It has one rule: every member of staff must have a handlebar mustache – and you thought East London was hipster! In true Austin style, we met a group of musicians who were there filming Snoop Dogg and a few other artists for a video. We played a little Giant Jenga and sipped on a little wine while enjoying the spectacular views from their open top bar. Afterwards we traipsed back to our hotel, and the lovely staff in the kitchen made me a fantastic steak (my third of the trip) even though the kitchen was closed. Everyone in Austin is super nice!
Our final day at SXSW kicked off with Andrew presenting at Slashathon, a hackathon competition where developers create a marketing app to promote Slash. As one of the official API partners, Andrew had his hands full helping all the teams get their hands on all the music data. At the end Slash along with Robert Scoble and Brahm Cohen, chose the winning app. First prize went to Slash TV – an app that lets you create your own rock music video on your mobile phone.
L-R: Brahm Cohen, Slash, Robert Scoble – picture courtesy of Blabbermouth
Over in the exhibition hall – for the last day of our booth – I was busy challenging some fellow exhibitors to a game of pool. I won of course. And after claiming my t-shirt prize (and taking a little bow for the crowd) I headed back to the booth where Ishaan was talking to Stephen Wolfram!
We finished off our week in style by scoring some VIP wrist bands to see St Vincent and a few other artists courtesy of Fuse News as a thank you for Andrew’s interview. It was a fabulous night with great people, and even better music. I was sad to leave SXSW the next day – although very much looking forward to a good night’s sleep in my own bed – but there were plenty of SXSWers on my flight home to reminisce with.
Moral of the story? I will DEFINITELY be back again next year!