South by Southwest Interactive isn’t just a conference. It’s “Spring Break for geeks.” That may have started as a joke, but it couldn’t be closer to the truth. Every year, thousands and thousands of web designers, programmers, gamers, bloggers and online marketers come together for what is most probably the largest technology conference of its kind.
The conference is huge, the parties are over the top, the venue is amazing (who doesn’t love Austin?) and the people are what it’s all about.
This was the first year I was speaking at SxSWi, I had a book reading for Online Marketing Inside Out on Saturday, March 13 at 11 AM (well, a little later because the previous speaker ran into my time slot). So I was incredibly excited about going this year, but decided to take a slightly different approach.
Instead of trying to go to a lot of panels and sessions, and trying to hit all the big parties, I would just take it as it came. The last two years at SxSW seemed to fly by so quickly and it seemed like I never had time to just sit down and enjoy the company of friends or really connect with people. This year I was determined to really make the most of it.
So what follows is a daily recap of my SxSW experience (with many thanks to Foursquare for the helpful history tool!). Be forewarned… it’s long and incredibly detailed. If you’d rather skip all the minute details and just read my takeaways, you can jump to the conclusion.
We have a client in Austin, and it was actually a trip to meet with them that led me to my first SxSW in 2008. It just so happened that our client meeting and the conference were extremely close, so we got tickets to the conference. For the past two years we’ve repeated that coincidence by scheduling our meeting around the conference.
We flew into Austin pretty early, and Donna (our client) picked us up from the airport. We went to their offices for a short time and then went to Rudy’s BBQ for lunch. We stuffed ourselves, then headed back to the office to get some work done.
Went out to The Salt Lick for dinner, one of my favorite places in Austin to eat. It’s located in a dry county, but you can take a cooler filled with beer. It’s got a great atmosphere and even better Texas BBQ.
After dinner I hitched a ride to the hotel and checked in. It was 9:45 PM when I got to my room and dropped my bags, so I decided to run over to the convention center to try to get a badge. I ran past Jim Caruso in the Hilton lobby, and he walked with me to the convention center. I barely got my badge before they closed at 10, then Jim and I went to the lounge in the Hilton and had a drink. Chrispian Burks met us there and we hung out for a few before calling it a night.
I went back over to our client’s office for a while and wrapped things there, then had Mighty Fine Burgers for lunch (owned by the same folks as Rudy’s). We finished up around 4 PM and I headed to the hotel and convention center. I went up to the day stage for Darren Rowse’s book reading of the second edition of his ProBlogger book co-authored by Chris Garrett. I met up with Julie Taylor, Josh Coffee, Patrick O’Keefe, Chrispian Burks, Deb Ng, and Chris.
Someone pulled the fire alarm right in the middle of Darren’s book reading and the entire convention center was evacuated. It was a little funny how slowly people were evacuating. If there was a real fire, I think half the world’s bloggers would have been lost. When we got the all-clear, we went back to the book reading and Darren finished. After the reading, Darren and Chris had a book signing at the SxSW Bookstore. I bought another copy of Problogger Book and got them to sign it.
I went back to the room briefly and then went downstairs to meet up with Jeremy Wright and head to dinner with some friends. He was in the Hilton lounge with a few friends. I grabbed a drink and he introduced me to Loren Feldman of 1938 Media. Loren seems like a pretty cool guy, the kind of guy that’d be fun to just hang out and have a few drinks with. We threw down our drink pretty fast because we were running late and then headed to Roy’s where we met Darren Rowse, Deb, Chris, Patrick, Chrispian, and some others. The food was great, but it was a little dark.
We headed to the Driskill Hotel (that’s where all the cool kids said the party was at) and it was packed. I saw lots of cewebrities there like Gary Vaynerchuk, Robert Scoble, Brian Solis, etc. Whoohooo! (note the sarcasm). I stayed at the bar upstairs for a while but then heard a few friends were downstairs at the 1886 Cafe and Bakery. I headed down and the atmosphere was much better. We could actually hear each other talk. We stayed there for a bit then I headed back to the hotel to get some sleep because I had a book reading Saturday.
I woke up early to prepare for my book reading, and as I was going over my notes and slides I decided to completely change my talk. Instead of going through several chapters in the book giving tips and tricks, I decided to tell a few stories about our experience at 2BigFeet.com over the years. I frantically retooled my slides to be much simpler and prepared some notes for the talk at 11am.
I got to the Day Stage around 10 minutes before 11, and the presenter before me was still going strong. Book reading presentations are supposed to be 20 minutes, but the time slot is 30 minutes. This gives the AV team time to get the next presenter setup and gives the people in the audience time to get up and leave or new arrivals time to find a seat. The guy before me ran really long, cutting well into my time. At 11am, I looked at the AV folks and they said he was wrapping up. 5 minutes later, still talking. Playing videos. Talking more. 10 minutes… STILL talking. Then as he was playing a video he told us he’d take ONE question after it was over. As soon as the video stopped, he said “I’ve got time for a couple questions” and proceeded to take two, and give extremely long-winded answers.
If people came at 11am for my book reading, I can only imagine what they were thinking. Did it get cancelled? Was it already over?
He finally got off the stage, and we setup the AV and I started. I was a little worked up about going on late and the previous presenter’s lack of respect, so I stumbled a bit over the first few slides. I think it went well as soon as I got into the three stories, and my talk was even covered on HubSpot’s Internet Marketing Blog.
Immediately after the book reading, I walked over to the SxSW Bookstore (a few tables across from the Day Stage) for a book signing. I sold lots of books and met some really cool people… and some really great friends like Patrick, Josh, Julie, Chrispian, Deb and Taryn Pisaneschi were there to support me.
Then we went to Patrick O’Keefe and Twanna Hines’ core conversation, “Shameless Self Promotion Without Looking Like an @#$%^&!“. It was originally submitted as a panel with Patric, Twanna, Darren Rowse and me, but was converted to a core conversation so Darren and I just attended and participated from the audience.
We were pretty hungry after Patrick’s panel, and one of my friends James Paden and Deb Ng had never had Texas BBQ, so I took a group of friends to Rudy’s BBQ (worst bbq in texas) for some brisket and beef ribs. It was me, Josh Coffee, Julie Taylor, Deb Ng, James Paden and Chrispian Burks. We had a blast, and have photos to prove it! We had to take a couple cabs out there, but it was worth it. Next year I’m taking them to The Salt Lick though!
It took a while to get there and back, so not much was accomplished that afternoon. We had RSVP’d for the Old Timers meetup so Patrick, Jared Smtih and I headed over there. We met some great folks like Alyce Lindquist from the Silicon Valley Social Media Club and Brian O’Shaughnessy from Skype.
We left there with intentions of finding a place to eat, but had trouble getting a cab back to the convention center area. When we finally got there we saw Lucretia Pruitt and Allison Worthington in the Hilton lobby. We were all hungry, so we just decided to get something to eat in the Hilton Lounge (food by Finn & Porter). The group ended up being me, Lucretia, Allison, Patrick, Josh, Julie and Chrispian. I had a great time talking to Allison about her BlissDom conference.
From there, we tried to go to the TechKaraoke party but the line wrapped all the way around the building. One of my goals this year was to not stand in any lines… you can waste so much time waiting to get in and there are so many parties going on. Why wait to get into that one cool party? We eventually ended up at the Bellmont bar and had a great time. They had live music and the weather was great, so we stayed outside on the roof most of the time. We closed it down, then went to Jimmy Johns for a late night snack.
Got back to the hotel really late, and suddenly remembered I was going to have to be up early because Patrick and I had RSVP’d for something Sunday morning. I set my alarm and tried to get a few hours of sleep.
I had to wake up early for Social Media Breakfast… but of course slept late. I woke up at 9, and was supposed to meet Patrick in the lobby at 9:30 to grab a cab. I jumped in the shower and threw on some clothes as fast as I could. We left the hotel by cab at 9:45, got there, got some grub and sat down at a table with Deb Ng, Chris Garrett and later Dave Barger. The presentations were very interesting and I met a few people afterward. I even scor