SXSW 2018

After seven years away from SXSW, I recently spent five days in Austin with the hopes that I would get something out of this massive event. I’ve already gone into detail why I decided to stop attending in 2011, and the reasons why I changed my mind this time around here.

The night before I jumped on a plane back home, someone asked if I enjoyed my time at SXSW. Spoking to a few locals, they are evenly split on the event. They recognise its financial and cultural impact and appreciate that they host a world renown event. On the other hand, SXSW has become too large, too commercial, so some feel disconnected from it. They feel invaded by a community of people who aren’t there to share a collective, local experience.

Setting Goals

Knowing what SXSW had become, I decided to get the most of out it for what it is, not for what I wished it was. I set three specific criteria to judge if I felt, at the end of the event, it was a success.

  1. Did I get a chance to catch up with friends and colleagues?
  2. Did the events, session, presentation and keynotes that I attended inspire me and offer new ideas?
  3. Were there excellent opportunities to develop new work or partnerships for my company Plank?

I spent a large part of my time having meetings with people that I had met over the years at events like Owner Camp, Owner Summit and Baseball Hack Day. While I did get to know the other Quebec delegates, I spent my time mainly at parties hosted by locals. Rating: 8/10.

As I spent my time looking at the sessions in depth, I chose presentations that were inspirational or educational. The mix I tried to strike was between work-focussed talks on design and technology and keynotes by distinguished presenters. My personal favourites were Accidentally Making the Most Popular Podcasts Ever w/ Ira Glass & Design in the Era of the Algorithm, w/ Josh Clark. Rating 7/10.

I wasn’t overly successful in drumming up new partnerships at SXSW although my goals were humble. If I could walk away with one or two new people that we may work with at some point, then I did alright. While I did meet that goal and see new relationships on the horizon, they are going to take months or years to develop. Rating 5/10.

Was the trip worthwhile?

I’m happy that my relationship with SXSW has evolved into something where I can see Plank attending again. On the other hand, staying in Austin during this event has become very expensive. If you have any tips on how to do SXSW on a moderate budget, I’m all ears.

About the Author

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I’m Warren Wilansky, a middle-aged, lifelong Montréaler. I've been running a great little digital agency by the name of Plank for over 20 years.

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