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SXSW – Worth a Launch?

By Jonathan Bingham | March 13, 2015

Some view the arrival of March as the first hope for springtime (especially here in Boston where we’re digging our way out of about 100 inches of snow). For those in the tech field, it’s a reminder that South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival is just around the corner, March 13-17. What started out 21 years ago as a music festival in Austin has exploded into three fests across nine days for those in film, music and interactive. The latter, SXSWi, has spawned success stories like Twitter, which debuted at the festival in 2007.

SXSWi attracts thousands of attendees each year, and every single company there is vying for mindshare, or trending status on Twitter. This leads to swag, gimmicks, giveaways, and parties on top of the hundreds of sessions that take place over the course of the festival. So what’s it like to go to SXSWi as an attendee? In a word…

A circus. Massive crowds of people from all walks of life aimlessly wandering in any given direction. Most of the attendees are there for the experience – not to work. Unless they are supposed to be “working,” in which case they look from time to time like they have a real sense of purpose (other than seeing Spoon or some up-and-coming music act, of course). Want to see someone with purpose at SXSW? Watch the fury with which they approach the private showcases and party lists… If only I could harness that focus!!

As with CES, SXSW seems to have outgrown itself. There’s simply too much going on for anything to stick – unless you’re a Twitter. But, how many Twitters have we seen come out of SXSW? If you do a Web search for most notable launches at SXSW, Twitter is the most popular result. It’s distantly followed by Foursquare (does anyone still use that?). The Daily Dot went so far as to suggest Internet porn used SXSW as a jumping-off point. Beyond that, there’s a whole lot of media coverage of “Who will this year’s breakout be?” without much follow-up.
On top of the abysmal superstar-success rates coming out of SXSW, it’s important to remember that attendees aren’t looking to discover the next big thing. They’re there to network, see the keynotes, check out real-life Mario Kart or Game of Thrones pedicabs, and yes, party afterhours.

So should you avoid it entirely? Of course not! I love music, parties, killer content sessions and tacos too. SXSW is a home run for that. But if you’re thinking of doing a high-budget launch, consider allocating your resources somewhere your efforts will be recognized – and remembered. History isn’t on your side for it to be that impactful for your company.

Jonathan Bingham


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