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The Massive Transformation Of SXSWi

SXSWi in Austin, TX

According to CNET, the first time Steve Jang went to a South by Southwest Interactive Festival (SXSWi) was in 2006. Back then, SXSWi was a small community of geeks and he went trying to launch a music social-networking service, called Imeem. Although South by Southwest was known to be a quirky gathering of friendly dot-commers, making an impact as a start-up was a routine procedure.


Jang says “Back then, it was a very concerted thing….You got a booth, you put together a team, and everyone wore the t-shirts, and you hired a PR firm, and you really wanted to do a big product debut. It was a big tent-pole effort.”

Five years later, Imeem got bigger but never big enough, and was acquired by Myspace.

Some of the other companies, however, started as small start-ups in 2006 and have gotten enormous. Social media transformed from geek curiosity to marketing obsession. Steve Jang is one of many who has observed the growth of SXSWi, now a massive event holding as many as 20,000 attendees.

There have been many complaints about the massive size and scope of South by Southwest Interactive. The complaints have been growing exponentially since it was the semi-official launch pad for Twitter in 2007. Hotel rooms are booked up months in advance. Although there is an increasing number of angry bloggers, the event is too big to be shutdown. Start-ups hoping to launch at the festival will need to realize that they’ll be surrounded by the huge brands(tech and non-tech), as well as by other start-ups looking to publicize in the same fashion.

Ryan Kuder, VP of Marketing at start-up, Bizzy said “The way that we look at big marketing dollars is we understand that we don’t have the budgets to go up against a Foursquare or a Pepsi….We [decided to go ‘small’] because placing really large bets at this point in a start-up’s life cycle–if you lose the pain is a lot great.”

SXSWi 2011 was less a conference than a much-needed test bed for new promotions, such as the partnership between Foursquare and American Express. Attendees should also keep in mind that with a larger and more diverse festival, comes a wider mix of possibilities to make a name for oneself. For example, in addition to launching a new start-up, Steve Jang can ‘talk big’ about his winning recipe barbecue sauce at a tech start-up’s rooftop pool party. Perhaps, something that wouldn’t have taken place back in 2006.

Check out Gary Vaynerchuk In The Huddle SXSWi 2011

Photo Courtesy of Betsy Weber
Photo Courtesy of Betsy Weber
Photo Courtesy of Betsy Weber