SXSW Recap

SXSW 2010 was my first SXSW experience.  I had heard amazing things from friends who had gone before and from people on my previous trips to Austin, so I had high expectations.  It did not disappoint.

For those who do not know, SXSW stands for South By Southwest, which is a combination Technology, Film and Music festival held each year in Austin, Texas.  It is one of the biggest in the US, if not the world and brings some of the smartest and most interesting people together to listen to panels, network and go to parties.

I was lucky enough that my first time going to SXSW also included the added experience of launching Entrustet into beta, with Jesse giving a talk called “People Die, Profiles Don’t.” I met some great people and attended some really interesting sessions and will share my best of SXSW.  Check out our Entrustet blog for more info on what we did at SXSW.

Entrustet

We launched our beta version early in the morning on Friday March 12th, a day before our panel.  Everything’s been going really well and we’ve started to get some good traffic and user sign ups.  Our panel got some traction, especially online on Twitter.  Our stat that over 285k US Facebook users will die this year caused a stir and was used by our friends over at The Digital Beyond at their panel on the 16th.

More and more people are asking the question “what happens to my digital assets when I die?” and this attention is starting to reach a critical mass.  Everyone from Guy Kawasaki to the American Bar Association is starting to think about it.  Hugh Forrest, the founder of SXSW raised this question in an interview with NPR:

Yeah, we did one session on that last year and we create this virtual presence more and more with our new technologies. What happens to that presence when you pass away? Do you will that on to someone else to essentially keep on your virtual existence or how does that work? And there are lots or there are some services that help you with that process now.

Now, the other session you mentioned was My Right to Delete, which is, again, in this brave new world we live in, the things we say or do often get onto the Internet and it’s impossible to get rid of them. How do we move on, if and when we want to move on?

Gizmodo is dedicating an entire week to looking at what happens to your digital assets as people pass away, including an article called What Happens Online When We Die? and many other publications have been writing about this issue.  The Digital Beyond’s panel was well attended and Adele McAlear’s blog Death and Digital Legacy has been gaining strength.

I believe that 2010-2011 will be the year that consumers really start to think about what happens to their digital assets when they pass away.  What do you want done with your Facebook?  Your email?  How will you protect your family photos or all of your blog posts?

Panels

I went to some great panels this year.  My favorite one was about Seed Combinators and featured a who’s who of entrepreneurship forces.  The panel included Paul Graham, Naval Ravikant, Marc Nathan, David Cohen and Joshua Baer and they spoke about their efforts to create successful seed combinators across the country.  I think that Madison, WI has to potential to have a very successful seed combinator and am going to post about it in the next week or so.

Another great panel talked about Social Media in China.  In China, websites are not able to sustain themselves on “advertising” as a business model, so they have had to create innovative business models in order to survive.  I hadn’t realized how big TenCent is (1.5B in revenue, 40% profit margins) and all of it is based on virtual currency and virtual goods.  The Chinese version of Match.com charges $450 for 6 months, equivalent to 1 months salary for the average Chinese citizen.  Like match.com, the service matches you up with potential matches and you go on dates.  After the date, you call into their call center and rate how you thought the date went, what you liked and didn’t like about the other person and if you want to date them again.  The next day, the service calls you back and tells you what the other person thought of you.  It gives you the chance to improve your dating skills and cut through some of the awkwardness.

Another dating site allows you to create an avatar of yourself and go to a virtual “dance club” where you dance with potential partners.  You talk, exchange personal info and get to know each other.  The site makes money when the people buy drinks, gifts and other virtual goods for each other.  After awhile, if you like the other person, you can meet up in person.

Advertising has been a crutch in the American Internet space that is being removed as we speak.  I think you will start to see more innovative business models, like Mint.com and others come to the US in the near future.

I also attended Student Startups to hear about others experiences starting a business in college (nice job by the panel, including Ellen Chisa), The Third Coast, by the founders of Crowdspring and many others.  If I had to do it again, I would attend more core conversations, rather than panels, as there is more give and take and you have a better opportunity to interact with the speakers.

Food, Parties, Fun

I could write an entire post about each of these topics, but a short recap will have to do.  I had some amazing food in Austin, but the best came from a food cart called Texas Picnic.  I had one of the best pulled pork sandwiches I’ve ever had and their white BBQ sauce on their chicken was unlike anything I’ve ever tried.  I’m somewhat of a BBQ connoisseur, so that is high praise.  The Whole Foods we went to was the biggest I have ever seen, with a crazy amount of selection.  If I had unlimited money I’d shop and eat there all the time.

The parties were really fun, with the highlight being the Mashable party.  We had to wait in line for at least an hour, but we made the best of it, creating a new check in location on Gowalla that served as the unofficial Entrustet Launch party (8 people checked in).  We grabbed some beers from the liquor store across the way and made friends with the people around us and had a great time.  The Thrillist party on our last night had some great live music, although we missed the DJ.

I also met some great people who I hope to stay in contact with in the future.  One of the interesting people was Geoff Hamrick, a 19 year old entrepreneur from North Carolina.  Geoff and his partner George have a cool site called Group Story that lets you share photos and collaborate to create photo books.  They’ve got a really cool idea going.

Overall SXSW was a great experience.  I will definitely be back next year and hope to see many of the cool people I met this year again and hear about their successes in the year apart.  I learned a ton, including some lessons that will lead to direct improvements in Entrustet.  It was a week well spent.