A little festival
If you have a pulse, you’ve probably heard of a festival (see: conference of colossal size) in Austin, Texas called South By Southwest, and if you haven’t heard of it, you’ve probably seen a hashtag or an ad or some other media referring to something called SXSW.
SouthBy (as the privy affectionately call it) started in the 80s with a few hundred attendees and has grown in nuclear proportions to be a festival that registers over 50,000 of people and shuts a few miles of downtown Austin down for two weeks.
In particular, SXSW Interactive (SXSWi) boasts high attendance and typically accounts for almost 75% of the festival’s attendees.
This year everyone was diggin’ on the acronym chili
AR, VR, AI, and so forth filled the halls of the conference center plus a few of the hosting hotels. There was also an impressive number of breakout sessions regarding the marijuana industry – but I digress.
But what about next year?
We got some exclusive insight from Deb Gabor, CEO of Sol Marketing in Austin and Author of Branding is Sex.
In her own words below, Gabor describes what 2018 will most likely have in store:
Brands, brands, brands:
SXSWi 2017 was a showcase for brand activation, but not the technology and digital media brands you might expect at a conference traditionally attended by trendsetters and tastemakers.
This year’s conference featured 360-degree, immersive, interactive brand experiences targeted at everyday consumers, highlighting upcoming TV shows, movies, retailers, apps, gadgets, and consumer products.
The 2017 fest featured everything from a visually accurate, full-sized Los Pollos Hermanos fast food pop-up focused on creating excitement for the comeback of Gus Fring (the character played Giancarlo Esposito on AMC’s “Breaking Bad”) to its “Better Call Saul” prequel, to a provocative and highly immersive Gatorade sports performance experience, to Casper Mattress’ brilliant partnership with the OneNight app providing 45 minute nap respites to tired attendees at the ultra-hip and retro Austin Motel.
Each year, the activations become more pervasive and increasingly clever.
These savvy brands don’t benefit from their in-person activations alone; they grow legs with great media exposure, social sharing, and word of mouth.
I think we’ll continue to see SXSW as a platform for brand launches and unexpected activations.
However, based upon unofficial reports, the total number of events for which attendees could RSVP dropped by almost 100 from 2016 to 2017. It’s possible we’ll continue to see a decline in the number of events, with a corollary increase in more curated guest lists, as the quality of those events and activations increase in quality and excitement.
While brand activation was a big story for me this past year, I was surprised by the absence or dialing-back of some SXSW’s mainstay brands like Spotify and Samsung – brands that seem like a perfect fit for SXSW’s vibe.
SXSW has become a global stage for translating online and media brands into offline experiences.
However, many brands are finding it expensive and inefficient to garner awareness and bond with audiences offline.
At an event that hosts an estimated 70,000+ attendees, exhibitors, performers, and guests, it’s become increasingly difficult for brands to get their messages to the right people, at the right place, at the right frequency, at the right time.
Between Austin’s enhanced real estate restrictions that made getting space downtown for special events more difficult this year, and the sheer proliferation of brands and messages, Austin’s SXSW has become an increasingly difficult event at which to activate brands.
That is unless you have huge ideas, once-in-a-lifetime experiences and budgets that can cut through the noise.
Since downtown Austin isn’t getting any bigger, I think we’ll continue to see a changing brand landscape at future festivals.
Technology not for technology’s sake, but as a means to create a lifestyle:
This year’s SXSW featured an entire track dedicated to retail technology and fashion as well as lots of deep-dives on Virtual and Augmented Reality.
As technology continues to be a means for producers and purveyors of hard goods, soft goods, and experiences to deliver to their customers, SXSW stepped up its game to showcase technologies such as VR and AR and their roles in personalizing and customizing our shopping and media consumption experiences.
Since VR and AR technologies are in their infancy, this dialogue is sure to continue well into coming years.
SXSW gets political:
While SXSW 2017 featured many of the delightfully quirky and geeky attributes we’ve come to expect from the 31-year old conference, attendees saw politics – specifically the issue of inclusivity – step into center stage, on and off the show floor.
From Joseph Biden’s impassioned Cancer speech (Biden said that cancer is the “only bipartisan thing left in the United States.”), to SXSW organizers’ bathroom signage stating the conference’s pledge to being “inclusive, diverse and forward-thinking,” and opposing “discriminatory legislation,” SXSW 2017 took a very strong political tone.
This year’s show featured panels that addressed Silicon Valley’s diversity problems.
Tumblr’s CEO Tom Karp announced an initiative to support Planned Parenthood (#TechStandswithPP.) And the music part of the conference hosted showcases featuring bands affected by President Trump’s travel ban. As long as powerful people speak, exhibit at, and attend SXSW, we’ll see the event as a platform for advancing political sentiments.
While it’s been my personal experience that SXSW has been encouraging diversity, 2017’s actual Interactive conference attendees (those with paid badges I saw wandering around the convention center and other official badged locations) still looked like a bro-club to me.
While conference organizers claim that the entire festival attracts 70,000+ attendees and speakers of all ages, genders, ethnicities from upwards of 80 different countries, badged SXSW Interactive attendees still look like 30-40 something year old white dudes.
For all the forward thinking, futuristic nature that the conference supposedly embodies, a lot of what the naked eye sees is rooted in traditional industry structures.
Aside from panels about diversity in the technology industry, and investing in companies run by “diverse” founders, and a handful of sideshow events and meetups, the conference itself doesn’t exactly match the faces of the technology industry I know and love.
While the industry has made some important strides towards inclusivity (and had many setbacks too – recent news of Uber’s President resigning amidst a bevvy of sexual harassment claims at the company doesn’t bode well for the industry’s future), I think we’ll see SXSW assuming more of a lead role in populating an event with faces that more closely match those of the industries it celebrates.
Keep your company’s operations lean by following these proven strategies
(BUSINESS) Keeping your operations lean means more than saving money, it means accomplishing more in less time.
The past two years have been challenging, not just economically, but also politically and socially as well. While it would be nice to think that things are looking up, in reality, the problems never end. Taking a minimalist approach to your business, AKA keeping it lean, can help you weather the future to be more successful.
Here are some tips to help you trim the fat without putting profits above people.
Artificial intelligence frees up human resources. AI can manage many routine elements of your business, giving your team time to focus on important tasks that can’t be delegated to machines. This challenges your top performers to function at higher levels, which can only benefit your business.
Consider remote working
Whether you rent or own your property, it’s expensive to keep an office open. As we learned in the pandemic, many jobs can be done just as effectively from home as the workplace. Going remote can save you money, even if you help your team outfit their home office for safety and efficiency.
In today’s world, many are opting to completely shutter office doors, but you may be able to save money by using less space or renting out some of your office space.
Review your systems to find the fat
As your business grows (or downsizes), your systems need to change to fit how you work. Are there places where you can save money? If you’re ordering more, you may be able to ask vendors for discounts. Look for ways to bring down costs.
Talk to your team about where their workflow suffers and find solutions. An annual review through your budget with an eye on saving money can help you find those wasted dollars.
Find the balance
Operating lean doesn’t mean just saving money. It can also mean that you look at your time when deciding to pay for services. The point is to be as efficient as possible with your resources and systems, while maintaining customer service and safety. When you operate in a lean way, it sets your business up for success.
How to apply to be on a Board of Directors
(BUSINESS) What do you need to think about and explore if you want to apply for a Board of Directors? Here’s a quick rundown of what, why, and when.
What does a Board of Directors do? Investopedia explains “A board of directors (B of D) is an elected group of individuals that represent shareholders. The board is a governing body that typically meets at regular intervals to set policies for corporate management and oversight. Every public company must have a board of directors. Some private and nonprofit organizations also have a board of directors.”
It is time to have a diverse representation of thoughts, values and insights from intelligently minded people that can give you the intel you need to move forward – as they don’t have quite the same vested interests as you.
We have become the nation that works like a machine. Day in and day out we are consumed by our work (and have easy access to it with our smartphones). We do volunteer and participate in extra-curricular activities, but it’s possible that many of us have never understood or considered joining a Board of Directors. There’s a new wave of Gen Xers and Millennials that have plenty of years of life and work experience + insights that this might be the time to resurrect (or invigorate) interest.
Harvard Business Review shared a great article about identifying the FIVE key areas you would want to consider growing your knowledge if you want to join a board:
1. Financial – You need to be able to speak in numbers.
2. Strategic – You want to be able to speak to how to be strategic even if you know the numbers.
3. Relational – This is where communication is key – understanding what you want to share with others and what they are sharing with you. This is very different than being on the Operational side of things.
4. Role – You must be able to be clear and add value in your time allotted – and know where you especially add value from your skills, experiences and strengths.
5. Cultural – You must contribute the feeling that Executives can come forward to seek advice even if things aren’t going well and create that culture of collaboration.
As Charlotte Valeur, a Danish-born former investment banker who has chaired three international companies and now leads the UK’s Institute of Directors, says, “We need to help new participants from under-represented groups to develop the confidence of working on boards and to come to know that” – while boardroom capital does take effort to build – “this is not rocket science.”
NOW! The time is now for all of us to get involved in helping to create a brighter future for organizations and businesses that we care about (including if they are our own business – you may want to create a Board of Directors).
The Harvard Business Review gave great explanations of the need to diversify those that have been on the Boards to continue to strive to better represent our population as a whole. Are you ready to take on this challenge? We need you.
Average age of successful startup founders is 45, but stop stereotyping
(BUSINESS) Our culture glorifies (yet condemns?) startup founders as rich 20-somethings in hoodies, but some are a totally different type.
There’s a common misconception that startups are riddled with semi-nerdy, 20-something white dudes who do nothing but sip Nitro Brews and walk around the open office showing off the hoodie they wore yesterday. It turns out that it’s extremely rare that startup offices resemble The Social Network.
However, the academic backdrop for the real social network story (AKA Harvard), produced statistics that will serve to put the aforementioned misconception to rest. According to the Harvard Business Review, the average age of people who founded the highest-growth startups is 45. Say what?! A full-fledged adult?!
In fact, aside from the age category of 60 and over, ages 29 and younger were the smallest group of founders that are responsible for heading the highest-growth startups. I guess you can accomplish a lot when you’re not riding around the office on a scooter all day.
The study also found that older entrepreneurs are more likely to succeed. The probability of extreme startup success rises with age, at least until the late 50s. It was found that work experience plays an important role.
Many will argue, “Well, what about someone like Steve Jobs?” You could easily argue right back that it took Jobs until the age of 52 to create Apple’s most profitable product – the iPhone.
The study continues to answer questions like, why do Venture Capitalist investors bet on young founders? This goes back to the misconception at the start, and there’s a notion that youth is the key for successful entrepreneurship. Wrong.
There is also the idea that younger entrepreneurs are likely working with less financial options, so it may be common for them to take something from a VC at a lower price. As a result, they could be viewed as more of a bargain than older founders.
“The next step for researchers is to explore what exactly explains the advantage of middle-aged founders,” writes Pierre Azoulay, et al. “For example, is it due to greater access to financial resources, deeper social networks, or certain forms of experience? In the meantime, it appears that advancing age is a powerful feature, not a bug, for starting the most successful firms.”
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