SXSW is difficult to navigate for even the most seasoned vets. A conversation with Dylan Richard and Harper Reed, founders of mobile commerce software provider Modest, and media agency OMD's Ignition Factory innovation unit offered suggestions for how startups can leverage the saturated space; how big corporate brands should approach SXSW; and the often random nature of opportunity.
You both are SXSW vets, attending on and off for the better part of the past decade. What advice would you give startups attending SXSW for the first time?
Harper: Serendipity is the name of the game. If you see someone that is interesting, or they see you, that could totally change the course of your day, your business – or your life.
Have you met someone here that's changed your entire business, or your life?
Dylan & Harper: YES.
Harper: Yes, lots of people actually. [But] If you are trying to manufacture an opportunity by doing what's prescribed, you might not be successful. I try not go to the big, BIG parties, but opt for checking out the smaller stuff that's equally as awesome.
What do you think about the relationship between brands and SXSW?
Harper: You should be using those corporate dollars to help facilitate one-on-one conversations. The best events are often private, and these are the things that aren't clear to those around us that aren't savvy, or aren't akin to the fact that yeah, there's a private dinner tonight, and it's going to be really awesome—but only if you're invited. You're going to have a really great relationship with someone you've never met – but only if you're invited. That stops serendipity from happening, and it stops all that magic... but it's also where we've iterated.
Dylan: On the brand stuff, there's good… 3M's thing – you're walking everywhere, you're going to get blisters, just text us and we'll bring you some Band-Aids. That's cool.
There's good ways, and then there's bad ways. Like yesterday, where someone just handed me a trial size bottle of cleaner.
As a startup, do you think this is an over-saturated wasteland? How do you ensure business gets done?
Harper: I think you have to be deliberate about it. We met with a few of our investors yesterday, and of course conversations come and it was great to talk to them, but if we expect an actual outcome from that, it's on us. It's on the startup to follow up to make sure the work gets done.
You're seasoned SXSW-goers, you have names people recognize. If you don't have that, what do you do?
Harper: I think this is the most highly concentrated networking opportunity, and my entire career has been built on networking.
It seems as though there's a certain randomness that's a key to success at SXSW.
Harper: This is a place that's about getting the meeting you couldn't have gotten at home. For us, the magic is interacting with an investor at random. Yesterday, for example, we met with an investor from Australia who was super awesome. What happens if our company moves into Australia? Now we have someone on the ground. We don't know him very well, we'd have to foster that relationship, but now we know who to email.
I derive so much value from being around a million people. I'm like ENERGY! For me it's empowering.