Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Never are these words more true than at the annual South by Southwest Interactive festival in Austin, Texas, where startup legends are born through a combination of crowd appeal, guerilla marketing tactics, whispers from the right influentials and free booze.
If you’re looking for some free and easy ways to promote your startup, look elsewhere — if it were easy, everybody would do it. Realistically, you’ll need to do plenty of heavy lifting, but there’s no reason why you can’t take a few free shortcuts to get some major attention. And that’s where we come in.
What follows are some tried and true ways to network better, socialize more effectively and ultimately work the system that is SXSW to get your startup’s name on the lips of those that matter.
Go Speed Dating with VCs
Impressing the crowd is tantamount, but getting the ear of a potential investor is equally as important (and hard).
Venture capitalists and angel investors no doubt will be invading Austin, but they’ll likely carry a lower profile than most, flitting about between private parties and hosted dinners. There are social media stalking techniques you could use to find them. Alternatively, you might want to consider a 10-minute quickie.
Blumberg Capital and Intel Capital are hosting a speed dating event entitled 10 minute VC on Sunday, March 13 at 3:00 p.m. to get the sparks flying between investors and entrepreneurs. Intel Capital’s Christine Herron, Lucy McQuilken and Aldo Franciscolo will join Blumberg Capital’s David Blumberg, Bruce Taragin and Jon Soberg for the event.
Would-be or current entrepreneurs and founders can pitch, ask questions or simply try to make a strong enough impression on the VCs to warrant a second date.
Get Mentioned in the Sessions
Every panel speaker, presenter or keynoter is busy finalizing his talking points. One thing they all have in common is that they’re anxious to say something fresh.
Do your homework and scan through every single SXSW Interactive session. Where there’s a topic that even slightly overlaps with your product or history, send a note to the speaker and introduce him to you and your startup. Your goal: To make the speaker’s job easier with information on a product that applies to his session.
If you have a group messaging app, for instance, try to ensure that your startup’s name gets a mention in every panel that is addressing related topics. If you’re mentioned in the sessions, you’ll most likely be mentioned on Twitter and in the halls. And if you’re mentioned in the halls, you’re on your way to attracting press attention or user traction.
Ride the Social Media Hype Train
When folks like Gary Vaynerchuk or Robert Scoble tweet or talk about your startup, people sit up and listen, especially at SXSWi where the masses look to these social media “hypsters” to set the trend.
Mr. Vaynerchuk is also famous for holding flash mob parties organized via Twitter, and the Scobleizer is rarely seen without his video camera in tow. Use their social media obsessions (read: addictions) to your own advantage.
Plus, sometimes we reporters turn to our influential, uber-connected friends to tip us off to the trending or up-and-coming SXSW startups we should cover. Vaynerchuk, for instance, whispered to me that Foursquare would be the breakout startup two years ago, so I made it a point to dig deeper.
Long story short: Know who controls the hype cycle in your niche, find them and come up with a compelling reason for them to give you a shoutout to their legions of followers.
Party Like a (Calculated) Rock Star
Hitting up every party in town and taking advantage of all the open bars is a sure-fire way to get drunk on someone else’s dime. This, however, is not the best strategy for making connections that will net you the relationships you need or the kind of buzz you want.
Still, the party circuit is critical to your mission — the more people you meet, the better. So, go in with a calculated plan that involves less booze and more schmooze.
Here are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind as you traipse about downtown Austin:
Don’t: Flock to the biggest parties just because they’re big. Yes, important and influential people will be at these parties, but the likelihood of commanding their attention or getting them to remember your name is low.
Do: Prioritize parties based on size and crowd. Attend as many small and intimate dinners as you can. Work your personal network as much as possible prior to the event and find out how to get yourself on the list of these private, more exclusive events.
Do: Attend parties hosted by media companies and make it point to chat up reporters in a casual manner.
Do: Pitch to the point. Make it clear that you work for a startup, but don’t get too serious — after all, it’s a party. The best pitches are ones that don’t feel like pitches, but instead give the reporter the sense that they may have inadvertently found a one-of-a-kind story perfect for their audience. Walk away after a few minutes (or earlier if there’s no interest) and leave them wanting more.
Do: Know your story. Do you have San Diego roots or ties to Austin? Local beat reporters are always looking for a startup with hometown roots. If you bump into them, be prepared to talk up your local connection. Alternatively, attach yourself to industry trends. The Are we in a bubble? question is likely to come up repeatedly in Austin. Have an answer prepared and you could get a mention in a national news story.
Don’t: Lurk, stalk or follow a reporter around. We see you, and it comes off as really needy.
Do: Be flexible and stay out until the wee hours of the morn. Most often the best relationships are formed through chance encounters. Let the parties dwindle down, join folks in late-night food quests and just be amenable to meeting new people, regardless of their title or profession. This long-tail approach to networking could get you introductions to friends of friends after the show, and that’s when the real value of your SXSW connections kicks in.
Got your own tips on how founders can promote their startups for free at SXSW this year? Share them in the comments.