Dan and Sean have returned home from what could only be described as: most excellent. The Kapowza guys spent nearly a week at Austin’s most notable festival — perhaps the most notable festival in the world — filled with networking, new technology showcases, music, and of course celebrities. You should make note that Dan spotted Bob Odenkirk, and in their brief encounter, managed to yell out to him and bump elbows.
Dan and Sean didn’t leave SXSW without learning a few things, though. Below you will find their tips and tricks for navigating the festival, perfect for newcomers and veterans alike.
Get a close hotel
We spent a little too much time looking for lodging, and ended up in a hotel farther away from the festival than we would have liked. Austin does not have Uber or Lyft, so getting around was a bit challenging. If you know you’re going to SXSW, don’t hesitate on booking your stay immediately. Do it as soon as possible, and look for a place that is about a 5-10 minute walk from the festival.
Throw everything out the window
On our first day, Friday, we quickly realized that the best strategy was to almost have no strategy. Any schedule you may try to follow, any agenda you may create for yourself will have a few curveballs thrown at it.
Though SXSW offered maps to all of its attendees, they found that the app was the most reliable, as it updated when sessions were cancelled, rooms were changed, etc.
Don’t be afraid to triple book yourself either. The entire festival takes place within about one square mile of Austin so it’s easy to pop in and out of sessions, parties, etc.
What we’re trying to say here is that you can plan out your entire trip, creating an itinerary jam packed with sessions, speakers, and networking, but you will most definitely end up flying a bit by the seat of your pants, and going with the flow. Expect it, and enjoy it.
Leave the suits at home
SXSW is a pretty informal gig. Not only will you stick out if you’re in a suit, you’ll also probably sweat to death in the Austin heat. A comfortable pair of tennis shoes (you’ll be walking a lot so trust us on this one), a t-shirt, and pants make all the difference. Especially if you can’t stop back at your hotel during the day.
Don’t waste your in-between time
One thing became extremely apparent to us: there’s no need to wait until the next session to network or meet someone new.
Some of the most engaging chats and meaningful connections resulted from striking up a conversation with those we were in line with or standing next to at an intersection waiting to cross the street. These chance encounters and meetings really influenced how we made our way through each day; especially, when it involved meeting folks who had previously been to SXSW.
Keep yourself open
Pay attention to the crowds and the environment you’re in, they’ll likely lead you to something well worth your time. Open yourself up to meeting new folks. They’re the ones who will guide you to the activities in which you want to participate.
Also in the vein of keeping yourself open, go to sessions outside of your industry. Some of the best talks and lessons we learned throughout SXSW came from speakers unrelated to us. We were totally inspired by speakers of film, healthcare, and education.
If you keep yourself open, you never know what chance encounter could lead to a big opportunity.
You can’t do it all
And that’s okay. In our time at SXSW, we went to dozens of sessions, plenty of parties, and did a ton of networking, but still, it feels like we barely scratched the surface. Just be sure to make the most out of the time you’re there and the experiences you have.
You can read the full recollection of our experience at SXSW over at the Baltimore Business Journal.