This month a few of us from the Andzen team were lucky enough to travel to Austin, Texas for the coveted SXSW Conference.
For those not yet aware, SXSW (or South By Southwest) is a massive tech, music & film conference held annually in Austin. It’s been the launch pad for such brands as Twitter, Foursquare and in 2015, Meerkat. This year marked the 30th anniversary of the event.
The four of us were the original four team members of Sign-Up.to Australia, back in the pre-Andzen days. The trip was a small reward for all our hard work over the past few years in getting our company from an idea back in 2012 to the thriving digital agency we are now in 2016.
With hundreds and hundreds of events spread across every available space in Downtown Austin, coming up with a plan was a necessity. However with 30,000 plus attendees and as many as 10 appealing sessions on at any given time – it took commitment, compromise and often a random roll of the dice to decide which speakers and sessions we would attend.
The first day however was decided for us. Right before knocking back a Flaming Doctor Pepper at one of 6th Street’s many dive bars, Jason’s iPhone broke the news that he’d been selected as one of a lucky few (thousand) randomly selected to President Barack Obama give his keynote speech. It wasn’t until a few Fireballs later that I received a similar notification, and our crew for Obama grew to two.
Fast forward to the first day of SXSW Interactive and Jason and I were spending the day queuing for the Secret Service security check, without our Andzen comrades Simon and Matt. I would’ve felt sorry for them missing out had they not been enjoying an equally rich experience in the audience for Gary Vaynerchuk – one of the great social media gurus and business builders of our time.
After three constructive hours standing in a queue outside the Austin Long Center we were screened by the Secret Service and were inside patiently waiting for Obama for another few hours.
After that stunning appetizer it was time for the main course – man of the hour, Barack Obama.
The message I took away from both gentlemen:
If you want something – go and get it. Don’t sit around waiting for someone (or the Government) to give it to you.
Something I can certainly get behind.
Day 2 led us through a selection of great panel sessions before an unforgettable keynote presentation from Dr. Brené Brown. Brené spoke about ‘Daring Greatly’ – specifically how vulnerability, while uncomfortable, is crucial to personal growth and courage. I was a big fan of the ‘box breathing’ technique she taught us all about – a great way to regain mindfulness during times of stress.
Her keynote wasn’t filmed but you can see the TEDx version at, Brené Brown: Daring Greatly
After a quick fix of buffalo wings and Old Fashioneds, we found ourselves at Esther’s Follies enjoying some humour from several unknown but side-splittingly funny stand-up comedians.
Day 3 was spent making our way through the SXSW trade show where we saw a range of old and new brands showing off the cutting edge of apps, virtual reality, space travel tech, standing desks and more!
Day 4’s highlight was a keynote by the founder and CEO of Under Armour, Kevin Plank. Kevin started the business in his mother’s basement and was at one point so broke he couldn’t pay a road toll. But through sheer commitment and passion for what he was building, he turned his life around and created a company that now turns over nearly $4 billion a year and employs 14,000 staff worldwide.
Day 5 was our last day at SXSW and we enjoyed it in the best way possible. Andy Puddicombe, a former Buddhist monk turned entrepreneur, lead the final keynote on mental health and the power of meditation. Andy founded Headspace, a meditation app he describes as a “gym membership for you mind”. For 10 minutes the Austin Convention Centre was perhaps the quietest it’s ever been as Andy took the audience through a simple meditation exercise that really helped recharge our batteries and ground us after a long and exciting week.
The key takeaways of SXSW 2016 for me were about taking a proactive approach to problem solving and mental wellbeing. The world is experiencing an age of rapid innovation, but if we’re to keep moving forward in business and in our own personal development, we need to have perspective – which can be really hard to find when we get caught up in the day-to-day of running a business. I think as a team we’re all a little better off in that regard thanks to SXSW.
Have you been to SXSW before? Got plans for next year? Let us know in the comments!
Author: Matt McNeill