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How to Hustle SXSW for Fun & Profit

This is a copy/paste of an email I sent to 500 Startups Founders & Mentors email distros.  Another reason why you should join our program – I will fill your inbox with swear words and unsolicited advice.  Enjoy!

Thank you so much to everyone who voted this up on Hacker News, where it spent 3 hours in the #1 position and more than 12 hours on the front page.  This post has now officially beat out How I Built a Multi-User Door Buzzer for our Apartment, with over 8,000 unique pageviews in the last 12 hours.

This is the email where you all find out I am a hyper-socially sensitive (if you didn’t already notice) and have an incredibly intense meta level dialogue going on in my brain during every social interaction.  Basically, it is my super power.

SXSW is upon us I want to share with you some tactics and strategies for having fun and hustling hardcore at this event.  This is a jumping off point for conversation, because I have spoken to several entrepreneurs with various fears/concerns/questions about SXSW.  This does not cover everything, it got really long and I wanted to get off my soapbox and have a beer.

Before I forget

Save my number in your cell 425-698-7497 DANIELLE MORRILL (I know, a lot of double letters) —- TEXT me when you are at SXSW and we can hang out!  I roll in the Twiliomobile (like “Batmobile”, not the mobile version of Twilio, see pics a the end of this post) version 3 (although I will not be hand painting it this year) and I love breakfast burritostacos.  I also have access to a lot of interesting activities off the beaten path, so if you happen to find me you might consider saying, “hey Danielle, where are you going next?  Can I come?”  If the car is not full, the answer is YES.

Prepping your calendar

Don’t fucking do it.  At least not in the way everyone else seems to.  Here is what is going to happen.  You are going to think you are being a front of the class kind of kid and spend PRECIOUS HOURS carefully picking through events, judiciously adding what you perceive to be highest value to your calendar and RSVPing for those event.  And guess what — BOOOOM! — the magical serendipity of SXSW is going to screw it all up.

Instead, put EVERYTHING on your calendar so you know what ALL your options are, RSVP for EVERYTHING (yes I use an intern to do this — get one at #500strong) or use also #500strong.  If there is something you absolutely have to be at, like an event your company is hosting/sponsoring then make it a different color.  But if you are the CEO/most senior person going and you have a team there then *tell them you will not be there every moment*.  They will live, and if you are less stressed about getting there in time you will hustle better.

Prepare like a soccer mom on crack

So you aren’t going to plan your calendar beyond knowing all the options, but that doesn’t mean you can throw all planning out the window.  You need to treat yourself and the team like athletes.  Anything that could keep them from finishing the game/series/season is a problem.  I rent an SUV (getting 2 this year – covering them with vinyl decal branded stuff) and fill it with supplies for me and for the people in the Twilio community.  This includes bottled water, granola bars and other fast snacks (don’t do chocolate bars or candy – it melts in the Texas heat), and First Aid kits.

First Aid is REALLY REALLY REALLY important (you can buy a standard kit at Walmart)!  I took an attendee of one of our events to the hospital, he sliced his foot open climbing off the bus and needed 10 stitches!  Did it ruin the event/day/trip?  Hell NO!  I got to spend an hour with one of our newest community members stuck in Austin traffic, trying to come up with things to distract him from how much blood he’d lost — we keep in touch, and I can’t wait to spend time with him this year.

Your game face

Okay fast forward and we’re in Austin now.  Repeat after me, “I am more hardcore than you” – hold this in your mind for a minute and feel a little competivie adrenaline rush.  This is the web marketing Olympics and its time to play ball.

If you have ever played sports, team or otherwise, or crushed nerd face in StarCraft II like I do every Sunday then I want you to imagine getting and keeping your game face on for 5-7 days.  For those of you without these experiences, imagine how you feel trying to get out of San Francisco after a Giants game win.

You have 3 game faces you will need to master:

  1. Company Figurehead (external facing) – You are repping your company 24/7, so whatever public persona you have or are developing needs to be in top form.  My recommendation: set the bar low.  For me, this means rarely wearing makeup, speak in plain English, and share exactly what I think without (too much) self-editing.  Again YMMV, but you are going to get stuck with this persona you created so think about it.
  2. Mercenary for the Leads / Missionary for the Brand – why the hell are you even going to SXSW (I probably should have started this email out with this) — to GET SOME leads.  Make this fun if you can, what I did last year with a team of 6 was to make a competition with daily prizes and overall prizes for most business cards, most Twitter engagement, and other *measure-able* things.  Measureable is key.  I gave out the prizes and announced the new challenge at breakfast each day, and each person gave a recap on cool people they met.   The order of magnitude for the challenge: MINIMUM 100 business cards per day (usually you’ll get 20 – 30% high quality leads).  This is totally DOABLE, don’t let anyone tell you it is not.
  3. Fearless Leader (internal facing) – your team is looking to you both for guidance and approval (always), don’t forget how important this is in an exhausting and stressful situation.  Make sure to praise things they are doing well but also to give quick, straightforward, helpful feedback if you see things that are slipping.

If you need supplies, get to the grocery on day one with the team and make it happen.  Go to Walmart like we did last year (its on the way from the airport to downtown Austin) and buy up all the chalk, bubbles, glitter, and other fun cheap awesomeness you can.  Not sure how you’ll use it yet?  You’ll find a way.  Then take your team to eat a solid meal, probably the best one they will get and the one they will enjoy the most because they won’t be ready to fall asleep with their face in their plates.  Have a toast, make it count, this is an exciting moment.

Mind like water

Stress.  It’s going to happen because you’ll wake up Thursday and plans will constantly fall through, and you will be forced to be “on” 24/7 in person (which is much harder than online) for several days back to back.  You need to at least try to have a mind like water.  I am a Type A on a level that generates panic attacks so let me tell you other type As out there – forget the fucking details.  This is going to be a shit show organizationally — this about it like you are planning for a natural disaster and embrace the chaos, or you will be miserable.

Mind like water = “oh cool, there’s another party down the street? let’s check it out”
Mind like water = “looks like the wifi here is making our product demo impossible, lets get a beer and try again later”
Mind NOT like water = “oh shit this is a nightmare, who forgot to ship the tshirts, you are all fired”
Mind NOT like water = “why are you drinking, its 10pm on a Saturday but you are supposed to be WORKING!!!!!!!!!111111”

You get the idea…

You need a mind like water to work a room, to put up with the constant change, to understand that everyone else is also trying to adapt to this strange environment.  You need a mind like water so that you won’t be totally burned out at the end of the trip, or damage relationships.  But mostly you need a mind like water because once you let go a little bit it is extremely FUN.

Okay, I hear everyone gets drunk at SXSW

If you are going to get ridiculously drunk, and especially if you are considering using substances that the United States considers illegal, PLEASE DON’T WEAR YOUR COMPANY TSHIRT.  It is every PR person’s nightmare.  Please just no.

Getting drunk at SXSW is deceptively easy, because if you are hitting nonstop events from noon to 2am and having 1 drink per 90 minutes (and are a lightweight like me) you are going to feel like shit by 10pm.  YMMV, but I did SXSW on a 2 drink per day rule last year and felt massively better.  One exception: if you are the host/MC of an event take 1-2 shots of tequila/vodka right before things kick off.  I do this with my team, and it really does help chill out the nerves around a massive event.  We hosted 800 people at Pure Volume house, with 2 VIP rooms and 2 signed bands on stage — to say I was freaking out abou the line wrapped about the building and the angry requests re: “the list” (from Type A people who planned ahead no doubt!) — so I needed it.

Designated drivers = do it, take it seriously.  Love your team and protect them.  Make sure they drink water.  Even if that means sitting together on the curb til 4am because no one is sober.  Do it together, life is too short.

Sleep & Hangovers

You best be getting out of bed by 9am and taking your team to breakfast every day chief, this is your army – feed them, cloth them, inspire them.  If you still have the hangover shakes at 1pm you are doing it wrong.  (See: substances)

Doing Deals at SXSW

Pick a single day, pick an expensive bar, camp out at a table, make friends with the staff.  Don’t spread your stuff all over or it will be obvious you’ve been there all day.  You’re just the guy who happened to get there early for every single meeting, as far as the person meeting with you knows.  Expensive is relative if you are not drinking much, but it keeps the place from being loud or crowded.  The nice bar in the Hilton right across from the Convention Center always has tables because they charge $15 for a glass of wine — its PERFECT.

Tell your team what day is your deal day (I pick Sunday – because you will have time to fill the funnel) and cherry pick people from their business cards that you want to meet and call/text them to introduce yourself and set up a time.  You invite, you pay.

It’s going to cost maybe $300 for the day if you have a table from 11am – 6pm and take 10 meetings — ~45 min apeice — at $30 each.  If you can’t afford this (you probably should have stayed home: “I am more hardcore than you”) then invite people to meet you at other events OR invite them to the VIP section of your own events.  However, events are not where you close deals (unless you are Dave McClure).  Events are for lead gen.

If you spend $300 and have a 10% success rate from those 10 meetings then I am guessing you will recoup your cost.  Have > 10% success rate!!!

—– end email

Twiliomobile 2010

Twiliomobile 2011


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