Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on Seattle 2.0, and imported to GeekWire as part of our acquisition of Seattle 2.0 and its archival content. For more background, see this post.
By Sasha Pasulka
In the coming days and weeks, you will read countless dreadful and redundant articles about the trends, products and people that came out of SXSW, plenty of them written by me, because every journalistic outlet on the planet feels the need to cover SXSW, and I like money. But since this is the outlet I write for that doesn’t pay me (cough — Marcelo — cough), I feel I have the right to take certain liberties with my “weekly” posts. (Like, you know, writing them monthly.)
This piece has nothing to do with technology or digital. This piece has to do with being in Austin, TX for SXSW for the first time, and having no idea what to expect, and then being totally wrong about everything. For those of you who are thinking of going next year, I hope for this post to be a living guide to what you need to know to get the most out of the experience. If I’ve left something off, by all means, post it in the comments.
1. Pack light. This is not what I did. My suitcase weighed 64 lbs. I packed the way I normally do when there will be parties to attend. I brought: 3-4 outfits for each day; 2 pairs of heels; 3 pairs of boots; running shoes; 4 different jackets; assorted hair paraphernalia; necklaces befitting a wide array of potential party themes, outfit choices and jacket colors; nail polish; two bags of makeup; 4 hats; and pajamas. I wore: black leggings; branded T-shirts and sweatshirts people handed to me at the convention; flip-flops; and, frankly, probably all of my hats, including two new ones I bought in Texas. I never did my hair and all the makeup I used fit in a tiny clutch. I probably could have packed everything I needed in a backpack.
It is hot in Texas in March. You do not need big jackets. You are insane if you think you are wearing heels — you walk five miles a day, minimum. You are insane if you think you are getting dressed up for anything. You are insane if you think, at any point in the day, you are going to have time to change outfits. PACK LIGHT.
2. Book a hotel room in walking distance to the conference, and book it early. Because most of the city was sold out when we looked for accommodations (a full month before the event), my friends and I ended up renting a house that claimed to be “a mile” from “downtown Austin.” I think it was “three miles” outside of the “greater Austin metropolitan area.” The cab services are overwhelmed, and it often took them an hour or more to show up to get us. And once we’d left the house, there was no going back — at least not until after 3 am. It would have been nice to have a place to stop for a mid-day shower. One of our roomies ended up renting a car, though, and it wasn’t too hard to find parking near the convention center.
3. Don’t tell anyone you’ll be anywhere until you actually get there. Everybody told me that I had to RSVP early for every party in order to get access. So I dutifully searched Plancast, chose the parties I wanted to go to, and made a very clear agenda for myself. Then, I planned out which sessions I would attend during the day. Then, I did absolutely none of that. I don’t think I attended a single one of the parties I had on my agenda. Plans change by the minute in Austin, so don’t be afraid to be flexible, and don’t promise anyone you’ll be anywhere. And this leads me to my next point …
4. Be VIP everywhere
. I was not planning to be in the VIP section at any event, until the first thirty minutes of the first party I went to consisted of everyone shoving each other around to get to the bar to fight for a drink, while I watched delicious baked goods and free drinks carried in a steady stream to the relatively crowd-free VIP section. As an introvert and a claustrophobe, I was just about ready to leave the party, and then Austin entirely, when my girl Kelly from Lockergnome
texted me to say she was in VIP and could get me in. After that, my social agenda worked thusly: Figure out which parties someone could get me into as VIP, and then only go to those parties. With a million parties thrown by a million companies, and half of Seattle tech in Austin, this proved to be completely doable for the entire five days I was there. I highly recommend this approach.
5. You don’t really need to stay that extra day. I was in Austin from Thursday night until Tuesday afternoon. The place was relatively dead on Thursday night, and, by the time I was packing on Tuesday, my friends who were flying home Wednesday were really jealous of my earlier flight. SXSW is like Vegas; it’s a blast, but you kind of wish you’d stayed one less night. Unless you have an overwhelming reason to extend your stay, three or four days is plenty.
6. Seriously, dude, go to the panels … but go early. Plenty of people fly out to Austin for SXSW and don’t even buy conference badges. “The conference is the networking,” they say. “I want to go to the parties, not the panels.” At first, I ditched my friends to go to panels because — as an introvert — I desperately needed to sit somewhere and not have to talk to anybody for several hours. Then I realized I was getting a lot more out of the panels than out of the parties. Granted, I didn’t have a startup to market, but I was surprised at how fantastic the sessions were and how much new insight I gained from them. (I even earned my Foursquare “Panel Nerd” badge.) The popular panels fill up to capacity well before they start, and then the lines can wrap around the corner, so get there early for any specific panel you really care about.
What am I forgetting that next year’s newbies should know?