Lessons I Learned From SXSW (Even Though I Didn't Go to SXSW This Year)
OK, I didn't go to South by Southwest this year. It's the first time I haven't been there since 2009. While it’s bittersweet, it’s also signifying a new chapter -- not just in my business, but in life.
In reliving the origin of the birth of my first business, here are a few lessons I learned from attending SXSW all these years that can help you succeed in your entrepreneurship journey.
If you’re great at something, you can get paid to do what everyone else does for free.
I remember being in our hotel room at the Hilton with Gary Vaynerchuk, his brother, AJ, and my friend Sam, talking about sports, professional athletes and how we were similar -- since we love playing. But it didn't take long before we realized we were nothing like top-tier athletes like Lebron James.
But I thought about that conversation later, after highlighting my friend’s success after I helped facilitate an important introduction, and it taught me the first most valuable lesson. Whether you're conceptualizing, testing or launching a business, product or service you know is awesome, believing in yourself will give you the best shot at others believing in you. Then use the validation you get from your customers’ success as leverage to grow your confidence and security in what you’re offering.
Be curious. It's extremely attractive.
For what it’s worth, no one knew who I was when I went down Austin, Texas, for SXSW. And even though I knew Gary and AJ, I never asked for an intro or hookup. I was just so happy to be there.
While others would shy away from meeting new people and influencers in a new, strange environment, I went up and talked to anyone I could -- just asking about them, sometimes without even introducing myself.
I never asked anything of them. I spoke with them because I had a genuine curiosity about who people were, why they were a big deal and how they got to where they were at that point. Many of those conversations were impressionable, not just for me as I learned a ton, but also for the other person.
I remember one person telling me, “you made me feel like I was so fascinating -- part of the reason I wanted to stay in touch was because of that. I loved your fearless attitude.”
Although my natural curiosity was the only value I could provide at that time, it ended up being the most valuable as I formed many strong relationships, both personally and professionally, that still remain today.
Having a plan leaves no room for serendipity.
The beauty of not having any clue about SXSW and why I should go was a blessing in disguise. While everyone else was doing their research three months in advance and adding every party to their calendar list, AJ convinced me to go almost two weeks prior (thanks, AJ!). There was nothing on my schedule and I didn’t even know where I was going, considering I was going to Austin for the first time.
That allowed me to embrace going with the flow and taking advantage of whatever opportunities were presented to me. As a result, I ended up making a ton a relationships I still hold dear today and discovering the idea for my first business at a bar there called the Chugging Monkey, helping facilitate a connection between a friend and a woman at the bar -- they went on a date the next day and, who would have known if then, but they wound up getting married.
To this day, every year I have gone to Austin my calendar has always been clear. And each year, my experience gets better and better. I’ve always told my clients and my peers that innovation exists outside the comfort zone, and if you want to do something that can impact the world, whether at SXSW or anywhere else, the comfort zone has the answers.