SXSW Lessons From the Founders of Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and More
When we think of SXSW, we think of fun launches and campy events. We don’t always think about major flubs or how startups maximized the festival for true momentum.
Take a look at these standout moments from past festivals -- and what they can teach you about making the most of your presence.
Read the room -- and work with the crowd.
Appearing for a keynote or session? Think carefully about what the audience expects, and be ready to pivot.
This was a lesson learned the hard way at Mark Zuckerberg’s first keynote in 2008, when he became the surprising star of the event -- and not for good reasons.
The then 23-year-old Facebook founder was a much anticipated keynote to be interviewed by journalist Sarah Lacy. She’d planned a conversational chat with Zuck, since he was notoriously tight-lipped. Unfortunately, he seemed uncomfortable on the stage, and when the conversation didn’t move past small talk, the audience rebelled, yelling out commands such as “Talk about something interesting” to the applause of the crowd.
After battling with the audience, Lacy eventually turned from interviewer to moderator between the founder and the audience.
Be where the traffic is.
Twitter didn’t launch at SXSW’s 2007 festival (though it’s often included in lists of startups that did). However, it did use the event to build momentum. How? According to a post by co-founder Evan Williams on Quora, the company spent $11,000 for a visualization of the service on flat-panel screens in the hallways, knowing that was where the action was. A special feature allowed attendees to text to join, and then automatically sign them up so they could follow ambassadors throughout the festival. This was the only money the service spent on marketing.
Have a point person back home.
Launching as SXSW? You might launch with a rival.
Know it’s not about you.
Find the right people.
Buzz isn’t enough.
Meerkat, a livestreaming app, was the darling of SXSW 2015 -- one of the first true breakout sensations in years. The festival brought it buzz and a user base, but the success was fleeting. Later that month, Twitter launched its own livestreaming app, Periscope. By the summer, Facebook debuted Facebook Live. By August the company was already planning a pivot -- one that didn’t include live streaming. So while Meerkat got a great launch, it didn’t have the resources or distribution to compete with more established players, a sobering reminder for startups launching minimum-viable prototypes into market at SXSW or any other time.