Sorry for not writing these last two weeks but, boy, do I have a great story to tell in this blog post. I finally crossed the big Pond for the first time and travelled to Austin, Texas, where I attended one of the most popular Festivals in the USA: South by Southwest, or as it is called by everyone SXSW.
As described best, SXSW is “an annual conglomeration of parallel film, interactive media, and music festivals and conferences organized jointly”. Basically it is a place where all the big names of all the above mentioned industry professionals meet, drink, party and build new businesses. What started as a music festival in 1987 expanded to a heavyweight event that hosted more than 300.000 people in 2023 spread all across Downtown Austin.
With more than 200.000 steps registered in the 10 days of SXSW, I have 10 takeaways that I want to share with you:
The most complex event I have ever seen
One month ago I witnessed with my own eyes a monster event in Dubai, Gulfood. Although the number of attendees at SXSW was a bit higher than Gulfood, the fact that the festival was spread all over the city of Austin gave it a complete different feeling. You could feel its grandure but on the other hand you could breathe, as there were rarely crowds. Of course, the parties were crowded, but usually they took place in clubs and pubs, so if you didn’t like one you could just go next door to another. To host such an event requires a lot of coordination and infrastructure, but the experience and tradition of the organizers made SXSW a flawless experience from the organizational standpoint.
On the other hand, the tech side of the event could be improved, as their app was a complete mess, especially when it came to networking. But I guess that is the best you can do when hundreds of thousands of people want to find other relevant people. I have been to several events until now and I can honestly say that I am still waiting for that networking app that will rule them all.
Since I mentioned networking, there were actually two things that worked wonders in SXSW when it came to meeting relevant people to do business: Linkedin and Meetups. I am against social media overall, but I have just become Linkedin’s top fan. It worked so much better than the SXSW app and its QR code functioned 10 times better than the one on my official badge. So, I learned a new hack: save your Linkedin QR code as a picture and set it as the phone’s home wallpaper. When you have to network with hundreds of people in 1 hour, you will understand why this hack is amazing. Do I scan you or will you scan me? This is was the SXSW version of Swipe right.
And yes, meetups. As a networking passionate, I instantly fell in love with meetups and the way networking is done at SXSW. No bullshit, no time waste. I was used to people politely listening to me pitching my project and then receiving a “maybe” when a NO would’ve been more efficient. SXSW was completely different. After two pitch sentences, the person in front of you would stop you if your project was not rellevant: “Sorry, I am not interested, let’s do some more mingling and I’m sure you’ll find the right people”. So, I learned an important networking lesson: Don’t take rejection personally, it’s just business and you need to be efficient and not waste time pitching to the wrong people.
NFT & web 3
I was used to the more reluctant audience towards NFTs and web3, but in SXSW everyone was extremely open and curious about it. Usually, when I talk about it here in Romania, people go like: “Oh, NFTs, that’s Crypto, I don’t like Crypto, that’s a scam”. Few people are really interested in hearing you out when you talk about the blockchain technology and the true NFT usage, not the GIFs that were sold with millions of dollars. Much to my surprise, people at SXSW wanted to learn more about NFT ticketing and many of them actually heard about this trend, especially those who were active in the Music industry.
A lot of content sessions were about web3, AI, Metaverse and how these new technologies are going to change our lives for the better, so I gained some valuable insights and got the much needed validation that me and my colleagues at Oveit and Streams.live are on the right path with our products. It is becoming clear to me that those companies who are resisting to change, will be hit really hard in the near future. Actually, one of the speakers summed up this idea with the following quote: “When change comes, stop asking Why? Instead, ask Why not?”
Live shopping growth
Amazing thing at SXSW: People didn’t ask me ‘what is live shopping?’. Apparently, people in the US are very familiar with this new eCommerce trend and are aware that it is growing. However, the Live shopping industry still has a lot to grow in the US as well, and this following dialogue that I had sums up why:
Me: So, you own a cosmetics brand, are you into Live Shopping?
Person: I am very aware of Live Shopping but I haven’t given it a shot yet.
Me: Why is that?
Person: I will wait for more of my competitors to try it out and test it more and after that I will give it a try as well.
So, yeah, I was talking about resistance to change before, I will embrace it on this topic once again.
There was this saying in one of the sessions that I attended: “Learn from those born in the darkness, not those that merely adopted it”. Safe to say that Social Commerce will be the next huge thing in eCommerce, and it is not what everyone thinks it is. Social Commerce does not involve social media, but actual Social Ecosystems where communities are engaged and live experiences when buying things. China knows it best and the social commerce market there will reach over 500 billion dollars in 2024. Compare this to the 73 billion dollars estimation for the US market and you will understand why it is about time we start learning how commerce is done from the Chinese.
Of course, Live Stream Shopping is a key element in this Social Commerce experience and so are the KOC. What are KOC? The guys who will take down the KOI (Key Online Influencers). KOC means Key Online Consumers, and they are huge in China. It’s ordinary people, just like you and me, who go in front of a webcam and start doing honest reviews and unboxings of the products they buy. So write down this KOC abbreviation. You will hear a lot about it in the next years.
F**k social media
Yep, as the subtitle claims, social media is going down and I was more than happy to hear about that. Not one single talk or person I met referred to Facebook. Apparently that is yesterday news for the US audiences. People still hang around Instagram, but the true dominator when it comes to social media is by far Tik Tok. But there is a plot twist to this. Even though Tik Tok is the leading social media channel that I encountered in SXSW, people are well aware that this trend might be over pretty soon, as US and EU try to find ways to ban Tik Tok, as it appears the Chinese are collecting their data. Surprised? I didn’t think so, either. Well, even though a complete Tik Tok ban is not in sights at the moment, everyone claims that the brand communication strategies should focus on owned content: Newsletters and Blogs are back and more impactful than ever.
And while I’m being spicy about social media, I should tell you that one of the greatest arch enemies for the SXSW attendees is another US giant company: Ticketmaster. Everybody hates Ticketmaster. Literally. There wasn’t any single person in the entertainment business that I talked to about NFT ticketing that didn’t say a few bad words about the monopoly that Ticketmaster has instated in the US. As some of you might know, Ticketmaster was summoned to appear in front of the American Congress because of the Taylor Swift fiasco, where thousands of fans were left without a ticket due to the greed and exclusivity deals that Ticketmaster enforces on their customers.
Obviously, entertainment professionals are looking for new ways to avoid selling their tickets on Ticketmaster and other such marketplaces, so the NFT ticketing model that Oveit provides seemed to be of interest to a lot of event organizers and promoters. I am convinced that with web3 being more and more present, the decentralization of ticketing will happen. After all, the revenue from the tickets belongs to the artists and organizers, not to the ticket selling platforms. The American industry sees it and has started to act on it… I wonder if the Romanian industry understands why the Ticketmaster kind of way is the wrong way?
This is the part where I will be critical about the Romanian industries and businesses. One of the most important things I learned in SXSW is that we have become a Global industry. Those who focus on their national market only will fail, or they will stay small. The international market is huge and filled with open minds, opportunities and money. And guess what, it doesn’t matter where you’re from. If you have a good product, there will be people open to buy it. I told everyone there that I was from Romania and they were happy to meet me and to learn more about what I wanted to pitch them. So, to all my fellow Romanians, time to stand up and be proud of who you are. The world is one and you are not inferior, nor superior to the other individuals.
Once again, a big thumbs down to the Romanian authorities who, just like in the case of Gulfood, ignored another huge opportunity for their cultural market. I am just kidding myself, no authority in Romania gives a damn about culture. Just to rub some salt on the wound, Czech Republic had a big stand in the middle of SXSW expo area, where all the important people in the music and events industry came to meet their American counterparts and explore ways to do business with them. A stand funded by the Czech Ministry of Culture to support the Private sector in the Music & Entertainment Industry. Amazing, isn’t it?
A big shoutout to Austin for hosting this amazing event. I truly enjoyed the Southern hospitality and the weirdos roaming around 6th Street. Keep being weird!
Last but not least, I had the opportunity to live a true Texas experience: Rodeo. A sport that doesn’t make sense to me, as I think tying down cows and riding crazy bulls is totally useless. But the Texas people sure know how to make a show out of this outdated sport. I enjoyed every minute of this crazyness and by all means, I’d go to another Rodeo anytime!
So there you have it. My 10 takeaways from the SXSW experience and trip to Austin, Texas.
Thank y’all for reading and see you next time!