Why we went
This year, a major car company (which we can’t announce yet) ran a huge startup competition in three U.S. cities and Philly was one of them. In order to win your city, you had to pitch three celebrity entrepreneurs on your business, while driving a car around the city. Picture Cash Cab meeting Sharktank. If an entrepreneur/investor wasn't sold on your concept, they would hop out the car during the trip. The goal was to keep one of them in the car and you’d win. WYL took home the trophy for Philly. Our prize: an all-expenses paid trip to SXSW’s Interactive Week in Austin, TX from March 13-17th.
All about the events
The company flew Felix Addison, our COO, and I out to Austin. Our biggest goal was to attend the most exclusive and fruitful events during the extended weekend. During SX, much of the events had free booze and food. So, you can imagine how wild the scene was during this festival of epic proportions. It was also pretty cool that my birthday fell within the time we were down there. On the first day, we ended up at the Facebook party and connected with the execs at many prominent companies and startups. During the weekend, we were invited to an event with Patron Tequila, thanks to Natasha Case, CEO of Coolhaus
. We also attended a small house party with Van Jones and a lot of the other important voices in the black, tech community. Code 2040 had an event in conjunction with Google Ventures at Capital Factory that we attended. Some additional events we attended included parties at the Daily Motion house, Spotify house, and we were VIP at the Fast Company Grill during our stay. Daily Motion even caught Felix and I on the dance floor and posted the video to Youtube
Meeting the right people
If you play your cards right, you can meet some super important folks and some celebrities. Just from finagling our way into some of the better/exclusive events, we were able to meet celebrities such as Taj Mowry, Rick Fox (who was a huge fan of WYL and even gave us his direct email), Baron Davis, Victor Cruz, Malin Akerman, Keith Powers, Bill Simmons, and more. I made sure to pitch much of them on WhoseYourLandlord
and got tons of favorable responses back. In addition to the celebs, we also met some of the elite entrepreneurs, doers, and investors in the tech space. On top of that, we met and connected with many of the writers and journalists for publications and platforms such as TechCrunch, NBC, and more.
Team no sleep
Remember, these events were happening all around the clock. I dubbed myself the backpack entrepreneur, while down there, because I never took it off. Once you left your hotel room in the morning, you weren't going to see your bed until the following morning (i.e. 3 or 4 am). Sleep was not an option; but, we did squeeze it in when we could. It took me 2 days to recapture my voice once we got back.
Competitions & involvement
While in Austin, we competed in the Kapor Capital & Case Foundation pitch competition. WhoseYourLandlord walked away with the trophy. The prize was $500 but the real reward was pitching to a room of 60+ people about WYL. After the pitch, we literally had four investors come up to us to introduce themselves and provide us with their cards. We also made sure to attend other pitch competitions and watch our fellow entrepreneurs/friends compete. One of our good friends, Natasia Malaihollo, received a six figure check from an investor after hearing her pitch her company, Wyzerr
. It was amazing to hear of things happening like this during SX. Mastercard even had a huge 60 second elevator pitch competition in the Mashable house, which we participated in. They gave every participant a free pair of Beats headphones (cool deal!).
Honestly, we weren't big fans of the panels. I did participate in one focused on Diversity at SX which was more of a fishbowl style of talk. Otherwise, I only attended a few true panel sessions. I felt like it was just people on stage ‘being successful.’ More value could have been added here. Many panelists were on stage constantly bringing up their investments in some of the larger companies of today but didn't dedicate enough time teaching or inspiring the folks in the audience. I think more can be done here to really give the people more value. There also needs to be more diversity on the panels as there wasn't many women or minorities on stage.
Aftermath & why you should attend in 2016
My rolodex (code for contact list) is substantially bigger. We made it our mission to collect as many business cards and contacts as we could. I ran out of my own business cards before the trip ended. And, I was proud of that. We used every opportunity to meet cool, inspiring people. We successfully did our job. Even in the airport, we connected with the execs at Curalate, a former DreamIt company, execs at Comcast’s headquarters, and we connected with Ben Rubin, the CEO of Meerkat (another DreamIt
company) at the Yahoo Lounge. Eryka Badu retweeted a couple of my posts, which had my Twitter buzzing for days. I even almost teamed up with Rick Fox on the beer pong table at Yahoo. He ended up tweeting at us and shouting out WYL. It was just an epic time…
If you’re asking yourself if you should attend next year…the answer is YES. For young businesses, this is a place you need to be. Save up a few thousand dollars (I know it’s not easy) and take a couple team members down. This is huge for connections and putting your face out there. We had sober and drunken conversations with some of the best minds in the business. Everyone is there to enjoy, learn, and connect. Take advantage of that and actually follow up with everyone. If you don’t capitalize on the aftermath, you’ll lose out on so much of the value in attending SX in the first place.