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The road trip: San Francisco and Austin (sxswi) notes

For a week in March I did my first big road trip in many years and headed to San Francisco on my way to Austin for SXSWi. With only 3 days in SF and 4 days in Austin I was expecting a pretty intense trip, I wasn’t let down. The goal? In SF it was to meet up with VeloCity alumni (there are around 14 of them I know of there) and find out if there is more VeloCity can do for our students. In Austin it was to purely network and take in all that SXSWi circus has to offer. Every type of marketing strategy is being executed at once by hundreds of different companies; from traditional brands trying new things to crazy useless apps trying to get my attention using the more traditional (but not so classy) booth babe strategy.

San Francisco and the valley

Oh my. I forget how sexy the city of San Francisco is for the entrepreneurial minded. Sure people fall out of love once they get to know it (or think they know it) but if you are wanting to bounce ideas around that is the place. You can meet dozens of different people in a day that will give you dozens of new ways to think about a problem. The weather there is like May in Waterloo without the crazy chance of snow storm so you can walk around comfortably dressed and spend a lot of time outside.

I met up with 10 VeloCity alumni (they have lived in VeloCity before) working for different startups or doing their own thing. Some are very well connected already as they are highly skilled and know their worth. Others are taking notes and plotting their own move. It was great to see them and it was even better to hear their perspectives in the context of the environment we were in.

Austin and SXSWi

What a circus. I booked in late January and the best hotel I could get was the Hampton out at the airport. Thankfully a friend offered up a room downtown which made my experience that much better. Getting around is a nightmare if you aren’t located downtown and you will be tempted to bring your laptop around with you. There is no point in doing that, the internet doesn’t work during the day — far too many people.

What you have in Austin is a great event for networking but don’t go for the talks unless you are there for a few specific ones and you can actually find them on time. I am entirely not sure if the marketing works for all the apps pushing hyper-local services but it is hugely entertaining for those of us there to observe and see all the different things that people try to gain attention. The conversations with people are priceless as well, the event attracts so many leading edge folks. If you are a new startup looking for some validation on what you are building that is the place to be. For more established brands or products like GM, they put on a great show. They even let me drive a Corvette.

It was very cool seeing Kik there as well — they have the most useful chat app but the network suck-age hurt them. I was a bit disappointed because there were a ton more people I wanted to meet and chat with but the best ‘twitter friend I had yet to meet in real life’ moment was bumping into Jonathan Snook in the elevator at the Hampton. How unlikely is that?

A short list of knowledge

The key bits of wisdom sticking in my head:

  • The Canadian Angel scene is totally messed up (not news to many) — there are some good angel investors but not nearly enough are spending the time to build relationships with entrepreneurs in Canada or willing to take risks. This is really clear to me now.
  • Better connections are needed in the valley for students — not to drive them down there, more to demystify the place and provide them with some solid connections. This could be accomplished through their peers or a group like the C100.
  • You never have to eat alone in San Francisco.
  • Austin is an awesome city that is totally overwhelmed by SXSW and you will love it.
  • If you have any dream to be a community manager or be in marketing you have to participate in the madness at least once but do not plan anything there unless you have been there already.
  • Waterloo students are everywhere. Randomly ran into Holden of CS Club fame playing foursquare at the foursquare location, talked with a returning VeloCity resident who is currently working for Foursquare as well.
  • VeloCity/Waterloo needs to do more relatively simple things to help our students — even use SXSW as a way to find new and exciting employers for our students on co-op. We can’t stay in Waterloo waiting for people to come to us.

As I plan to sit down over the next few months and pull together a grand strategy for the next little while at VeloCity I am full of crazy ideas. This is good!

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