James Mayes

Archive for March, 2010|Monthly archive page

Closing post on SXSW

In Personal Development, Recruitment, Software Development, Start-ups, SXSWi, Twitter on March 18, 2010 at 8:31 pm

So South by SouthWest is over.  I’ve packed up and I’m writing this on the plane out of Houston. Just starting to contemplate all the work to catch up on and new ideas to discuss. Some sleep would be good sometime too!  This will be my final post on the SXSW topic for now. I may do a retrospective in a few months when I’ve been able to evaluate the deeper impact, but now, I need to brain-dump!  This may be the longest post I write this year…

Firstly, don’t underestimate how much walking you’ll do – and how informal the event is. The combination of these two things will be your guiding light when sorting your luggage. Forget business shoes – everyone else does and your feet will be murder by day three if you try to buck the trend. Same goes for suits, ties, etc. Bring a few smart shirts if you want – but don’t feel you have to. Mostly it’s polo shirts, or the free t-shirts handed out in abundance.

Secondly (and the specifics will no doubt change next year) get on top of locational services software. Whether you’re a Gowalla fan, a FourSquare fan, or maybe experimenting with something new –  figure out what your associates are using. Austin is incredibly busy, the convention centre is huge. On top of this, you’ll have more opportunities for meetings, lunch, drinks than almost any other time of the year, so use what tools you can to track trends. I want to assume it goes without saying Twitter is THE tool of SXSW – but if you’re sceptical, go check out the tweets for the back channel of Evan Williams keynote. Tweets during the interview pushed him into some immediate online responses straight after the session.

Third – power. Yes, there are sockets everywhere at the convention centre, likewise many with multi-blocks plugged in. There are also 15,000 people loaded with technology.  Keep it in mind, especially towards the end of the day. If your phone/device dies as the convention centre closes, you face some downtime as you head back to your hotel to recharge while everyone else is taking informal pre-dinner drinks – which is one of the best conversation time slots. Dinner plans are made on the fly here and if you’re not around, you can really miss out.  If you want a green earth recommendation – I used a FreeLoader. Disclosure: no association.

Finally – schedules and panels.  The schedules continue to change right up to the event and the panels aren’t exactly published early. It doesn’t matter. Sure, you should check the schedule and try to pick out the discussions you think you’ll benefit from. But there’s more than that. Not all events are official (the best one for me was an unofficial SXSW HR TweetUp). You should know who the thought leaders in your industry are, so follow them closely in the run up, figure out when and where they’ll be and don’t miss out on the chance to talk with your heroes, professional or otherwise. They will never be more approachable than here.

Moving from next year’s planning to another point about this year, I read an excellent post earlier from @Blogging4Jobs; she hit on a great point about the blatant absence of the HR industry. There were some attendees, certainly, but based on how much this event focusses on tools for engagement, she’s got a seriously good point.  This got me thinking about whether anyone else was noticeable for the absence.  Yep. The finance people.  Not those with money to spend or M&A interests to progress, but the operational ones.  Those who have to try to manage the finances of a company in times of recession, those looking for ways to cut costs, automate or scale processes.  There was a lot here for those professionals too, but I think there were even less from that set than from HR.

Final lighter points – I’d give the best party award to uStream for their event at Phoenix, with second place a tie between the Rackspace guys at Maggie May’s and UKTI for the British Bands night at Latitude. It’s purely personal choice; I’m not going to justify, I just want to offer credit where it’s due. With that in mind, I also want to offer my thanks to Chinwag. They’ve been running the UK’s Digital Mission to SXSW in conjunction with UKTI for some time now and their experience really shows.  Kudos to Sam, Emily, Ed and Juliet – you guys did a great job and deserve some recognition. Same goes Barry & Danvers at Bootlaw, who contributed heavily to a first class opening day, acclimatising Brits to US industry. Invaluable stuff.

OK, done for now. If you’re reading this, thanks for sticking with me right through. I hope it was useful and that maybe you find someone in here worth following in future!

Can SXSW inspire real change?

In Personal Development, Social Media, SXSWi on March 15, 2010 at 8:05 pm

The sheer variety of opportunity here at South By is difficult to describe, the scale just incredible. I’ve been trying to get more of a handle on the experience as perceived by other people over the last day or so and one trend has become particularly clear.  Everyone I‘ve spoken to is taking away good things they did not come here for. It’s the “stumble across” scenario, but on a scale which is so much more than just coincidence. Its starting to feel as though the event has actually perfected the art of the chance meeting.

I particularly want to recount the experience of one delegate I was talking to last night.  He’s run his own business for over twenty years now.  He’s in the digital media field, they’re considering expansion into certain new markets and this trip was planned as an education and networking session. He’s also in the position where he’s grown the business to have a stable senior management team, a great client base and really steady revenue growth. He could exit now. MBO, trade sale, whatever.  It was on his mind, he’s talked about it with his team. I think the core of his position now is “been there, done that, time for something new”.  I know this because we’ve been talking pretty regularly over the last week.

So, the SXSW experience?  He wants to rebuild that business.  Take it forward with new ideas, new technology. He’ll do it carefully, with the knowledge of all the things that have helped make his business the success it is today – and that’s great.  The real hit though, is the level of energy he’ll take to it.  The guy was literally bouncing of the walls last night (and this wasn’t a “height of the party” moment). I’ve never seen someone experience such a change in energy, passion and inspiration.  He’ll be back next year of course, but it will be different then. He wants to figure out how to get most of his team here with him!

Mountain climbing, start-ups and the value of failure.

In Recruitment, Start-ups, SXSWi on March 14, 2010 at 1:26 pm

On one of the entrepreneur panels, I heard a start-up analogy which I noted down, intending to reflect on it further.  I’ve changed my mind on the reflection part – I’m just going to put it out there and see how it lands.  This is pretty much verbatim, so you’ll have to roll with the style change.

As you may know one of the tallest mountains in England is Ben Nevis.  Most times, you can walk up there in your sneakers and have a great time.  Every now and again though, someone gets killed. The reason is almost always a result of environmental conditions. They change incredibly fast and if the climber isn’t aware (and equipped) it can be fatal.  The same is true of start-up businesses – be aware, be equipped, monitor your surroundings.

I abandoned the reflection part of this because I don’t think it actually needs much. It stands just fine on it’s own – but it sparked a memory. This is an experience I had some eight years ago – nothing to do with mountains, but everything to do with start-ups.  At that time, I was working for a corporate recruiter, placing a variety of technical and IT management staff.  Recruiting for a start-up who’d just got seed funding, we discussed an assignment for an IT Director.  The most important part of the specification?  They wanted someone who’d worked for at least two failed start-ups.  With the discussions flying round at SXSW, I now hear that view expressed regularly. Companies don’t just want people who think they know how to do it right – they want people who know how not to do it wrong.

Educating the money?

In Investment, Personal Development, Start-ups, SXSWi on March 13, 2010 at 10:46 pm

Second day at SXSW (now abbreviated to “South by”). Feeling thoroughly acclimatised with Austin, I could spend some serious time here. The town’s got a great vibe – and a sense that it’s not just for SXSW.  Feet are starting to ache, but the general view seems to be you just kill the pain with beer, then drink coffee to keep yourself going!  Not convinced, but when in Rome….

OK, so today’s news?  A GREAT panel this morning, focussed around where entrepreneurs come from. Are they born? Are they nurtured by mentors? Are they a product of environment?  Differing views, as you would expect from a widely experienced panel operating on both sides of the pond, but also points all agreed on.  One I particularly liked came from Doug Richards (in bullish good form and highly entertaining!) on the subject of investors.  There are schools for start-ups and support organisations, in addition to a wealth of online information – but very little of this caters to first-time investors.

There are many out there who’ve had an idea or built a business and as a result, have some capital to invest.  Maybe they miss the start-up buzz, maybe they want to put something back into the community, maybe they just want to make money. Whatever the reason, these people are coming at investing from the other side of the table – and maybe there should be more support out there for them. In these times of recession, it could well accelerate economic recovery by encouraging capital out into the market from corners where previously, fear or lack of knowledge has held it back.

Any takers?

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