When I launched the Flight4Sight campaign, I had one planned destination: South by Southwest (SXSW). I have heard about this conference for a few years. I am a big technology and social media nerd. SXSW combined Interactive, Film, and Music for 10 days from Friday, March 7th – Sunday, March 16th. There were over 5,000 events to choose from. It is the conference where Twitter blew up and Foursquare officially launched.
I planned on buying a badge for the Interactive portion of the conference. The rest of the conference looked like fun, but too expensive. One challenge was how I would travel to the conference every day. I was staying with a friend 30 minutes away. Renting a car was not an option and the bus would take up a lot of time. Then something happened that still boggles my mind. Thanks to someone (who will remain anonymous) who saw a comment I posted on Instagram, I received two platinum badge passes. These badges were worth over 3 thousand dollars. This individual wanted to do something nice to support my journey. I was flabbergasted.
Having two passes meant my friend, Chris Colletti, could join me and drive me around. He took three days off from his job at Apple (don’t ask him what he is working on) to go with me. Also, this meant I could stay for the whole conference!
I arrived in Austin, Texas late Friday night from Rome, Italy via Atlanta, Georgia. Despite two incredible Delta flights, I battled some serious jet lag the first few days. I finished most days with the seat back and my eyes shut as my friend drove us back.
Accessibility at the conference was phenomenal. There was a separate registration booth to deal with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) issues. I learned later that I could have a plus one with me. This is a person who does not need to purchase a pass as long as long as he or she stays with you. This will definitely encourage me to come in the future. The accessibility allowed me to sit front row at talks given by Lady Gaga, Nicolas Cage, and Robert Duvall. The conference involved many other stars. I also listened to Sean “Diddy” Combs talk about his new tv station “Revolt”, Bill Cosby do standup and Tim Ferriss talk about challenging yourself. Tim Ferriss is the author of Four-Hour Workweek. It offers a thoughtful perspective on how to live your life. It focuses on your work life and whether it is right for you. Finally, the most sureal sighting was Edward Snowden. He was live (via Google Hangout) discussing all things privacy and NSA.
While waiting in the accessibility line to see Bill Cosby’s stand up, I met Will Lowry. He is a blind writer who was at SXSW for the second time. He is a super nice guy. We had the chance to sit down and interview each other. I will be reporting about this in a future blog.
The conf erence was not all about stars. I was primarily there for social media talks. I was reminded of certain principles. One: “Content is NOT king”. Social Media is “social”. At the end of the day, we should be most focused on engaging people. The second principle involved “authenticity”. Nobody can do Social Media better than the subject itself. I sat in on a few sessions about social media and music. If you are a current or future rock star, your most effective social media strategy is to do it yourself. Fans want to see the real you. Likewise, this can be applied across many sectors, but who doesn’t want to be a rock star?
Another great experience that happened was the mentorship I received. A big challenge at SXSW is the sheer volume of events and choosing which to attend. Also, you need to make sure, for some events, you arrive enough to get in.
One evening, I was unable to attend a certain event. You never want to waste opportunities at a conference where there are so many great events and people to meet. I noted from the SXSW conference schedule there were mentor sessions going on. I sought a mentor. I was super fortunate to talk to Ligaya Tichy. She is an Angel Investor and normally talks to people that are starting companies. I nervously approached her. I talked with her about my campaign and asked her how I could keep it going. She offered great advice. Her best advice was when I stop traveling, to sit down and start sharing what I have done and to seek out new contacts. I was interested in her previous involvement with Airbnb. I inquired with her about how I could get it involved as a partner on my journey. If I keep on my journey, I will need some financial help. I would LOVE to partner with Airbnb. During our discussion, the idea of putting sponsor stickers on my cane came up. My cane could be like a Nascar with sponsors. Stay tuned…
The stars just kept coming. This year, for the first time, Apple brought the iTunes Festival to SXSW. They hosted a series of concerts. I was lucky to win a lottery for free tickets to three of the five concerts they held. Highlights were seeing Pitbull, Lady Gaga, and Keith Urban perform. This was the cleanest concert experience I had ever been to. Everything was so nice. It was full, but didn’t feel crowded. Instead of people in yellow jackets running the event, there were Apple employees coordinating everything and even cheering when we left the final night of the festival. What more can you expect from something run by Apple?
The last night in Austin I went out with my friend and his family for dinner. I was exhausted and debated whether I should even go to Chile. SXSW was overwhelming, I learned so much. I was surprised to realize I was about to spend my tenth night at their place. The conference went by so fast. I happily paid.
THANK YOU South by Southwest for an INCREDIBLE experience!
To see more pictures go to my SXSW Facebook Album.