Why my startup is trying to break out at SXSW

By Morris Panner, contributing writer


Morris Panner is the CEO of group text messaging service GroupFlier.

My kids are bigger fans of the bands Bright Eyes, B.o.B and Queens of the Stoneage than I am, but this Friday, I am on my way to Austin to South By Southwest -- mega music festival and, increasingly, the year's key show for Internet entrepreneurs.

For one magical week in March, Austin steals Silicon Valley's mojo and rules the technology universe.

"SouthBy" or "SXSW" began in 1987 as a music gathering, then added film and other media in 1994. "Other media" gradually morphed into SXSW Interactive -- a festival of youth culture, barbecue and massive amounts beer drinking. It became the launch pad for a series of famous technology companies, including Twitter.

So, what does a 48-year-old entrepreneur hope to get out of this 10-day partyathon?

Like thousands of tech founders heading to SXSW, I hope to propel my company into the limelight in front of almost 40,000 paid attendees and convince ever-reluctant VCs to invest.

We need to get branded an "it" company and walk out of the show with the social networks buzzing about us.

This year, my category is supposed to be the "hot" sector -- group texting, which lets people turn text messaging on their phone into a virtual chat room. Everyone has their PR plans revved up. One of our rivals is giving away grilled cheese sandwiches, another is offering free rides from the airport and a third is donating $1 to charity for every sign up.

Our strategy is to partner with SXSW's brand-new StyleX segment -- a fashion show marrying fashion and technology. Run by a suitably hip twentysomething entrepreneur, Joah Spearman, StyleX is our chance to get on the map as fashion models, musicians (who are going to double as models) and designers use our application.

We're also giving out 500 Frisbees (they cost us $0.67 a piece) at the 2,400 person Tech Cocktail party Sunday night.

Will any of this work? We have a series of meetings lined up with venture capitalists. In fact, VCs post "office hours," at which entrepreneurs can pitch ideas. We've spent the past three weeks meeting with investors, too. We are doing well, but they all want to see whether we can generate that elusive "buzz."

Our new metrics include social media measures like tweets, re-tweets, Facebook posts and likes. Five years ago, no one knew what any of this was.

While most of you won't launch your next product at a rock concert, don't be surprised if you find yourself trying to master some of these new tricks of the marketing trade. Popular culture and even art are merging with advertising. If Woodstock happened today, it would be a consumer electronics show.

Wish me luck. To top of page

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