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12 Things I Loved at SXSWi (and 6 Things I Hated)

 

TLDR: Lotta ups, lotta downs, lotta milling around, locked to the screen of a phone I don't dare power down. 

Longer version:

Bests:

  1. Best app I used all the time: Groupme. Along with group text, the app now has photos and group payments. Incredibly useful for keeping in communication with coworkers and friends. 
  2. Best session: What do Sensors Mean for News, Society & Science? NPR's Javaun Moradi and O'Reilly's Alex Howard led a lively, thoughtful discussion on the present and future uses of sensors in everything from air quality to reporting, and what the benefits (more, better data, empowered citizens, cleaner air) and detriments (ease of more in-depth snooping) might be.
  3. Best technology I won't buy but would happily accept as a gift: Telepathy headset. Basically Japan's answer to Google Glass, minus the glass. Messages are beamed across your line of sight via a tiny black transmitter. The company barely has a website at present, but has already garnered the attention of MIT's Joi Ito. Look for them stateside December 2013. 
  4. Best technology I might actually buy: Lytro camera
  5. Best thing I ate: Pork loin at Iron Works BBQ (h/t Charlie O'Donnell for enabling this). Enough to make this longtime vegetarian happy about her newfound carnivorism. Runner up goes to Highlight's popsicles, which, at $0, were $8 cheaper than my pork loin, and a little more waist-friendly. 
  6. Best thing I drank: Eh, I know Austin is a beer town, and I had plenty that were decent, but honestly, I'm going to have to go with Willett bourbon on the rocks, for obvious reasons. 
  7. Best party: Groupme again, for its plank dance floor, upper courtyard (the better for brogazing), and great music (Empire of the Sun, Passion Pit, and other indie dancer gems).
  8. Best way to sweat out your hangover: The heated power yoga classes (free for first-time visitors!) at Core Power Yoga. 
  9. Best company apparel: Visual.ly's faded turquoise hoodies with peacock pyramid logos. 
  10. Best pickup line: Want to borrow my mophie? (Said to a distressed reporter whose phone had run out of juice.)
  11. Best eye in the storm: tie between the river walk and the Whole Foods salad bar. Yes, I take solace in salad, especially when drinking every night. 
  12. Best method of transportation: I'd like to ding Samsung for the "Walking is so pedestrian" slogan they plastered their pedicabs with (that's a statement, not a slur), but those things were mighty useful for the footsore. Runner up is Chevy, which transported yours truly from her place two miles outside downtown straight to the convention center, free of charge. The runner up is for stopping running at 9pm. 
  13. Best conference recap, courtesy my United seatmate: "There was nothing new, just more."

Worsts:

  1. Worst meet up app: Bang with Friends. Also for obvious reasons.
  2. Worst marketing gimmick: Along those lines, the girls in the neon bikinis and hot pants emblazoned with DTF. I was too horrified to even ask what (else) they were selling. 
  3. Worst session: No offense to Joshua Topolsky, who was charming and asked good (albeit unanswered) questions, but the Julia Uhrman keynote was one big, vague pitch for OUYA, and reminded me of a less funny version of The Girl You Wish You Hadn't Started a Conversation with at a Party.
  4. Worst style trend: the flat-brimmed baseball caps favored by tech bros. 
  5. Worst party faux pas: The myriad way-underage girls at the Vice/HBO party. 
  6. Worst booth personality: Sorry, NYT, but haranguing me to pony up for a print+digital subscription when I wanted to talk about "Snowfall" was a) offputting and b) unsuccessful. 
  7. Worst line: Nominating the Girltalk/National Geographic concert, not because it was necessarily the longest (Foursquare gave it a run for its money), but because it was the longest line for a party I actually wanted to go to. 
  8. Worst cultivation of exclusivity: Crowdtap, for giving out what seemed to be more VIP passes than regular ones, for giving out VIP passes that meant nothing, and for not only tweeting line updates but emailing them. 

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Groupme, Etsy, and Stamped Talk Design and the Mobile Startup

groupme, etsy, stamped, bart j stein, leeland rechis[Image via Studio Akko]

Maybe the most useful session at Internet Week for me was a panel about incorporating design into your lean/agile/scantly populated startup. The panel was moderated by Ron Goldin, the Founding Principal & Creative Director of Studio Akko, and the panelists were Steve Martocci, the Co-Founder of GroupMe, Leland Rechis, the Director of Product at Etsy, and Bart Stein, the Co-founder of Stamped. In about thirty minutes, they covered everything from creating your founding team (no project managers!) to eating your dogfood (do it. Whenever you can).

As an employee at a nascent, communication-focused mobile startup, I could not have asked for a better group of speakers. A few tips that really resonated:

1) Use the product away from work. The Groupme guys used their app to meet up with each other outside work, and when they were coordinating meetings with VCs, they got some of the to use it too, which was huge, because then these VCs used it during a Vegas trip and found it so handy that they ended up investing in the company.

2) Make your product work for both sides of the equation. Etsy's app was designed to work for sellers and buyers, because their analytics revealed that some of the most-visited pages from mobile devices were seller pages. (This also speaks to the importance of looking at your analytics.)

3) Leverage your local communities. Stamped, which is a really quick approval app for physical services, decided to target the restaurant industry when they were getting started, because restaurants are one of NYC's main industries, and, since the ascendence of Yelp, they've been very aware of the power of user reviews. This is also why there are so many fashion-tech startups in New York, and so many life-sciences ones in Boston. (And why there should be more hospitality-tech startups in Miami--get on it, Miami!)

4) Spend--and keep spending--a long time making your onboarding process really efficient and idiot-proof. Groupme still spends a significant amount of dev work on onboarding, because in the mobile world, that's where a lot of potential users will leave if the experience isn't pleasing. I would say this applies in the desktop world as well, though my patience does seem to increase in proportion with my screen size.

5) Sometimes, figuring out your brand and identity before you nail down your product can be a strategic advantage. Mobile is crowded, and nailing who you are first can set you apart from companies doing similar things. Stamped had a name and a working self-portrait before they started prototyping.

6) Early investors usually care more about your team and team's network than your product. Bart said that during Stamped's first meetings with Bain Capital, (their eventual investors) no one even mentioned a product--instead, Bain cared (I know, how often do you get to see that SV pairing?!) about what the team had done before, and how they worked together, and who they knew.

Are you working at a mobile or web-tech startup? Do any of these tips resonate with you? If you have more, pile'em on in the comments!

 

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