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Event Recap: Vsnap at SXSW!

by Trish Fontanilla, Community Manager at Vsnap

It took a village, well, an incredible community, to get me to SXSW this year. 

Vsnap, being the small startup that we are (5 now with our new lead software developer Nate Levesque that started in January!), money is still a bit tight. When I had originally asked CEO Dave if I could go to SXSWi (the interactive arm of the film, music, and technology festival in Austin, TX), we hadn’t launched our new UI or tested mobile apps. It felt like a tough sell. But as our development team continued to break through walls like the Kool Aid man on caffeine, I knew it’d be an incredible opportunity for the company if I headed down there. And well, I’d have some fun eating BBQ in the sunshine too.

To start my “Send Trish to SXSW campaign”, I tapped some festival vets to send Dave vsnaps… like Melissa Massello who told him how she does SXSW on a budget, Ben Maitland-Lewis who played him a song on ukelele with choice lyrics like “… it’s an amazing opportunity, for the girl who manages your community”,  Jenny Mackintosh who told him about the importance of a badge and even mocked up what mine might look like, Jeremy Bersin who arguably sent the vsnap that tipped Dave to an almost yes and who let us know that Cory Bolotsky had information on Startup America’s discounted tickets for startups. Thank you, thank you to all the folks that sent vsnaps and everyone that continually asked, “So, uh, Dave, you sendin’ Trish to South By?”. 

So what are my takeaways for early-stage startups and small businesses headed to SXSW?

Work your community beforehand… 
I did this on two levels. Locally, I had been bugging Derek Peplau on Twitter about tips and tricks for SXSW on his site and we ended up jumping on the phone and chatting. He later set up a meetup where I found out about other Boston to Austin folks and learned more about what to expect. On the digital end, I sent vsnaps to panelists, fellow community managers, and other industry folks I wanted to meet. I think the coolest part was people just walking up to me and saying hi because they’d seen me in the homepage video or in a vsnap I sent them. Looking at people’s avatars always leaves it a little up in the air, but the video captured my goofy facial expressions, crazy hand gestures, and voice, so folks definitely knew me when they saw me. Reaching out to people pre-SXSW also landed me interviews with FreshBooks, who did a series for their blog and Younoodle, and with MLOVE who did interviews on mobile. 

Don’t stress if you can’t find a place…
By the first week of February (and way before that), all the official hotels had been booked, so I started looking for places on Airbnb. We ended up about 30 minutes outside of downtown, so while I thoroughly enjoyed my roommates (it was a startup house with folks from Second Glass, Swap.com, and the Extreme Entrepreneurship Tour - pictured above), cabs never came to our place when we called. Thankfully there were some nearby buses. Definitely poke around to find out more information about getting around the city if you are staying outside of downtown. You could also rent a car. Parking in the lots ranged from $10-20 and the convenience would be worth it. 

Be open to serendipitous moments… 
And this is something everyone will tell you. You’ll set up a schedule of where and when you should show up to places and then you’ll fall into a really great conversation or get pulled into some direction for a “there’s someone you really need to meet!” moment and your plans will be thrown off completely. Just go with it. I also put my meal plans into fate’s hands (inspired by Evan Hamilton) and I tweeted out each day, “Who wants to grab lunch?”. I had some really fantastic conversations with people from all over the country, from interns to CEOs. 

Get into some showcases…
Once I found out I was going (and let’s be honest, before that as well), I immediately applied to showcases that were still open. TechCocktail’s StartupLife Celebration presented by .CO was a great night of networking and probably the most important event for me at SXSW. There were amazing judges that grilled me about Vsnap and how we were different from the competition as well as awesome people that walked through the Stage on Sixth’s doors from all over the world that were just stoked to learn about new startups. Thanks to Kira Newman and TC’s coverage, they already knew about Vsnap and were eager to hear more. The next day, me and my sore throat demoed at the MassChallenge/Bing party featuring MC alumni Libboo, The Tap Lab, and RelayRides. It was more of a relaxed atmosphere (you can check out Abby Fichtner’s recap on the Microsoft blog here), but I still got a chance to do a minute pitch in front of the 700+ attendees. While I did have some really great one on one conversations with people I met on my own, being at those events helped me become part of the conversation. 

Of course I’d love to pay it forward and elaborate on more of what I learned at SXSW, so if you’re interested, send me an email/vsnap or comment on this blog. 

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