Missouri Entrepreneurs Share SXSW Strategies, Stories

The Austin Convention Center is the hub of activity at SXSW Interactive. | Courtesy of Top Rank Online Marketing/Flickr
The Austin Convention Center is the hub of activity at SXSW Interactive. | Courtesy of Top Rank Online Marketing/Flickr

The 21st  South by Southwest Interactive Festival wrapped up Tuesday in Austin, Texas, marking the end of an annual networking frenzy for many Missouri entrepreneurs. The five-day event, which has a broad focus on technology and digital innovation, offers an array of panels, presentations, pitch competitions, parties and other programming at venues throughout downtown Austin.

A total of 72,000 registrants and artists were expected to attend South By Southwest (SXSW), which includes film and music components in addition to the interactive portion. Many more people travel to Texas’ capital city without buying badges to take advantage of all the events surrounding the official festival.

Missouri Business Alert caught up with five Missouri entrepreneurs during SXSW to get their thoughts on their experiences at the event.

Alex Cruz, PenPath

Alex Cruz, PenPath founder | Courtesy of Alex Cruz
Alex Cruz | Courtesy of Alex Cruz

Alex Cruz is the founder and CEO of St. Louis-based PenPath, a company that provides social analytics for writers. Cruz won a competition held by Startup Missouri, providing him a free trip to SXSW. He said he was taking advantage of the networking the event offers to help his business.

“The best thing about SXSW is that I just met one of the investors I want to get funding from the most,” Cruz said Friday from Austin. “Right now, I’m able to network with other people from around the nation in one place. It makes meeting important people very efficient. They’re all in the same place at the same time.”

The event can keep attendees busy with constant speakers and sessions being offered.

“The worst thing about it is that it may be a little overwhelming because it’s my first time,” Cruz said.

However, Cruz said he was accomplishing what he went there to do. He just wanted to make strategic contacts for his business, to meet investors and to get the backing of investors.

DJ Good, LightBridge

DJ Good went to SXSW for many of the same reasons as Cruz. Good’s the founder and CEO of Lee’s Summit-based LightBridge, a company that launched in August and focuses on data storage. This year was Good’s second trip to SXSW, but his goals were the same as on his first visit: networking.

“I’m here to further relationships, keep them, and solidify relationships,” Good said Saturday from Austin. “This year, we’ve formed our company. Before, I was just down here meeting people. Now, I’m promoting my company.”

The cost didn’t discourage Good, but he noted how expensive it can be.

“One relationship can justify the trip here,” Good said. “As a businessman, if you want to further your company, further yourself, then you take advantage of these opportunities.”

Good’s only problem with the event? He said it’s too crowded. There are just too many people.

Kyle Rogers, Knoda

Kyle Rogers, the co-founder and CEO of Knoda, said his biggest problem wasn’t with the people; rather, it was with his own technology.

“The worst part is the cell service,” Rogers said Sunday from Austin. “The difficulty is trying to keep your battery and phone charged.”

That didn’t stop him from utilizing the resources in Austin. Since this year marked the first trip to SXSW for Knoda, a Kansas City-based startup that makes a social prediction app for smartphones, Rogers said the company’s goal was just to jump right in.

“We knew that at minimum we would make some great relationships,” he said. “It just kind of made sense to come down here and see what we could make happen.”

Knoda wasn’t necessarily looking for an instant partnership at the event, but Rogers said he wanted to find “the recipe for creating one in the future.”

Rogers said he and his co-founder, James Flexman, were using the robust social scene at SXSW to find that recipe. “We’ve only been going to parties,” he said. “That’s the way we’ve been building personal relationships. We’re about building relationships. In a lot of ways, a party is the easier way for us to do that.”

Blake Miller, Think Big Partners

Blake Miller, Think Big Partners | Courtesy of Blake Miller
Blake Miller | Courtesy of Blake Miller

Blake Miller, a partner at Kansas City-based Think Big Partners, which runs an accelerator and coworking space, is a five-year veteran of SXSW. Miller said the parties are where connections happen.

“It is like a spring break for nerds,” Miller said Sunday from Austin. “But, it’s really more about what you get out of it — it’s about the serendipitous connections that you make.”

Those parties provide Miller with the opportunities to make connections in the industry.

“The goal is having real relationships with people that I can take back, to have a connection and reach out to them,” he said. “For me, it is about friend raising, like fundraising — creating real relationships with people and building our network. Having connections within our industry but outside of our area really helps our business.”

Kirk Hasenzahl, Rarewire

Kirk Hasenzahl, co-founder and president of RareWire, said he put a lot of effort into planning those connections ahead of time.

“Before I came, I reached out to a lot of companies I wanted to talk to,” Hasenzahl said Sunday from Austin.

Hasenzahl, whose Kansas City-based company makes software that helps users create mobile apps, said he put so much early effort in because SXSW provides access to the sort of people he wouldn’t get on a normal day.

He noted that attending official SXSW panels and presentations isn’t entirely necessary. The parties, he said, offer just as much access.

“There are guys down here that didn’t even buy a pass,” Hasenzahl said. “They meet just as many, if not more, people than I’m meeting.”

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