How To Launch Your Startup At SXSW For Only $217

Rocking out at SXSW

[credit provider=”mrmatt on flickr”]

I wanted to call this article “Launch and Get Paid at SXSW” but that seems preposterous, outlandish, over-the-top and obnoxious. It flies in the face of traditional thinking where people think it costs thousands and thousands.At the heart of these conference hacks that I now teach at Stanford University’s school of engineering is a concept called “Gua Gua Guacamole”– recipes for entrepreneurship.

Guacamole is normally a 5 to 7 step recipe. I win guacamole contests because I add 20 to 50 steps. Doing more steps helps you outflank and outmaneuver teams doing less work. For example, I roast garlic, chill and puree it (7 extra steps). I roast bell peppers, deskin and blend before adding to ripe avocados.

It applies to entrepreneurship because I add 20 to 50 steps to the 3 step conference recipe of buying a ticket, showing up, and hoping it goes well. 

Hustle Together an Anchor Event Via Minimum Viable Party

If you’re just spending $217, you can afford less than 24 hours at SXSW. No worries, because you will have your flagship, anchor event be just eleven minutes. Yes, it is a minimum viable party — genius because you get about 90+% benefit of hosting a 2 hour party!

(Who says parties are required to be free beer or open bar event?)

The key to hosting a minimum viable party is to:

  • Load up an Eventbrite page
  • Put up a Plancast page
  • Use food ($80 in cupcakes, $20 in pancake batter, $150 in tacos)
  • pre-blog your eleven minute party
  • Invite a few people via Facebook events
  • Post pictures on Flickr
  • Post a minimum viable Facebook photo album after the event

An eleven minute event sometimes can outflank other 120 minute parties because people know when to show up. Plus for two hour parties, people plan to “stop by” but miss those windows all the time.

Leverage a Parade

Take a concept you like and admire and leverage that parade.

For example, I read a really good Guy Kawasaki blog post, Plan B for Fundraising, and turned it into a VC panel at SXSW.

I stalked Guy Kawasaki in the steam room at Pacific Athletic Club, won his approval and voila: hit SXSW panel in 2008.

Produce a Party Within a Party

When I was just starting, I did a party within someone else’s party. 

I didn’t have party funds but I had party engineering skills. For instance, if their uber VIP party was Canaan Partners Web 2.0 Summit party from 6:30-2am,  I would hijack portions of the party.

When do you show up for a 630-2 party?? I don’t know and neither does anyone else. The engineer in me would break it up into parties within parties.

I hosted the party within their party from 11:59pm to 1am.

At 1am, I engineered a big announcement… a Canaan partner was going to keep the bar open ONE MORE HOUR. So crazy because the party was paid up until 2am months before!

Spray and Get Paid

The old model was spray and pray. Some of my VC friends still have this investing strategy.

The new model is spray and get paid. Here is exactly how. Take your Eventbrite event page and start charging. I break down how to charge people in a blog post but the plot spoiler is to charge people a rebate. 

The goal of the rebate model is to get pricing momentum, commitments to actually show up for your minimum viable party and make a little, little bit of money.

Host an Unofficial Panel BEFORE SXSW

For 2012, I am recommending that you produce something in your home city before March 9. That way you can start to execute your SXSW launch, pre-SXSW, without leaving your city.

For example, my panel “Going from zero to hero at SXSW” is going to be done in NYC, Cambridge, Palo Alto, SF and Princeton. Whether or not anyone actually comes to my day #4 panel in Austin Texas is kinda irrelevant. I want the knowledge and the network of SXSW before you step foot onto Texas soil.

Plug a Hole

Even the best conferences have holes.

SXSW Interactive starts on a Friday every year. So last year, I launched SXSW with a midnight panel at 11:59 on Thursday.

I followed that panel with three more midnight panels because I theorized that people would tire of drinking at midnight and want to go somewhere to hydrate and sit. While people sat and drank my tap water, I plugged a big hole in SXSW programming and had speakers talk.

Help Others Get an ROI

When you’re starting out, you should launch with a 70-30 split — the unfun way. (30% for your startup and 70% for someone else.) This seems counter-intuitive, because if your startup is young poor and fledgling, why should you help out someone else? Because by setting aside your need for short term gain, you begin to be a value added SXSW attendee (even if you’re too poor to buy a badge).That gets people to pay attention

Build Your Pre-Launch Foundation

Because you have read this far and taken copious paper notes, I will be giving you a comp. The first 12 commenters that write a minimum viable blog post linking to this article get a free demo table for Monday night, Jan 16. It is worth $300. Your cost is 12 sentences, two pictures, and focus in the format of one WordPress blog post.