Lessons From SXSW: 21 Entrepreneurs Reveal Why Drinking And Late-Night Partying Counts As Work

SXSW

The dust has settled on SXSW — we’ve all caught up on our sleep, cleared our livers and hopefully lost the taco weight. Conference season is now underway – Web 2.0 just ended, Summit Series sails this weekend, with TechCrunch Disrupt and Startup 2011 and Mesh and Big Omaha and Internet Week on deck, and probably a Foo Camp or five to boot. We’re back to real life, i.e. overscheduled with an impossibly long to-do list — i.e., work.

Real life, real work — does SXSW count as either? To hear it from people who didn’t go, no; “I had too much work” or “I couldn’t justify a party in Texas” were the two refrains I heard the most. To me, neither excuse holds water: SXSW not only counts as work, but is a vital can’t-miss professional opportunity.

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This was my third year. For my first two, I went indie and paid my own way; this year, I went as part of the Hashable team. Going with a startup looking to launch big at the event is not a tough sell (yes, there is an app for that); but for some in bigger companies, often more ‘traditional,’ SXSW may be viewed as a four-day vacation, especially as seen via party pics, boozy twitter updates and ridiculous extremes of T-shirt swag.

With 40,000 people in attendance and Interactive dwarfing Music on its home turf, it seems clear that something is working – even if it might not be that lanyard-sporting dude double-fisting margaritas. Or maybe that dude just bought the drinks over which he will land a key investor, and it’s 2009 and his name is Dennis Crowley. If having fun counts as work and “work” is something you do because it’s fun, the lines can get awful blurry. It’s the kind of question I asked last year in my series for Rypple —social software about feedback, coaching, and thanks— about making work meaningful (called “I ♥ Work” – so, bias declared). It’s also a question that I will be exploring for Rypple in a follow-up series, kicked off with this question: “Does SXSW Count As Work?” and posed to a slate of enterprising attendees from across verticals (social, mobile, tech, agency), cities (New York, San Fran, Boulder, Austin and Toronto), and years of SXSW expertise (newbies, regulars and veterans). I’ll let them tell you about it, in my very-lightly edited rendering of their answers to my questions.

A quick note on the sample: it is meant to be neither scientific nor unbiased; I sent out a big email to friends and colleagues, and this is what I got back. (Plus one person who declined because it was a touchy subject in their workplace. Hmm.) There are a few disclosures at the end for you sticklers, but to grumble that these people are all my friends is to utterly miss the point. Here, start reading – 21 interviews with 21 awesome people should help. Peruse your options in the list below or click HERE.

The Full List

NEWBIES
Sam Rosen – SpeakerGram
Farrah Bostic – Digitas

Stephanie Hodges – PenTales

Emily Hickey – Hashable

Jason Cavnar – Sing.ly

Kathryn Minshew – Pretty Young Professional
Reece Pacheco – Shelby.tv
Kellee Khalil – Lover.ly

REGULARS
Kenyatta Cheese – Consultant/ Know Your Meme

Emily Gannett – IRL Productions

Andrew Mager – SimpleGeo

Caroline McCarthy – CNET.com

Amit Avner – Taykey

Marissa Evans – Go Try It On

Mike Lewis – Kapost

Matt Hunter –Textslide

VETS
Micah Baldwin – Graphicly
RIck Webb – Barbarian Group
Justin Petro – Thinktiv
Heather Gold – Subvert
Daniel Newman – Contxts

Disclamer: Sam Rosen was a Hashable evangelist; Farrah Bostic is a great friend of mine; I dated Stephanie Hodges’ brother; I spend more time with Emily Hickey than any other person, plus she hired me; I met Jason Cavnar at an event hosted by Julie Ruvolo and David Pakman; Kathryn Minshew is my PYP, yo, and was a Hashable Fellow; Reece Pacheco and the rest of the Shelby.tv team are my TechStars mentees; Kellee Khalil was a Hashvangelist and we have entirely too much fun together; Kenyatta Cheese, is awesome; Emily Gannett and I co-founded Change the Ratio together and she is the other piece of bread in my Emily sandwich; Andrew Mager I met through Hashable and also he has a cool title; Caroline McCarthy is a good friend and a killer at karaoke; i met Amit Avner in Israel and we are great buds; Marissa Evans is a founder I admire; I know Mike Lewis because he recruited me to be an advisor at Kapost, which I am; I follow Matt Hunter on Bnter; Micah Baldwin hosted Emily Hickey and I at Graphicly in Boulder, and I follow him on Bnter too; who doesn’t love Rick Webb?; Justin Petro hosted Hashable at Thinktiv in Austin and has become a very close friend; Heather Gold and I instantly bonded over being Canadian Jewess Lawyers; even though it’s not on video, I beat Danny Newman in this year’s SXSW Hilton Lobby Backstroke Crawl. Ask him.

Sam Rosen

Founder, SpeakerGram
San Francisco

Did your company pay your way to SXSW or did you?

I was a Hashable Evangelist.

Why do you think it's valuable?

Meeting people without an agenda. I built personal relationships with investors, fellow entrepreneurs, and friends who didn't have to run off to their next meeting and could actually get to know them without the pressures of a typical work week.

What did you do that was legitimately work?

Pitched investors, hung out with friends that I would want to work with in the future.

Justify those nights at the Driskill/Cedar Tavern/Emo's as 'work.'

If you like hanging with someone until 4 am, you probably can hang with them for 8 hours a day.

List the most valuable professional contact you have every made at SXSW.

Sat across the aisle from Reid Hoffman on the 'nerd bird,' or flight back from SXSW... yes, did chat with Reid at the end of the flight. I'm on his radar :)

Farrah Bostic

VP - Group Planning Director, Digitas
New York City

Did your company pay your way to SXSW or did you?

My company paid! My area of expertise is mobile/social and they want me to have nerds to play with (because I am pretty nerdy) so they offered to pay for it in hopes of reaping benefits of both morale (for me) and expertise/insight (for the organisation). I was not the only person from my company - all told at least 30 people came to Austin for some part of SXSW or to meet with clients who were attending.

Have you been before?

Long time listener, first time caller.

What did you learn?

I tried to attend panels on topics that are new to me - topics that I'm only just sinking my intellectual teeth into - or speakers that would inspire me, as Clay Shirky so often does. Simply spending time around people making things and taking risks is energizing.

What did you do that was legitimately work?

I attended a company dinner! No, there are at least three ideas sparked by panels and conversations that are fuelling my work and re-focusing my career.

From whom did you learn something?

Dave McClure, Steve Blank, Janice Fraser (all talking Lean Startup, UX and metrics), Clay Shirky (talking social networks and revolution), Utku Can from Mint Digital (talking about smart tv & social/brand opportunities), Peter Parkes from Skype (keeping it real on developing branded apps/platforms/sites), Jon Dahl from Zencoder ('Programming and Minimalism: Lessons from Orwell and The Clash' - awesome).

List the worst thing about your experience.

The negative reception for 'marketing douchebags' - while I know I'm not one, it's tough to come into a conversation working at an ad agency and be taken seriously when your peers are seen as not adding value.

What question am I not asking that you would like to answer?

Will I go back? Abso-fuckin-lutely.

Stephanie Hodges

Co-Founder, PenTales
New York City

Did your company pay your way to SXSW or did you?

I paid. (But a friend got me a badge.)

Why was it worth it to pay your own way?

No life-changing revelations or connections but interesting talks, lots to drink, and free T-shirts. I made one important connection that could truly help with our venture.

What did you learn?

I didn't learn anything in particular. I did however gain a lot by soaking up the general energy of all the incredibly creative and driven people at SXSW. You can sort of check the pulse of the social media world and feel like you are part of the conversation.

Justify those nights at the Driskill/Cedar Tavern/Emo's as 'work.'

I made a really important contact over drinks. That sort of justified the whole trip.

List the worst thing about your experience.

Too many apps forced down my throats. Too many unshaven men (who tried to give off an air of 'my company might just be the next Facebook, but whatevs') asked me to dance.

Emily Hickey

CMO, Hashable
New York City

Why was it worth it for your company?

We got our product adopted by thousands of people from all over who are now continuing to use Hashable and spread it to their friends in their home towns. We created an awesome brand connection with people in person that's just tougher to do through welcome emails and tweets…we also did lots of fun team bonding over #tequilashots and #tacos. And it was really terrific to do so in step with the exploding New York community...so much fun to be partners in the greater whole with such amazing people and companies.

Have you been before?

None of us had been before (except Rachel). We know now!

Why do you think it's valuable?

No other conference pulls together thousands of rabid, willing early adopters with funders and founders and all the players from the ecosystem into a single event. The positive environment, mixture of people, mind-melds and uber-connecting make for a really flammable launch environment (especially over drinks!). Totally awesome, unique opportunity and also just a blast to go be a part of the subculture for a big weekend, mixing the highs and lows and everything in between. We all came back on a real high.

Jason Cavnar

CEO and Co-Founder, Sing.ly
San Francisco

Why was it worth it for your company?

We're a young team just coming together with 3 new members and we thought it would be a great way to have fun together, merge our 'worlds' of people we know/like and do a tiny bit of work (thanks to Josh Jones-Dillworth for his awesome offices).

Have you been before?

It was my first time. We have a few people on our team who are SXSW pros (or amateurs, depending on how you view behaviour norms there).

What did you do that was legitimately work?

We had the chance to spend time with some great people in the Personal Data Ecosystem. We also had a tiny Pi party on Monday (3/[email protected]:59p) to hang with friends of The Locker Project. With open source, it is all about community so that was fun.

Justify those nights at the Driskill/Cedar Tavern/Emo's as 'work.'

You learn a lot from and about people after they have had a few drinks. :)

Do you think you created value for your company at SXSW?

Absolutely.

List the worst thing about your experience.

We planned pretty last minute. So sleeping arrangements equaled wood floors - for those of us who made it home.

What skills could you argue were honed/used/exercised at SXSW that you could theoretically bring back to the regular workplace?

Our team use of Yammer and GroupMe for inside jokes and the shared appreciation for each other's 'individuality.' Pretty well cemented there which has made work a lot of fun since.

List the most valuable professional contact you have ever made at SXSW.

Sounds like a personal question.

What question am I not asking that you would like to answer?

Do you wish you had stayed for the music weekend? Um, yes.

Kathryn Minshew

Co-Founder & Editor-in-Chief, Pretty Young Professional
New York City

Did your company pay your way to SXSW or did you?

I paid my own way to SXSW (with help from Hashable through their Evangelist program).

Was it worth it?

It was absolutely worth it. The relaxed hierarchies and open structure of SXSW mean it's possible to meet and get to know a variety of amazing people, including many you would be hard-pressed to schedule an actual meeting with back home. I had drinks with a founder I've admired since launching my start-up, and I received quality, off-the-cuff advice from another. I met potential investors and felt comfortable building a relationship outside of a business context.

What did you learn?

I barely attended any panels; I found the unofficial events and casual conversations to be much more fruitful.

What did you do that was legitimately work?

I pitched several reporters, brainstormed a new idea at length, and found a new partner for my content website. After-hours, I found it difficult to go to sleep early because some of the most valuable experiences happened after 2am. Sure, there was a pause for drinking, dancing or more social activities. But some of the most downright interesting or productive discussions at SXSW happened after the bars had closed, when small groups split off into apartment parties or diners, and settled onto more interesting topics of conversation.

Reece Pacheco

CEO & Co-Founder, Shelby.tv
New York City

Did your company pay your way to SXSW or did you?

I was lucky to be chosen as a Hashvangelist!

Would it have been worth it to pay your own way?

Would've been worth it to go regardless, because I met so many awesome people. But also, the Shelby team came down and we paid for that.

Why do you think it's valuable? What did you learn?

I learned how it all works. It's a huge event for technology and now I know how we should approach it next year as a more fully developed company.

What did you do that was legitimately work?

Meeting people! Every time you meet someone is a time to represent your company, product and brand. SxSW attendees are great early adopters for tech products like ours.

Give it a stab: Justify those nights at the Driskill/Cedar Tavern/Emo's as 'work.'

You can knock the partying all you want, but it was at the parties where I met people from Hard Candy Shell, Business Week, Google, IAC etc. You get to know people outside of the office and it helps to understand who they are and why you should work together.

Who did you think, man I want to emulate that person.

I am amazed at how well Gary V connects with his people.

Do you think you created value for your company at SXSW?

Definitely. We got a ton of alpha users and started building our brand as a fun, new media brand. List the worst thing about your experience. My only complaint is the general dent in my health and ability to keep up with literally everything else in the world for a few days.

What skills could you argue were honed/used/exercised at SXSW that you could theoretically bring back to the regular workplace?

It was like training camp for my liver. Need to keep up with those investors, y'know?

Kellee Khalil

Founder, Lover.ly
New York City

Did your company pay your way to SXSW or did you?

I was fortunate enough to be sent by Hashable as an evangelist and they covered my trip expenses.

Why was it worth it for your company?

So worth it, I would do it again in a heart beat! Even though traditional business slows down ( I wasn't glued to my laptop firing off emails for 10 hours a day) at SX you have access to such a huge range of people from other entrepreneurs, investors, mentors, brand ambassadors, media, and the list goes on. On average I was meeting and checking in with at least 30 new people a day.

Have you been before?

This is my first time at SXSW and I had no idea what to expect. I talked to as many people as I could who had attended previous years. I wanted to be prepared so I could maximise my opportunity at SX to learn, network, and have the most fun possible. No matter who I talked to the response seem to be the same, just show up ready -- don't over plan. They were right, I think I RSVP'd to maybe 80 panels and events but ended up attending maybe 10.

Why do you think it's valuable? What did you learn?

I think more than anything, it was the people I met that were most valuable. At the Hashable party on Saturday night I was able to have one on one conversations with Jason Calcanis and Mark Suster, two entreprenuers/investors I follow and respect. Since I'm based in NYC I don't have very many opportunities to bump into these SoCal based investors at tech events. So it was cool to be able to introduce myself and chat with them.

What did you do that was legitimately work?

I would spend about an hour every morning before I left my hotel firing off emails and calls to make sure I didn't fall behind on anything that was time sensitive. I set up coffees and lunches with potential partners that were also attending SX. I was able to facilitate in-person introductions that were difficult to arrange in NYC because of conflicting schedules. A large percentage of my network was in Austin and most of them were just hanging. No set meetings, no conference calls, just hanging- which made it a lot easier to throw together a quick coffee, drink, or conversation over a grilled cheese.

Do you think you created value for your company at SXSW?

Yes, just having a presence at SX was extremely valuable. List the worst thing about your experience Upon return from Austin, I got terribly sick. Apparently this is common for newbies and they call it SXSW Sars. I was totally knocked out for 4 days of recovery. That was a big bummer! It is not easy to talk about yourself and your business all day. At SX you need to be 'on' all day, representing yourself and your business to the fullest so you have to be on the money. This turns into long adrenal-filled days and just when you think its over and you are totally exhausted it's HAPPY hour. These long days and even longer nights of drinking and dancing completely wipe you out. The next morning its simply a rinse and repeat. It is an absolute blast but definitely exhausting! When you finally give your immune system a break it decides to take a 4 day vacation.

Kenyatta Cheese

Digital Consultant; Co-Creator, Know Your Meme
New York City

Did your company pay your way to SXSW or did you?

I paid my own way.

Why was it worth it to pay your own way?

My attendance this year was a bit of a mistake. I was going to work on a project at SX but it fell through. But my flight and sublet were booked already and people were depending on me for a place to stay - so I went anyway. The wonderful irony was that it was totally worth it. I ended up taking meetings that led to new work. I didn't network much for my own sake but spent a lot of time connecting people who needed to be connected. Even if those connections don't benefit me directly, they will hopefully lead to new projects that benefit us all.

Have you been before?

This was my seventh year at Interactive - and my first year without an affiliation and without a strict agenda. Perhaps because of that it was my most strategically productive. What is different about your takeaway now? Besides being bigger, the culture had changed. It didn't feel personal. You needed GroupMe and Beluga to create that feeling. This was the year that marketing leapt out of the swag bag and into the hallways… But what this all really means is that the money has finally caught up with our work. This is good for both the conference and the industry. But that intimate, personal feeling of early SXSWi is something worth recreating somehow. I hope I'm there when it pops up somewhere else.

What skills could you argue were honed/used/exercised at SXSW that you could theoretically bring back to the regular workplace? (Pounding tequila shots totally counts.)

Whether you're negotiating consulting agreements or pedicab fares, managing scope creep is key.

Emily Gannett

Founder, IRL Productions
New York City

Did your company pay your way to SXSW or did you?

My clients paid my way.

What is different about your takeaway now as opposed to when you first started going?

Before it was about networking now it's legitimately work. I definitely met people this year but far fewer than years before. The first couple years I would meet someone at a party who lives in NY but who I would never never see out and about in NY. Meeting colleagues in Austin opened the doors for meetings in the city and have been some of my best business relationships. This year was different... I was definitely working almost non-stop. I was supporting other agencies activations for 3 different clients: Nikon, Conduit and Nike, so I was very busy. And I stayed for the WHOLE TIME.

From whom did you learn something?

I wish I could say I did more learning... that is a regret. I would have loved to attend a couple panels and hear the keynotes. Luckily since we were covering music for Nikon I was able to discover some new music. favourites include: The Naked and Famous, City and Colour, Brett Dennen, Twin Shadow and Oh Land.

Do you think you created value for your company at SXSW?

DEFINITELY.

List the worst thing about your experience.

I didn't sleep. I didn't eat enough vegetables.

Andrew Mager

Caroline McCarthy

Reporter, CNET.com
New York City

Did your company pay your way to SXSW or did you?

Company paid for hotel and airfare, but I was issued a press pass rather than paying for a badge.

Why was it worth it for them?

For reporters covering Web and mobile, SXSW is reaching a level of importance in terms of networking and product exposure equivalent to CES in the hardware world. It's not quite there yet, but it's still the best setting for (colourful) reporting about what's going on with digital trends among the earliest of early adopters.

Have you been before? What is different?

Yes. This was my 4th time there. It's just so...big now. I almost feel bad for the true SXSW loyalists who are still keeping its original spirit alive by throwing steampunk-themed parties while the rest of the town is drowning in Pepsi Playground branding.

What did you do that was legitimately work?

Filed an average of 3-4 stories a day.

From whom did you learn something?

This year I talked to a lot of start-ups about their attempts to get exposure and user interest at SXSW. Their individual stories were really eye-opening. Do you think you created value for your company at SXSW? Yeah. We actually had an SXSW-specific landing page this year, which we hadn't done in the past, and I think we managed to fill it up with some pretty colourful stuff.

List the worst thing about your experience.

Logistically, SXSW is still ridiculously low-tech. I posted in a story this year that I think they should host a contest among past attendees to design a more streamlined way to handle the registration and badge pickup process.

List the most valuable professional contact you have every made at SXSW.

Too many to tell. SXSW was what really facilitated my formation of a tight personal and professional network of people from San Francisco - because everyone's there to network and meet people. It's easier to build connections at SXSW among industry folks from another city rather than to show up in that city and attempt to meet them.

What skills could you argue were honed/used/exercised at SXSW that you could theoretically bring back to the regular workplace?

Extreme multitasking.

Amit Avner

Founder & CEO, Taykey
New York (by way of Tel Aviv)

Did your company pay your way to SXSW or did you?

Yes, the company did.

Why was it worth it for your company?

SXSW is one of the best networking events. Especially for me - I'm an Israeli entrepreneur that just opened an office in New York. For me it was a great place to meet all the industry from both coasts... and build relationships with partners and clients! I think this is still one of the best events in the year. Have you been before? Yes, this is my second time.

What is different about your takeaway now as opposed to when you first started going?

This time, I knew what to expect, so I think it was better than last year for me. And I knew more people, which meant I met even more new people which was the best.

What did you do that was legitimately work?

That's easy! When you drink/have-fun with people - you connect with them better, they like you better, you like them better and you can do more businesses later...It's work. But work can be fun. I love my work.

Do you think you created value for your company at SXSW?

Yes, of course! I had about 10 follow meetings in the week after in New York, just from SXSW. Who did you think, man I want to emulate that person. Matt Van Horn! I would love to emulate Matt's SXSW experience, he knows everybody and he handles SXSW to create a billion new relationships. And he had a talk at SXSW about it ('Grow Some Balls: Build Business Relationships from Nothing').

List the most valuable professional contact you have every made at SXSW.

SXSW last year was where I met Chris Hutchins (of SimpleGeo) and Brian Wong (Kiip) for the first time, and since then we are all very good friends. Time will tell which of the people I met this year will become friends.

Marissa Evans

Matt Hunter

Matt Hunter Founder, Textslide
San Francisco

Did your company pay your way to SXSW or did you?

Same thing for me!

Why was it worth it?

It's one of the few places that merges my NYC and SF startup friends and gets everyone out.

Have you been before?

Yes (year 2).

What is different about your takeaway now as opposed to when you first started going?

You don't need to attend every event.

What did you do that was legitimately work?

Met with investors, answered emails, coded, and networked.

Justify those nights at the Driskill/Cedar Tavern/Emo's as 'work.

' 'Networking' From whom did you learn something? Gary Vaynerchuk - He's always interesting.

Do you think you created value for your company at SXSW?

Yes.

List the worst thing about your experience.

N/A

(Photo credit: Everlane.com)

Micah Baldwin

CEO, Graphic.ly
Boulder, CO

Did your company pay your way to SXSW or did you?

Company paid for flight and hotel. I was speaking, so the badge was free.

Why was it worth it for your company?

The panel I was on was a solid panel (due to the panelists and subject), and I was able to connect to some important potential partners.

What is different about your takeaway now as opposed to when you first started going?

SXSW is a mess. The focus is on partying and less on connecting and learning from each other…I went to three events - all invite only - one was put on by a board member, and others were a bit more selective of attendees. It was great because I was able to really connect with people that will drive our business forward.

Justify those nights at the Driskill/Cedar Tavern/Emo's as 'work.'

Ha! I skipped 'those nights.'

If you run a company, did you send people? Why was that valuable?

I was the only attendee from our company. It made no sense to send anyone else.

From whom did you learn something?

I learn from people every day, but I didn't learn anything specific or special while at SXSW.

Do you think you created value for your company at SXSW?

Interestingly phrased question. Did my presence at SXSW create value for Graphicly? No, the value will be created post SXSW.

List the worst thing about your experience.

The sessions were spread out, the parties were a mess, there are about 40% too many people. It was way to hard to connect to the folks that mattered...

List the most valuable professional contact you have every made at SXSW.

While at Lijit, I hung out with Ben Huh from Cheezburger (we had met prior and were friendly by SXSW), we ended up putting together a deal between Lijit and Cheezburger that really helped push Lijit into the next level.

What skills could you argue were honed/used/exercised at SXSW that you could theoretically bring back to the regular workplace?

Understanding how to balance fun and work - not talk too much about work while having fun, and not have too much fun while working.

What question am I not asking that you would like to answer?

If I didn't speak, would I go? No. Most of the connections I made, I could make in other, more meaningful ways.

Justin Petro

Daniel Newman

Founder & CEO, Contxts
Boulder, CO

Did your company pay your way to SXSW or did you?

Hard to tell the difference, but I guess our company did ;)

Why was it worth it for your company?

Always worth it. No matter what company I am working on, SXSW always leads to business and relationships that extend the rest of the year.

Have you been before?

This was my 7th SXSW, 6th SXSW interactive.

What is different about your takeaway now?

It hasn't changed. The people you meet become lifetime friends and/or business associates. For example: my first year I met people like Dennis Crowley who I am still great friends with and do business with. I'll add that I probably used to gain a bit from the panels my first couple years, whereas now, I skip them entirely.

What did you do that was legitimately work?

Spreading the word about what we are up to as a company, but more importantly, meeting the people that will help accelerate our business.

Give it a stab: Justify those nights at the Driskill/Cedar Tavern/Emo's as 'work.'

Drinking while chatting really does create memorable experiences. If you and your new buddy are figuring out the best way to skip the line at a party, that's bonding, and the relationship lasts beyond that experience. Same goes for brainstorming new ideas. When creative groups of people are partying together, fun/new/creative ideas emerge.

From whom did you learn something?

At SXSW, it's amazing that you can walk up to big time CEOs and just start chatting. I was able to hear some amazing stories from so many people I look up to.

Who did you think, man I want to emulate that person.

Gary V's speaking style always impresses me. I love that guy.

Do you think you created value for your company at SXSW?

Always. Deals already starting moving the week I got back. List the worst thing about your experience. Bumps, bruises, broken pinky, lost voice. :) Totally worth it tho.

What skills could you argue were honed/used/exercised at SXSW that you could theoretically bring back to the regular workplace?

'Planned Serendipity.' I learned a few SXSW ago that having every day planned leads to stress and anxiety. Letting each day just happen is a much better way to experience SXSW. With no plans, everything you are doing is what you should be doing.

What question am I not asking that you would like to answer?

I know a lot of 'old-timers' have been talking about how 'commercial' things are getting. Yes, they are, but I don't think its bad. I think its great for our industry that big brands are paying attention to us. I also ate and drank 100% free for a week. That's a good thing! 'A rising tides lifts all boats.'

It's never too early to prepare for next year's festivities...

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