Why 40,000 People Fly South Every March For A Tech Conference Many Of Them Don’t Attend

Mike McGlade is experiencing his first South by Southwest, an annual technology, film and music conference in Austin, Texas that attracts more than 120,000 people during one week in March.

Unlike a lot of other companies, that spent lots of money renting out bars, giving out free food, and running quirky promotions to stand out, McGlade decided to keep it low key. He is the only person here from his Los Angeles-based startup, FastPay. He’s staying in a Motel 6, and he didn’t buy a badge for the conference.

Instead, McGlade came to network. His days consist of going to the gym, meeting friends, and attending other startups’ parties.

It seems insane to fly five hours for a few days of networking with people he already sees in Los Angeles, but McGlade thinks SXSW is worth it. He actually thinks it’s a waste of time and energy to try and make a name for yourself at a place with so much noise; the conference has simply gotten too big to be a great launch pad any more.

Here’s what it’s like to be a startup at South by Southwest, and why it’s the conference tech people can’t seem to skip.