10 great lessons to take from SXSW 2012


feature-sxsw-thumbThe South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, is an annual magnet for business innovators and start-ups hoping to strike it big.


This year’s event, which kicked off this week, may not have been dominated by an emerging powerhouse – as it did in 2007 with Twitter – but that doesn’t mean that plenty of great ideas haven’t been discussed among the 20,000 delegates.


We’ve picked out 10 of the best lessons to come out of SXSW 2012 that you can apply to your business.



1. Early adopters have changed


While no one single start-up has ignited SXSW this year, there has certainly been a lot of talk about Pinterest, the female-skewed social media site that has been enthusiastically taken up by small businesses looking to market themselves.


The business’ co-founder and CEO Ben Silbermann held an interesting talk at SXSW on Tuesday, encouraging other entrepreneurs not to give up by pointing out the site had just 10,000 users nine months into its life.


But it’s the concept of the early adopter that really fired by Silbermann, who claimed that they don’t really exist anymore, due to the ubiquity of technology and information. Pinterest slowly found its niche as female-focused, rather than being promoted by a few key advocates.


“The concept of the early adopter has changed,” he said. “We were building [Pinterest] for ourselves. (The goal is to) help people discover things that they didn’t know they wanted.”



2. Rely on a superstar at your peril


Silbermann also had some interesting thoughts on how businesses often rely heavily on the “superstar” they believe will make or break them.


Whether the skill you prize is sales, marketing or financial acumen, remember that other elements are needed to make a successful business. In Pinterest’s case, technical wizards are merely part of the team, rather than the stars.


“I kind of think of engineering like the chefs at a restaurant,” Silbermann said. “Nobody’s going to deny chefs are integrally important, but there’s also so many other people who contribute to a great meal.”



3. Locations matter


A key trend that emerged at SXSW is the number of businesses talking about location as a key factor to their success.


The buzz term this year was “social discovery apps” – technology that connects people to products and other people through their location or social sphere. The concept is being used by a number of up-and-coming start-ups, such as Aussie business Tapit, and is adding organisation to an area that is currently chaotic, according to the industry.


“The way that we find these people and learn about these people is, and always has been, horribly random and inefficient,” Paul Davison, CEO of location-based business Highlight, told The Huffington Post. “We don’t realise how bad it is because it’s always been that way, and we just accept it.”



4. Homeless Hotspots


Is all talked-about marketing good marketing? That is a question that has raged at SXSW this week, following a controversial stunt by an ad agency.


Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s gave 14 people from an Austin homeless shelter mobile Wi-Fi devices and t-shirts emblazoned with “I am a 4G Hotspot.”


The stunt has been attacked as exploitative, but BBH is unrepentant, claiming that the controversy has had the intended result of raising awareness of the issue of homelessness.


The company said in a blog post: “Obviously, there’s an insane amount of chatter about this, which although certainly villianises us, in many ways is very good for the homeless people we’re trying to help: Homelessness is actually a subject being discussed at SXSW and these people are no longer invisible.”