I hadn’t been to a conference so large (whether you’re counting people or land area covered) since Microsoft’s PDC in 2001–and that was held at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Even though I only attended Interactive (they have Music and Film too), there were a ton of choices of sessions across a wide variety of technical, creative and other disciplines. In addition the technical topics I was looking for, I got to learn about the quantified self movement, 3-D printing, wearable computing and entrepreneurship.
Between the vendors in the exhibit hall and all the companies there recruiting new people, I’ve never gotten so much free stuff in my entire life.
I’d attended keynote speeches at conferences before, but hadn’t seen keynote interviews before. Elon Musk and Al Gore were both entertaining and thought-provoking. While it wasn’t billed as a keynote, the best solo talk I heard during the entire conference was Phil Libin’s Chaotic Good.
Many sessions weren’t just a single person speaking, but a group speaking in front of an audience. Making it Rain in Non-Techy Markets was the best panel I attended during the conference. While I’m not an entrepreneur (yet), all four panelists gave really helpful advice.
I met people from all over the world at this conference. Just on the rides to and from the convention center each morning and evening I met people from the Netherlands, Australia and Italy–as well as from all over the U.S. In the airport on the way back, I met 3 people from a company that happens to be across the parking lot from mine!
Quite a few people I met were founders or co-founders of their own companies. I heard a number of start-up pitches and met a venture capitalist who was in town looking for companies to invest in.
The locals who were brave enough to stay in town for South By were very friendly and helpful. One guy even gave a couple of us a ride to the convention center when our shuttle was running late.
Speaking of shuttles, R & R Limousine and Bus (the exclusive shuttle provider between hotels and SXSW venues) did a pretty poor job serving my hotel (one of two close to the airport). When we didn’t resort to bumming rides from strangers or calling cabs, we usually ended up waiting a long time for our to show up. The traffic did us no favors either. Between the construction on the roads and street closures, it took a long time to get in and out of downtown.
SXSW Interactive 2013 was a great (if tiring) time. I really enjoyed Austin as a town. It has a buzz, an energy to it unlike any city I’ve ever visited. I hope to go back–if not for SXSW 2014, then a different time of year to enjoy the rest of Austin.