Thinking of going to SXSW…Flip-Flop!

Thinking of going to SXSW…Flip-Flop!

UPDATE: Article significantly expanded after reading comments.

I’ve never been to South-by-Southwest…I just heard about it it a couple of months ago while on the 9rules forums. No idea what to expect. But people are telling me I must go, so I’m thinking about it.

I’m not very big on crowds, so the idea of going to something like this is mildly terrifying and exciting at the same time. However, it would be great to meet the people in 9rules that I’ve been chatting with for the past few months. It’s been incredibly inspiring overall; I attribute a great deal of my lift in spirit to finding a bunch of independently-minded content creators. I never knew that this was what I was missing.

Meeting actual people might give me a huge boost of energy…so yeah, I’m thinking it could have unforseeable benefits.

On the other hand, it’ll probably cost be $1500 to go, with hotel, airfare, eats, and registration. It’s a deductable junket, which takes some of the sting off. I don’t really know anyone going, other than names that I can assign to websites, and I’m wondering if the crowd is, like, way younger than my 38 years. And when did that happen anyway, getting old? My colon still feels pretty spry! Must be all the vegetables I’ve been eating lately, making up for my 20s and early 30s.

As my Mom used to say, “We’ll see.” Let the convincing begin!

The Essential Conflict

Earlier this year, one of my new year’s resolution was to be frugal and pay down the debt that I’ve accrued during the boom times. Stupid, yeah. What I’ve been doing:

  • At home, I’ve been buying only the essentials. I’m learning how cooking cheaper foods so they taste good, and I’m not buying books or toys. I’m also eliminating entertainment-related services slowly (Battlestar Galactica is proving to be a difficult one to shake).

  • Business-related expenses I’ve been limited only generally to directly-expensible items and essential subscriptions/services.

  • Everything left over goes to paying down debt.

There is a class of business expense, however, that I’ve continued to indulge in. For example, I recently subscribed to Basecamp because I wanted a polished client extranet. I strictly didn’t need to pay for something like this, as I could have installed some open source solution. However, Basecamp is great user experience and I don’t have to worry about maintaining the server. I made a bet that the extra $12/month was worth not having to deal with all that crap. As an additional benefit, the clients I have shown it to have been very impressed; 37Signal’s excellence in software has reflected very well on my operation. I think it’s worth it. I have the sneaking suspicion that the $1500 bucks that it would cost me to attend SXSW is in the same category. While I really want to just pay off more debt with the money, this might be an example of being “penny-wise but pound-foolish”. Here’s my reasoning:

  • Energy. The past year has been great personally because I’ve met a lot more people that have inspired me. In essence, I have started to find my community among people who are doing cool things, and this more than anything has contributed to my general feeling of progress. And from that has come increased productivity and opportunity; this feels like it’s starting to pay off this year in terms of actual work.

  • People. When I first wrote this, I thought I really didn’t know anyone who was going, as in personal friends. However, I realized that actually I should be going to make new friends. Even if I come away with one or two really good connections, that could be the basis of an empire. Finding people is really hard. Just within the 9rules network alone I’ll probably meet twenty. Heck, AOL used to spend an average of $100 to acquire a subscriber in 1997, and it’s way higher now with broadband. By that metric, $1500 is a deal.

  • Inspiration. I know from experience that whenever I travel, I get new ideas and see new opportunities. I have never been to any content-oriented shows like SXSW or even FlashForward. I’ve been to E3, but I think it’s probably a different experience. Seeing something new like this, seeing people doing awesome stuff, and just being in a new place will be one of those life experiences that I can probably draw on for years afterwards, and I’ll be a better person for it.


p>So I can think of SXSW as an investment into my future. There isn’t a hard number I can quantify in terms of ROI, but I think that it’s true that I need to go. My life is at a point now that I intuitively sense that this is the time to do it.

Or, I can pay down $1500 of debt and stick to my new year’s resolution. I suspect, though, that the contacts and experiences I have at SXSW would indirectly bring me more than $1500 of new business in the long run.


  1. Matt Jones 18 years ago

    I think you should go. If I had the money I’d be there in a heart beat. It’s always fun for me to see all the cool people I normally only talk to online.


  2. Mike Rundle 18 years ago

    David you must go!  I command you!  You will honestly have a ton of fun, hang out with other 9rules members, and the 9r team and I would love to meet you.  Yes it’s a bit of money, but trust me, you will have fun and I guarantee that you’ll think it’s worth the money after the trip is done with :)

  3. Mark 18 years ago

    David –

    I would suggest you go. It’s a really cool experience to be able to assign not only faces, but voices and smiling faces and insights not usually gathered from a blog post to others. There’s a good bit of younger folks there, but I can honestly say as a man in my 40’s, that was an energizing benefit. There are, however, enough older folks wondering about that you won’t feel like an old dorm monitor crashing a frat party. You’ll only likely feel akward if you’re on the tall side, because, to my surprise, most blogger types are on average about 5’7” – 5’10”.

    I would have to agree w/Rundle (and that doesn’t usually happen a whole lot ;) ) you should go.

    But, if it’s one of those budget concerns, it’s not one of those imperative type events. All the notes from most, or all the sessions will be available in one form or another online eventually. You’ll only be missing out on the personal aspects of it.

  4. Justin Ruckman 18 years ago

    “You’ll only be missing out on the personal aspects of it.”

    It seems to me that’s the primary reason for going to these things—feeding off of and contributing to everyone’s collective energy. The information you can always get afterwards via publications, blogs, etc.

    I’d go if I could afford it (plus I’ve already made plans for that week), but I plan to go next year.

  5. J Wynia 18 years ago

    While I’m only 30, I tend to fit in with an older crowd better and I have no reservations about going on that account. I’m not planning on partying all night (I don’t drink and am usually in bed by 10pm and up at 5am).

    On the height thing, apparently I’m going to stick out at 6’4”. Fortunately, I’m down to 230 (instead of the 300 I was a year ago) or I would have appeared even more of a giant freak.

    All that said, if you don’t have hotel and airfare booked at this point, it may be a moot point because I’ve heard that they’re pretty much sold out all over town.

  6. Matthew Oliphant 18 years ago

    Plenty of fogies there.  You’ll fit right in.  ;)

    Not that I would know anything about fogies.

  7. Pat Collins 18 years ago

    I’d go, but good luck finding a hotel! These sorts of experiences are what our industry is about: communication. Fancy that!

    I figure I’ll have enough cash to go next year. That’s more likely than having my employer pay for it. laughing fit

    Ah, I feel better now :)

  8. Dave Seah 18 years ago

    Thanks for all the feedback, guys! I just looked at the expenses again and I think I’ll have to give it a miss this year. SXSW in 2007…will budget for that. I was all ready to make a special SXSW PCEO sheet too…darn :-)

    It’s cool that just talking about going has given me a burst of energy, and yes…going for me would be all about generating energy.

    Mark: I’m 5’7”! That’s a weirdly interesting observation that the blogosphere is populated by short people :-) “Write tall!” will be my new motto! :-)

    Out of curiosity, what ARE the imperative events that one must attend? I may go to E3 this year, but that’s not really imperative for me these days either.

  9. Dave Seah 18 years ago

    Damnit, I keep flipflopping…updating post.

  10. Jakob Heuser 18 years ago

    You should go.  We can be “newbs” in the most traditional of senses, flailing about with program guides and trying to meet people.  I’m actually looking for first time people to meet—the prospect of everyone else having done this before is darn right scary.

    If you need a hotel, contact me.  I’m currently sitting on one and the other folks from my work backed out (in favor of Game Dev Conference instead).  I’m so there though, I couldn’t forgive myself for missing it after having missed it last year.

  11. Mark 18 years ago

    David –

    The one most important thing to keep in mind that if you do decide to go, you need to get accomodations yesterday. SxSW is a MAJOR event for the city of Austin, encompassing way more that just a few bloggers and web designers talking about cool stuff.
    It’s also an independent film festival and international music festival.

    As someone said previously, if you haven’t got your accomodations yet, you’re likely going to be in a tough spot.

    However, the good news is that if you’re willing to step out of your comfort zone a bit, there a probably a good number of folks (no doubt some of your fellow 9 rulers) who would be willing to hook you up.

  12. Emily 18 years ago

    Go! Go! If you can manage it at all, go. :) But yeah, good luck finding a hotel room or a friend with a fold out couch!

    You can also impress the ladies and music snobs by casually dropping “While I was at South by Southwest…” into conversations. Ha ha! Seriously though, ya should go. Everyone I know who’s gone has had a blast.

  13. topfunky 18 years ago

    I’m going for the first time this year and would love to see you there, Dave. Keep us updated.

  14. seuss 18 years ago

    carpe diem!

  15. Dave Seah 18 years ago

    There seem to still be hotels, albeit 15 minutes away, available via SXSW housing. The music side is completely sold out, except for the mysteriously cheap and available “Ramada Limited North”. Online reviews indicate it’s a horrible place…checking deeper.

    I may take you up on that offer if it’s still available, Jakob…I’m figuring out logistics right now.

  16. Mark 18 years ago

    David –

    Check out the hotels in the arboretum area. It’s not too far removed from UT (pretty much where SxSW will be) and it’s a really nice area with equally nice hotels.

    Nice meaning reasonably priced and clean, not necessarily expensive—although there’s a few of them around as well.

    Check the Embassy Suites in the Arboretum.

  17. J Wynia 18 years ago

    David, if it helps tip the scales in favor of going, I’d love to chat with you for a bit and would be happy to buy you a meal one of the days.

    For 2007, consider presenting. I’m presenting on the Beyond Folksonomies panel and got a free ticket. Because of a mixup where I’d already paid and they won’t refund my existing ticket, this means a friend of mine is going for free. We’re sharing a room at the Hawthorn Suites, which gives us a mini-apartment for cheaper than the downtown hotels even when paying cabfare. The suites have a queen sleeper and 1 or 2 other beds, making it a likely choice for next year again as 3 people could split the room and all sleep in their own bed. Throw in a free hot breakfast and a bit of other corner cutting and the trip can be relatively cheap.

    I just checked and it looks like where I’m staying has more rooms of the 1 bed + sleeper sofa available for the ~$90/night I’m paying. Also looks like flights (at least mine) still has room at the same price ($362) I paid a couple of months ago. Apparently, I bought into the hype of town being full-up already.

    I have every intention of getting myself onto another panel next year, as well as networking with more people to share accomodations, etc. Put that and a little frugal planning together and it becomes pretty easy to recoup the cost in some business way. If I pick up more than a few hours of consulting via any of the contacts I make, it will pay for itself.

  18. Julie 18 years ago

    The Arboretum is about 15 minutes from the convention center if there’s no traffic on Mopac – it will definitely take longer. And as a former attendee, to get the “SXSW Experience,” you’ll want to be closer in. People walk everywhere, randomly bump into each other and end up sharing a meal, stay out very late drinking, and spend the wee hours of the morning mooching Wi-Fi from the downtown hotels. If you’re leaning toward going, definitely find somewhere within walking distance to crash – you won’t regret it.

  19. J Wynia 18 years ago

    If you use your hotel for sleeping and that’s about it, you can still do all of the walking around downtown, it’s just that the trip to your bed is a walk followed by a ride and your trip from bed to the first conversation has a ride too.

    There’s nothing in staying out a bit that precludes doing all of the other stuff going on. Given 24 hour taxi service, anything that you want to do that goes on outside of your actual room is no different.

    I’ve been at other events like this and heard the “experience” side of things before. However, I’ve always participated right on par right up until the group I’m with says, “It’s time for bed.” at which point I just lose 15 minutes getting to my hotel.

    However, given that hotels downtown can be $300/night instead of $90/night, you can end up saving $1000 by giving up that 15 minute trip each way. That buys all of your food, cab rides, etc.