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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

SXSWi 2013: Innovative Start-Ups and Random Stuff

I went to my first SXSW Interactive Festival last week to see what the fuss was all about. I heard that the city of Austin becomes a zoo with massive line ups everywhere. I was pleasantly surprised when I showed up to the convention center on Friday morning to get my badge. I was in line at 8:45am and the doors opened at 9am but man was the line fast. There were 42 workers manning the registration booths so yeah, pretty awesome and I was out at 9:15am. Kudos to SXSW for predicting this huge rush.

Good job on the quick badge pick-up
At 9:00am, I had the opportunity to sit in on a Mobile Marketing panel given by people from Walgreens, Google, ABC and HBO. I must say that I never really learn anything new from these panels. They usually say things we already know ("remove friction from process for users" aka make it easy for people to do stuff) and show some campaigns that their respective companies ran. For example, every time someone checked-in at Walgreens, Walgreens gave away a free flu-shot to an underprivileged customer (something along those lines). Also, the ABC lady spoke about how social media was used at the Oscars to provide backstage content and all I could remember was how her PowerPoint had about 500 words/slide.

AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center, where the Mobile Marketing panel was held
The funny part was that I guess most people were either still sleeping or just arriving into town for SXSW so I was actually able to get into the venue. By 10am, people around me were saying that the venue was full for the entire day and that people were no longer being admitted into the building! The MC even said it was break time but if you leave your seat you might not get it back.

Innovative Companies

There were a lot of cool start-ups and tech companies at the trade show and I've outlined a few below.

Disclaimer: I have done work for them in the past but honestly, it's a cool app
The pplconnect start-up was part of the Planet Quebec booth and they were offering the first Virtual Smartphone. So what this means is that you can access your smartphone (your actual cell #, contacts, texts, history...) from any web-enabled device. Forgot your phone at home and waiting for that important call? No worries, just log into the app on your friend's smartphone or via a browser on your computer and you can make and receive calls from your existing cell number. That's just one of many features. The whole point is to free people from their dependence on one device. Neat indeed and you can check out their video above and download the app at the Google Play store here.

Tired of listening to boring sports/entertainment announcers? Feel you have the vocal chops to provide an awesome color commentary? Then YouCommentate is the place for you. I saw these guys at Launch2013 where Robert Scoble was tough on them and then agreed to wear a tutu at next year's festival if, by then, YouCommentate is able to obtain a million users. I like the energy that the guys, Steve and Ken, have and their product is truly unique. I know there are a lot of dreadful hockey commentators on US networks that I wouldn't mind replacing. There are also a ton of people who cast Starcraft 2 videos on YouTube (most of them are pretty funny) and they might love to use a site like this.    

Alex from Float4 gave me a demo about the underlying hardware (micro tiles) and software used in their interactive displays. The displays are solid (the "screen" is not soft but hard plastic) as the projectors are embedded in the back of each free-standing cube (see image beside the logo), making them easier to implement. An XBOX Kinect, combined with laser tracking calculates your position relative to the display. Depending on the precision needed, the display also interacts when you touch or get close enough to it. The videos shown are built in layers so that you can have intricate levels of interaction. Very cool.

This is a nice app as it turns your smartphone camera into a source of stock images for sale. You can take images from your iPhone and upload them onto Clashot where people can purchase your photos. I just wonder how they will filter all the incoming junk images that will inevitably be uploaded. They had a cool promo at SXSW where they had a "Yeti" walking around and everyone who snapped a photo of him and uploaded the picture got a $100. I saw him before I even knew about the contest but since it's only available on iOS right now, it wouldn't have made a difference.

The goal of the site is to create a network of sustainable energy suppliers and buyers. One thing I really like about the site is that it's visually appealing and dynamic, something that you don't usually associate with sustainable energy.

This has a pretty funny story to it. The country of Montenegro has the country code ".me" like how Canada has ".ca" or the UK has ".uk". Seeing how they got assigned such a cool country code, they decided to open it up to whoever else in the world wants to buy it for the end of their URL.

Have a debate or an argument and can't decide who's right? You can now go online, post about it and let the the world vote for who they think is right! I have a weakness for cartoons on websites.

Directly from their website, "Nestivity turns your Twitter handle into a “Nest” for all of your followers to visit. It’s kind of like a fan-page for Twitter...". I don't know about you but tracking conversations on Twitter isn't fun, even with all those social media management tools out there. 

Not iT
Their site isn't up yet but I remember talking to them. You put something up on the site in which someone has to do something (i.e. clean the toilets, choose the next restaurant etc...) and the last to click "Not it" has to do it. It's a virtual "shotgun".
This company created a marketplace where you can outsource the creation of an infographic. The three combined elements they bring together: story (Marketing) + data + design. I guess I'm a sucker for anything that is appealing. Ba dum tss.

This match making site is centered around peer-to-peer learning. The goal is to either teach or learn something with the people around you. It's not a dating site but it does have a similar system in matching people with common interests. I like any sort of community based learning so let's see how this turns out.

Guerrilla Campaigns/ Random Stuff

Shaquille O'Neal was at the show from some reason. Apparently he invested in the start-up Tout, that allows people to create 15sec videos.

pplconnect - Professional Line Waiters
Participants had to download the app and text pplconnect a time and place and a free line waiter would go and wait in the queue. Those massive lineups can be a buzz kill and the line waiting service made SXSW events a lot more fun to go to.

Task Rabbit - Rabbit mobile
Yeah, kind of self explanatory. Although it looks more like a dog or a hamster to me.

Highlight - Popsicles
Nothing fancy, but I love popsicles so it makes the list :)

Some Korean Company
Their office is actually located in Gangam so they went around dressed up as Psy.

Smudged because I actually read it
APE: How to Publish a Book (@Amazon booth)
+Guy Kawasaki  and Shawn Welsh were signing softcover versions of their book APE. I happened to pass by randomly and got a signed version. I didn't want to bother Guy but I gathered up the guts and did and that's what you see as the first photo of this blog post :)

and my personal favorite...

Game of Thrones



  1. Randy, thanks for including Nestivity on your list. btw, great photo with Guy.

  2. Thanks Henry, it was a pleasure meeting you there as well!

  3. 2 things:

    alex from float4 was a classmate of mine from HS, his interactive screens are super impressive and I think their company is gonna make it big, keep your eye on them ;)

    i loled big time at your popsicles special mention :) i wish ud left more of the berries flavored ones instead of the cotton candy crap..

    1. I liked the orange popsicles best :)

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