Imagine a room filled with 6,000 founders, CEOs, tech professionals going totally quiet for 10 minutes. No cell phones out, no one on their laptop, no one talking.
It is unreal and it captures the spirit of what I experienced at SXSW 2016 better than anything else. South By as the veterans call it will always surprise, serve up unexpected experiences and capture your mind.
At first I really did not want to go. Packing for the 9 day trip, I told my wife that I would be happy if I had an urgent call to go and meet our VC or do something else instead of flying 16 hours to Austin, TX. Now, after I returned, I wished that SXSW would have lasted another 2 weeks.
I was expecting one of these typical conferences, where all the speakers would solely promote their companies and products, where the parties where glorified sales meetings and the audience would be tired and looking forward to go home again right after the opening speech.
What I got instead was a Tibetan Monk talking about Happiness and meditating with 6,000 people.
An inspiring human behavioral researcher Brené Brown speaking about Vulnerability and Daring Greatly as well as iconic tech founders like Ryan Hoover (Product Hunt), Max Levchin (Founder of PayPal) or Steve Chen (Founder of YouTube) speak about their ideas, visions and the future of technology as they see it. You can read about these sessions and watch many of them on http://www.sxsw.com/live but what you will only experience live is the extrem openness and friendliness of the other visitors. I would make a point to speak to the people sitting next to me or waiting in one of the many lines to get into the next talk. People going to Austin seem to be in a very relaxed state, unlike folks at other conferences I have been to.
The other unique Austin even are the many house parties. My favorite one was organized by fellow Germans at the German Folks House and featured the most amazing live concert by Dimi – a semi finalist at The Voice of Germany. Dimi was comfortably seated around a small couch table jamming away with other musicians and the host Til Kästner joining in with various instruments. To me, evenings like this make SXSW so special.
For any other first time SXSW visitors in 2016 make sure to follow these suggestions, which I wish I would have known about: