The Startup Founders Guide To:
Chance Encounters at SXSW
or How to Pitch Your App While Standing in Line
So, you've landing in Austin with a great idea and a stack of business cards. Maybe you're on the hunt for a co-founder, investors or a team for your growing startup. And with thousands of brilliant people wandering around this tiny city, it's only a matter of time before you run into a potential match.
Everyone at #SXSW is moving a mile-a-minute, so it's likely that wherever you meet them, you'll have a split second to connect and pitch your idea before you lose them in a crowd. There are no second chances here. It's almost guaranteed that you'll bump into an investor while waiting in line for the loo, or start a conversation with the perfect cofounder while ordering cocktails at Garage. Chance encounters at coffee shops and bars are why you're going to SXSW - so make it worth it. Just think of the great founder's story you can tell later.
While luck and a bit of shameless self-promotion can get you surprisingly far, here are a few of the tactics that can help you make the most of chance encounters at SXSW:
Be aggressive, but compassionate
Make the move. When you overhear a relevant conversation or realize your standing next to a top VC, tap them on the shoulder, or butt into that conversation. While you risk looking like a jackass, the reward of connecting with someone who might change your company is worth it. That kind of bold move done with self-awareness and compassion can be powerful.
Don't be overly apologetic. Just introduce yourself quickly and ask a thoughtful question to keep the conversation moving. If you feel like you made the wrong move, excuse yourself and move on. Hopefully it leads to an opportunity to talk about your project. But if not, there are always more conversations to butt into.
Prototypes speak louder than words
The best first impression is the product itself. Having a working prototype allows you to show rather than tell about what you're working on. Most investors, developers and pretty much anyone who works with startup founders are sick of hearing about cool ideas and half-cocked business plans.
Invite someone to look at your working prototype while you explain why it's important and what problem it solves in the market. It's hard to say no to that and shows that you're making progress and are capable of getting shit done. Which is a highly valuable skill.
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Don't sell - just leave an impression
Your goal is not to have someone sign on the dotted line. Your only objective is to peak their interest and snag their business card.
Try to avoid getting into the details of your business plan or technical features. As you practice your pitch, focus on why your app is interesting, and why you're the right person to build it. Become comfortable and confident speaking about the current market and competitive landscape in your industry. Resist all urges to use hyperbole or exaggeration. It's possible a VC or experienced entrepreneur knows more about the industry than you might. And everyone can see through that BS.
It's also tempting to create wacky t-shirts, swag or 4D business cards to leave an impression. But SXSW is a dog and pony show of mega-epic awesomeness. You'd be surprised how powerful a thoughtful conversation and a valuable product can be.
Followup is everything
Even the most awkward or lackluster conversation can be saved with good followup.
Being one of the few that send a followup email can make more a huge impact. While it's easy to give out your business card just to feel productive, don't. Instead - ask other people for their card.
Bring up the business card swap or twitter follow in the middle of a conversation rather than awkwardly slapping it on the end. When they say something helpful or interesting, mention that you'd like to know more about that and ask if you can have their business card to follow up.
By relating your connection to a specific topic or request you can have a more meaningful followup conversation that keeps the relationship moving forward. Instead of emailing to say "Hey! Remember me?" (which they won't), you can say:
"Hey, I had time to research the thing we were talking about and I wanted to share this idea with you. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts and tell you more about what I'm working on. Maybe we could talk more!"
Boom. Relationship created.
Ask questions first
As the startup adage goes, "Ask for money, get advice. Ask for advice and you'll get money." This couldn't be more true than at SXSW - perhaps the greatest brain trust we have in technology. Before you open your trap to start pitching your product, ask a few interesting questions.
There are a ton of benefits to listening first and pitching later. First, you'll have more context to frame future conversations. You gain perspective on who you're talking to, and what they are interested in. So when the time comes, you can customize your pitch to their personality and style.
And of course, you might actually learn something. Anyone who follows Gary Vaynerchuck knows the importance of self-awareness when it comes to building and pitching your product. It might be shocking to discover, but even an experienced entrepreneur building a new company has things to learn. Have conversations with people who seem unrelated, work in different industries, work for the competition, or are working at the coffee shop you're standing in (they probably know everyone in Austin).
So wherever you are standing - look around for someone to chat with. You never know where the conversation will take you.
And if you need advice on how to take your startup from idea to prototype to app, give us a shout. That's what we do.