South by Southwest Interactive 2012 just finished, and in the last two days, the airports have been overwhelmed by geeks from all parts of the world with diverse gadgets, ironic T-shirts, and smartphones constantly in hand.
This year was probably the biggest crowd the festival has ever seen, with lines annoying even the most patient of attendees. While many trends were addressed, several seemed prevalent in the collective consciousness of conference goers, including the Pinterest, Google+, and the how-to of entrepreneur culture, which was ubiquitous. Startup- and entrepreneur-focused sessions and labs abounded.
I had the pleasure of attending many of these with Aled Owens, who has visited hundreds of business schools in more than 40 countries, and is currently with QS, a platform that helps universities and businesses select qualified candidates. While not a stranger to digital communications, this was his first SXSW session. I thought his fresh perspective and business acumen provided good insight into the current digital entrepreneur trend.
Here are a few trends we saw at SXSW and several takeaways from Owens’ vantage.
On startup culture
“It was inspiring to see the sheer number of talented and ambitious people who are investing in their own ideas, and the infrastructure being created by various groups, to help them turn projects around as quickly as possible. That said, the environment that brings a lot of new ideas into the market requires consumers and investors to have patience and understanding to be able to spot those with serious potential,” Owens said.
James VanderMeer, colleague of Owens’, and also an MBA specialist with QS, had this to say about the entrepreneur vibe: “Amazing. As a native New Yorker, being an entrepreneur is in the genes, and to see so many young and ambitious people completely embracing the startup culture is amazing. At SXSW, you definitely feel the startup movement growing.”
Most useful entrepreneur/startup advice
“The best line from the conference: It literally takes one guy/gal to build it, one guy/gal to sell it and one guy/gal to collect the money. And it is so true,” Owens said. “The new business ideas that have been the most successful over the past few years are those that are kept the most simple. I think it allows people to understand that they need to put themselves in the position to ‘test’ their ideas in the market, versus simply thinking of them.”
On areas where startups lack
“Digital people find it easy to have an idea, develop and shape it, and then build it quickly. Where startups seem to be lacking is in identifying and attracting the talent to be able to grow and scale their ideas,” Owens said. “Many startups have developed through a group of similar people getting together and working hard to make the initial gains. Where a lot of these businesses would benefit greatly is from building links with educational institutions and giving themselves the opportunity to identify high-potential local graduates, and diversifying their skill-set across the company.”
More good advice
Additionally, while panelists differed in approach and advice, the following tips seemed to be given repeatedly:
1. Take a unique path, even if it’s shrouded in fear or uncertainty
On this, Owens said: “If you are used to taking the cookie-cutter approach to business, you may not be well-suited for a startup, whose culture is about reinventing and discovery. In other words, you have to be culturally willing to take new risks and take yourself out of your comfort zone.”
2. A startup is a temporary organization testing out different models
“Few people seem to understand that a startup is like a scientific process in that you are constantly creating and trying out different models to see which is the most efficient for your organization’s goals,” Owens said. “In other words, your internal process is going to change as much as any outside focused endeavor.”
3. Go out in the world
On this, Owens said: “Many of those that begin startups forget that the world exists outside from behind your desk. Those important connections are made and cultivated by attending events and meeting people. In fact, they can make or break a startup.”
If you were unable to attend SXSW this year, and would like more information regarding entrepreneur best tips, I highly suggest you check out Startup America, which created quite a splash this year.
Sandra Ordonez is a web astronaut who provides digital strategy, collaborative consultation, community management, and website design. Currently, Sandra serves as the Senior Digital Strategist to Digital U NYC and TopMBA Connect. She also serves as the External Communications lead for Joomla. Sandra is the founder of various online worlds including Virgins of NY. Previously, she was the Communications Manager for Wikipedia. She graduated from American University with a double degree in International Relations and Public Relations.