SXSW 2014 Takeaways

My ears have stopped ringing, my voice is still hoarse and my thoughts are with the victims of last night's drunk driving tragedy at the Mohawk, so I wanted to share some quick takeaways coming out of several days at SXSW in Austin with 30,000 fellow tech and start-up junkies.  I left encourage by the energy, the diversity of ideas and the abundance creativity.

  • Diversity is increasing and this is good.  The diversity of the attendees on all dimensions  – gender, race, cultural – is increasing.  This is needed in the tech industry and will lead to greater creativity and a broader perspective on opportunities.  There is a still a ways to go, but when I compare to tech conferences from 5 – 10+ years ago, we are moving in a encouraging direction.
  • The world really is increasingly flat.  Not a new observation, but I was really struck by how the start-up and innovation culture has infiltrated all corners of the globe.  As one simple example, I judged the enterprise track of the SXSW Accelerator program and of the 8 companies that presented, we had a Finnish company, an Irish company, a San Francisco based company started by a Frenchman, a Boston based company that recently relocated from Slovenia and another Boston-based company with an Australian founder.  This global phenomena only increases the pool of talent and again the diversity of ideas.
  • APIs will dominate and change how applications are built.  Every company I met with was either producing APIs through which others will interface with their applications or consuming APIs to more rapidly solve the problems they are attacking.  For the application builders, this means far more resources are going to building and solving problems and far less resources to basic plumbing and infrastructure. For the API producers, this means larger market opportunities and easier ways to on-board and serve customers.
  • Bitcoin as a platform is here to stay.  Having survived a rocky few months, I am incredibly encouraged by the opportunities offered up by the Bitcoin platform and how it can be leveraged to solve a range of security and payments issues.  More people are seeing it in this light as compared to some of the early days when it was the realm of illicit activities, libertarians and gold-bugs and this move to the mainstream will spur further adoption.
  • Privacy is not a mainstream consumer issue.  The press loves the topic, but in my conversations I did not find privacy to be a top of mind consumer issue.  It should be, so in this I agree with Edward Snowden's recommendation that application and service providers need to do a better job of embedding security and privacy into their solutions.
  • The Best VCs care deeply about founders, the problems they are solving and how best to support them.  The worst are focused only on finding the next hot deal.  Who is which becomes clear in a two minute conversation, especially if they have had a drink or two.
  • Everyone is starting a seed fund.  Ok, not quite everyone, but I met dozens of people who had started a seed fund in the last 12 months.  A few were super-talented and supremely well connected and should be wildly successful, but most struck me as a little naive and only attracted to the bright lights and perceived glamour of finding the next WhatsApp or Uber.  This will not end well for most.
  • Youth dominates.  We can wring our hands that a new social app is not curing cancer, but the influx of young talent into the innovation world is awesome and I would far prefer to see the best and brightest building things than banking things or consulting on things.  Today's 20 something founder building and a somewhat frivolous app will be tomorrow's founder solving important problems as once you get the start-up bug, it is tough to shake.

if you were there, let me know what I missed!

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