SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas, is the place to scan the future for the companies and technologies that will drive conversations in the months to come. Check out our top ten take-aways.
The South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive conference took the city of Austin, Texas (and the Internet) by storm again in March 2015.
The Interactive portion of the annual event—there’s also SXSW Film and Music tracks—brought together techies from around the world because, over the years, it’s become the place to go to scan the future for the companies and technologies that will drive conversations in the coming months. SXSW Interactive is also a solid and well-tested networking platform with endless opportunities to connect and exchange ideas, and maybe launch the next big thing.
I attended the conference this year to soak up the inspirations and innovations and to see what might hold relevance for Swiss startups in particular. Here are my top ten take-aways from SXSW Interactive:
1. Meerkat goes viral and it’s pretty cool!
Ever heard of live streaming for Twitter? Launched on Feb 27, just a few weeks before SXSW, the new Meerkat app lets you engage with your Twitter followers by sending them a link to a live video stream.
Not only did SXSW audiences begin streaming the various sessions they attended, but the speakers themselves had fun with the app on stage. Sensing the buzz,, Twitter actually turned off Meerkat’s access to its social graph on Friday, after officially announcing its competing product Periscope.
Now, like Twitter and FourSquare successfully did in the past, Meerkat will try to ride the SXSW enthusiasm and user acquisition wave to take the app world by storm.
It will be interesting to see what applications consumers and brands will find for this new Twitter add-on. So far we’ve seen live streams from protests, impromptu performances, and real estate showings. What do you think will be next?
2. Convergence programming makes its debut
This year, SXSW launched a program at the intersection of Interactive, Film, and Music—the three previously separate tracks in the conference. The sessions in this category were accessible to all conference goers, regardless of the track badge they carried. Indie filmmakers sat next to underground musicians who sat next to stealth startup CEOs.
Coming from swissnex San Francisco, this seemed like an obvious move. Technology has clearly become more than just algorithms and computers and is now an important component of creative expression.
One of the convergence talks I attended featured the director of New Inc, the first museum-led incubator that aims to support startups at the intersection of art, technology, and design. One of their startups, Reify, turns sound into a tangible 3d object.
3. Startup Village doubles in size, and Austin rises
SXSW again featured (and grew) the very popular Startup Village, which consolidates all of the entrepreneur-related programming into one venue, the Hilton. In addition, a complimentary track, Startup Austin, included numerous sessions centered around the city of Austin as an up-and-coming innovation hub.
I spoke with a number of people from the local startup ecosystem who sang the city’s praises as a destination for international startups looking to launch in the US market. And I noted that Ireland just opened Austin’s second international consulate—a promising sign.
4. ProtonMail reaches the finals of the SXSW Accelerator competition
It was great to see Andy Yen and Jason Stockman from ProtonMail, a CERN spin-off, make it to the second round of the SXSW Accelerator startup competition in the category of Innovative World Technologies. (As I write this, ProtonMail announced a successful $2 M round of financing.)
The Swiss startup’s encrypted email service addresses the need and desire for online data privacy—itself a big topic this year at SXSW. Switzerland continues to uphold its image as a secure and reliable location, also in the online world.
You’ll find the various startup category winners here.
5. Robots and Drones are still trending
Although drones were banned during SXSW, they were certainly a hot topic covered by many panels. It was especially interesting to listen in on sessions that discussed how drones are used to aid humanitarian efforts and facilitate wildlife conservation.A vast network of so called UAViators are supporting humanitarian efforts around the world. Unfortunately, they still struggle to get past out-dated regulations that greatly limit their positive impact. It will of course be important to address the many security and privacy concerns related to drones in general, keeping in mind the need for a certain level of flexibility that is often needed for humanitarian efforts.
6. Lyft and the future of transportation
I attended a great interview with Logan Green, co-founder of Lyft, who shared some interesting stories of how the company has grown over the years and how Uber, their biggest competitor, has been following in their footsteps.Green wasn’t out to paint Uber in a bad light, though. Instead, he focused on giving a very clear message as to what he intends to achieve with Lyft. “We never set out to make a better taxi service. We want to make cars unnecessary.”
And for those of you living in the Bay Area, Green is still a Lyft driver soyou might just end up in his car one day.
7. Google X: Try to fail
Google X’s Astro Teller, the Captain of Moonshots (for real!), delivered an inspirational keynote on how they approach new projects. From self-driving cars to Google Glass to the Makani wind turbine, the goal at the start of each project is to fail fast.More importantly, the goal is to fail in a manner that allows the teams to learn as much as possible from the things that go wrong. Teller said that when he isn’t failing enough, he feels like he’s not progressing.
It was nice to see that even Googlers make mistakes—and it’s a great mindset to have for entrepreneurs launching a startup. The longer you wait to fail, the more costly it will be. Think about it.
8. Bitcoin is still alive
Not surprisingly, Bitcoin was an important topic this year at SXSW. One of the more anticipated sessions of the entire conference included Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (famous for their lawsuit against Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg), who have been investing considerable amounts into Bitcoin and will soon launch Gemini, a NASDAQ for the cryptocurrency.During their interview at SXSW, the twins made it very clear that they feel we are heading toward a cashless society: “You’ll tell your grandkids about the wallet, ‘It was this thing made of leather,'” according to Cameron Winklevoss.
9. Crazy brand buzz all around the city
Like every year during SXSW, big tech companies like Google, Samsung, and Yahoo were present in Austin with impressive lounges and exclusive events aimed at wooing brand loyalty among the tech elite. To do it, they had to stand out.At the Google Fiber lounge, I ran into the now famous (and Swiss) Birdly virtual reality installation, where creator Max Rheiner and his team were treating enthusiastic crowds to a full body flight simulator on which they could soar like a bird over the virtual city of San Francisco.
Another a personal favorite was Facebook’s Instagram levitation studio. Who doesn’t want to take a photo of themselves where it looks like you’re hovering in mid air?! Have a look at some of the best shots.
And don’t even get me started about the St. Bernard charging “stations” from Mophie. Woof!
10. iBeacons all over SXSW
This was the first year that SXSW deployed iBeacons across all of its venues, allowing its thousands of visitors to receive location specific notifications wirelessly as they attended sessions throughout the city. As a visitor, all you had to do to benefit was to download the SXSW app and activate your bluetooth.
Apple launched iBeacons a while ago in some of their flagship stores in order to enhance the retail experience. And companies like PayPal are hard at work integrating beacon technology to simplify mobile payments. I would expect more big brands to follow this trend in 2015.
Birdly soared to victory during and after it’s touch-down in San Francisco in 2014. And ProtonMail shares secrets of cybersecurity at swissnex San Francisco during the monthlong series, Project Cyber Virus, in May 2015.