A Credit Card and a Dream: How We Owned #SXSW for $221.96, Roundtrip

Written by Chad Hall, Cofounder + CEO at RemodelMate, a humble ventures company that intends to disrupt the home improvement industry by setting the standard for residential renovations and transforming the buying experience for customers as well as the way that contractors attract customers and sell their services.

As we — myself and my cofounder, Victor Etongwe — drive through Dandridge, TN, still 6 hours and 38 minutes from our headquarters in Washington, DC I am reflecting on our very first appearance at #SXSW which has grown to be much more than just a music festival.

South by Southwest has grown into a bustling mecca for media personalities, movie stars and industry moguls. Many emerging startups, like us, come to downtown Austin, TX with dreams of making it big. But most startups’ efforts to stand out (or even be heard) ultimately go unnoticed.

When we found out we were invited to demo during WeDC’s SXSW Showcase just 3 weeks ago, we comtemplated staying home, but after peer-pressuring our advisors into letting us crash at their Airbnb, we decided to pile into Victor’s Hyundai and drive the 22 hour, 43 minute, 1,545-mile (one-way) trip with not much more than the clothes on our backs, 2 air mattresses (a nearly maxed out credit card) and a dream.

Without being named to any “Who’s Who” lists or raising any outside capital from prominent investors (yet) we headed to Austin with this game plan.

If you’re wondering how you can rise above the noise at SXSW, or any other big industry event, without blowing your entire marketing budget, here are 8 tips:

1.Be a goal-getter. SXSW is no place to go without a plan. There’s simply too much to do with too little time. Start with a strong vision, and map out a detailed plan to advance your business goals while you’re there. It’s not enough to just show up; you have to be there on a mission. Are you there to increase company awareness? Generate leads? Close sales? What does a win look like for you? This past weekend, we focused all our time and energy on bumping into potential strategic partners (that we probably couldn’t get facetime with otherwise) as well as meeting prospects and customers to get intimate and actionable product feedback.

It’s not enough to just show up; you have to be there on a mission.

2. Create a hit list. We drew up a detailed list of every person we wanted to connect (or reconnect) with, especially those who may have fallen off our radar. We didn’t really have the opportunity to set up any meetings in advance, but we will next year and recommend that you follow suit. Even if you can’t secure a meeting, you have to go in knowing the key people that you want to spend time with — because when you do, weird things happen. (click this link, then skip to 13:13 to have your mind blown)

You probably didn’t click the link, but you should, because Gary Vee + The RemodelMates.

3. Find a stage. When you’re a startup, it’s a big investment to attend any event ($221.96 is a lot of money, to us). Since we’re not gonna be able to eat for the next week (or three) we had to make sure this was all gonna be worth it. We looked for any opportunity to be a contributor to SXSW rather than just an attendee. To do this effectively, find a stage to speak from — whether it’s a panel, a pitch competition, or any other event — and showcase your company. Many of these opportunities can even net you a free badge. This time around we spent most of our time helping WDCEP explain to the world how DC became The Capital of Inclusive Innovation and they kept the food and drank coming in return. Next year, we’ll apply to be a part of anything and everything that will help put a spotlight on our marketplace or on one of our customers.

The Capital of Inclusive Innovation, WeDC House

4. Leverage partners. Especially for startups, partners are key. Tap investors and other strategic relationships to find ways to amplify your event voice. For example, we talked to the humble ventures crew and said, “We’ll both be at SXSW. Where should we be together? Should we host a joint panel session, or can we support you at your networking event?” We ended up supporting Ajit Verghese at a Capital Factory event on Friday as well as co-hosted the #HumbleHang at the 4SZNs Hotel on Sunday with #FriendsOfHumble.

#thehumblecrew @ the 4SZNs

5. Bring a ‘there to work’ mentality. Especially at SXSW, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype around big-name bands and celebrity speakers, but you’re there to work. Think of it this way: if you’re not spending your time impressing someone, you’re not doing yourself any favors. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun — we had the time of our lives, but have fun in the right places, like Maggie Mae’s on 6th and with the right people, like a few potential partners that we spoke with that might want to run innovation pilots alongside our business.

if you’re not spending your time impressing someone, you’re not doing yourself any favors.

6. Don’t try to be a unicorn. There’s typically at least one rocket-ship success out of SXSW, but you shouldn’t expect to be the next Meerkat. At RemodelMate, we prefer to consider ourselves roaches — we move fast, survive on very little and are impossible to get rid of (Ha!). We set realistic expectations and focused on making a big impression with the people that matter most to our business (like we think we did with DC Councilmember McDuffie), rather than with everyone at SXSW.

left to right, Victor Etongwe, Kenyan McDuffie, Chad Hall

7. Reciprocate. “Become stewards of great introductions,” LISNR’s Rodney B. Williams recommends. In other words, just as you ask partners to make connections for you, do the same for others in need. Help is contagious, once people get it, they tend to give it to others, even if they didn’t mean to. Make introductions for other people doing cool shit, become their partners before it’s official and they’ll look at you as partners, too.

Help is contagious, once people get it, they tend to give it to others, even if they didn’t mean to.

8. Divide and conquer. Working an event as massive as SXSW requires a divide-and-conquer approach. One person alone can’t be everywhere. Be in as many places as you can, but work with other team members to ensure adequate coverage when you can’t physically be in two places at once.

Special shoutout/thank you to Rodney Williams (far left, who knocked over my drink while he “got his guns out”) and chris ostoich (far right, there’s a gun pun somewhere here) cofounders at LISNR, for giving us the SXSW framework that inspired this post/prepared us for a successful weekend in Austin and invited us to their super dope Culture Brunch where we got to see the LISNR technology in action via our SmartTone tickets.


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A Credit Card and a Dream: How We Owned #SXSW for $221.96, Roundtrip was originally published in Austin Startups on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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