5 valuable lessons you can apply from SXSW 2014

Mark Moschel

April 10, 2013 · 7 minutes read

Uncategorized

Couldn’t make it to SXSW? That’s ok! I’ve got you covered.

After ten exhilarating days in Austin, I’ve compiled the top five lessons I learned that are valuable for us as entrepreneurs.

1. Automate your life

It’s day one and I’m about to attend my first session. Ten minutes before it begins, I meet Dave Asprey and Maneesh Sethi, two of the panelists, in their waiting room. They are talking about email management, a fitting topic given their session is “Life Automation for Entrepreneurs.”

When the staff tells us to move to the session room, Maneesh hands me the camera. “Please set this up and film our discussion” he says. No problem, though I wonder if I am now part of his life automation system.

The hour flew by, and at the end, I had one large takeaway scribbled at the bottom of my page. It was in all caps and enthusiastically written: GET A VIRTUAL ASSISTANT!

As I reflected more on the session, I realized the takeaway is broader: we have the opportunity to liberate our time by automating or outsourcing mundane tasks.

As Maneesh said, every decision requires willpower. Over the course of a day, these decisions deplete us, leaving us physically and mentally drained. When that happens, we make bad decisions.

If we outsource the decisions that don’t matter to us, then we have more willpower to conquer the ones that do.

Even small decisions, like deciding what to wear, can be outsourced. Steve Jobs wore the same outfit every day so he didn’t waste time and energy picking a new one each morning. Albert Einstein did the same. So does Barack Obama. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing because I have too many other decisions to make” Obama said in this interview with Vanity Fair.

Here are some other decisions you can automate:

Travel
Have a virtual assistant (try Zirtual or FancyHands) research flights and hotels for you.
Use TripIt to organize your travel and automate your reminders.

Appointments
Have a virtual assistant schedule your annual appointments and add them to your calendar.
Try scheduleonce.com for meetings and Boomerang for follow-ups.

Email
Try GTD. Or copy this email management system Maneesh uses.

Meals
Automate grocery delivery using a site like Instacart. Better still, automate meals entirely with services like Factor75 or Munchery. Dave drinks Bulletproof Coffee for breakfast as his way of automating some of these decisions.

Not sure where to begin? Dave asked the audience: “What do you procrastinate on the most?” Go automate that.

2. Wearable Tech and Quantified Self are so hot right now!

Shaquille O’Neal is really into wearable technology. In fact, he hosted a whole session about it. The only problem is he’s massive and most devices don’t fit his body. He wears a Fitbit (likely custom-made for his wrist) and competes with family and friends to walk more each day. “If I don’t get to 10,000 steps I feel like I’m not doing my job,” he says.

For many people, like Shaq, these technologies help us shift toward healthier behaviors. However, other uses are beginning to surface as well. D-league basketball teams are using sensors in jerseys to monitor player fatigue and, interestingly, engage fans with this new data. Some sensors are used to keep chronic health conditions in check, and in the near future, Shaq believes sensors will be implanted in our bodies to look for precursors to certain diseases, like heart attacks.

I heard one guy exclaim outside the conference hall where Shaq spoke that “wearables are SO HOT right now!” True statement. Shaq was not the only person talking about Wearable Technology and the Quantified Self movement.

At a session titled “Top Tech Innovation Trends for 2014”, wearables were the top trend.

Anne Wojcicki, CEO of personal genetics company 23&Me, spoke about the value of this data. “It’s a different way of understanding yourself,” she said. It empowers us to make better decisions about our health. It allows us to focus on prevention rather than treatment.

Another session discussed how quantified self data might enhance a customer’s experience with a product. The group agreed that the future is in highly personalized products based on your biometric data. For example, you share your blood work and genetics with Vitamin Water, and in return they customize a product perfectly crafted to your needs.

If you are starting a new business, consider this: Mark Cuban was asked what business he would pursue if he had to start over today. His answer: either sensor-enabled devices or personalized medicine.

Wearable Tech and QS are SO HOT right now!

If you are new to these concepts, I’ve previously written about how we, as entrepreneurs, can get started using them and I created a resource guide to aggregate the best tools for us.

3. Embrace the Randomness

On the first day, I planned to attend four sessions: the life automation panel, a workshop on responsive design, a biohacker meetup, and a session on “Space Tech Startups that Will Change Everything.” I attended only the first. Unexpected situations arose, altering my plan.

This happened daily; random circumstances caused me to miss sessions I was excited to attend. However, I found the experiences that took their place to be some of my most rewarding, like wandering the Makers Faire with Dave and Maneesh, joining a workshop on genetics, attending a Chicago tech party, celebrating with the Waygo team, and singing karaoke with someone dressed in a duck costume.

Random things happen every day at SXSW. You might have a schedule planned, but unexpected situations will arise. If you are resolved to follow your plan exactly, you will be stressed, anxious, and, worst of all, unable to realize the opportunities in front of you. In short, you’ll miss out on the most amazing experiences.

The same is true with startups. A startup has a life of its own. As entrepreneurs, we nurture it and nudge it in the direction we think will be best for its growth, but random situations arise along the way. Embrace the randomness.

In his keynote talk, Neil deGrasse Tyson told a story about a young child playing with an egg. Of course the egg breaks. The parent, who desires order and cleanliness, can either be upset at the mess or realize it is a byproduct of exploration. If they choose the latter, they’ll see it’s an amazing opportunity for education. “That was almost a chicken!” Neil wishes they would say. “That’ll blow the kid’s mind.”

Similar to that egg, our startups are brittle and messy. However, that also means they are ripe for exploration. When random, unexpected situations arise, let your curiosity guide you. You never know where you will end up.

4. Create your Mini-Conference

You are an entrepreneur. When you attend conferences like SXSW, your goal is to meet awesome people. Attending sessions is important, but secondary to the relationships that you develop.

At SXSW, there are 100,000+ attendees. How do you find and network with the people relevant to your business?

One way is to embrace the randomness like I did. Another way is to bring those people to you like Chris Lloyd of EveryLastApartment did.

Chris is friends with Maneesh and we all met for dinner that first night. After chatting for a bit, Chris asked if I wanted the last ticket to The Tour. “What’s the tour,” I asked. “Just say yes” Maneesh advised.

It turns out The Tour is a small, private “networking” event they organize each year. Of the forty attendees, the majority are successful entrepreneurs, investors, and authors. They are people Chris and Liam, the organizers, want to hang out with. This is their way of solving the networking dilemma. Rather than wandering around and hoping the people they meet are interesting, they created a mini-conference that brings those people to them. Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone, would be proud.

This is just one example of underground, private parties happening at SXSW. There are likely hundreds of them each night.

Their organizers have a distinct advantage. They meet interesting people, build their reputation, and make valuable connections for their business. And they have fun doing it.

I asked Chris how The Tour became so exclusive. He shrugged. “We just treated it like a big deal and it was.” It’s a classic example of fake-it-til-you-make-it.

Next time you are at a conference and feel lost among the crowd, remember The Tour and start planning your own. If you don’t think you can get the people you want to attend, read the “never been kissed technique” from Maneesh. In short, it only takes one person to break you into the network.

5. Go to SXSW

Only at SXSW can you go from watching Shaq talk about wearable technology to having a Google Hangout with astronauts in space to listening to Edward Snowden talk about internet security to seeing Bill Cosby do standup.

It’s like living inside the internet. And that’s one experience you can’t outsource.

If you have any questions about the conference, or just want to chat about these experiences, message me on Twitter @markmoschel.

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