Let me start by being clear about this post: I love Austin, Texas. Itâ€™s a great town with a great energy and amazingly nice and interesting people. In fact, Iâ€™m fortunate to have many a friend and colleague who calls the best city in Texas home. I believe in â€œKeeping Austin Weird.â€
Despite it being an amazing place for food, fun, football and new business, Austin is no longer big enough to host SXSWi.
Although Iâ€™ve been to less than a handful of â€œSouth-bys,â€ over the past three years Iâ€™ve seen it grow in amazing ways. No longer is it just an â€œoh-by-the-wayâ€ interactive/digital conference on the front-end of a film and music festival. SXSW has become a must for anyone in the social business or technology start-up world including big brands too. Itâ€™s nice to see the level of professionalism increase legitimizing it as much more than just a corporate boondoggle for overworked marketing types.
Despite its upside, SXSWi is also experiencing some significant growth issues. Talk to anyone with a badge and theyâ€™ll share their frustration over a couple of key problems, like:
Again, I know this is sacrilege because we all love the vibe, nightlife and warmth (usually, but not this year) of Austin. But if the conference continues to grow, especially with big brand sponsors, the size will be limiting.
In talking with a friend in Austin, he told me about the history of SXSW and how it was always an anti-establishment, â€œbuck the systemâ€ kind of event. Thatâ€™s true and thatâ€™s Austin for sure. Now, with this becoming real business â€“ not only for interactive but increasingly for film and music â€“ that mentality has jumped the shark.
While I donâ€™t want every conference to be in Las Vegas, San Francisco, or Orlando, those places know how to build up, staff and serve during a big conference. They have larger venues, more hotel rooms, and cabbies that donâ€™t sandbag and lie about broken credit card machines.
As more and more money is invested in, and by those who attend, the organizers of SXSW have to make a choice: do you make it smaller and stay in Austin, or do you move it and scale and grow.
Itâ€™s an interesting question for them to ponder but one they must.
Iâ€™ll always love going to Austin, but SXSW is now bigger than my favorite city in Texas.