My SXSW diary: Partying with TechCrunch, Facebook, VCs and more
In his third post from super-conference South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, Pavegen's Laurence Kemball-Cook shares tales of furious networking
Laurence here, with an update from SXSW, Austin, Texas. I’ve had a busy weekend – spreading the word on Pavegen, networking with the likes of Shell, Facebook, Twitter and Sky… but still finding time to attend a few parties!
I kick-started my Saturday with a 1.8 kilometre swim in Barton Springs: it was freezing cold, but an epic way to start the day. The weather was perfect and the swim really helped me get into a great headspace. I was invited to the TechCrunch party and I got chatting to Scott Segel and Alex Kevork from crowdly.com (who raised $3m for their brand marketing platform). We grabbed some bikes and went to a VIP Facebook party on the roof of the W Hotel.
We met a bunch of Facebook partners and executives, speaking with Robert who heads up marketing for entertainment and restaurants for Instagram and Facebook. I explained what we do at Pavegen, shared some stories and, surprisingly, he invited us to a private Facebook party in a mansion outside of Austin.
There, we were greeted with a live band, Facebook branded cakes, and their leadership team. I met VCs from Kleiner Perkins and Accel Partners, also a number of entrepreneurs who have sold their businesses to either Facebook or Snapchat. I partied with the founders of Instagram for Doctors, Sociable (an event organisation platform) and a lawyer for music label Def Jam.
SXSW is also about music, so I assembled a small team of Facebook executives and the founders of Crowdly to see one of hip hop’s greatest icons – DJ Premier alongside Common. It was put on by a bank at the Capital One House. DJ Premier was one of the most prominent DJ/producers in my teenage years and I was thrilled to get the chance to meet him.
At the gig I met the founder of Maido, George Wiscomb, who runs a London app development start-up, they worked with Agent Provocateur and David Lloyd, and we are going to work together soon. We realised at midnight that we had not eaten since breakfast so we all ate pizza and I returned to my trailer!
Sunday morning was a little more hectic – I participated in a breakfast roundtable meeting at 9am, sitting alongside executives from Shell and Sky. Tech City asked me what companies I would like to meet and facilitated the meeting so it was great! I won the Shell Livewire award in 2011 and we have collaborated on projects in Brazil and Nigeria, but I have not done business with the North American part of their business yet.
One thing about large corporations is how fragmented they are; I spend a huge amount of time networking within client organisations themselves. The US team from Shell was great and we have some exciting routes forward. Great to discuss our experiences with breaking into international markets, and knowing that regardless of the company size, history and successes, we were all in the same boat.
Given that a company was founded in the UK more than once a minute in 2014, I think that the UK and in particular London has developed over the past few years to become a hub of innovation and technological advancement. We’ve definitely reached a critical point, where we nurture start-ups and help them grow through the use of great government investment incentives (EIS), accelerator programmes and partnership opportunities.
Somehow I ended up leaving the event and acquiring a jeep to drive to my next venue – the London & Partners launch, where I met Swiftkey founder Ben Medlock. His company just exited for $250m, so it was great to speak and gain an insight on his experiences.
I then went to a seminar on Design for Smarter public spaces run by Arup about smart cities. When the panel talked about the definition of a smart city, their focus isn’t on infrastructure, but on creating an environment where people want to gather in a way that satisfies the community.
This seemed like a perfect positioning for Pavegen, I made sure I asked the panel a question about the role of cleantech in smart cities, prompting a discussion about clean energy. It worked pretty well, as I was thrust over 20 business cards from every direction the moment I sat down after the discussion.
Later we had a TechCity demo afternoon, with every company displaying their technology to investors and potential clients. It was five hours of back to back pitching, by which point I was losing my voice. Mike Butcher of TechCrunch (pictured below) and Gerard Grech from Tech City kicked the event off.
Mike has been a supporter of Pavegen’s technology and even got a chance to see it in action as I set up the demo tile for a few steps. By 9pm, I could barely talk, my legs were fried, but it was time to pack up the Pavegen demo and dash across Austin to the Mashable Party aka, MASHBASH, where I was invited by Ben Maher, executive director of Mashable and long-term Pavegen advocate.
At about 1am, it struck me that I had neither had any dinner, nor could I afford to stay out any longer as I had a speaking event coming up the very next day (Monday).
I cut the party short, but was seriously looking forward to speaking alongside some key influencers in a session titled “How Did You Do That?” on Monday, including Boris Pfeiffer (Riddle CEO) and Lenore Kantor (Launch Warrior President and Chief).
Will let you know how it goes!
Laurence Kemball-Cook is the founder and CEO of cleantech company Pavegen, the flooring technology that turns wasted kinetic energy from footsteps into renewable electricity. You can follow him on Twitter at @laurencekc