SXSW 2023


This first post, an overdue one, took much longer than I anticipated to write because, for one, I am new to website-building, and two, with a Platinum badge for a 9-day conference, there is a lot to unpack. I think I covered all the panels, film and music showcases that I attended, so you will see links to SXSW event embedded in the names of panels and links to the film or artist for the respective showcase. I listed who was in attendance on stage for the events I attended and respective links to company websites, Twitter profiles or Instagram profiles. The format this post takes on is two-part: 1) Did I find this (panel or showcase) appetizing - aka did I like it - and 2) my rationale for my take. In no way do I intend to discount or promote any person, entity or event. Even though I have published this post in 2024, I drafted my commentary in spring 2023, so certain events and information post factum will not be accounted below. Lastly, if you are interested in attending SXSW 2024, I have 10 tips at the bottom for navigating the event.

Disclosure: This is not a paid post. All opinions expressed in this article are solely my own and have not been influenced by any third party.

Interactive Panel: The Future of Genetics in Personalized Care

On Stage (L to R): Emily Chang (Bloomberg Technology Producer & Reporter) and Anne Wojcicki (CEO of 23andMe)

Did I find this appetizing? Yes

I do not have a background in medtech, bioscience, or healthcare, so I found the conversation intriguing. Two points that Anne raised put things in perspective for me - 1) No one likes our healthcare system today and 2) Everyone would rather prevent disease than treat it. I walked away compelled to proactively assign purpose in what I do for myself, especially as it pertains to my health - physical or mental.

Film: American Born Chinese

On Stage (L to R): Kelvin Yu (Executive Producer), Daniel Wu (Actor), Chin Han (Actor), Sydney Taylor (Actor), Ben Wang (Actor), Melvin Mar (Actor), Gene Luen Yang (Writer)

Did I find this appetizing? Yes

The premiere of the first two episodes was wildly entertaining. As an American-born Chinese - still figuring this out, there were an infinite number of details beyond the plot that were ridiculously relatable. For starters, just the influence of the Monkey King on the book written by Gene Luen Yang, is just too good. As a kid I used to watch Chinese tv production on this folklore character - in Mandarin Chinese. Never would I once consider telling my friends or classmates about this mythical Chinese character. In one scene, Jin's mom drives him to school, playing Chinese folk music. That happened to me all throughout grade school that I even know the lyrics to some of these songs. For all the classmates who did not understand why I never listened to the radio, there you go. Then, of course, I see a jar of Lao Gan Ma during a dinner scene. I grew up with jars and jars of Lao Gan Ma in fridge. I do not want to spoil any more details - even if it is subtle. I will say, though, upon seeing Michelle Yeoh in her first character appearance in the show, the audience could not contain their support, especially after her recent Oscar win.

I am ready to subscribe to Disney+ on May 24,2023, to watch the remaining episodes.

Music: Kx5

On Stage (L to R): Kx5 (Deadmau5 and Kaskade)

Did I find this appetizing? Yes

This showcase was one for techno fans. I am not too much of an avid music fan or concertgoer these days, but during my college days and the few years after, I was definitely an EDM music show junkie. The showcase was at Moody Ampitheatre. It was my first time at the venue, so it was definitely a memorable visit, seeing two DJs that my younger me was quite fond of collaborate and deliver a stellar showcase. One hour was not enough.

Interactive Panel: Is the ROI for Defense Investing Changing?

On Stage (L to R): Thomas Hendrix (Decisive Point), Edlyn Levine (Americas Frontier Fund), Joe Musselman (Broom Ventures), Andy Yakulis (Army Applications Lab)

Did I find this appetizing? Yes

This panel set the bar. The moderator solidly leveraged his background to ask investors thoughtful and probing questions. The investors shared how their viewpoints on deterrence and innovative dual-use applications shape the way they construct and deploy their investment strategy. In regards to the question of the panel, returns will not be as evident if investment in talent focused on building face-filtering features is valued more than investment in talent focused on innovating for our future. To put things in perspective, from 1900-1960, the government innovated for consumers. After 1960, that process reversed itself. For defense startups, the panelists encouraged partnerships with "patient capital" over adversarial capital as some technologies may take over 10 years to mature. There is "wrong money", but the right money will promote economies of scale innovation and prolific ecosystems.

I found this panel so thought-provoking that it even led me to question how I am pursuing my career.

Interactive Panel: Giving Formula 1 a Tech Edge

On Stage (L to R): Mandy Curi (Motorsport Network), Jeff Jenkins (TeamViewer), Michael Taylor (Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team)

Did I find this appetizing? Yes

I have been a F1 fan for over half a decade, but ever since my transition from working in energy to tech, F1 technology partnerships have always fascinated me. This panel double clicked into a Mercedes Technology Partnership, which once had only a travel IT crew of 2, but grew to 5. Beyond the skill and fortitude of the drivers, two key variables also drive the dynamics of the sport and force constructors to ensure that their technology is at the cutting edge. 1) Time. Time is the biggest currency in F1. 2) New updates to the cars happen every two weeks.

I grew up playing competitive tennis, and the most advanced technology I used was a ball machine for practice, video camera to watch replays, and a Garmin navigator to drive to tournaments, and none of that mattered to me during my matches. To make real-time decisions behind the wheel and run through post-race assessments using technology at the forefront of innovation is mind-blowing. The connectivity has to be tremendously reliable and collaborative. The panel excited me about the next race at Jeddah and heightened my curiosity in other technologies leveraged by F1 teams.

Interactive Panel: Self-Driving Cars: From Science Fiction to Scale

On Stage (L to R): Emily Chang (Bloomberg Technology Reporter), Kyle Vogt (CEO of Cruise), Mary Barra (CEO and Chair of GM)

Did I find this appetizing? Yes

I find Emily to be an upbeat moderator, so I was pretty jazzed to attend another panel with her facilitating the discussion. She definitely fired off some questions that threw some shade at Tesla when the panelists discussed the difference between driver-assist and self-driving cars. Both Kyle and Mary emphasized the evolution of the autonomous vehicle working for the consumer - picking up grocery, retrieving kids, getting takeout, transporting you when you are on a call, etc. - and creating a shift in the consumer lifestyle and the consumer's relationship with the car.

After the Kx5 showcase, I saw a Cruise vehicle entering a heavily trafficked intersection - by cars and pedestrians - and it took a few minutes before it could move through the intersection. A little annoying for the car behind the Cruise vehicle, but hey, if you can build an AV - basically, a supercomputer on wheels - in a decade and develop it to navigate and adapt successfully in a complex environment, that is much faster than waiting for the next kid to reach 16 years old and attain 5-7 years of mature and defensive driving exposure.

Interactive Panel: Spies Supercharged: Tech and the Future of CIA

On Stage (L to R): David Cohen, Jennifer Ewbank, Sheetal Patel, Nand Mulchandani (CIA)

Did I find this appetizing? Yes

Packed house! It was pretty evident the audience was a mix of defense professionals, students and intrigued individuals. The panel echoed one of the themes at "ROI on Defense" - the value of dual-use applications and the CIA's contribution to modern technology. Typically investors view technology in two groups - mature tech and emerging tech, so there is a perception that the CIA is part of "the race to emerging tech". However speakers clarified that a race denotes a start and an end. To better describe the CIA's perspective of technology, "we are really locked in an infinite tech marathon." Understanding what technology foreign adversaries are pursuing that may harm the US reinforces the view of "competition in perpetuity."

Not long ago, I visited the International Spy Museum in DC and have been binge watching The Americans, so to have members of the CIA demystify the intent of the organization beyond spying was a firsthand experience that brought a secondhand like experience at the museum and thirdhand like experience via fictional tales full-circle. Saying all this makes me sound like a spy nerd, but, hey, Spy Kids, paved the way. Speaking of Spy Kids, the director, Robert Rodriguez, also directed Hypnotic, a film that I have reviewed further below.

Interactive Panel: Why VCs Bet Big on Defense

On Stage (L to R): Kia Kokalitcheva (Axios Technology Reporter), Trae Stephens (Co-Founder and Chair of Anduril Industries and Founders Fund Partner), Josh Wolfe (Lux Capital), David Ulevitch (a16z)

Did I find this appetizing? No

Some sentiments shared at the other defense panel I attended were shared here. Panel speakers - also investors - iterated here that their focus is on companies with offerings that win large programs that are operationally focused, not just innovation grants. In other words, if "there's no congressional line budget for it, there's no chance for scale." Beyond the budget, Trae also emphasized that "Founders Fund believes successful founders are the ones who figure out how to make it work without the funding," as paradoxical as that sounds. David's statement that a16z is focused on "identifying platforms for the next 50 years, not ones built in the past for today" took a jab at startups built using maturing technology. Each of the investors did draw a line in their defense investment theses. For Trae, the absence of protection features was a showstopper. For Josh, a de-prioritization in safety and lack of transparent objectives were no-gos. Lastly for David, a violation of data privacy would cross the line.

The points above were a challenge to extract because I could barely hear the moderator and struggled to hear Josh and David. I am not sure if the moderator and speakers were running low on caffeine or whether the sound quality was attributed to an engineering matter, but the room was the size of an average college lecture hall. Many professors teach without a microphone, even at 8am. Sound aside, This panel epitomized typical investor panels that often elicit a "tell me something I don't know" mental reaction.

Interactive Panel: Turning the Tables on Tim Ferriss: A Conversation with Bill Gurley

On Stage (L to R): Bill Gurley (Former Benchmark Capital General Partner), Tim Ferriss, (Tim Ferriss Show)

Did I find this appetizing? Yes

The two speakers clearly have a personal relationship and felt comfortable sharing a conversation in front of a packed ballroom. Bill dug into Tim's personal investing thesis - going after companies that address a personal problem and compel "[Tim] to become a power user" of the solution. Tim also shared his podcast approach with a focus on producing "evergreen content" over content with an expiration date. Both speakers concluded that "quality always has a market."

I have attended another one of Bill's fireside chats - with Tony Fadell, who was promoting his book Build. Bill emits this deep charisma and warmly shares his sentiments in his conversations with his hosts and guests. Even though this panel was your classic SXSW Featured Session, it was inviting and wholesome. Pairing a Longhorn alumnus with an Austin local for a casual convo does not get better than this.

Unofficial SXSW Event: SkyFi's Inaugural Summit

Host: SkyFi

Did I find this appetizing? Yes

SkyFi is a local Austin startup democratizing accessibility to high resolution satellite imagery and video. As lightly noted above, the genesis of satellite imagery is rooted in the CIA's efforts to track counterparty movement. Before the summit kickoff, the Chief of Staff introduced to the CEO - Luke Fischer - and a couple of other folks. I would not describe myself as a highly extroverted individual, so I am always grateful when a host or someone more connected to attendees can make me feel welcome. I did not get to stay for long, due to SXSW panel commitments, but what I appreciated about this unofficial SXSW event was the intimate setting, which was located in East Austin hotel Inn Cahoots, a short trek from Austin Convention Center. The one-day event was not overly pompous and offered sufficient space for attendees to both listen in to panels and easily network with speakers and other attendees. Networking with panelists at SXSW, often entails some type of a chase or long line with a wait that eventually gives you 2 minutes with one of the speakers. Unofficial SXSW events, especially if they last for an entire day and are restricted to a small venue, are always pleasant to attend because they offer substantial face time and reinforce the concept of community.

Interactive Panel: Miranda Kerr on Building a Business that Inspires

On Stage (L to R): Jenny Fine (WWB), Miranda Kerr (Founder of Kora Organics)

Did I find this appetizing? No

The first half of the panel was hyper focused on the ingredients in Kora offerings and how the products are paired in a skincare regimen. Eventually the panel transitioned to the operational side of Miranda's company, but at that point, quite a few of the audience members began to pile out. Candidly, I did not feel the moderator did the panel subject justice. The first half of the panel seemed more like Kora Organics 101 or a Kora employee onboarding. Building a business goes beyond the founder and ideation, but the panel content seem fixed on just that.

Interactive Panel: Setbacks, Comebacks, and Revivals With Shawn Johnson, Andrew East, and Marshall Sandman

On Stage (L to R): Marshall Sandman (Animal Capital), Shawn Johnson (Former Olympian), Andrew East (Former NFL Athlete)

Did I find this appetizing? Yes

These three were down-to-earth and easygoing. While members of the audience were filing in, these three had already taken their seats and began casually inquiring some of the attendees seated toward the front for some brunch recs. Both Shawn and Andrew have developed a social media following and a podcast centered on relatable topics couples face. Andrew shared how after his stint in the NFL, he struggled finding his next career move, exploring a smattering of options from personal training to Uber driving, before he fell in love with video editing. From that journey, Andrew shared that "a goal gives you direction" but he eventually learned that "sometimes you end up close to it and sometimes you get somewhere you want to be that you had no idea of getting before."

For Shawn, retiring from gymnastics and switching into creating content was a 180-degree change from always being told how to conduct herself to deciding for herself how to show up. As a former Olympian, Shawn touched on how she gave it her all (no pun intended) in the individual all around at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and came short of gold, yet the questions from the press and media reactions belittled her achievement. At that, she observed that "when you're passionate, people will always tell you that you're not enough." Her observation reminded me of a Taylor Swift lyric - "People throw rocks at things that shine" - from her song Ours. Speaking of Taylor Swift, Shawn Johnson was featured in her Fearless Tour intro.

Most SXSW panels either feel formal, corporate or distant, but this one reminded me of when I had the opportunity in yoga teacher training to hear others share their experiences, an experience where there were no walls and where the only feeling present was gratitude.

Interactive Panel: Finding Your Purpose: Why Putting Purpose Over Profits is Good for Business

On Stage (L to R): Hamdi Ulukaya (Founder and CEO of Chobani), Ayeshah Abuelhiga (Founder and CEO of Mason Dixie Foods)

Did I find this appetizing? Yes

Hamdi set the tone for his responses by inquiring "How do we stay 'on' when the cameras are off?" Subsequently he noted a few CPG trends including:

>Selling to large supermarkets is a no-go for young CPG startups.

>CPG startups typically have a 6-7 year lifecycle.

On the origins of Chobani, Hamdi commented on the below.

If you could make food that you would serve to your own children, go for scale.

People are always at the center of the organization. The living stories in the walls of the organization are the culture. 

Transparency in the workplace is really creating a space for others to be comfortable with transparency, starting with leaders at the top.

I am not an executive at my company but I can still take some of Hamdi's points to heart both at and outside of work. Hamdi's messaging was a sweet reminder to remain humble, something I hope to continue striving for when I attain a more prominent presence.

Film: Air

On Stage (L to R): SXSW Moderator, Ben Affleck (Director), Chris Messina (Actor), Chris Tucker (Actor), Jason Bateman (Actor), Julius Tennon (Actor), Matt Damon (Producer and Actor), Viola Davis (Actor)

Did I find this appetizing? Yes

"People don't know what the hell a Nike is." Chris Tucker as Howard White

This was the official closing film showcase and as a fan of the Jordan brand, I must say the film could not have better captured the genesis of an iconic brand and introduction of a basketball legend. Michael Jordan affirmed to Ben Affleck that Viola Davis should star as his mother. Viola's husband also plays Deloris Jordan's husband. And, of course, to see the entire main cast line up and give Viola a standing ovation upon her intro was outstanding.

I cannot wait to see this again on Prime.

Interactive Panel: How Automotive Software Forges Future Mobility

On Stage (L to R): Andrew Cramb (Moderator), Dirk Hilgenberg (CEO of CARIAD), Nakul Duggal (GM OF Qualcomm), Syndey Hamm (Moderator, not pictured)

Did I find this appetizing? No

It is quite underwhelming to bring executives to a panel to only dilute the upside in what can be shared by them with moderators that seem more jazzed about the hype around the event than the panel itself. Oddly both moderators would repeatedly remark about how "wild" a response from a panelist would seem, which did not seem genuine. I do think the executives could have showcased a demo of the progress of their partnership, which was announced a year before this event. Overall, the conversations barely scratched the surface of the application of automotive software beyond buzzword concepts.

Film: Hypnotic (Work-In-Progress)

On Stage (L to R): SXSW Moderator, Robert Rodriguez (Director)

Did I find this appetizing? Yes

If watching Spy Kids made you want to be a spy as a kid, it is time you get to know the director and local Austin filmmaker Robert Rodriguez and some of the trials and tribulations behind shooting this film.

Granted, this was film was "incomplete", and thereby we were asked to keep the plot a secret until the film - in completion - makes its debut. Aside from thoroughly enjoying this film, I felt honored to be part of this test screening.

Interactive Presentation: Combatting Climate Change with AI

On Stage (L to R): Elizabeth Reilly, Jim Bellingham (John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory)

Did I find this appetizing? Yes

Elizabeth's and Jim's presentation was intellectually invigorating. They introduced their topic with a little flavor from the film industry with a nod to Apollo 13 for its ingenuity in portraying the spacecraft's strategic return to Earth, before transitioning to the core theme underpinning their presentation. "Changes in climate environment can add pressure to our resources."

Interactive Presentation: F1 Real World Impact on Transportation & Culture

On Stage (L to R): Philipp Kampshoff (McKinsey), James Hinchcliffe (F1 TV), Pilar Harris (F1 Las Vegas Grand Prix), Abby Rakshit (Racing Forces)

Did I find this appetizing? Yes

The speaker profile diversity in this panel created an engaging discussion. Naturally Philipp from McKinsey, was the first to set the tone on the transportation market and drill down into the ongoing innovation in telematics, remote monitoring, and fuel efficiency, but also highlight the challenges with energy transition in the transportation sector. Ultimately, Philipp tied his perspectives into how executive leadership is a driving impact on collaborations with F1 teams.

On to F1 Las Vegas, Pilar enlightened the audience on retrofitting F1's sustainability strategy to the local ecosystem, or "desert home", that considered matters like water conservation. The track's placement was intended to cut down traffic to the race, minimizing emissions. The tactical timing of the event in December 2023 was designed to not only prevent overshadowing of other US GPs, but also "enable residents to feel the impact of the race 365 days of the year". Leading up to the event, 4,800 would be created, B2B networking would be more pervasive and the city would be able to ride the economic hype into Super Bowl LVIII. The cultural impact of this new event would create more opportunities for women, launch campaigns to close meal gaps, and foster a collaboration with UNLV to create a hospitality academy.

I have always been fascinated to hear how F1 is more than the race, the drivers and, now, the Netflix show. Each GP is so much more than the event itself.

My 10 tips for navigating SXSW:

1) If you have a badge, get your SXXpress (South by Express) Passes and get in front of the line. If you do not have a badge, get a badge. You cannot "sneak in" to the interactive, film, or many of the music events.

2) Unofficial events are events that are scheduled around the same week as SXSW but do not require a badge. They may require an RSVP or may be exclusive. If there are people attending or speaking at SXSW (denoted as "official"), find out if they are attending or speaking at unofficial events during the week if you want to connect with them. This is standard sales networking. The SkyFi event described above was an unofficial event, but a number of aerospace and defense SXSW speakers and attendees at the official interactive conference made an appearance at the SkyFi appearance.

3) Wear comfortable shoes. You will be walking 5+ miles a day if you are taking advantage of what the event has to offer. Wear pants. Bring a jacket. Austin may be 70 degrees but the conference rooms, convention center and the evenings will be chilly.

4) Plan your schedule so you have sufficient time arrive 30 minutes before panels and 1 hour before film and music if you are concerned about capacity. The schedule will notate how many people have favorited a panel, so that gives you an idea about interest. The app will also track the traffic - green for "many seats available", yellow for "reaching capacity", and red for "maxed out."

5) Research back-up events to attend. You may not like the panel you chose to attend, so be prepared to dip and explore another option. You can also wander around the Expo (in the Austin Convention Center) if you would like to stay in a more centralized spot.

6) Sometimes you might need to unpack your laptop and shoot off several emails or hop on a call. Most convenient options are loud and highly trafficked, but you can check out the first floor lounge area at the Hilton Garden Inn or head up to the second floor of the JW Mariott and help yourself to Starbucks. This Starbucks can get busy though.

7) The most convenient and quickest Starbucks is located in the Courtyard Mariott on 4th and Trinity.

8) Meals are important because you get a moment to catch your breath and thoughts and focus on basic needs. The convention center does not have great options and the restaurants in downtown Austin are pricey. My go-to, and my recommendation for those who have nutritional preferences, is Modern Market on Congress in Frost Tower. If you know you are headed there, place your order because there will be about at 15-minute wait to prepare your meal, if not more.

9)If hotel options are pricey, I suggest staying in the Eastside or near where I35, 290 and 183 intersect, so you are a short distance from not just downtown, but also the airport. If you stay in the Eastside, you can ride a scooter or Uber/Lyft into downtown. If you are driving in, the parking garage at 700 Lavaca offers relatively more affordable rates at $16-$18 per day, takes credit card, and is located two blocks from The Paramount theater.

10) Wear a comfortable backpack. You might collect swag - e.g. free shirts, tote bags, mugs, etc. - that you will want to stow away. If you cannot bring the backpack to a film or music event, check it into concierge at one of the neighboring hotels and do not forget to tip them.


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