It’s been exactly one week since the conclusion of South by Southwest’s (SXSW) inaugural V2V conference, an event dedicated to entrepreneurs and startups. SUCCESS was reporting live, on-location from Las Vegas, where V2V was located– the first SXSW franchise event to branch out from its headquarters in Austin. Now, the question on any SXSW enthusiast’s mind is– how does it compare?
It doesn’t seem appropriate to compare SXSW V2V to, say, SXSWedu or SXSW Music (although it did showcase its fair share of edtech startups and local Vegas bands). It would be much more natural to evaluate V2V against SXSW Interactive (SXSWi), SXSW’s flagship tech and innovation conference– a fairer, yet more difficult comparison for the fledgling conference. Given that SXSW’s symposiums are consistently named some of the most important events to attend, in addition to carrying a price tag anywhere from $495 to $1295 for a single conference, we’ve compiled a breakdown of the two for any budget-conscious fan to consider, if they could only attend one SXSW event.
Let’s start with the SXSW’s franchise jewel. Long-deemed as a “startup playground,” Interactive was the event that launched foursquare at its 2009 conference, and turned Twitter into a household name in 2007. For years, SXSWi was the place to get your business’ name out there, for early adopters, press and investors to see.
But when I attended Interactive for the first time earlier this year in 2013, the only word I could use to describe it was ‘overwhelming.’ Attendance hit a record number of 30,621, and hundreds of sponsors and businesses, many of them household names like Oreo or American Airlines, crowded the Austin Convention Center with flashy games and free chair massages. You could hardly turn a corner without being accosted by a marketer handing out fliers and branded swag, like Target's red Wayfarer-style sunglasses spotted with mini-target icons. You could wander about downtown Austin with no agenda and no plan, but still discover interesting hubs (we came upon the Yahoo! lounge at SXSWi by turning a wrong corner), run into famous faces (I spotted Shaquille O’Neal and Adrian Grenier, among others, on the streets of Austin during the festival) or catch some free food (the only time I busted out my wallet was to buy coffee one morning).
It was truly a digital wonderland– one that left my inner tech geek overjoyed, but seemed to be a far cry from the nurturing startup environment it was once called. The only brands that left an impression were the ones large enough (and with deep enough pockets) to sponsor a free taco dinner or hand out cool toys. Instead of buzzing about innovative little guys like Storify or foursquare, SXSW Interactive 2013 was obsessed with big ideas like Google Shoe— all flash and no substance; a product that Google admitted they would probably never bring to market.
Compared to SXSWi, SXSW V2V, with its 1,500 attendees, felt like a hands-on retreat. All events took place on the fourth floor of the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas, and the conference provided complimentary boxed meals as part of its daily networking lunches, so that conference-goers could mingle and connect with other entrepreneurs. Although I met great people at Interactive, I mostly just made a quick intro and handed off my business card, whereas the people I networked with at V2V were actually people I saw again, and with whom I had more meaningful subsequent interactions. V2V keynoter and former AOL CEO Steve Case attended panels and lingered around the lounge sponsored by the non-profit Kauffman Foundation, where he met with other attendees and was friendly to anybody who approached him. The chances of Interactive 2013's keynoter Elon Musk doing something similar are slim to none.
As the first SXSW event held outside of Austin, and with an opening keynoter like Zappos CEO and Downtown Project founder Tony Hsieh, V2V heavily showcased the Las Vegas startup community and the Downtown Project’s work in downtown Vegas. It was interesting to hear about Vegas becoming a hub for startups and small businesses during the day’s sessions, but it became so much more relevant when the night time V2V activities included music showcases at a trendy new downtown Vegas venue and a party at the Gold Spike– a place that used to be a seedy, old casino, but the Downtown Project has turned into coworking space by day and bar at night.
V2V’s one disadvantage is that it doesn’t attract the same level of household name-quality speakers that Interactive headlines, but this could just be a byproduct of it premiering as a first-year event, and therefore, something that eventually works itself out. One thing's for certain: there was no noise or confusion. V2V was dedicated to the entrepreneur, and its focused message came across clearly to all the satisfied attendees I met.
Our Conclusion: While either conference could be enjoyable for all, SXSW Interactive is for tech and digital enthusiasts, while SXSW V2V is better suited for early-stage startups and entrepreneurs looking for advice or inspiration.