Sxsw-2011

I’m writing this on the plane back from that collective insanity known as SXSW. After the similar insanity of Connect.Me’s beta invite page going viral last week, my co-founder, Joe Johnston, and I planned to do a few blog posts during the conference to explain more of what Connect.Me the company is about.

But within hours of arriving we knew that was unlikely. There was barely going to be time for sleep (a drug that appears to very short supply in Austin this time of year). At SXSW there are as many sessions on social media in a single time slot as you’d find on the entire agenda at many other conferences. Plus scores of related events and meetups at a dozen different locations around the city.

Frankly, it’s not a very efficient way to transfer information or hold dialog. But that’s like accusing a beehive of not having organized traffic patterns. It completely misses the point. At SXSW (even more than most conferences I’ve attended), where it really happens is in the hallways, sidewalks, bars, and most of all the parties. That’s where it gets personal.

So if you’re looking for a good big picture, “put it all in perspective” post, please read Oliver Burkeman’s wonderful piece in The Guardian (recommended by Alex Howard). Instead I’ll just share my three favorite personal stories about the past five days.

Startup Bus Meets Startup

Startup-bus

My first meeting after I arrived on Friday was with Data Portability Steering Committee chair Steve Repetti. He arrived the night before on the Startup Bus from Miami, one of six coming from different cities to SXSW this year. Steve, a veteran of too many startups to count, sponsored the Miami bus as a way of giving back to the community. Being heads-down on the journey, he and his busmates didn’t know the story of the Connect.Me beta invite, so I shared it with them over some choice Cabernet (nice pull, Steve). Then we went up the street to the Startup Bus HQ where preparations were beginning for the judging session.

The room was full of still-active hackers trying to finish sculpting their newly-wrought creations (crafted from inception to full pitch and demo in 48 hours on a rollicking Ken-Kesey-would-be-proud bus journey). When we reached one particulary intense pod, they looked up from their MacBook Pros and Steve introduced me as “the Connect.Me guy”. One of them said, “Oh, yeah, we heard about that. What is it?” Before I could say anything, one of them had the Connect.Me home page up and they all leaned over to look at it.

So I stopped and just watched. They really dug the way it gives you per-keystoke feedback on name availability, and then when you decided on a name, slides you over to three simple social sign-on buttons for Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. One click to choose, one click to approve, and you were done (except for entering your email if you chose Twitter). And then an optional click to share your personal invitation code.

“Wow”, one of them looked up at me, “Really slick. So what happened?”

“50,000 users the first day.” They all hooted and reached up to give me high fives. As I slapped their hands, I saw Steve smiling at me and I smiled back. We both knew what we saw in their eyes at that moment: startup fire flaring harder than ever.

“I Blanched”

Shwowp

Sunday night the crowd that had just attended Tara Hunt’s Shopping as a Revolutionary Act session migrated to the Hyatt bar and continued the conversation about how social shopping and VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) could turn e-commerce upside down.  Startups like Tara’s Shwowp (“We put the Wow in Shopping” – soon to be renamed), Svpply (that’s not a typo), and Pinterest are creating social markets that could soon have us saying we’re not in e-Kansas anymore.

I was talking with Dana, a member of Tara’s team. When she asked me what I did, I handed her a card and she exclaimed, “Oh my god – you’re the Connect.Me guys! You gave me a real scare!”

She launched into her story about how she saw the Twitter rush last Wednesday, jumped on it and registered, was thrilled to get the name she wanted, and then about an hour later saw a tweet that it all might all be a scam. She clicked through to the Sophos Naked Security post, read the title Connect.Me signup rush exposes risky behavior of social networkers, and told me, “I blanched! Turned completely white. I thought, ‘What have I done?’”

Thankfully, she soon after saw our tweets from @respectconnect and read my blog post with the rest of the story. “I was so glad to find out you guys are real,” she told me. “And now I’m meeting you in person. That makes me feel much better. How ironic that you’re actually trying to solve the problem Sophos blogged about!”

Irony indeed. Dana doesn’t know the half of it since we can’t yet fully talk about the exact products we’re building. But at least she now knows us personally.

49,999 people to go.

Thank You Gary

Thank-you-economy

Monday afternoon was the only “big box” talk I was able to attend at SXSW. I don’t go to many of these because the gems are usually in the smaller rooms, but the title of this one by Gary Vaynerchuk caught my eye: The Thank You Economy. Joe and I had spent the previous morning with Doc Searls, the Voice of VRM (and he does indeed have a classic radio voice), talking about the book he’s writing called The Intention Economy, so I was curious to see the intersection. And I’d been piqued about Gary ever since reading about him in Chris Brogan’s and Julien Smith’s Trust Agents.

He is indeed an energetic entertainer; I could instantly see why his Wine Library videos (which he announced he’s finally retiring after episode #1000) have been a huge hit. And his core message about The Thank You Economy was just what I expected from the title: social media gives businesses (the ones who are ready to take the opportunity) an extremely powerful way to become human again, to regain the personal connection with their customers that we lost when mass marketing turned us into masses.

As Gary wound up the crowd (he’s as passionate as a Southern preacher but with the mouth of a Detroit rapper), I found myself nodding with each point and suddenly had a funny thought: this man is a walking poster child for Connect.Me and he doesn’t even know it yet.

Here he is preaching the power of a personal connection like it will save the soul of business (it will), and Connect.Me wants to give him the biggest revival tent on the planet.

Now queue the irony theme again. As Gary finished to wild applause (further fanned by the ridiculously great wine offer he gave to thank everyone in the audience), I sat in the back of the room watching the swell of well wishers lining up to talk to him and thought, “Wow. So much for the idea of being able to walk up and have a conversation with Gary. I wonder what it will take to establish a personal connection with him?”

After all, success has its costs, and one of them is the filter you need to keep from drowning in attention. [Hint, hint.]

Since I had to run to a dinner, I didn’t even try. I continued to ponder the question until I was in the San Antonio airport on my way home and spotted The Thank You Economy front and center at a bookstore (smart SXSW marketing there). I decided to send Gary my own thank you note, not just by buying the book, but writing this to let him know how much I’m enjoying it. In fact I want to highlight this quote from page 4:

Trusting relationships and connections formed by social media are quickly becoming two subtle but rapidly growing forces in our economy. It is imperative that brands and businesses learn how to properly and authentically learn how to use social media to develop one-to-one relationships with their customer base…

We’re fond of saying “Connect.Me is our two word mission statement”. But if you want a longer-form version, Gary could not have written any better.

Thank you, Gary. You’ve already connected with me personally even if you don’t know it. I’m following both you and TYEbook as@drummondreed on Twitter and would love to connect with you after all the craziness of your book launch has died down.

*****

So that’s my set of personal stories from SXSW. As Joe’s and my sleep recovers, and our compadre Dean Landsman returns from anchoring a session called Social Media in Customer Contact: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly at the Second Global Contact Forum in Mexico City, we’ll start adding more posts explaining Connect.Me’s mission. Suffice it to say, we look forward to establishing a personal connection with each and every one of you reading this blog or using Connect.Me when we officially launch.