SXSW: Breaking Through the Noise of Austin's Big Tech Bacchanal | Adweek SXSW: Breaking Through the Noise of Austin's Big Tech Bacchanal | Adweek
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SXSW2013 SXSW2013

For Four Notable Startups, This Was SXSW

Partnerships, parties, panels

As for how to break through all that noise, Vyclone brought in a double-decker bus from London, parking it outside the convention center. Across four days, music acts including Royal Canoe and Blake Lewis played on the roof while they encouraged fans to shoot the performances with Vyclone. Meantime, Lassman and Sumner were busy taking meetings with Disney, among others.

Vyclone is hardly alone in the social video world. There’s Viddy, Socialcam, Vine—even Facebook is said to be looking at a collaborative video product.

“It’s a big ecosystem out there,” Lassman admits. “We consider ourselves complementary to what they are doing. We’re clearly about creation. Sure, there’s a broadcast element. But we have a very different take on the process. We’re about social co-creation. We’re trying to get people out of this paradigm [he looks at his phone] and getting them to look up and say, ‘Let’s do this together.’ The people that want to be shouting about what they’re doing, Viddy and Socialcam are absolutely fantastic for that.”

There is the danger, of course, that YouTube could simply copy the concept. “That’s always the worry,” Sumner concedes. “But we have a significant technological lead. It’s not that easy to do.”

As for the commercial prospects, Lassman proposes the possibility of a range of white-label products for media companies—CNN encouraging its iReport contributors to produce more sophisticated clips from around the world, for example. Meantime, artists including Madonna, Bloc Party and No Doubt have embraced the app, and Vyclone just announced a partnership with Microsoft.

What’s more, Lassman says, agencies are reaching out, as are a handful of consumer brands. “We’re at the beginning of that journey,” he says. “It’s going to be fascinating to see how it unfolds.”

The Vyclone group breaks up, moving on to another table and another meeting.

“We don’t get much sleep,” says Sumner. “It’s great to talk to so many different people at once. Ninety-five percent of it is bullshit, but you get nuggets, you get some really good stuff. Even in the bullshit, you get the zeitgeist.”

You can almost forget you’re at SXSW when you enter one of the bars in Austin that doesn’t appear to be hosting some tech company hoedown. You walk up to the bouncer with driver’s license in hand, trying to remember if Lone Star or Shiner Bock is the brand of beer you’re supposed to drink while in Texas. Then he hands you back your ID and asks if you’re on GonnaBe.

Huh?

That was the promotional gimmick for one of the apps looking to break out at this year’s festival. GonnaBe hired doormen at about a dozen bars in downtown Austin to spread the word about the location-based planning app. Such a word-of-mouth marketing tactic might seem about as promising as catching a cab near the Austin Convention Center. But Hank Leber, co-founder and CEO of GonnaBe, is no marketing novice. The former McKinney account planner won a Jay Chiat Award for social media strategy in 2010 after putting the Travelocity gnome on Chatroulette.

“We want to be the social-life concierge,” Leber says of his five-person startup. Through the GonnaBe app, users can post their destinations for the night—like a restaurant, bar, concert or party—then invite others and even enable others to post that they plan to tag along, with or without an invite. While all that’s fairly basic, GonnaBe also plots the destinations on a map featuring a patent-pending “time slider” that lets users check out what’s happening where at a given time.

GonnaBe could have better prospects than your typical startup at SXSW. It was launched last October after going through Activision co-founder Howard Marks’ Los Angeles-based startup accelerator Start Engine. In addition, the company has raised $200,000 in seed funding and counts Target CMO Jeff Jones as an unofficial adviser.

Plus, the app has a built-in, if yet untapped, business model. As users post personal events via the time slider, merchants can post specials sourced through Foursquare and events by way of Ticketmaster/Live Nation’s feed. GonnaBe is also in talks with AMC Theatres, Landmark Theatres and Fandango about organizing dinner outings that include discounted movies or free popcorn.

Besides social organization, GonnaBe wants to leverage user locations, a move that has benefited former South-by breakouts like Foursquare but proved limiting for pretenders like last year’s darlings Highlight, Sonar and Glancee.

Naturally, Leber sees his app’s focus on future destinations as a major differentiator. Few people need to know where all their friends are right now; they’re probably all busy anyway. “It’s not designed for South-by—it’s for when you go home and it’s less hectic,” Leber says.

Still, a potential danger for GonnaBe would be Foursquare adding similar functionality to its apps, turning Leber’s business into just another feature. The thought has definitely crossed his mind, leading Leber to imagine an entirely new marketing strategy around GonnaBe.

“I want to hack into Foursquare,” he cracks, “and send a comment to everybody who checks in, [saying], ‘If I had known two hours ago where you were gonna be, I would have been there with you.’” 

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