As a local Austin company, we have a love/hate relationship with South by Southwest (SXSW). We love the shows and the action, but parking sure is a drag right now. More than anything, we're enthralled by all the visitors to our small, Texas town. As a diversion from our day jobs (writing about electronic health records software, and such), we thought we'd sketch out some of the archetypical characters we've been seeing around town during the festival.
“We’re Twitter meets Zynga with an API that transforms the social graph.”
He’s an alpha male in a beta body, rockin’ the hoodie and flip flops – just like Zuck. SXSW Interactive attracts a swarm of these php-smokin', eager beavers. You’ll find him at “Business Model 101: How To Actually Make Money?,” but he wishes he was at the Android Developer Meetup. You’ll often find the PR Chick and the Venture Capitalist in hot pursuit – a stunning reversal of the social order that was in place during college, last year. At least one of these aspiring entrepreneurs will join the digital elite within a year. And OMG, you totally ordered a Bulleit on the Rocks next to him at the Mashable party.
“This is the last year I fly commercial to Austin.”
The truth is that the tier-one VCs still won’t leave Menlo unless it’s on a G6 to Aspen. The ones you’ll find at SXSW are the other 1,000 who, while Stanford-educated, accomplished, and handsome, are awkwardly sandwiched between angel investors and Russian billionaires. They realize they’ve got to hump it down to South By to meet the next Ev Williams if they want in on the series A. Aside from the good looks, you’ll have a hard time spotting the Venture Capitalist by his attire, since he dresses down to his audience (no, the hoodie ain’t gonna happen). Instead, peel your ears for cliche’s like, “We’re active money. We really roll up our sleeves to make it happen for our portfolio companies.”
“My friends call me a serial entrepreneur.”
Unemployed and at the mound, the Networker is ready to pitch his personal brand to any unsuspecting executive look-alike. He attends mixers and meet-ups, and practices the art of working the room. At South By, the Networker swaps out the power suit for something a little more casual – think business on top, party on bottom. Networkers are heavily accessorized to land their next job: leather business card wallet, iPhone in a Mophie case, 3×5 index card with a prepared introduction. Of course, there’s a mock cocktail in hand. Listen for the telltale 3-minute introduction: greeting, self-overview, Q&A and closing.
The Celebrity Chaser
"OMG! Just saw @aplusk at the IFC Crossroads House. #sxsw."
The Chaser lives to tweet celeb sightings. She bounces from premiere to performance to catch a glimpse of the biggest celebs in attendance. She rates her SXSW experience by quality – not quantity – of sightings. LL Cool J = 5 points. Victoria Beckham = 100 points. Ashton Kutcher = 1,000. Don’t expect to see the Chaser at events. She’s lurking in the shadows of back-alley entrances. While elusive, we have spotted the Chaser in the wild. Flash photography and panicked yelling in front of the Paramount signals her presence. Fangirl t-shirts with slogans such as “I Heart Jake” confirm the species.
"Source Code is amateur compared to Kick Ass!"
More ubiquitous than Austin’s bats, film buffs leave their Blueray caves and take flight during SXSW. You’ll find them queuing 300 deep at a Morgan Spurlock mockumentary, black coffee in one hand and Filmmaker Magazine in the other. They sport “FILM CRITIC” trucker hats over their greasy locks and stretch graphic tees over their bulging guts. You’ll spot the Film Buff at “New Tools for Filmmakers: Virtually Augmented 3.0 Reality.” Engage him, and he’ll battle you in obscure movie trivia. What Star Wars movie had the most lightsaber battles? He plans to debut his own film at next year’s SXSW, unless TBS airs a LOST marathon next week.
"I’m sorry, do I know you?"
Strictly business, the PR Chick is unmistakable. And like Visa, she’s everywhere you want to be. You’ll spot her with one hand to her Bluetooth headset and the other closing the velvet rope. A master of "get lost" eyes, she's unapproachable without a press badge. But don’t be put off; it’s not personal. She’s got the trifecta – looks, brains, and power – so why would she waste time with you? Don’t cross her: like a clown fish and anemone, she enjoys a symbiotic relationship with bouncers. Befriend the PR Chick and you’ll make the Fader Fort guest list. Raise a round from Benchmark and she’s your girl.
"I’m digging the vibes of this city."
The Dirty Hippy can be spotted wandering barefoot with an ambiguously bred mutt and a djembe in tow. Easily recognizable, he sports tie-dye, hemp, and anything that says “Legalize It.” Regardless, you’ll smell him before you see him; the patchouli and body odor will hit you like a truck. The Dirty Hippy flocks to SXSW each year to hack the sack, beat the drums, and partake in the never-ending supply of free munchies. During daylight hours, the Dirty Hippy attends free art exhibits and seminars on Kombucha brewing. When the moon rises, he can be found at free-form jam seshes and Bob Marley tribute concerts. Avoid him by attending any paid event.
"This bar is sooo over."
It’s surprising that hipsters even attend SXSW, considering how mainstream it’s become. And yet, they can be found everywhere, donning their skinny jeans, deep-V’s, black-rimmed glasses, and handlebar moustaches. The Hipster will claim to care less, but he will run you over on his vintage fixie to get to that unofficial SXSW concert. Who’s playing? You’ve never heard of them, but the Hipster’s got ‘em on vinyl. To track the Hipster, follow the trail of empty PBRs and American Spirit butts. When SXSW ends, he’ll return to the obscure East Austin dive bar from whence he came.
Hedonic Inverted Centaur
"Neiiiiighhh!! Hey, where ya goin’? Can I bum a cigarette?"
Rare as a unicorn and impossible to classify, this guy will make you think you’re hallucinating. His goal is to one-up all the hipsters out there by being the weirdest. He wins. Clad in jorts and a huge, brown horse mask, he can be found hula-hooping at outdoor concerts. Scribbled on his shirtless chest is one word: “PARTY.” At night, he flies his kite into the trees. WTF? If he speaks to you, he’ll be using a voice changer to ask you for a cigarette. Again, WTF? Run away before he gets naked. We kid you not, we saw this guy yesterday.
Sporting baggy khakis, Rainbow sandals, and a “RELAX” t-shirt, the Austin purist blames YOU for ruining Austin. He’s been here the longest (but he’s originally from Houston). He remembers when Whole Foods was Safeway. He resents Film and Interactive. SXSW isn’t new to him, and you’re a loser for being interested. He’s better than you, but you wouldn’t know it at first glance. East of 35, he lives in a dilapidated ranch house, which he refused to sell to condo developers. The Purist will back his talk with action – or, rather, inaction. Rather than attend events, he’ll stick to his routine: propping his feet in front of the TV and covering up the smoke detector.
We have to give huge credit to Russel Pryor for his awesome sketches.