Headroom CCO on how to unlock possibilities at events like SXSW
Unlock Possibilities at SXSW
Ever heard of South By Southwest (SXSW)? It’s an annual event taking place in Austin, TX in March and covering music, tech & innovation, and interactive media. Since 1987, the event hosted keynotes by a number of famous personalities from the tech and media industries. We’re talking Mark Zuckerberg, Christiane Amanpour, Elon Musk and many many more.
The idea behind South By is that unexpected discoveries and opportunities emerge when diverse topics and creative people come together.
It’s a message that hits home. Because this year is all about unlocking possibilities for Headroom and our members too. Think about what you would like to unlock: ideas, projects, connections, experiences. Our executive assistants help you get there.
Our CCO Sara Verhof joined the New Dutch Wave at SXSW for a wild week packed with inspiring events, new connections and partnership opportunities with the crème de la crème of tech entrepreneurs. Between an Austin taco and a tech conference, we caught up with Sara to hear her SXSW top tips and why entrepreneurs and executives should attend more industry events like this.
South By Southwest is a massive event: it takes place across downtown Austin and it lasts for over a week. How do you unlock possibilities at events like SXSW and make sure you’re not letting any opportunities fall through the cracks?
It’s important to choose a route and stick to it. Either you want to go there to network, or to attend the different talks and conferences. To me it’s quite hard to do both, if you want to have something valuable out of it. As they say here: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. So really make sure that you choose what to focus on based on your goals and priorities. For example, pick the three people that you want to talk to there and prepare your questions beforehand.
And don’t forget to keep track of all the people that you meet and the conversations that you have. Try to note down names and information; and process new contacts and business cards every day. The simplest way for me is by bringing a notebook around and scribbling things down wherever I am, while also using a CRM software to categorize contacts. A bit old school, I know, but works for me.
It’s also important to follow up on those leads as soon as possible, something I’m currently doing. There’s no point in spending all that time networking if you never talk to these people again. Having template emails in place and finding a personal hook or a way to follow up on an initial conversation will help you stand out and make it all worth it. Having someone to help you schedule meetings, reply to emails and organize notes and ideas can make an incredible difference in getting that return on investment.
Especially when you work in different time zones like me, it can be overwhelming to manage meetings at all times of the day. That’s when an executive assistant can really make a difference.
What’s your strategy for networking with fellow executives, entrepreneurs and tech founders at events like this?
People sometimes think that networking, building relationships and exchanging business cards are all the same thing. I personally really focus on building good relationships, which requires me to invest in them. That means not only talking about business, but really getting to know the passions that are behind people’s jobs and businesses.
The first question I always ask is “what can I do for you?” rather than “what can you do for me?”. In that way, you can find a common ground and you can work from there towards a two-way partnership that will add value to both of you.
What’s one thing that you would do differently next time?
In general, I would try to be less impatient. I had this one time that I decided to leave early from a SXSW event, and I only found out later that Tim Ferriss was actually there, in the same room. I guess it’s good learning to do your research beforehand, find out who’s going to be there so you don’t miss out on opportunities.
Headroom is itself a growing startup. We’re just tapping into the US market and seeking new connections to learn how things are done over there.
What is the potential of community building for startups at these events? Why should entrepreneurs participate?
A lot of leaders deal with the same challenges, no matter the industry. By discussing that with others, you can come to different insights and new solutions. Everyone brings a different kind of expertise or point of view to the table. By sharing, you can figure out your next step and maybe even adjust your strategy and start setting up partnerships. This isn’t always linear: when you are in environments like these, conversations are flowing and next to the person you’re talking to there might be someone else with another massive network. And that goes on and on. So if you’re open to network and meet people, the sky is the limit.
If you think about it, we are all super busy people, but each one of us carved out some time in our schedule to attend events like this. That means that for once in the entire year, we all have the time to chat and connect. That’s what makes these events so valuable.
Last but not least: what about the famous Austin taco frenzy?🌮
My favorite was Breakfast tacos, no doubt. I’m usually an avocado-on-toast or yogurt kind of person, but in Austin I literally had a taco every morning and I’m not ashamed of admitting it.