SXSW: Spring Break for Silicon Valley

SXSW: Spring Break for Silicon Valley

South by Southwest (or SXSW, or “South By”) has come and gone for 2014. Having been my second festival, I thought I knew what better to expect this time. Much of it was as I had planned carefully, with lessons learned from my virgin experience. I only packed a few comfortable shoes. I planned for Austin’s schizophrenic weather and brought mittens and a coat, as well as a bathing suit and flip-flops. And (aspirationally), I packed running shoes “just in case” I’d have time to run on the treadmill – which, of course I did not. SXSW is the kind of event that once you leave your hotel in the morning, you’re not coming back for anything except a warm bed in the wee hours of the night.

Seth Meyers holds Grumpy Cat

What I didn’t expect was how many new and incredible opportunities there were to consume content that were not a part of the sanctioned festival. Brands have learned that the influx of marketers, digital leaders and creative thinkers provide the perfect opportunity to deliver smart content to their audiences, without the necessity of a festival badge. I dined one morning on breakfast at the W Hotel at the Social Media Today event, which featured social executives from Whole Foods, IBM and MasterCard. I spent another day at Lamberts BBQ at the Brand Innovators Summit, hosted by social maven and author @TedRubin and jam packed with 20-minute presentations from big brands like Mondelez International (holding company for Oreo, Nabisco and more). Even the pop-up shops and takeovers surrounding the Convention Center had plenty of content to offer. Esurance scanned special gold badges for a chance to win prizes. HBO’s Game of Thrones pedaled pedicab “Thrones” around the streets of Austin and over to their special exhibit of props and costumes from the show (of which I did not tour, due to the consistent hour plus wait time to get in.) Even Grumpy Cat, last year’s top Internet Meme, made his way into the party. Content at SXSW is EVERYWHERE you look, every hour of the day and night. Overwhelming? YES.

The collective hours of planning and money spent by these brands has got to be in the billions. Months of ideation, construction, shipping, assembly, amplification and tear down. As impressive as this is, real-time marketing was conspicuously absent. I am very surprised that any of these brands didn’t take advantage of this massive opportunity to do something so simple – a la “You can still dunk in the dark” Superbowl Tweet from last year – yet so – yes I will say it, the center square in SXSW Bingo – disruptive, that it won the day. Oreo came close (again), crowdsourcing cookie flavors from Twitter and dispensing them on the spot using special machines created for the event. Maybe it’s just too busy, too crazy, too fragmented, or brands just plain run out of gas by the time they’re there. But also there are 100,000 people using their phones to take pictures and check Twitter, and even more not there watching the social stream to feel they’re a part of the action. My bet’s on seeing more of real-time marketing attempts next year.

So, common themes of SXSW 2014:

  • Disruption (I said it again): Brands are very aware they need to do something unexpected to get people’s attention.
  • Real time marketing: Brands are dying to be first with a witty Tweet or to market with something that’s hot. My sense from the sessions I attended was the larger the brand, the harder it is to pivot. IBM Social Business is doing some really innovative, cool things with social analysis and analytics. Here’s one they did at the very hip CMO Clubhouse outpost (it was the agency space used to photoshoot Grumpy Cat!) Social Command Center with my own Twitter handle. This new software analyzed every Tweet I’ve ever sent and applied the sentiment of my content with characteristic traits similar to Meyers-Briggs. It turns out I rate very high in Adventurousness and Imagination, which I’ll take! Where brands could go with this, especially as we move into more sophisticated social selling models, is really interesting.

    My Twitter profile IBM analysis

  • A Return to Being Human Marketers: Dynamic Signal, an up and coming tool for brands wanting to become true social businesses inside and out, hosted a roundtable panel at the Brand Innovators Lounge for clients and prospects to openly share successes and insights. It was really great to hear these brand marketers talk about connecting their employees with easy to share content, because they get that their best advocates are inside their own walls. It’s not that your employees don’t want to tell everyone about the exciting things happening at your company; it’s that they’re afraid they’ll say the wrong thing. “Employees want to know what they can do right,” said Susan Emerick, IBM executive and author of The Most Powerful Brand in the World. “They want to have a positive experience and want to make sure they’re not doing anything wrong to put themselves and their company in jeopardy.” Dynamic Signal makes it easy to share, a tenet Bryan Kramer, the president of our agency PureMatter calls “#H2H”. Bryan sat on the panel to share his expertise about how important it is to bring back the simplicity, empathy and imperfection in how we market today, discussed further in his new book There is No B2B or B2C: It’s Human to Human, H2H. “We’re selling to humans – not businesses – no matter what,” he says.

This year’s SXSW did not disappoint with both filling my brain with new ideas and killing my brain cells with endless open bars. If it sounds like Spring Break, you’re right (and thanks to Mark Cuban for inspiring the title). But now, after 5 days of walking, talking, brainstorming and partying, I’m ready for a serious break from the madness. It’s one of those events that you don’t realize how magical a time it is, until you return back to sanity and feel full of creativity – and inspired to start planning for Austin 2015.

The Top 10 Things I Did to Finally Write That Book

We all have a story to tell. And living in Silicon Valley, our stories usually center around innovation. I’m a “chupacabra” of sorts, since I was born and raised in Palo Alto and decided to stay after college to pursue a career in high tech.

I cut my teeth on some no-name startups, grew up at Adobe, became an evangelist at Apple and am now a “mompreneur” doing the contract gig. And like most working moms, I’m trying to figure out the whole work, life balance and not lose my identity.

I volunteer on a couple boards, help out at my children’s school, and I’m involved in my community. But every step of the way, I feel like I’m losing a piece of myself. Who have I become? What is missing from my life? I have a great career, family, and friends but what is that one thing that makes me feel whole?

I LOVE to tell a good story. I can’t count the number of times in high school, my imagination got me out of trouble. I observe life and rethink the possibilities through my writing. This passion began in my youth, in the privacy of my bedroom with a journal. When high school came along, my creative writing took a backseat to boys and homework. And then with college, the start of my career, a marriage and two young children, life got in the way. Would I ever write that book?

Then I began to think about my career and how I had created some real life stories with all of you. If I twisted things around, the fictional outcomes were endless. I slowly began to write whenever I had a free moment. You see, for me, I discovered  the writing process soothes my soul from the chaos of life. I can transport myself to another world, if only for 30 minutes. So, several years ago, I decided to take the plunge and go for it. I decided to write that book.

Last week, I finally did it. I my debut novel, , a high tech thriller about the inner workings of a Silicon Valley start-up on the eve of its IPO. It’s been a labor of love that took YEARS of hard work.

The first question most people ask is “How did you do it?” That would require a long discussion over a bottle or two of wine. For this blog, I’ve come up with a list of The Top 10 Things I Did to Finally Write That Book.

  1. Just Write! Easier said than done but it’s true. All you need to do is come up with an idea and start typing.
  2. Get a Support Network: You need at least one person in your life to support your dream. My husband was that person. And I put him through hell and back but he was my anchor, reassuring me ever step of the way that I could do it.
  3. Make Time: Carve out time every week to write. I work full time. I volunteer. I have two kids, a husband, a house, a new puppy, extended family and I wake up most days at that crack of dawn to exercise. My life is booked solid and I don’t even drink coffee — crazy right? But in between these events, I make myself write. And I always carry my laptop.
  4. Observe Life: Wherever you are, look, listen and feel. You will find the best material all around you. And you can capture any moment on your phone through a photo, video or your own words.
  5. Attend Writing Workshops: Learn the craft of writing for your genre. My favorite workshop was the in Marin County. I got the opportunity to spend three nights and four days immersed with people like myself and published authors. After that weekend, I realized I had found my tribe. I was born to be a writer.
  6. Read Books: Read books in your genre and see how other authors craft their stories. This is the cheapest and easiest way to learn the art of storytelling.
  7. Meet Authors: Build connections with published authors to gain their insight and advice. Attend readings or workshops. Don’t become a stalker. Be smart and ask questions to build a rapport. Almost all successful authors will help aspiring writers because at some point in their career, they were like you. Thank you , and .
  8. Know that the 1st Draft Is CRAP: I’m just being honest. No author can write words of gold the first time. The point here is don’t get lost in the process of editing. That can take you down a rabbit hole of distraction—and I know this from personal experience. Just complete the first draft and get the story down. Then you can begin the editing process.
  9. Be Open to Feedback: There is always room for improvement. But you need to be able to accept constructive feedback as you edit your book. Find a writing group to test your work and learn from others. But at some point, you will need to go beyond family and friends. Hire an editor who knows your genre and will be brutally honest. As famed novelist and screenwriter once said, “If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.”
  10. Never Give Up: It took me YEARS to write . And it was not easy. Life always has a way of interrupting well thought plans. But stay on point and get it done!

The above is just the tip of the iceberg but hopefully it will resonate with some of you. Although I won’t be giving up my day job any time soon, I will continue to write — book #2 is already in the works. I’ll leave you with one last thought. When I worked at Adobe, they had a marketing campaign that said, “If You Can Dream It, You Can Do it.” If you have a dream of writing that book, what’s holding you back? Just go write!

Heads, California. Tales, Michigan.

Yes, I’ve got it right – the usage of “Tales” in the headline. I thought it appropriate, since this is my first post with this power group of Silicon Valley women, for us to get to know each other a little  better by sharing a few stories about what makes living here different than my home state of Michigan. So here it goes:

“You can take the girl out of Michigan but you can’t take the Michigan out of the girl.”

I spent the first 30 years of my life living in within 10 miles of where I was born. I survived K-12, 4 years undergrad at Michigan State University, and post-college, a practice marriage, 3 jobs, my own design firm and a gorgeous daughter. All of this took equal amounts of energy to get through as the 30 winters I endured as a warm-blooded resident in my arctic ecosystem (anyone reading this from Michigan – or any other bordering Midwestern state understands – there is something just terribly wrong about trying to scrape ice off your windshield in a horizontal snowstorm with 50 MPH winds and sub-zero temperatures. WRONG. It causes crying, trust me.)

I never thought I’d end up in California. Living in the Bay Area was so off my radar; if you would have told me 15 years ago where I’d be today, I would have called “BULLSH*T!” and challenged you to a game of Euchre in my basement. But the planets aligned somehow after meeting my now husband and business partner – Bryan Kramer,  a rare San Jose native, and the addition of our son, Henry – and  I’ve never looked back. That was 13 years ago February.

It’s not to say that the transition was , well, seamless. Here are some of the differences between living in Michigan and California that have stuck with me:

Our amazing weather

Home prices vs. the Weather:  I remember having a conversation with some acquaintances at dinner shortly after I arrived in San Jose, and the first thing they opened with was “Do you own a house? How  much did it cost? Ours was $600,000 dollars, can you believe what a deal we got?!” I.was.mortified. Who talks about their mortgage? Where I came from, that was as secret as information got. I countered with how much my first home cost in Michigan – a mere $90,000 dollars for a 3-bedroom/2 bath house on an acre of land – and got them off topic. What I realized later on was that they weren’t trying to show off or boast; it was that people always lead with what ails them the most. It’s why those of us from the Midwest start conversations about the weather. We’re not trying to be trite, it’s just that we’ve been conditioned to be concerned about the weather and what our plan “A” and “B” was for the weekend’s activities. In Michigan, it literally can swing from 85° to 45° in a matter of minutes. That is no exaggeration, hand to God (or hand OF God, in this case.) I can’t tell you how awesome it is still to be able to plan a trip to the water park in the summer months in advance, knowing that not only will it not rain, it will be a gorgeous, sunny, mild day. Weather does not ail me anymore.

Bugs: Computer bugs we have; massive, giant, “carry-you-into-the-sunset” mosquitos we do not.

The 87 at dusk

Traffic: Tracy posted a great, in depth post about the traffic here in the Bay Area. People have to commute crazy distances to get where they’re going. Distance is measured in hours, not miles. Parking is as elusive as Beyonce tickets. But as crowded as it is, it keeps moving. In Michigan, when traffic is stopped, it’s STOPPED. It means there’s been an accident, a cow blocking the way or a tornado crossing the road that people have pulled over for – not for safety, but just to watch it go by.

Cultural Diversity: There was one Asian guy and one African American in my high school. Even though I grew up five miles from a major university, the choices in our town to be exposed to any other culture were few and far between.  I grew up eating a consistent weekly diet of Mac and Cheese, Pizza, Burgers, Salmon Patty’s and Dinty Moore Beef Stew out of a can.  And believe it or not, I never tasted sushi until I was 30 (not because I didn’t want to, because we had no sushi restaurants in East Lansing until one opened when I was in my late 20s.) I drank Labatts and Molson and Falstaff beer and the wine I’d tasted was probably made of cherries or blueberries. Don’t get me wrong – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of these things – but I am so grateful my kids are being raised in such a culturally diverse environment, being exposed to other ways of thinking, eating and playing. They love sushi at 9 and 15. My son’s favorite foods are oysters and lobster (including the eyeballs.) I am also thankful that they will never make the mistake of calling a Taqueria a “Ta-KARE-ia” because they’d never seen the word before. Yes, that happened to me, when i was 31.

My friend Cheryl’s winery Clos La Chance – delish!

Time travel: Not in the Orsenian Wells way; in the rate at which progress, well, progresses. I am continually fascinated by the speed of business here in the Bay Area – start-ups emerge every day, ideas are iterated and iterated upon, getting more exciting as they morph into technologies that enhance our daily lives. There is a palpable spirit of innovation and creativity in the air here that’s addictive, contagious and delicious. Maybe living in the Midwest is for people who need a higher sense of continuity and consistency to survive? I just know that for me, moving too slowly causes me to lose interest and attention, which doesn’t serve my entrepreneurial spirit whatsoever (and another reason I am grateful for wine – it pairs well with us distractible personalities.)

So, as we often say at our marketing firm, PureMatter, “All roads lead back to Michigan.” Try it sometime; even if you have no ties back to the mitten state (of which I would have a hard time believing), I bet someone in the room with you right now does. I guess it goes to show that those of us who managed to get out brought with us the solid values and quirky sense of humor we all share, albeit transplanted into  a paradise of perfect weather, tasty wine and food and opportunity for miles. I can be at the beach from my front door to the water in 30 minutes. Yes, that.

I love being connected to so many other Michiganders here in the Bay Area (and for my favorite University of Michigan alumnus , and , so sorry about the football game last weekend, I have a green and white tissue for you to cry into if you need it). I’m sure, like me, you’re so happy to call California home too.