Mini Austin Panel Discussion

Our panel discussion consisted of four remarkable keynote speakers from SXSW Interactive and it served as an exciting platform for them to pick out their highlights from this year’s event. With over 30k delegates, 1000+ speakers and countless parties, you can only imagine how hard it was to pick and choose the best takeaways from this enormous sprawling community. Read on to know more about our panel members and what particularly stood out for them at SXSW.

The panel included:

  • Simon Goodall, CSO, Lowe Open, speaker and panel host.
  • Dan Machen, Director of Innovation, HeyHuman, SXSW speaker
  • Jon Burkhart, Founder, TBC, SXSW Advisory Board member & five-time speaker

How would you sum up the SXSW experience for those that have never been in 3 words? I would say The Future. Now.

Be: Humbling, exciting and fun.

Dan: Tasered by technology.

Jon: Humans before technology.

What was the most inspiring thing you saw this year at SXSW?

Be: Princess Reema introducing 10KSA was the most inspiring talk for me.

princess reema 10ksa

Dan: Martine Rothblatt “There is no line in the sand for human consciousness…” This captured SXSW 2015 for me

Simon: With all the hyperbole around some technologies, it was extraordinary to hear NASA’s Todd May quietly state that ‘Mars is quite hard but we are on our way’

Jon: This was my 6th SXSW to focus solely on my “Keep SXSW Weird” mission. My highlight was the Internet of Things as related to BBQ. The GE Barbecue Research Centre spent months designing a 12 foot connected BBQ smoker. Over three days, their BBQ scientists tried to see if data can really elevate the world of BBQ as they discovered the optimal amount of moisture that you want in a piece of meat.

GE bbq

Thinking about the creative community, what did you take away as an important trend this year?

Be: Technology is moving so fast, creative can’t keep up. Responsible design, Pete Trainor launched Big Hippo – the UX design community have forever been trying to simplify experiences and there are pointers now that suggest that we are making people stupid and mental healthcare is an increasingly important issue. Design clever experiences, not simple ones.

Dan: Overall: It used to be about finding a place for technology in our world. Now it’s about finding our place in a world of technology. Mankind is the last interface to crack. My key takeaways were Nowism (Meerkat/Periscope), Man+Machine (AI – Bina 48) and Tangible data (Watson Cooking for IBM).

Simon: As data makes predictive recommendations more and more prevalent, there is an increasingly unmet need for the joy of discovering something unexpected. Great experiences are often impossible to predict but can the designed experiences of the future build in happenstance and serendipity?

Jon: Let’s all calm down about technology taking over our lives. Instead, let’s channel this fear as well as our fear of missing out (FOMO) into finding new ways to create surprise and delight backed by real-time data to make people’s lives a bit more manageable and enjoyable.  

SXSW has become synonymous with new app launches ever since Twitter in 2007. Did anyone ‘own’ South By?  

Be: Biz Stone launched Super – super annoying emails. Meerkat had 100,000 users over the weekend. I like Cute or Not.

Dan: Meerkat was talked about a lot. But for me Mophie won the canny award for doing battery SOS support with St. Bernard’s Dogs. Really cut-through the noise…


Jon: Other than Meerkat having its 15 seconds of fame before Twitter and Periscope killed it a few days later, SXSW wasn’t “owned” by apps this year. I think some of the SXSW sub-brands like SX Comedy and SX Sports finally “owned” their territory as conferences within a conference. Next year, I will proudly attempt to take some of my comedy and sport clients to Austin for the talks and the networking.

There were lots of talk and lots of chat about the Internet of Things coming of age this year. Ultimately I left a little disappointed with talks being either very practical products for now or very conceptual for the future.

Dan: IOT has an issue starting with its name – at the moment it feels like an obsession with connected ‘stuff’. I think players like Google are making smart plays in terms of connecting valuable eco-systems like automotive or smart home. I think the internet of you is a more valuable vision. This was talked about at CES 2015 by the CEO of Jawbone. Over time wearables will become an intrinsic part of IOT as controllers/sensors.

Jon: Everything starts out crap and gets better so I’m not worried about the speed of progress in this area. Just get it out there and fail and learn. Did Google really think Glass was perfect? Did they like the fact that “glass-hole” almost sneaked its way into the Oxford English Dictionary this year? Of course, wearables are still mostly un-wearable from a fashion point of view but someone wearing an ear-ring that dangles when they’ve got an important call? What’s not to love about that?

According to Contagious, after 2014 focused on privacy and social good, this year swung back to a more familiar focus on transformative technologies and how we can make sense of them.   Did you see any tech innovations and ideas that made you say wow?

Dan: I think the human transcendence piece was a clear focus – Hugh Herr’s Extreme Bionics is worth checking out along with Martine Rothblatt’s Bina 48 work.

Simon: The most jaw-dropping moment for me was Bina48 quoted as saying “Sometimes I feel I can’t be the robot everyone expects me to be”.


SXSW is as much about the people you meet as the things you see. Any unusual, unexpected or inspiring encounters?

Be: I have befriended some really cool people, have secured Jeff Gothelf for a private function with 40 of our clients and booked him for UCDUK – our conference.

Dan: ‘QT’ is “PC pop” – based on Japan’s Gy-aru (Gal) culture and K-Pop. Not so much an artist as a living art installation, really weird, but people loved her! QT’s existence feels like cyberspace has invaded real space.

Simon: Meeting a bunch of 20something Founders/CEOs of tech start-ups at a VC party in the suburbs was inspiring. Energy, optimism and margaritas are a heady combination.

Jon: I did a keynote speech at a London agency last year and the organiser introduced me over email to a woman who plans social media conferences around the globe. She invited me to her SXSW ‘Influencer Lounge” and the moment I walked in the door several authors who I really admire pointed a camera plus a Meerkat-ing iPhone at me and said, “Who are you and why are you here?” I was ready with my pitch. I had the chance to introduce them to my new card game around the biggest balls-ups in real-time marketing. They loved it and 12 hours later we were still hanging out at some hotel bar. This is what SXSW serendipity is all about. The challenge now is keeping up with all their content. They’re all proper content marketing legends. No point meeting loads of interesting people if you’re not going to contribute to their communities on a regular basis.

Is SXSW getting too popular for its own good? (Are brands and agencies ruining South By?)

Be: SXSW definitely has a bigger contingent from the UK but that’s a good thing, you have to find the right talks. Take time to plan some.

Dan: No, there is so much BS about SXSW “jumping the shark”. The sobering truth is brands and agencies aren’t big enough to bring down South By. It’s not dependent on them – like Cannes is.

Jon: SXSW is and always will be what you make of it. I stopped focusing on panels and talks several years ago. Do your homework. Start commenting on influential folks’ blogs now and meet them at SXSW in person next year. The person who you’d think would never respond to your email stalking might take you for dinner in Austin next year if you’re genuine and relevant — and committed to a conversation over the next 10 months.

Simon: It still feels exciting, inspiring and authentic to me, though with the obvious exception of my fellow panelists, its best to avoid the agency-led sessions!

The Interactive Innovation Awards declared the Breakout Trend of the Year was diversity. What is your feeling? Is SXSW meeting the diversity challenge, or is it just an extension of Ivy League Silicon Valley?

Be: As a woman in tech I feel like I was represented. As an Indian woman, probably not – but is that a reflection on the industry? Even positive diversity isn’t a good thing. Slightly smug, I would like to say that we have managed 3 years in a row in our conference to keep a 50% ratio of female speakers.

Dan: I think as ever there is a meaningful debate both in terms of race and gender equality in tech. More can be done on both fronts and it’s good there is debate happening. On a plus point I’d say many of the innovations coming on stream at South by can help entrepreneurs from all backgrounds break through – if their idea is good enough.

Simon: One of the conversations we were having was around the power of the VCs, and how they are mostly rich, white men who naturally fund projects that rich, white men connect with.

For anyone hoping to go next year, what is your number one piece of advice? For me it would be to avoid 6th at night!

Be: Don’t go to any talks on stuff you know loads about already. Take your running shoes – margaritas and steak are punishing on the figure.

Dan: “Do or do not, there is no try.”

Jon: This advice is for people who’ve already been once and want to speak next year. Submit loads of ideas to Panel Picker about topics that you’re interested in and pair up with an expert in that field. Use the SXSW submission process to get to know people you think have a unique point of view.

Read more on SXSW from our panel here:

Takeaways from SXSW 2015 by Be Kaler, Futureheads Recruitment Ltd.

5 Key Trends from SXSWi by Dan Machen, HeyHuman.

Special thanks to the Mini Austin Event sponsors, Futureheads Recruitment Ltd.


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