Is SXSW Interactive A Good Event For the Real Estate Entrepreneur?

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Last week I flew out to SXSW Interactive–one part of the enormous three-legged event held annually in March in Austin, Texas. Along with a Music segment and a Film segment, Interactive is the business/innovation/technology portion of SXSW. With 72,000-ish total attendees throughout all three segments of the event, SXSW absolutely takes over Austin. At any given moment there are probably 30-40 different sessions/events/exhibits you could choose to attend.  It’s an impressive–and borderline overwhelming–production.

This was my second time attending SXSW Interactive–the first time was in 2013. My reasons for attending–as well as my perspective–changed completely from the first visit to the second. During the first visit, I was working on a startup idea related to banking, and I went to SXSW to be among the many entrepreneurs working on “the next big thing,” and maybe even to find some collaborators to work with. After all, mega-hits like Twitter and Spotify were unveiled at SXSW.

This year, I went with a completely different state of mind. Today, I’m well-rooted in my real estate entrepreneurship and very focused on it. I’m no longer looking for–or trying to create–the next unicorn startup. Instead, I’m knee deep in passion for a business that is…let’s face it…quite old-school and literally brick-and-mortar, not bits and bytes.

SXSW Interactive 2017
Large session with Tim Ferris interviewing author Cheryl Strayed, for a taping of The Tim Ferris Show

So, many people I know asked me:

“Why in the world would a guy whose business is buying real estate spend the time and money to go to SXSW Interactive?! Is there SXSW real estate content?”

It’s a legitimate question; it does seem potentially a bit irrelevant.  But the answer is simple:  to stay fresh, and to step outside of my industry.

If you’re anything like me (and if you’re reading this right now, you probably are), you are an avid student and eager to learn everything you can about your craft. Personally, I am heads-down in real estate learning all the time.  I’m constantly listening and re-listening to the audio programs from my coach, or podcasts, and reading books, articles, etc that I feel will be directly relevant to my work.  While this is a great practice, real estate education is a rabbit hole, down which we can fall.  For me, it creates tunnel vision and sometimes I need a reminder that the world of business, entrepreneurship and innovation is much much broader than just my industry.

Then comes December.  Predictably, it seems that every holiday season–when I have the chance to step back a bit from my work–I do some reading (like picking up an Inc. Magazine or Fast Company) and will be reminded of how much interesting stuff is going on out there.


In those moments, I am especially inspired to raise my perspective up a bit, and reconnect with business and entrepreneurship innovation at a higher level–transcending my own industry.




So now that I’ve gone to SXSW Interactive as a full-time real estate entrepreneur, the question is this:

Is SXSW Interactive a good/worthwhile/productive event for the real estate entrepreneur to attend?  

My answer?  Yes it is.  I’d like to share what I experienced at SXSW Interactive this year, and why I feel it’s valuable for real estate entrepreneurs like us.

SXSW Will Encourage You to Think Beyond Real Estate

If your main lens on business is the lens of real estate entrepreneurship, SXSW Interactive will force you to think beyond real estate.  Truth be told, there wasn’t a lot of direct programming (presentations, exhibitors, topics, attendees etc.) literally about real estate…and I actually think that’s a good thing for us as attendees, because it forces us to attend different, mind-expanding sessions.  The few bits of real estate-related programming I encountered were sessions on:

  • A session on how data may be able to solve housing crises
  • Tiny houses and affordable housing
  • Tailoring housing to demographic change
SXSW interactive Don Garber MLS
Smaller session with MLS commissioner Don Garber being interviewed by soccer journalist Grant Wahl

I believe SXSW reminds us of the value of looking/studying/reading outside of our industry.  The main topics at this year’s event could be grouped, in my opinion, in the following categories:

  • Virtual Reality
  • Augmented Reality
  • Internet of Things
  • Artificial Intelligence

If I’m being honest, a lot of this stuff is a bit over my head, as the non-technical guy I am. However, it definitely gets you thinking. Once you start hearing about these topics and pondering how they relate to real estate, a few obscure-but-obvious-to-ask questions arise:

  • How could we use virtual reality to better preview the buildings we are developing, or pre-lease them to tenants by allowing them the ability to walk through the building before we ever break ground?
  • Could we use augmented reality to walk through our properties and easily gain insights on how the various mechanical systems are performing?
  • Is there a market opportunity to create more “smart homes” in the apartment industry, and would that be a competitive advantage?

The Bottom Line:  By attending SXSW and being exposed to the topics of the sessions, and the people attending, your inquiring mind will begin pondering all sorts of interesting new questions that just may shed some innovative thinking on your own real estate business.

The Energy of SXSW Is Just Simply Inspiring

One of my favorite things about SXSW Interactive–both this visit and the one I made in 2013–is simply that the energy of the event is incredible.  There are LOTS of people, LOTS of content, and everyone is excited and enthusiastic to be there.  Perhaps more importantly, everyone there is doing–or trying to do–interesting things. The attendees and presenters range from the unknown to the notable, to the downright famous–and everyone there is very accessible and open to meeting, talking, etc.  Whether they are internationally known or not, everyone there is pressing, learning and trying to grow, and that energy is infectious.  Nobody goes to SXSW to protect the status quo.

A quick anecdote that epitomized SXSW for me:  I was sitting in the lobby of a hotel where some of the sessions were taking place, and across from me were two guys talking.  Two women walked by, did a double-take and came over to one of the guys.  They were respectfully starstruck–I couldn’t read any of their names on their badges, but I heard one woman say “I am such a fan of your work.” They then proceeded to take turns taking quick photos with him, and they thanked him and walked off.  Soon, the man and his friend left.  I thought to myself, “sir, I don’t know who you are, or what you do. But whatever it is you do…keep doing it, because it MATTERS.  What you’re doing is making a difference to someone–as evidenced by those two women–and to me that’s the greatest compliment and legacy of all.”

The Bottom Line:  The people at SXSW Interactive are doing things that matter.

GE #improvscience
GE presented this evening of “Improv Science”–a blend of sketch comedy and science presentations

In Summary: Expand Your Real Estate Perspective at SXSW Interactive

I believe there’s great value in having an absolutely unmatched level of expertise in one’s field. But I also believe there’s great value in having a broader perspective, and seeing the bigger picture of what’s going on in the business world. For me, my goal has always been to have the perfect balance of these two things. In my opinion, this is a key way to make sure we never become obsolete by being so heads-down in our own industries that we don’t see what’s going on around us.

I recommend SXSW Interactive for the real estate entrepreneur. I hope to attend a session, have a beer at an evening event, or sit down over a cup of coffee with you in Austin in the coming years.

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