Earnest Labs at SXSW: Day 1

Welcome to day one of our SXSW digest – a brief overview of what we have learned (and thought about) each day at the annual gathering of thinkers and makers in Austin, Texas.

Please note that these blog posts are essentially ramblings that try to be as coherent as possible and to give you a taste of each day – written during gaps in a hectic schedule.

Shakespeare they are not.

For a more coherent take away, there will be a full round up of SXSW next week.


Getting a handle of it

If you suffer from FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), then SXSW is definitely not the place for you. With well over 40 talks, panel sessions and meet ups on offer every hour of the day (not to mention the plethora of ‘unofficial events’ happening across the city) it is simply impossible to take it all in.

I did, however, give it a good go on day 1. After a night in a motel straight out of a horror movie, I headed to a long queue for badge pick up before diving into the action.

First stop, tractors…


It seems there is no topic that isn’t covered at SXSW. This leaves you with the decision of going along to sessions where you can learn more about your day job, or go slightly off-piste and broaden your horizons.

I started off-piste with ‘Drones, Data and Farming’ – a two hour interactive session about the modernization and future of the farming industry and how tech is being used to solve big (and small) problems.

It’s a fascinating industry – one in which farmers are being pressured, both from their need to make money but also from government pressures to adhere to regulation, to adapt how they farm in a way that makes them more efficient and effective.

The very traditional, manual, slow and ‘tech fearing’ industry is now leading the charge when it comes to innovation (driverless tractors have been ploughing fields long before Google even started PR-ing driverless cars).

But it seems that while farmers are using progressive technology, being able to show the effect on their bottom line is a gap that needs filling (something we gave a stab at with ‘Smart Farm Analytics’).

The workshop looked at all levels of farming and its modernization. Grove, for example, is a start up that wants everyone in the world to build their own ‘micro farms’. Cheesy video, good idea. But there are great solutions out there for the huge US farmers, down to the hundreds of millions of smaller farmers in India, for example.

As a side thought – someone should build an online market place that lets people sell the produce they grow in their garden directly to a consumer. It’s the future. (There will be a lot of these ‘it’s the future’ ideas – sorry)

Conclusion? Farming is exciting and progressive industry marketers should be keeping their eye on it.


@potus coming to town was the showpiece of the event and, despite making me half an hour late to pick up Tacos, gave a great talk.

For Obama, it came back again to technology’s role in problem solving. Obama admitted he wants to solve every problem but when questioned about the huge bloated organization he needs to contend with, conceded that help has to come from the outside.

Obama himself told us that he has a ‘Tech SWAT team’ made up of the best and brightest minds in the industry. This means government can simply be an enabler and let the team work as a nimble, sleek, organization with a start up mindset.

It got me thinking that there is a lesson for business here who, through their own politics and administration, feel restricted by what they can do.

Maybe the thinking needs to change in terms of the partnership between businesses, their agencies and tech partners. Maybe marketing teams need to put more trust into partners (and experimental arms like Earnest Labs) to deliver small, test projects like a start up – helping them grow and learn for the future.

Google Self-driving cars

The talk from Google on their self-driving car project was the talk of the day for me. What you read in the news about this project only shows a very small part of the story and what they are trying to achieve.

Google summed it up best when they said: ‘It’s not about what is the next cool thing, but how we can use it best.’ Again, for them its all about problem solving (you can see a pattern evolving here).

So what’s the problem they are trying to solve?

Well, it’s really a matter of life and death. The number of people killed in car related incidents is the equivalent of five 747 planes falling out of the sky each week. In the same way we wouldn’t accept that happening, we shouldn’t accept and turn a blind eye to how unsafe the roads are.

To see behind the scenes of what they are doing was absolutely incredible. The mapping technology and the AI learning that the self driving cars do (and teach the other cars in the network) is incredible. These cars are now so intelligent that, when one saw a car pulled on the side of the road, it knew the flashing lights meant it was a police car, it knew that the door would probably be open, it knew the actions any vehicle passing by it would do and therefore it knew exactly how to act.

Crazy. This REALLY IS the future.


Quick note on Samsung. There has been a lot of talk that the deluge of marketing is killing SXSW and because there are so many brands, it’s harder than ever to stand out from the noise.

But from what I have seen on Day 1, Samsung is really owning it, purely by playing into FOMO mindset very cleverly. They are offering taxi rides to hotels if you have a Samsung phone and hosted a big party just for Samsung users. It certainly made me want to go out and buy a Curve.

They also have a very cool VR rollercoaster set up in the middle of town, which I skipped because I went on a VR rollercoaster before and was sick. Looks good though.


The twins from the film ‘The Social Network’ who hate Mark Zuckerberg because he stole their idea (Facebook) were in town to talk about Bitcoin.

I am going to be honest – I only went along to the talk to see them and (maybe because it was the end of a long day), I am still not convinced. I think the money we have is OK. Let’s stick with that.


I rounded off the Friday with a panel session in a bar. It was hosted by the guys from ‘Dublin Makes Us’ – and was a discussion into why Dublin is the epicentre for start ups. Apart from the tax breaks it’s pretty clear that Dublin is a thriving city for any tech entrepreneur for a number of reasons, and the things going on over there are very exciting. Again, keep your eyes on Dublin for the next big thing.

And then?

Tacos. Bed.