Earnest Labs at SXSW: Day 2

Day two in Texas for SXSW and things are heating up (it genuinely is really hot).

Here is a brief overview of what caught my attention on Saturday.

Another reminder, these blog posts are mere ramblings of a racing mind – for a more coherent take away, there will be a full round up of SXSW next week. Any typos can be tweeted to @earnestlabs using #TYPO!

So what went on?

The mobile uprising

Urban Airship, the front runners in mobile push notification and in-app messaging technology, hosted ‘Mobile Saturday’ which kicked off with a panel discussion about the future of apps.

The panel, including the CEO of eventbase who made the SXSW official app (good IMHO), shared their apps to keep an eye on.

For me, the top three must downloads are:

‘Like so’ – You can use this app to record a talk or presentation you are giving and it will tell you how many times you say ‘like’, ‘so’ and other words you use when your palms are getting sweaty. The app coaches you how to cut them out and tracks your progress. So, like, cool.

Hound – There was a lot of discussion around voice recognition apps (like Siri) that actually are not that good at voice recognition. But Hound seems to be leading the charge in the space. Ask Hound anything with you voice and it will find it for you straight away.

Flightcar – This is one of the best ideas I have heard for a while. It tackles two problems at once – 1. Parking at the airport is very expensive. 2. Renting a car is very expensive. Answer? Flightcar lets you rent out your car from the airport while you are away, so instead of paying to park it gets used by another holiday maker and you make money. Wonderful.

The panel also tackled the much-debated question of whether apps are ‘dead’? Well, no. Obviously apps are not dead. But they do need to become much more clever and not be afraid of being temporal.

Here’s a good example: no one wants a museum app on their phone the whole time, do they? – BUT, with better use of location based push messaging users could be encouraged to download an app while they are on location and as they leave be asked if they want it to be deleted. Much better experience for everyone.

Finally VR got some airtime – and the general sense (in fact one of the big themes of the whole event) is that VR is going to have a huge impact on everything we do. At the medical technology exhibition that I popped into after this talk, for example, VR was being used in everyway you could think of – from being able to take a trip through your own body and give yourself a health check through to meditating on a virtual beach from your armchair.

The only problem? The hardware has a long way to go from looking ‘like a toaster mating with your forehead’.

When agencies turn into venture capitalists

One of the most interesting talks of the event so far saw Christopher Roan, Business Development Director of Mother in New York, join a panel to talk about how many agencies are evolving (or at least creating separate arms) to invest into start ups.

It’s pretty clear that agencies are a hot bed of innovative and interesting ideas – but the trick to how you make them into a reality and a fruitful business is a difficult one.

The same goes for working with start ups – while their products can be exciting to work on, they simply don’t have the budgets (or structure) that most agencies like to work with.

The premise of this talk, then, was to look at how agencies could invest – both time and money – into start ups (whether home grown or external) to help make them thrive – offering money but most importantly their expertise to help grow them in return for equity.

While it might sound risky, even completely off the agenda for current agency models, you have to see that financial return is not top of the list. The key thing agencies get out of it is brand association, the chance to tackle a problem in a completely different way and most importantly a new tool in your shed that can help your biggest clients.

But the key to success is that it has to work for everyone in the agency – from the board who are investing the money to the planners, creatives and account managers who are giving their precious time and brainpower.

It’s certainly an interesting business model and one that could be the future of start up/agency partnerships.

Get ready for criticism

If you haven’t watched a Brene Brown TED talk then go and do that right now.

Brene earned herself a standing ovation with her talk on vulnerability and the risk of failure.

Put simply Brene says that if you want to do anything great or if you want to do something truly creative then you have to put yourself out there. And that means that you are going to get criticized for it.

The question for entrepreneurs, and interestingly people within big, slow business is this: ‘is the stuff I am doing worth getting hurt over?’

I think this is one of the reasons bigger, more traditional businesses are not being as disruptive, creative or daring as they need to be to survive because ultimately many marketers feel it’s not worth getting hurt over. Why would it be? It’s much easier to play the safe card.

After all, ‘we are emotional beings who occasionally think’.

Deloitte digital art

Slightly off the beaten track but the Deloitte digital lounge was showcasing digital creativity through various art forms on the main SXSW Street.

Highlight for me was musician Robert Delong who played the Wii and N64 control.


Ireland owning the show

I talked yesterday about Samsung owning the ‘stand out from the crowd’ award on day 1, but if Saturday was owned by a brand it would be ‘Ireland’.

They have been throwing all they have at the event – topped with a spectacular street parade in the evening.

In terms of a brand it seems strange, but if you want to position yourself at the heart of innovation and creativity – here is the place to do it.

Final thoughts

I had a really good talk with someone about shipping and all the exciting things that are going on in the world of shipping. It is going to lead to the first of a series of innovation in… coming from Labs soon, so watch this space.

Finally, an idea for Tesco to own online shopping again. There has been a lot of talk about how businesses need to give their audience things in a way they want. So think about gamers sitting in their room playing computer games (looking at you here George Sanders).

Imagine if a shop, like Tesco, could let them access a virtual shop from their console where the shopping was done in the style of a game. Food bought, back to the shoot ‘em ups.

I think it’s a good idea anyway.