In 2007, I met Rob May for the first time in person at the first SXSW I ever went to. In 2010, I funded his company, Backupify, which has gone on to raise over $19 million in funding and is set to have their best year of revenue to date. I didn't meet Rob at a big flashy party. We just hung out in a small group of nobodies, having chatted a bit through our respective blogs before.
In fact, as I look through the photos from back then, I realize that I funded two nobodies from that group--the other being Michael Galpert at Super.cc.
In 2008, I went to breakfast with Hilary Mason while I was down there. This picture was just after we got back to the conference center, just hours before the meltdown that would be the Mark Zuckerberg interview. That breakfast would lead to me hiring Hilary to work at my startup, Hilary deciding to stay in NYC fulltime, co-founding hackNY, and just generally being a great community advocate for science and tech in NYC.
Just breakfast. No big party.
Last year, my friend Danielle Gould invited me to a small FoodTechConnect dinner, where I met Stephen Plumlee from R/GA. Stephen is a great guy and a Brooklyn resident. We connected around R/GA's role in the tech community and here I am now, a mentor in the R/GA hardware accelerator.
Over and over again, it's small groups and conversations that I've had down in Austin that seem to have the most lasting impact on my business and career--so as the parties get bigger, and flashier, I find myself retreating to smaller enclaves. The best spend of sponsorship money I've ever seen might be the $50 in balls and chalk that Dennis probably spent building the Foursquare court that beat Gowalla in 2010.
This year, I might not even leave my apartment for maximum ROI.
I'm only half kidding. I'm putting together a small series of dinners where I don't have to worry about reservations and long lines to eat and get rushed out. I've got some local chefs lined up to make some fun and authentic meals and I'm putting the coolest folks I can find around the table. SXSW with all its buzz and hype is just the backdrop to the conversation over good food, and I suppose also the excuse that brought all these people together in one place.
A few sponsors have inquired about participating and I might have a opening for more. The best part is, the cost pales in comparison to the huge blowout ragers that no one will ever remember and no meaningful business will ever get conducted at. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org if you might want to participate.
I can't guarantee you'll sell something, win VC dollars, go viral, etc... but I'm a big believer if you focus in on just a small handful of people at a time, or even just one, and give them your attention, that will pay back dividends over a very long period of time. Sometimes, all it takes to make a friend is to treat them like a person instead of a connection.