Feb 26

20 Years of SXSW Interactive: Success By Passion

2014 marks my 18th SXSW but SXSW Interactive is celebrating its 20th year. Back in October a writer for Fast Company contacted me to tell some stories of past experiences (mainly iPad 2 and the Apple pop up store) over the years for their oral history (excerpt here) they will be presenting. The conversation brought a few wonderful memories of conferences of the past to the surface. Hearing Bruce Sterling speak for the first time. Running into Blake Mycoskie of TOMS Shoes after his keynote. Being inspired by Peter Shankman at a panel. Drinking wine with Gary Vaynerchuk at one of his notorious secret wine parties. Twitter. So many memories. Countless contacts and friendships made along with Tito’s and sodas consumed.

I found a few of the old badges in a box stored in a closet from over the years. Each one reminding me the corresponding year. The peaks and valleys of the Interactive conferences’ monetary success over time was detailed by the name(s) of the sponsors on the lanyard. There was a postcard in the bottom of the box from 1999. Upon reading what it said a smile came across my face along with one of many reasons for the success of SXSW Interactive; Director Hugh Forrest.

Postcard from Hugh Forrest

Hugh loves what he does and it shows in the success of SXSW Interactive. The postcard he had written back in 1999, on the 5th anniversary of Interactive, was a thank you note to me who was a volunteer at the time. “John, Just wanted to thank you again for all your help with this year’s SXSW. Hope you had as much fun working the event as we did. Take care, Hugh Forrest.” His passion for making the event a success is nothing new and taking the time to thank a volunteer showed he cared not just about the event but the people who help put it on. That is one of the many reasons for its success. A passion for the event itself. If you try to give him credit he will shrug it off and tell you it is a group effort. He leads a great team; Shawn O’Keefe, Katie King, Tammy Lynn Gilmore, Kathryn Irwin, and Kelly Krause are just a few that I can name and there are many others, including the countless volunteers. They all have a passion for making the event better each year and that passion is why SXSW Interactive has become a juggernaut in the technology and creative fields.

The people I have met over the years have helped form me and focus my attention into a career in creative/social media. My first exposure to SXSW Interactive as a volunteer blew me away. Could not get enough. Many of the panels then were out of my depth of knowledge, dealing with code and hardware, but the drive and the passion the registrants had was intoxicating. It was a pleasure working as staff in 2003 in the Interactive department. It gave me a nickname and  helped me find a great career with SiteGoals. Seeing the growth over the years as a registrant and host of the official SXSW Newbie Meet Ups made me think of a quote from the Firefly spinoff, Serenity; “Love. You can learn all the math in the ‘Verse, but you take a boat in the air that you don’t love, she’ll shake you off just as sure as the turning of the worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she oughta fall down, tells you she’s hurtin’ ‘fore she keens. Makes her a home.”

Thank you to Hugh Forrest and his team at SXSW Interactive for loving what they do and giving us a home to celebrate our nerdiness and creativity. Thank you for twenty years of learning, inspiration, and excitement. Let’s make 2014 one for the record books. See you all there!


Sweet John Muehlbauer is the Director of Social Media for SiteGoals.



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