SXSW: The Slugfest that Wasn’t (And that’s OKAY)

SXSW: The Slugfest that Wasn’t (And that’s OKAY)

We just returned from our first foray to SXSW in Austin, and we are still airborne. That is, we’re still flying high over the positive energy from our audience – smart, optimistic, and engaged, filled the kind of stuff that makes you very excited about business. If the people in our audience of 3000-plus are the entrepreneurs and leaders of today and tomorrow, well, hallelujah.

Our SXSW session with Internet investor and author Gary Vaynerchuk, “The Brawl in the Hall: What it Really Takes to Win at Business,” was billed as a kind of old-versus-new slugfest. But in reality, and somewhat to our surprise, it quickly turned into more of an “I’m totally with you on that” kind of session, with only a few areas of divergence.

More on those soon.

First, the four topics from SXSW on which there was substantial agreement:

  • People are everything when it comes to building a great organization. Doesn’t make a bit of difference if a company is a 100-year-old industrial behemoth or a tiny start-up in the tech space. Good, smart, self-aware, hungry, authentic, passionate people are the fuel in the tank of success. And, guess what too? We even agreed every company needs a top-notch HR function to find, develop, and retain them.
  • Just wanting to be an entrepreneur won’t get you very far. You need a value proposition that fills or creates a need, and you need to be able to execute. Everything else is just yearning and fluff.


  • Work-life balance cannot (and should not) be regulated by the government or organizations, or both. How much time you spend at work and how much you don’t are choices, which individuals should own, along with their personal and professional consequences.
  • Twitter is feeling old and tired and needs an upgrade of some kind. Facebook feels like the establishment, but it’s a remarkable success story at that. Uber is impressive and should go public already. And Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is flat-out awesome.

As for where we parted ways:

  • We love Texas; no other state compares when it comes to creating an environment for businesses to thrive. As for Gary – let’s just say, his company, Wine Library, had dealings with Texas that left him…unenthused.


  • We admitted to having, along the way in life, real and momentous feelings of fear. Fear, for instance, of letting down employees with a stock price decrease. Fear (and paranoia) over competitors crushing us with a surprise move. Gary came from another place entirely. “In business,” he said, “I’ve never been scared.”
  • Finally, during a conversation about the speed of change these days, we mentioned the shocking impact of the dropping price of oil, and how much that mattered – or should matter – to everyone. Gary countered that, in his view, such macroeconomic events actually didn’t matter because of how fast things change. Perhaps on this one, we’re both right.

Regardless of whether we were agreeing or disagreeing, our visit to SXSW was a win. The conversation on stage was exciting, but with their great questions and zest for the future, it was our audience that took the show.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn

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