With the absence of breakout startups emerging from South by Southwest since Foursquare in 2009, many are wondering whether SxSW has become simply a spring break for the tech set.
For instance, SocialTimes received this pitch:
“Is South by Southwest the new Spring Break for musicians, filmmakers and techies? If so, the most important mobile technology for SXSW isn’t a festival guide or a new text/photo app, it’s a free service that empowers you to easily obtain and privately share you verified STD status using your phone.”
Set aside for a moment that festivals attendees are disproportionately straight men, and this app might be onto something.
Startup visionary Steve Blank gave a presentation yesterday arguing that Silicon Valley had “gone Hollywood.” It has ceased to be an industry made up purely of hard workers.
With a star ecosystem, he said, the industry had acquired hangers-on, poseurs and even fad investing. Products, too, move in herds, he said.
Like actors, tech CEOs like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg become a brand.
And then there’s the gossip press. Blank pointed a finger at TechCrunch and Pando Daily, but the Hollywood gossip press has also turned out this year for SxSW. GQ, Vanity Fair, Time Out New York, The Village Voice, Out, Vogue, Teen Vogue, Entertainment Weekly, Gawker have all sent representatives.
Among participants, software and hardware developers and venture capitalists make up just about 10 percent, making it statistically challenging for an emerging entrepreneur or product meet Elon Musk or Steve Blank. Advertisers far outnumber those building the platforms that host advertising.
There’s money in technology now, which gives its scions celebrity status. The question for SxSW is whether when the current boom dies down, will go back to being a place where products launch and connections happen? And, if not, will tech stars continue to show up?