In one of the many queues of our first day at SXSW, we got talking with an affable Norwegian journalist on his 17th tour. The obvious question, "How does it compare to the last 16?" The blunt answer, "It's big. Maybe too big."
We're a little less veteran, but we got his point. What hits you as hard as all the amazing things you see, is all the amazing things you don't. For every session you make, there's ten you can't. For every serendipitous queue conversation you have, there's twenty people around you doing the same thing (and somehow, theirs sound way more exciting). With 30,000+ attendees across 800 events and growing, SXSW should consider changing its name to FOMO.
It's an environment that makes it impossible to give a macro trend analysis from the ground. Nevertheless, we heard from a number of incredibly driven and talented players in the startup community. The following three are those that best cut through the noise, broke the established rules, and are taking the biggest steps in moving our world forwards.
Unlikely as it seems, the most exciting idea of the day was all about pensions. Honest Dollar is all about bringing transparency and control to the money we all need to save for retirement. With an ageing global population and a distinct lack of innovation from the big financial players, its potential is massive - both in terms of scale and also the opportunities it offers for a huge and hugely-underserved demographic. Whurley (Will Hurley), CEO and founder, gave a brilliant pitch to an enthralled audience and was the deserved recipient of the ReleaseIt winner's trophy. (He's also an super smart and nice guy.)
KWAD is a business based on a simple insight - social networks are great at keeping us in digital touch with our existing friends, but they're rubbish at introducing us to new people in the real world. Whats bumpin, the first of a suite of apps KWAD is developing, solves these problems by letting college students connect with their peers (whether they know them or not) in the real world. Founder and CEO, Chris Harmon, was inspired by his own daughter's experiences at college and his vision extends well beyond the campus into all walks of life. It's a brilliant example of using technology to bring people together in more human and meaningful ways.
KITE Solutions is a platform that connects established brands with startups. It's an ingenious arrangement - big businesses need fresh ideas and committed talent to make them happen; startups need financial support and a large customer base. We had a great conversation with Manas Mudbari, a startup analyst, who has the enviable job of hunting around for the next big thing. Though not exactly a start-up, KITE is a company that really makes sense of an event like SXSW - a quality curator for an increasingly crowded market, a source of inspiration for established brands in a rapidly changing world.