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How to Get the Most Out of SXSW as a Founder

May 25, 2023
Written by Katie Gregory


South by Southwest is an opportunity to engage with the global startup ecosystem.

Every year Austin’s most popular festival serves as a chance to meet and connect with founders, learn about industry trends, and share our point of view with a new (and often global) audience.  

As a Houston based company, the proximity to Austin is a benefit, and a vibe we completely understand. SXSW is not one of those conferences, or events you go in with an agenda; serendipity, and uncovering opportunities by speaking with unlikely people is part of the experience. 

This idea resonates with us, as we are not transactional in how we build relationships. 

As such, speaking on a panel at Funded House as the festival kicked off, gave the Golden Section team an opportunity to share our POV, while engaging with an audience of entrepreneurs and ecosystem partners. 

Speaking at SXSW 2023 

Although SXSW has been established for quite some time, it remains crucial for investors to participate due to the festival’s ability to provide an environment where they can quickly connect with numerous like-minded professionals. Meaning, you can meet founders, corporates, and other investors in a casual setting. During the year, everyone is usually heads down with work, but during those few days in Austin, people are open to meeting and connecting. 

The benefits of speaking on a panel at SXSW from our perspective was the exposure to a new audience. The panel topic was that not all venture dollars are created equal, and featured different focuses and expertise shared by Kay Sheils Kingsbury, the CFO at Apptronik, and Christy Cardenas, Managing Partner of Grit Ventures.  

Our unique perspective is to focus on capital efficiency and set expectations regarding valuation, which offers more options for a founder when the time comes to exit. 

For the entrepreneurs in the audience, we discussed how they should view their capital-raising plan. Choosing your strategy intentionally, whether that be full equity, full debt, and how to structure that can be challenging. 

A topic of focus was on the benefits of venture debt, and in what scenarios it was appropriate. As an example, Will McCallum who leads  our Lending team spoke about non-dilutive funding strategies, when it is strategic, and the potential risks. 

The most encouraging part of speaking was the posture of the other panelists, as there is often conflicting information presented on panels. It was great to see all of us affirm each other, and lift each other up. It was a positive experience in that we were able to speak freely on how Golden Section does things, as it’s different from most VCs. Investors need to set an example of how to lift each other up, as we’re on the same team. 

Ultimately, we’re trying to propel innovation, and to demonstrate to the audience that this can be a collaborative approach, and one that can be gracefully navigated. 

The main takeaway 

The main takeaway from the panel, which is relevant for founders, is that you need to be aligned with your investors, and not treat them as bookends. 

It is here where Golden Section aligns with our founders. VCs are seen as checkwriters, who only care about financials, but our priority is to be involved on the startup’s journey as a true partner to the founder

When there is any sort of success, we all benefit from it. When there are challenges, we lock arms, and help the founder get through the valley. The founder is driving the car, and we act as an entertaining and concerned passenger along the way, but that allows us to notice things they may not on the journey. This SXSW was dominated by the rapid collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, and the fear of what would happen next, as the festival took place from that Friday and into the weekend. 

Though there was an atmosphere of uncertainty, all the attendees tried to make the best of the situation. 

What do founders need to know about SXSW? 

Getting the most out of SXSW as a founder, is to be open minded… and not keep a full calendar. This includes private dinners and happy hours, and the random meeting with a VC that you encounter. Oftentimes, as a heads down founder, the default is to say “no” to most things, and in SXSW’s case the default should be to say “yes”. And be intentional when you meet new people, and embrace interactions which may not have happened in another setting. 

At the festival, you may have nothing in common with these people, and some of these conversations can open a door for fast growth. There is no one right way to do anything, but meeting new people, who are often out of your network, is a way to come across new opportunities. 

There is the randomness of who you’re seated next to, or chatting with at a reception. Founders who operate well in ambiguity, often know they’re going to fail miserably or succeed. The ability to hustle, and get out of one’s comfort zone at SXSW is key. 

That is why it’s important to keep an open mind. You get what you put in, if you don’t put yourself out there, don’t expect a lot of follow-ups. But if you do, you can generate lifelong relationships and significant opportunities at SXSW which will propel your startup’s growth.   

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