In Their First Rodeo, Five Promising Startups At SXSW

Everything's bigger in Texas, and SXSW is no exception. Bigger lines, bigger crowds and bigger budgets. But what about the independent artists and bootstrapped startups that are the essence of the festival’s roots? Can they survive the corporate gentrification of SXSW? The answer is yes, you just have to know where to find them. I spent SXSW going to taco tech meet-ups, barbecues and accelerator events in the startup village searching for the next wave of emerging media opportunities. Here are the 5 startups that advertisers might have missed while they were being wooed at Salt Lick, waiting on line for mega-brand demos or partying into the night with Willie Nelson.


This membership cocktail app seemed to be in every nook and cranny of SXSW, promoting their launch to the Austin market. Members get one drink a day at hundreds of venues for $9.99 per month (less than the price of one cocktail in most cities). It is currently live in NY, LA, Miami, Dallas, and now Austin (with amazing expansion cities coming in a matter of weeks). This app is a no-brainer if you like to try new bars and restaurants, and the advertising opportunities run the gamut from obvious endemic liquor/retail applications to more integrated plays for urban adults with discretionary income.  




You text. Ditty sings your text as your favorite song and then overlays images and videos over your singing text to essentially make your message into a hit video. I texted: “It’s so crowded but this BBQ is delicious.” and set it to The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face.” It translated my words seamlessly into the song and set video images that were hilarious around crowds, BBQ and deliciousness. I was able to share it instantly across my social channels. As a brand, you could use your iconic jingle or imagery and allow fans of your brands to interact in unique ways. For instance, every time someone said “Taco,” an image or offer from Taco Bell could be shown within the music video.  


RECESS Music + Ideas Festival is a bit like SXSW -- interactive business by day and music and parties by night -- except it takes place on college campuses across the nation. Their March Madness competition for college start-ups has a rabid following with finalist companies already having collectively raised over $10 million in funding. They have also been able to spot musical up-and-comers for their tour from Calvin Harris to Chain Smokers. At SXSW this year, we found out that they will be launching an online destination for the 18-25 year olds that flock to their events (powered by a soon-to-be announced major media partner). Think of it as Fast Company for the under-25 crowd that will cover entrepreneurship, personal growth, music and alternative micro-learning initiatives via video, articles and Millennial influencers. More than a content site, it aims to be a voice for the movement of young people intent on making a difference and blazing their own path.


I fell in love with Dynamite’s video face masks and audio filters which allow you to craft uniquely personal stories and seamlessly share them across social channels. I recorded a video message as Amy Schumer, then Nic Cage with Cecil the Lion (think about the masks that brands or movie studios could supply). In its simplest form, Dynamite is a video version of a bitmoji and is equally addictive. You can mask yourself with athletes (Peyton Manning face anyone?) to super heroes to custom masks you create as well as utilize multiple masks per video.


Remember when no one knew about Twitch or eSports? Well, let me introduce you to Mobcrush. Mobcrush is a mobile game-streaming platform that enables anyone with a mobile device to start streaming live game play to a vibrant community of gamers, influencers and developers with just a tap. Think eSports for mobile gaming, and how many gamers do you think have mobile phones?? Mobcrush is currently in open beta, with a full launch coming soon to Android, iOS, Web, Mac and PC.

SXSW is now dominated by appearances of the POTUS, huge-name acts in entertainment and mega brands, but on the fringe of the corporate noise you will find that the spirit of innovation and independent thinking is still driving the festival. The mantra down here is to “Keep Austin Weird” and as you can tell from the above, “weird” just means unique and interesting. Something that all advertisers want to be in their consumer’s minds.

This column was previously published in Media Daily News on March 15, 2016.

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