SxSW Field Report, Day 2: Keensplosion!

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Miracle of miracles, I actually don’t feel too much like heated-up garbage this morning. I do think, though, that I am starting to look it. A week plus of hard living in both Austin and NOLA, subsisting mostly on grapefruit-flavored ethanol and fried everything, has definitely taken its toll, leaving me haggard and beaten and bloated. This is not to complain — these wounds were completely self-inflicted, and certainly fun along the way — but let this serve as a reminder that, when I get back to SF, I am doing nothing but long-distance runs and eating small piles of arugula.



See, it’s funny ’cause we are all wearing cat shirts.

We Keenies have a lot of varied and excellent qualities, but “timely exits” is not one of them. Admittedly, it doesn’t help that our AirBnb has only the one shower and there are, like, 10 of us jammed in here, but still. It took us from like 10–2:30 just to get out the door. We are a slow-rolling boulder. But oh man! Once we get momentum!


I can’t speak for how today is going to shake out, but yesterday felt like our banner day at Sx, the day we all kind of subconsciously agreed to go out in full force and rock the hearts and minds of America. We all suited up in our cat tees and Keen capes and then marched on Austin en masse, and woe to any fools who got in our way.

(OK, in reality, we were more like a bunch of nerds going to hang out with a bunch of other nerds and scam free drinks, but, like, perception is mostly about attitude or something.)

A day like this is kind of difficult to describe interestingly, I feel like. It’d be a little repetitive in the telling. Mostly we just bounced around from party to meetup to bar to whatever, chatting with people as we went, splintering off from each other and then joyously regrouping over and over again. It’s weird and fluid and all kind of blends together in my head (although some of that is certainly due to the free wine), but here is my overall impression:

SXSW is like one long, weird drawn-out ambling block party. In some ways, it feels a bit like a music festival, with only a little less music, a good deal more geekiness, and pretty much the exact same level of branding and posturing and see-and-be-seenness. If you’re not careful, you can start to have the same sort of rote conversations over and over, which reminded me a bit of college (”So, what’s your major?” == “What’s your company do again?”), but you also meet some truly fun and weird and interesting people along the way.

On my own little journey, I went to some great stuff hosted by our buds from SendGrid and TechStars Austin, and Crystal Rose’s talk at Ignite was amazing (more on that in a bit), and I definitely smoked under a bridge like a troll, and I think Jo Beyersdorfer from LA Startup Week and I are now, like, best friends for life, and I rodeo-rode these amazing little wobble chairs, which we are GETTING for our new office, no arguments, sorry. And Tim Falls definitely got pulled aside for having such an amazing man bun, and Philippe and Hidi showed up out of nowhere, and I met our amazing new Austin-based evangelist, Taylor, and I learned what Night Mode is, courtesy of Kerry Snyder (it is popping one’s sunglasses lenses out, so they are like regular glasses??), and I talked with lots and lots of people about lord only knows what, and I heard a hilarious cover of Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash Into Me,” and I had some pretty solid shrimp tacos, and it was all great and fun and exhausting, and I can’t possibly imagine doing it all over again today, but I guess we’ll see.


Oh — one thing I forgot to mention when aggrandizing Austin yesterday — the constant, comforting presence of Lone Star Beer, my absolute favorite beer in the world. Not only does it mostly taste like a glass of water (my ideal attribute in a beer, honestly, as I think real beer tastes like gross ham sandwiches), it also looks like a fake generic brand from a TV show, it’s called “The National Beer of Texas,” which just shows all kinds of awareness, and every bottle cap has a little rebus picture puzzle to solve.


Again, I am less fond of them this morning perhaps, but on the whole, consider yourself whole-heartedly endorsed, Lone Star.


The first person to reply to me with the answer to the above rebus gets a Keen cat shirt (once we make more of them)!


I am generally not that clumsy of a person, but like an hour into the day, of course I immediately spilled red wine all over my brand-new Keen cat shirt, and therefore looked like a complete sloppy lush for the rest of the day. And maybe I was a sloppy lush, but let’s let people find that out through conversation, damn it! Now people all be judgin’ a book by its damn cover and whatnot.


Shot through the heart, and you’re to blame!

Of course, Justin and Alexa also got huge, gross stains on their Keen gear over the course of the day, too, so maybe the lesson here is, don’t order white t-shirts for this sort of thing.


There are lots of promotional gimmicks swirling around you as you walk the streets of Sx — so much so that you start to get desensitized to them — but not the CSI: CYBER party van. No way, not that.


I keep thinking CSI: CYBER must be a long con gag from SNL or something. That name, the whole premise, the presence of James Van Der Beek, everything. Like, just read these character descriptions and tell me this doesn’t sound like the silliest thing ever:


OK, listen. I get how this must have seemed like a good idea on paper — tech-based show, huge interactive conference — but, like, know your audience and stuff. The people here know so much about how all this stuff actually works, and then they are going to watch your show, which is going to be ridiculous and full of holes and errors, so best case scenario, you have now actively courted an audience of people to mock you.

That said, I honestly kind of want to write CSI: CYBER erotic fan fiction, so keep an eye out for that.


As I said above, Crystal Rose gave an amazing talk at Ignite about the power of talking to strangers as an introduction to her badass new app, Sensay, where strangers help each other out by answering questions and sharing our collective knowledge. The talk really resonated with me and the other Keenies in attendance, I think, because talking to strangers is kind of our whole thing — our not-so-secret strategy for friendship and connection and growth and success. And it’s been wonderful to really see it here in action at Sx, and to also be involved with it myself, in some small way.

Brands are weird, magical, amorphous, fragile little baby animals, and it can be absolutely bewildering figuring out how to grow and foster them the right way. Walking around Sx, you see so many companies trying so many different ways to get your attention for just a second, to get you to remember their name or what they do, or to slightly nudge your opinion of them in a positive direction. They spend all this money and time and energy to throw parties or put together little gimmicks or give you free schwag, and then all they can do is hope it works, because it’s not always an easy thing to measure.

What’s magical about talking to strangers is that, yeah, it tends to do huge, amazing things for your brand, but that’s almost besides the point. We talk to people because we like talking to people, because people are fun and weird and interesting and have done things and know things that we don’t, and it’s great to learn new shit. It’s cool to learn what people are working on, and what excites them, and what quirks and kinks make them who they are.

And if talking to those people is something you actually enjoy, it doesn’t feel like work, and it doesn’t have that sense of desperation or trying too hard that you can sometimes sense when someone is leaning on you to hit some sort of quota or agenda. Authenticity isn’t just more honest and more fun, it’s also downright easier, and success is easy to measure, because all we’re looking for are new friends, new stories, and cool new things to know about.

Basically, we’re just a bunch of people talking to a bunch of other people, and if you happen to think we’re fun or friendly, that’s awesome! And if that makes you think a little more highly of Keen, or slightly more disposed to want to hang out with us or work with us or remember us or tell a friend about us, that’s cool, too. But, like, whatever. I mostly just want to yell with you some more about Third Eye Blind, because they are a funny, silly band, and I have a lot of thoughts about them.


This is Jay, and he and I Bonded.


That said, while I believe in the power of talking to strangers, I’m still not all that great at it. Such is the nature of social anxiety. More people still come up to me than I come up to them, and ask more questions than I ask them, and it’s not because I don’t care, because god, I love new people and stories and friends and adventures, but it’s hard, because I am legitimately full-on crazy.

Approaching a stranger is still the most terrifying thing in the world to me, and worse still because they’re always kind of vague, nameless fears about bothering people. Like, is someone really going to start yelling at me or cussing me out just because I came up and said hello? NO, DUMMY. People are so, so nice, and they appreciate the effort, and virtually every time I’ve made myself go and talk to someone, it’s been amazing and not-scary and I’ve been so glad I did it. But it still feels like ripping off a Band-Aid, every single time.

Here at Sx, I’m sure a lot of that comes back to our old, stupid friend imposter syndrome. I’m smart and stuff, but I’m not smart at the same things a lot of the people here are smart about, and I don’t want to make myself or Keen look bad by coming off like a dummy, so I get nervous and clam up.

But again, like I said above, it’s mostly just about being a fun, friendly person. At Keen, every single one of us takes turns doing shifts answering support questions, and it. is. terrifying. Developers are writing in with these complex, important questions, and their whole lives are rooted in this stuff, and I am just some nitwit who generally spends most of his time photoshopping cat pictures, and I am supposed to help them?! Gahhh.

BUT, if I am sympathetic and empathetic and friendly and helpful and human, I am still helping nudge the needle in a positive direction. Behind the scenes, I might be flailing about like a decapitated chicken, trying to get them some actual answers, but every little bit helps.

And the same thing is true with talking to people here. It still feels like I know all-too-little, but I can be kind and human and point you in the right direction. And that’s enough sometimes to make a difference sometimes.

(Sorry if I am a little more rambly and philosophical than in previous manic field reports. Consider this a sort of existential hangover.)


OR: 6 drinks in, I believe I am the funniest human alive.

OR: 6 drinks in, everyone else is 6 drinks in, too, so they now believe I am the funniest human alive.

But I like to think it’s the first one.


End of story, just wanted to brag.



I write on the stairs, because the less comfortable I am, the faster I write.


At 2 am, the bars empty out, and 6th Street is suddenly, instantly flooded with wild packs of insane, drunk humans. Like, flooded. I’ve never really seen anything like it. The streets are just full to brimming, and there is energy, but it’s not always good energy, and lots of people seem kind of pent-up and angry, and Eric and Alexa saw two separate pairs of women get into terrifying, hair-pulling fights, and I was personally groped at least 3 times, and it was weird and a little scary, and I am glad I saw it, but maybe do not necessarily need to see it again.

The police come out on horses, whole lines of them, to try and clear the streets out, and, as horses are wont to do, they sometimes takes huge, massive, endless dumps in the street. And, as drunk humans are also wont to do, sometimes they don’t notice said dumps and stomp all up on them. And then, if you’re very lucky, there will be a guy there who goes completely buck wild whenever somebody does step in the horse shit and starts doing crazy taunt dances while crying, “YOU JUST GOT SHITFOOT, MAN!”

Far be it from me to laugh at the misfortunes of others, but if there was a hidden camera reality show based around the above premise, I solemnly believe it would be the most popular program in America. Also, I think we found our latest dumb inside joke at Keen. #shitfoot

All right, that’s it and that’s all. No idea where the day is going to take us — ideally, to a nice pillow-filled room with hugs and naps — but I hope to see you out there.


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