HLabs & Atlas Obscura attend SXSW 2024: Insights here

Recap on the daily updates and insights from this year's biggest creative festival in Austin, Texas at SXSW. Han, HLabs Founder & CEO, shares her favourite discoveries and start-ups to watch!
21st March 2024
9 min read
Han Springett, Founder & CEO of HLabs
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40 new contacts, 10 brand activations, 9 live bands, 6 panel discussions, 2 comedy shows and 1 lost bank card... What a trip!

HLabs attended SXSW this year on invitation from our amazing clients at Atlas Obscura. It was an amazing week and sharing the experience with Rachel and Sara exploring the branded houses was a real treat! Take a read through the highlights from this awesome trip and meet the other amazing talent I met along the way.

Innovators, Incubators & Investors

To set the stage, I've never been to SXSW before. I hadn't comprehended how big the festival would be or quite how many opportunities to network are set up!

From night one, sitting at the hotel bar, listening to the British Music stage I launched into my first interaction with fellow badge members... Two minutes in and I'm learning about Weather Stream, an analytical system sent to space that provides rapid weather processing and distribution in real-time founded by Michael Hurowitz.

Other innovators challenging the research space were the team atDRC Ventures, offering product demos in person with patented scientist & humanitarian, Dr Christina Rahm. We chatted about the ever-growing needs for 3D product assets, AI chatbots and virtual demos, and all vibrantly explained over an Aperol Spritz at the Inc. Founders house.

Check out the other Inc Founders House speakers here

The Inc. activation was by far my favourite! Pam, in energy marketing, offered me a seat and we soon got to discussing projects like Dolphyn Hydrogen that we at HLabs have worked to brand and advertise. This table was a hot seat for talent and we were soon joined by Erock, investor, and startup mentor and then by Katja Ratamäki discussing her new AI recipe generator.

The networking continued into the night, meeting Omer Rozener at a high-top bar where I was dining alone and found a fellow London-based business owner sharing his investment journey through Dragon's Den and almost working with Simon Bartlett! Hello Klean is definitely a brand to watch and I look forward to catching up on home turf.

The running theme was how everyone was SO friendly! It spurred me on to start the week of discussion panels and brand activations!

Good Content. Great Experiences.

With over 450 presentations and discussions I could attend I was a little overwhelmed with which ones to choose. I started by filtering the storytelling and immersive talks and wasn't disappointed.

First up was visiting my clients at Conde Nast to hear 'Unleash the power of storytelling: Lessons in creating culture'. Jessica, Editor & Chief of Allure shared points of view on how testing products herself, finding models and editors that broaden representation and partnering with ethical brands are all ways in which Allure 'Keep it real' and build 'trust' with the audience. They are building a 'foundation of credibility'. They backed HLabs’ view that content should be a dialogue and not just analogue.

Interactive content should do just that, allowing a two-way conversation. Check out our highest performing widget for Allure x Two Faced here which we designed to allow users to pick their skin colour and a shade they might like before purchase all wrapped up with great editorial storytelling.

Beyond storytelling, I wanted to find out more about elevating digital experiences so I caught up with Fri Forjindam and Nick Moran in 'Immersive Experts Unleashed, Building Successful Experiences'. They shared how digital additions should be invisible with user experience as a priority. Their passion made me want to sign up for Phantom Peak's London experiences!

Kim Adams joined by Mewtwo on stage at SXSW

This was followed by catching up with another digital experience expert, Kim Adams at Niantic. She shared insights on Pokemon Go App's main focus on how they've extended their vision of 'adventure and play' with user-generated content, recording your personal routes around your neighbourhoods and sharing with others. I'm such an avid Pokemon Go fan I thought my buddy MewTwo wanted to get involved so I let them get on stage... isn't AR just great?!

The rise (and rise) of content creation

Combined following of over 5 million; enter the social influencers of SXSW2024 and presenters of 'How short form can 10x your startup'.

@Johnefinance 1.3m followers, @Pricelessstay: 1.1m followers, @JennyHoyoslol: 2m followers, @JCRodriguez: 560k followers

These four influencers all started making videos on their phones, with no formal editing training, from their bedrooms and cars. It was a really refreshing class with transferable skills and takeaway tips:

  • Stay authentic
  • Bots will destroy your account!
  • Use content banks if you don't have footage
  • Buzzlytics for tracking what's working
  • Optimise user generated content
  • Test, test and test some more!

Tech For Good

I met people at SXSW who genuinely moved me. From Zendesk's 'Tech for Good' networking activation to leading activists sharing their thoughts on non-profit collaborations; I came away totally empowered to lead HLabs to make more of a difference in our own sphere of influence.

The most moving panel I watched was 'Can Scrolling Save Us: Creators Driving Change' hosted by Tracy Sturdiyant, CEO of The League, with guests Michelle Hope, Director of Social Impact & Strategic Communications and Evelyn of the Internets, Comedian and activist.

The discussion covered why 'truth telling' should be the new storytelling and encouraged the audience to take small steps to support causes they believe in; liking posts, signing petitions and always fact-checking with the causes you are talking about.

For larger brands looking to partner with non-profits, it's important to be authentic and believable. Many brands are often participating 'just to fill diversity quotas' and don't resonate enough to make a difference. At HLabs, we take these partnerships seriously, check this WWF x Aviva digital story we've strived to have WWF's voice.

The final 'Tech for Good' story to mention was hearing Monica Arés,Executive Director at IDEA Lab. Her pioneering work in building new tools with XR and AI technology has made strides in fostering lifelong learning, curiosity and the quest for innovation to increase access to education and transform the way we learn. Something I definitely want to try at HLabs too!

Was it worth it? Definitely.

I set off to SXSW with a lead gen target on my head but came home with so much more.

The people I met mean I’ll have lasting friendships and better working relationships with my current clients and the new ones I made! A few final shoutouts go to Claire Daniels and Caitlin Farrell for keeping my evenings socialising as busy as the daytime. It was good to catch up on the day's inspiration over a vino!

At HLabs, we do our best to Create Stories That Matter for our clients. It was great to hear from so many influencers and creatives who are trying to give back. The next step for me off the back of this trip is turning my own beliefs into action with my team. I am already working with Michelle Hope to see how to push our Vision Report further.

Where do you find digital inspiration?

If you want to hear more trends and innovations discovered at SXSW or talk to one of our digital experts, we'd love to help you with your next interactive project!