Going #Badgeless at SXSW

by Tim Henningsen on November 7, 2012

March will be here before you know it and that means “South by” time in Austin. And if you’re like me and haven’t bought your badge yet for SXSW Interactive, you may want to keep it that way. I recently saw a Tweet that got me thinking about the idea of going badgeless. There’s a bit of a badgeless movement going on lately, even a Facebook page devoted to it. It’s clearly a stated alternative, not a knock against the organizers of the conference.

What the good folks in Austin have created is an outstanding five-day touchable box for tech entrepreneurs. It’s a great investment if it fits your budget. You might even consider stretching it a bit just to get down there if the money is tight. If you’re a startup it’s a great place to smoke test ideas, maybe get a little pivoty and enhance your network of contacts. If you’re working at a young or established company it’s a blip on the budget radar considering the knowledge you can gather in a very short time and bring back to your team. Buy the badge, take the ride.

Or, you could journey to the land of Austinpreneurs and skip the badge. Here are a few conference hacks to consider if you are still planning to make the trip but are still on the fence about the badge.

Dollars and sense.

$695-1150 (depending on when you buy) is not chump change for most entrepreneurs. If you’ve never been before, go ahead and budget for it. But it could be costing you MORE to buy the badge. When you hold a conference badge, you often feel compelled to get value out of the price of admission. Human nature. Maybe you’re just needing a good write-off. Still…

You’ll likely be tied up in lines half the conference, waiting to get into stuff that you will probably never get into. All these sessions — the conference has reduced the number to 450 this year — can really be a time sink. The reality is you will not see even a quarter of what you planned to see. So, consider the opportunity cost of buying a badge vs. having more time to socialize, relax creatively, and be productive.

Proximity = Creative Collision

If you get to Austin, then you’re already in the middle of the action. Creative collision will ensue. How much closer do you need to be? You’ll get access to the main halls of the Austin Convention Center and most of the other venues for free. There’s also the different lobbies at the Hilton. I learned more in those lobbies, and met more interesting people, than I did in the sessions there.

So, go grab some tacos over lunch with your team or your new friends. It’s likely some of them will have badges and be able to catch you up on the day’s events. Get a good table off 6th street for early happy hour and host your own session there. Hold office hours at a downtown cafe or on the UT campus. I’ve personally had good luck at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center, also a conference venue. Ride the free shuttles between the venues.


If we’ve learned anything this year it’s that you really can just “turn on” Twitter and watch it all hashup before your eyes. There will be live streaming of events. Much of the content you will have already seen or heard at another conference or on a blog. It’s true. There’s always a rich and diverse batch of presenters and content programming at the conference. It’s up to you to decide if you’re in it for the live version, or getting the content later and skipping all the session anxiety.

Quick story. There was a conference in my hometown recently and I decided not to badge-up. Instead, I set up shop a few blocks away at a coffee shop and streamed everything. Got in on the live chat, did some research on the panel, and still had time to get work done while sipping a fine cup of Intelligentsia. Then I headed over to the post-event gathering at a nearby venue. Solid content plan.

Getting shite done.

I bristle at the thought of opening my laptop with the Windows chime blurting out across the room — among a sea of MacBooks. Sitting on the floor? No thanks. Find a couple go-to spots in downtown Austin and set up office there. Head back to your accommodations whenever you feel like it for some R&R before your next move. If you can code, build and launch a beta without ever attending the conference. Hold your own startup weekend. Write like a maniac and squeeze South by juice for your blog. The possibilities are endless.

Or, just be damn productive during the day. You’ll feel like a champ when it’s time to head out for the evening. Plus, you can sleep well on the ride home knowing that you won’t be slammed with work when you return the office.

Power giveth, taketh away.

Let’s talk about something serious. In fact, this could be THE single biggest issue you will have at the conference: chronic battery power loss. With all the shuffling and shuttling between sessions you’ll be constantly looking for power at all turns. There’s at least one guy who’s trying to help this problem. I hope he makes it to Austin. Camping out in conference rooms and running between events all day will present an ongoing challenge to stay juiced.

Now, think for a moment how this problem magically disappears when you have more down time away from all the conference venues. Fighting for plug-in time? Roaming the halls in search of working outlets? Always charged up. That will be your power flow in Austin during the conference.

Food + Drink

Austin can be a 24×7 culinary and cocktail rodeo. Ride the bull. Conference food is massively over priced and under flavored. You’ll buckle if pushed to the brink. But for the most part you’ll scramble to get meals in throughout the day and will likely miss a couple sessions — that you thought you were getting into but really never would have. Instead, why don’t you hit some food trucks, walk around the city, sit down for a nice meal before a long night. You’ll need the fuel. Check out, to check in. You’ll be eating and drinking like a mayor at cool spots around town on your schedule.

Bring your Party Badge

Isn’t it time to introduce the party badge? Here’s how it works. You announce your badgeless status at the door and donate to a charity for your cover charge. Your open declaration of lanyard nakedness gets you into any party that requires a conference badge. You can also just check out Do512/Gary’s Guide/RSVPster and join the SXSW Party List. There are tons of awesome meetups, parties, concerts and free events happening throughout the week. Alas, chances are you have a few connections that will get you into most of these parties anyway. So, spend that extra cash you have on a few rounds of drinks for your next business partner, client or hire.

If you’re headed to SXSW in Austin, are you considering going badgeless? Tell us why.

Tim HenningsenAbout the Author
Tim is a technology business developer based in Silicon Prairie, USA. He blogs with soul at thxblog.com and can be followed @gimmetim on Twitter.




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  • Steve Birnbaum

    Good point. The best things always happen outside of the sessions.

  • http://thxblog.com/ Tim Henningsen

    Thanks Steve! Though I would pay to see YOU present at any conference.

  • http://codeacademy.org/ Mike McGee

    Went badgeless last year and have a great time! We didn’t even have a hotel!

    • http://thxblog.com/ Tim Henningsen

      Nice work. That’s not just going badgeless, that’s some serious bootstrapping!

  • Synthia

    might be bussing it to sxsw and great to hear that it’s okay to go scrappy!

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