How did SXSW get so popular and why there’s only one company from Mainland China there?

This is a post written by a Seeeder who attended SXSW last month. If you were there as well and have something to share, let us know!


I was sitting audience, on the last day of SXSW Interactive, waiting for the director of Google[x] Astro Teller to come on stage. And someone behind me, who is clearly an Austin native, started talking to his friend:

“You know back in the 90s, South By used to be this three-day music festival that you can just buy a 30 dollar wristband and get drunk. Now, look at what it has become.”

Well, there are still tons of people who showed up for the free booze and parties. But SXSW has truly become an amazing phenomenon over the years. Besides the triple festival of Music, Film and Technology that spans over the course of 10 days, there’s also expos on Health and MedTech, Education, Gaming, Music Gear, Creation and Making. Each of them could easily attract a sizable audience by themselves. Not to mention all the ‘underground’ events happening across town.

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I won’t go deep into how cool and busy it is (you can get a sense from the video). It’s legit. SXSW is THE place for companies to pull out their wickiest marketing tricks. For a rather hipster crowd, corporate brands are trying really hard to be popular amongst the cool kids. Hence all the freebies, live music, 3D printed candies and cookies, anything you can think of. While some of the audience only float around the peripherals for the gimmicks and try to rsvp every possible party list there is, most attendees pays for more than a grand for a pass. This speaks a lot about the content the host curates.

There is a lot of articles that talk about the difference between CES and SXSW. Having been to both, I feel like CES is more like an industry trade show, more serious, and big corporations definitely attract most of the eyeballs. On the other hand, for many professionals working in the industry, gathering in Austin every year in March is likely more like a celebration. Even now, almost a month has gone by, we are still living in the ripple effects of the event, following the dog fight between Meerkat and Periscope on TechCrunch. How did a music festival turn into this super hip tech event?

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SXSW speaks to the inner self of all of us of why we joined the tech industry in the first place. It’s the unique culture that gels us all together. This is why I like South by.

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Imagine something like this, happening everywhere, spanning 20 blocks, in this live music capital. I feel free here. The atmosphere speaks to me.


Sometimes people say that crowds at SXSW are probably the ultimate trend following hipsters/technology early adopters (decide for yourself which it should be), which is probably why there’s stories like this or this. Doing a marketing campaign here is like a quick experiment with those that would likely be your first batch of users, LIVE.

On a personal level, I can’t speak for everybody; but being one of many young kids who quit corporate jobs on the east coast, moved west and joined a startup, there are certain things I can say that excite this particular group of people.

We like new things; we have this desperate need to express our identity in our own ways; we hate having other people define the rules and want to create our own.

In many ways, the meshed up crowd of music, film and tech, share these values. And SXSW became one of the biggest celebration for all of it. The boundary of a so-called industry is getting blurry. Musicians can become startup entrepreneurs; gaming enthusiasts can enhance their experience with the most cutting edge virtual reality technology; an open source hardware company can facilitate interactive art projects. In a world where communities are no longer siloed, new solutions, new ideas, new expressions can happen at the mercy of the free flow of information. To me, this is what SXSW is about.

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Every night during those two weeks, sixth street becomes a block party

So you can probably understand why I was so surprised when finding out:

Seeed is the ONLY company from mainland China at SXSW.


I contemplated on this question a lot. In comparison, CES is flooded with Chinese manufacturers and hot startups. It’s not like South By is limited in scale; as a matter of fact, there are tons of international representation. So many questions came to my mind: How come there are so many Japanese companies at SXSW? What did these cool robotics company see in the key demographics attending the event that their Chinese counterparts simply do not care? What does that say about the product positioning of these companies? What is China missing out on?

To start with, I know why we are here. Seeed, as an open source hardware company, has been serving the maker community for several years. Firmly believing that everyone can become a maker, and determined to use our products and services to unleash EVERYONE’s creativity, we saw the creative nature of the south by crowd and want to speak to that audience. We want to branch out into other communities and engage them in making.

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This blog post was abandoned for quite some time because I was looking for the words to describe our culture and mission that made us so unique. The other day I was talking to Eric (our CEO) and writing the following paragraph for a website update. And it hit me, I may have my answer.

Seeed is an open hardware innovation platform. If you are as much of a geek as we are, chances are that you sometimes fantasize about turning Sci Fi into reality. So do we. But we want to mobilize the creativity of every individual and let innovation come from bottom up. In order to do that, we break down technology into a format that everybody can hack on. We provide a chain of products and services so that hardware product development and manufacturing can be less grueling. We facilitate a complex ecosystem to help makers from all over the world turn their cool ideas into reality. Our belief is that once you enable the community with the right tools and support, innovation will explode on its own. If 10% of consumers become creators, the amount of power unleashed would be unimaginable. We are here to provide the soil for such opportunities to be democratized. Let’s take the journey together.

Just like SXSW, we are trying to create an ecosystem that brings in everyone to make, whether you are a designer, an educator, an interactive artist, or a 5th grader. By lowering the barriers of making something, more ideas can come to life. The fusion of good design, good technology and necessary demand will happen more often. Innovation will truly come from bottom up, from the community, from you.

OK, you got me, this is really just an article to brag about how cool we are.

But we mean every word we say.

As you can see, I still haven’t answered a lot of the questions that I asked. And there’s many more. Is our culture particularly unique? What other core values do we share? How can we convey these values better? If you have any ideas to share, ping me.


April 2015