What I Learned at SXSW

-- by Jessie Gabriel

Two weeks ago I boarded a plane from Burbank, CA, to Austin, TX, en route to my first SXSW. This was one of the only direct flights from the Los Angeles area to Austin and it was clear I was not the only Angeleno taking advantage. Aboard this Southwestern flight (with no first class cabin) were a number of people you might (because I did) recognize: Josh Brener (Big Head on HBO’s Silicon Valley), Utkarsh Ambudkar (who I first saw in his role as Mindy Kaling’s rapping brother on The Mindy Project), and Natalie Morales (Judy’s love interest in Netflix’s Dead to Me). But this was just a little sprinkle of the magic to come! 

Prior to attending, I’d always thought of SXSW as a music festival. Never having been a person who loved to cavort with huge crowds of drunken concertgoers swaying around in a field, it hadn’t ever crossed my mind to go. It wasn’t until our beloved and awesome client, Supply Change Capital, let us know they were hosting SXSW’s very first food tech house along with a women’s GP breakfast that I decided I was in. Having now had time to recover from the five-day whirlwind that was my experience at South By, I’ve put together a list of a few of my favorite things (SXSW Edition). 

Sometimes being less intentional is the way to go. My first night in Austin I attended an incredible event hosted by the Women Abundance Collective, where I ran into Sara Brand and Kerry Rupp of True Wealth Ventures. Sara’s advice (as someone who actually lived in Austin) to me was that I shouldn’t be afraid to step into sessions on completely random topics that just sounded interesting, but might not be directly in “my area.” Not surprisingly, she was totally right. I happened to attend a panel discussion on women’s sports, largely because it directly followed a panel on women investing in female-led healthcare companies. And it. was. awesome. It was inspiring (hearing former USWNT member Ashlyn Harris discuss the critical role sports had played in her life since childhood), educational (did you know that women’s flag football will be an Olympic sport in 2028), and totally pumped me up (invest in women’s sports! There’s soooo much money to be made! Women women rah rah rah!). My childish language skills are not doing it justice. But by the end of the talk I was crying and hollering like a fool. It was great. 

Sometimes being totally intentional is the way to go. There were a few things on  my must-see list and they did not disappoint. I got to hear Sophia Bush and Nia Batts talk about their investment philosophy while they sat alongside two women (Mitchella Gilbert and Claire Coder) who started companies that addressed genuine quality-of-life issues for women (check out Oya Apparel and Aunt Flow. I sat in a shockingly small room, while Joanne Bradford interviewed Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway (which made me wish I could listen to all episodes of Pivot live). I teared up seeing Noramay and Shayna from Supply Change up on stage speaking to the lucky 300 who were able to get into the Food Tech House (the line was out the door), thinking about when they started this journey back in 2020. 

Sometimes people really will get up at an ungodly hour for things they care about. Going back to the women GP breakfast I mentioned before, we hosted this with Supply Change on Sunday morning . . . at 8:30 am. That also happened to be the day after the time change, so it was really more like 7:30 am. Then throw in that most people had been in Austin for at least a couple of days and were already deep into jam-packed days leading into jam-packed evenings. In short, I was worried people would not show up. I was wrong. Nearly everyone who RSVP’d to the breakfast (over 25 people) showed up and many of them stayed from start to finish. As Shayna Harris noted, she had learned from past experience that women GPs show up. 

Sometimes the best things have nothing to do with the conference. I had two absolutely delightful, unplanned meals, both of which happened (actually, now that I write this, “happened” doesn’t do justice to these two women, who make everything special) to involve Gina Pell and Amy Parker. A lunch with G&A and an old friend of Gina’s we just ran into, who directed us to a tacqueria in an alley around the corner from the convention center, where we sat and discussed politics and raising sheep. A late-night, but quite delish, sushi bite that same night with those two and Joanne Bradford, talking about all kinds of things, meaningful and otherwise. There were also completely random run-ins with some of my favorite people I rarely get to see, like Milena Stojceska and Anne Fulenwider, and an unexpectedly deep and meaningful with Syama Bunten on my way to the airport. 

Sometimes you’re just really tired. I arrived in Austin on a Thursday afternoon and attended my first event Thursday night. I was seriously dragging. It was exhaustion not justified by the travel or the time change, but it was very apparent. I still had a hard time pulling myself away because the event was so lovely, but eventually dragged myself to the hotel. Since I didn’t have anything that I had to attend the next morning, I didn’t set an alarm. When I woke up, I flipped my phone over. It was 1 pm. Oh, but there was daylight saving time, I told myself (that was not until Sunday), and then there was the two-hour time difference from PT to CT (yes, fine). Putting it all together, I slept 11 hours. Sometimes your body tells you exactly what it needs. The rest of the day I felt amazing. I wondered: Is this what it feels like to be rested? Could I feel this way every day? I had to put a pause on that experiment because, since that day, I have had to wake up early every morning with a zillion things to do. But writing this now is reminding me to revisit. Sleep is the thing. 

Would I go again? Definitely. Even as tired as I was by the time I left, I was already hashing my plans for next year and what I would do differently (shoes), the same (hotel), more of (music and unplanned time), and less of (nothing, really). Sometimes doing your job and having a great time are the same things. And that is spectacular. 

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