The time is rapidly approaching when tickets for SXSW 2017 go on sale. This means the time is rapidly approaching that I need to make the decision – do I go again next year, for my third time, or not.
I went to SXSW for the first time in 2015 (you can read my posts about this trip here) and it was one of the most amazing experiences. In fact it had such a great impact on me that I quit my job to go back to focusing on digital and social media strategy. It was therefore natural that the minute tickets for SXSW 2016 went on sale I bought one and booked my hotel. I had to go back for more!
As is often the case though that first, amazing, experience was not replicated the second time round. I think this was in part as it did not have that first-time “wow” – this time I knew what to expect and that first year I saw some truly inspirational things. That is not to say I did not enjoy SXSW this year but I am not sure it was worth what I ended up paying for it (I left buying flights until the last minute which was a costly mistake and I opted to stay in a very nice expensive hotel). Then again I did come back with my Galaxy Gear VR headset which is totally cool!
So let’s see. I still have a few days to ponder on this.
I recently submitted my proposal to speak at SXSW next year on “Wearables: saving lives and improving outcomes” and the public voting on proposals starts today. It would be a dream to speak there but I know the competition is stiff so I have all my fingers and toes crossed and will be asking everyone to vote for me!
If you follow my blog you may have read my posts from earlier this year. That was my first time at SXSW and I have to admit it was a life changing event resulting in me leaving my job to go back to focus on my true love – digital strategy and innovation in healthcare. The event was incredibly inspiring, not only seeing such amazing innovation but also seeing how it could be applied to improve the lives of patients with chronic diseases like myself. As I listened to some of these amazing talks I thought how great it would be if I could also share some of my knowledge, passion and inspiration in this area, and so when my friend Jackie Cuyvers suggested I submit a proposal I went for it! I was actually interviewed for national TV about the impact of wearables so I thought why not speak about this topic!
I wanted to share want inspires me the most – how technology is having such a huge impact on patient’s lives and the revolutionary changes that are happening in healthcare as result, not just in terms of technology but also in the culture and mindset change. As an autoimmune patient myself I have a huge amount to thank for the internet, thanks to the information I found that led to my diagnosis, and the improved quality of life, but also in the inspiration from other patients that drove me to be an empowered patient and demand better health from my physicians. Back then I had got to the point were I could hardly get out of bed any more and had such extreme brainfog I was struggling to complete sentences; I now lead a normal, active life – thanks to the information and support I received online.
It is this that drives my passion at looking how innovation and new technology can do more for patients and help turn other people’s lives around, or indeed save them. In January I spoke about how social media is saving lives and now I want to speak about how wearables also have this capability. Wearables is of course the big thing this year, with a huge swathe of new devices of all shapes, sizes and uses being launched. The big ones are off course in the “health & fitness” arena like fitbit or new smartwatches such as the Apple watch. Everyone is talking about them and I have quite a few friends who have purchased new smartwatches to track their sports activities (I myself have invested in the new Swimmo watch). These devices are fantastic to help the reasonably healthy get even more healthy. But what about those that are not well or fit enough to run marathons or swim kilometres?
The real impact of wearables will come in how they are developed and adapted for those people who face real health challenges, whether it be Alzheimer’s or severe Asthma. Being able to wear a device which provides live support and information or that conatcts HCPs or family in the case of a medical emergency can have a huge impact in improving a patient’s life. Some options in this area already exist but few wearables on the market have been specifically designed for this purpose. Right now much wearable tech is focusing on the lucrative “fitness” and consumer markets but once we start to see more wearables being specifically designed for certain diseases then we still start to see some incredibly inspirational outcomes thanks to this technology.
It is on this topic that I hope to head to and speak at SXSW in March next year, with my friend Jackie (who will be speaking about social media listening and the implications of culture and language – think about the British and American understanding of the word “pants”). I would ask that you please help me achieve this goal by voting for me here by searching for “Fulford”, and don’t let me go alone – please also vote for Jackie too!
For full details of how to vote have a look at this document with instructions that I put together. The final thing I would like to say is that for every vote I get I will make a donation to my charity Hope for Romanian Strays which works tirelessly to rescue stray and injured dogs in Romania – so vote for me and help stray dogs!
Needless to say after Day 2 Sunday was a bit of a wash out! I did have some interesting conversation with some German entrepreneurs at the German house but that was about it. Both Monday and Tuesday were however more eventful. For starters there was a lovely lunch with the #hcsmeu gang, by now also including Gary Monk, which really highlighted for me one of the great things about SXSW – the opportunity to hang out with some really awesome people.
I also went to a couple of very cool sessions including one on Augmented Reality, a technology that once had a very “shiny” factor but never seemed to have really taken off. I have always been a bit disappointed by this as beyond the shiny factor I always saw AR as a format with high potential. Well it turns out AR is apparently finally coming into its own. The session demonstrated some fun examples but also a very pragmatic and useful example from Argos, who are using AR to enhance and keep their paper copy catalogs up to date with the latest offers. This was a great example of mixing “cool” (you can “try” on watches via AR and the catalogue) and functional (hovering over items you can see if there are any current latest offers). I loved it! I also found the statement that AR is going to become the new search intriguing. Whether it will or not remains to be seen. Nearly as cool as the session though was the pedicab ride back to the main convention area with Wonder Woman! I loved this other part of SXSW – all the interesting and crazy things going on in the streets, like the dressed up pedicab drivers or the squirrels promoting a book app. Those squirrels were cool.
Another session I just had to go to was another cat-related one called “CATastrophe: Good, Bad and Ugly of internet cats” with Jackson Galaxy and PetSmart, and which was all about what we as cat owners and lovers can do to help increase the number of cats getting adopted from shelters. It was actually a fantastic session as unlike all the others I had been to this one was more interactive and involved more of a dialogue around some of the key topics. Petsmart shared some fascinating research into pet ownership and cat owners, and the perception people have of them, and people in the room shared their perspectives and stories. I did not come away with the ideas for fundraising for my own charity that I had hoped for but I still found the session well worth going to.
The other thing I ended up doing on Monday and Tuesday was to have a look at the exhibition rooms. I went round the Med Tech one but was left uninspired. While the likes of Withings were there they were not showcasing what I considered to be some of their more interesting products. A panel on women leaders in digital was also hard to follow as it took place in the very noisy main room. Jackie and I did however get asked to do an interview by a reporter for NBC around wearables and I am delighted to say that both of us made it onto US national TV! Cool!
Sadly no other national news channels wanted to interview me from the main exhibition hall but there I saw yet more very cool stuff. There were the virtual reality glasses that respond to blinks that offer an amazing option for patients with Locked-in Syndrome and the robotic arms that move based on remote motions. I was naturally also blown away by the company that lets you design your own shoes – this is potentially some very dangerous technology! I also ended up doing some shopping here, starting with a WonderWoof bow which I will try to use on one of the Romanian shelter dogs to raise awareness of their plight. I also bought a mega cool phone charger that looks like a Channel compact and a Fuji Instax printer that lets you print mini polaroid photos from your phone – which was very useful at the SXSW closing party!
And talking of parties this was undoubtedly another great part to SXSW. Each evening there were events on and it was a great way to meet new people and talk to people doing all sort of interesting things, like the German entrepreneur or my new Austin friend. I also got to attend a very entertaining comedy session with some famous US comedian (whose name currently escapes me) – not something I would normally have attended but it was hilarious. I also met people during the day over lunch and drinks, including a group of Swiss guys from Zurich, one of whom had an even worse return flight back that mine – he was flying Delta and having to change 3 times to get back to Zurich. And then of course there were more squirrels and other characters – like Hello Kitty!
The grand finale was of course the closing party. I stood in queue for over 2 hours to get into the event – by this time alone as most of the #hcsmeu gang had gone home. Naturally I met some great, fun people in the queue, including a South African chap who had recognised me from the Jackson Galaxy session and had joined me in the queue (calling me “cat lady” as he did so). Having queued so long meant we were amongst the first to get into the venue and got front row positions by the stage which was awesome – one of the main acts was Ludacris and I am sure I would never have got so close in a normal concert. The atmosphere did not disappoint and was electric.
In fact the whole time at SXSW the atmosphere had had something electric and inspirational. There was so much innovation and creativity being displayed it was almost palpable in the air. The conversations I had and the things I saw were all incredibly energising and I felt more alive than I had for ages. There was no sign of my Hashimoto’s fatigue and there was no thought or worry – just pure enjoyment, inspirations and buzz. I did not want this trip to end. I did not want this experience to end. I dreaded going back to work where I knew there was little hope of getting to work much on anything as cutting edge and digitally creative as the things I had seen. I missed working everyday in this field. I missed spending everyday working in social media and technological innovation.
SXSW turned out to be the most amazing trip I have made in a long time. I had gotten my ROI back by day two but more importantly I had also reached an important decision. I had realised that my career at ZS has been taking me away from what I love and that my time there was over. I needed to get back to doing what I truly love and what I have spent years specialising in. It was time I returned to working in digital and social media in healthcare. This is where I have shown thought leadership and where I can make a real impact, both for myself but also on the lives of patients. This is my passion and this is where I get my energy from. And so when I returned home ZS and I agreed to split amicably, like a couple that realises that we have grown apart and want different things in life. I learnt so much at my time there but I longed to learn even more and in an area I love. Thanks to SXSW I have now opened another, exciting chapter in my book – I do not know what it holds (I am open to offers and suggestions!) but I am very happy and very excited and I know that in this next chapter I will accomplish something great.
A few years back I heard about South by SouthWest for the time. I did not really have any desire to go – it did not seem relevant to a health digierati like myself. Rather I thought it was more for film and music buffs and total techy geeks. I did not think there would be anything noteworthy for a marketer or a strategist, certainly not one specialised in healthcare.
Then last year my colleague Jackie Cuyvers told me what it was really like. She told me that this is where ground breaking technology gets showcased and where you can see the hottest tech innovation, including in healthcare. She told me also that it was one huge party and a massive networking opportunity. She also convinced me that this was THE event for someone like me to go – this would be one of the few events were I would really learn something, unlike the standard pharma digital conferences which tend to be a showcase of case studies rather than truly innovative thinking. I was convinced. I had to go – it made total business sense. I could bring those learnings and innovative ideas back to the company and back to our clients. It seemed so obvious that I asked the company if I could go.
No. That was the point-blank, no-discussion response I got. No. Well that would just not do! Now that I was all excited and convinced that this was indeed the event for me to attend I had to go. And I was going to go – even if it meant paying my own way and taking holiday. And this is what I did. Had I acted rashly, would this expensive excursion pay off? I was even having to fly with the dreadful American Airlines to get there and it wasn’t even a direct flight. Was the pain of flying AA really going to be worth it?
The answer is a loud, resounding YES! OMG YES! SXSW2015 turned out to be the most mind-blowingly amazing event. It was worth every penny. It was worth the AA flight with no personal video player (yes – can you believe that in this day and age there are still transatlantic flights where you have to watch the main screen in the cabin and where they do not show the latest films?!). SXSW2015 blew all my expectations.
Day one started with a longer than expected queue to sign up, followed by the first selfie of the event with Jackie and Google’s @happydezzie. I then went to a couple of interesting sessions including one on the ROI of Word Of Mouth (WOM) which presented some interesting findings on the impact WOM and social media on marketing, confirming the role social media plays but I had hoped it would go a little deeper than it did. Interesting but not yet mindblowing.
The next session however provided more of a “wow” factor as I heard about how technology and innovation are helping in the fight against Ebola. Besides some great new digital technology such as wearable, bluetooth enabled patch to track patients, there was also an amazing showcase of partnership and open innovation in the form of the new safety suits for healthcare workers fighting infectious diseases like Ebola. It was humbling to see the new prototype and hear just how unpleasant the current suits are for healthcare workers and it was fantastic to be present at the unveiling of the new suit.
The highlight of the day however was finally getting to meet @veronicabotet who I had met over Twitter via #hcsmeu years ago. It was fantastic to finally get to meet her in person and I was so happy when she was able to join Jackie and I (yes Jackie had also paid to come herself having faced the same solid NO from ZS) for dinner. We had a lovely evening, during which I learnt some new American terminology and ate some amazing Brazilian steak. I headed back to the hotel happy wondering what Day 2 would bring.