Alan Colmenares is Director of the Founder Institute in Colombia. He writes for his own blog, TropicalGringo, as well as contributing to other publications such as VentureBeat and NYTimes.com among others.
Well, it’s been a couple of months and, aside from great memories, I’ve continued to develop my relationship with some incredibly interesting people that I met during South by Southwest (SxSW) 2011 in March. I’d classify myself as a total nerd and, being over 40, a complete stick-in-the-mud. Even so, the relaxed, party atmosphere that SXSW creates is just so conducive to meeting new people interested in new ideas creating start-ups.
Upon arriving, I hooked up with Austin native, Fernando LaBastida, with whom I had been communicating remotely. He, along with others, had been instrumental in setting up some Latin America specific sessions and he was an outstanding host during my stay. It’s also thanks to him and his colleague, Ricardo Guerrero, that I was invited to host the Colombia track of the new SXSW Tech Summit (I moved to that country from Silicon Valley 15 years ago).
During the event, I spent quite a bit of time with an impressive crew with ties to Colombia including Brian Requarth, CEO of VivaReal, a thriving real estate site focused on Latin America; Jonathan Tarud, CEO of Koombea, a web development firm passionate about the start-up segment and with a list of Silicon Valley clients such as Badegville and, finally, Alex Torrenegra, CEO of LetMeGo, Voice123 and other innovative startups.
One of the first days there I had the great pleasure of meeting Robert Greenhood who develops web-based strategies for some of the countries top media companies. He is also incredibly passionate about Mexico and Latin America and was interested in hearing about the start-up scene in these countries. Afterwards, Robert invited Brian and I to an extremely enjoyable dinner.
Talking about big media companies, I thoroughly enjoyed a lunch we had with Brian Alvey, CEO of New York-based CrowdFusion, a company that offers an advanced CMS solution to the likes of MySpace, The Daily and TMZ. It was great to finally meet Brian because I’ve been a big admirer of his work. We talked about how things are going for them as well as the Latin American environment and all of this gave me some valuable insight into the big media space (especially, was it pertains to start-ups).
Towards the middle of the week, I hit a beer bash sponsored by Phil Kaplan and got to talk a bit with Shahar Nechmad and, especially, Guy Malachi, Chief Geek at toolbar company, Conduit. Guy was really open with the story about how they started their company in Israel and finally found an advertising-based revenue model, which has worked like gangbusters for them thanks to having hundreds of millions in monthly impressions to sell.
Later, I had an amazing time with Lynn Liss, CEO of Los Angeles-based TGO, and her husband Ira especially since they invited me to some of my favorite small batch bourbons at the Marriott bar after Lynn’s panel discussion. I really had a ton of fun talking with them about a number of things such as their current focus on low-profit entrepreneurism, a term I had never heard of. Ira’s had quite a bit of experience within the movie industry and it was great to hear anecdotes about this. I’m hopeful that we’ll meet again.
Aside from having the chance to talk with people such as John Hagel and Clay Shirky whose writings I really like, I met a few “renaissance people” such as Bear Kittay, self-described Social Alchemist, building an innovation center in Baja California. I also ran into Irit Dabby, a tri-athelete and CEO of GoodyTag, an Israeli-based startup focused on monetizing the Facebook “like” button for brands. It was great the way she walked up to Brian and I to introduce herself and comment on the fact that so many people are looking down at their smart phones during SXSW when they should be looking up and meeting new people (like she was doing).
Towards the end of SXSW I was fortunate enough to meet Juan Calle, CEO of CO Internet. It was interesting to hear how he had built a Latin American Ad Network back in the day (early 2000’s) and sold it to Yahoo! Today, he’s extremely passionate about the potential for his new venture and has a clear vision of where he wants to take the .CO domain. One thing we share is an interest in proactively building a stronger start-up ecosystem in Colombia (CO Internet is the platinum sponsor for the Founder Institute, the largest start-up incubator, in Colombia).
Although I didn’t get to meet Hugh Forrest, Director of SXSW, I’ve corresponded with him after the event and am impressed with the long-lasting effect of the whole experience he and his team have created. Quite a few of the people I’ve mentioned are people with whom I’ve corresponded with after the event. Even more impressive, I’ve continued to meet (physically, remotely or both) with several of them and feel like I can count on a response from them if I ever had a question. If you like talking with people who are at the forefront of new ideas, I can’t recommend SXSW enough.