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SXSW: Day Five

It's happened! After five massive days, SXSW has drawn to a close. Here's what we got up to in our final 24 hours.

Creating a Movement: The Story of SoulCycle

Speakers:

  • Elizabeth Cutler - Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer, SoulCycle
  • Julie Rice - Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer, SoulCycle
  • Kim Last (moderator) - Senior Editor, Fast Company

SoulCycle is a cult exercise class that has swept the US and is frequented by celebrities right through to suburban mums, each at US$30 a pop. It's described on their website as 'inspirational coaching, rockstar music, and a full body workout', but even more than that it's a movement.

The co-founders of the classes said they started their program for people who hated exercise, just like them. And so from the beginning, their aim was to keep the workouts energizing and entertaining. It seems that this was indeed the recipe for success, as the brand has grown like wildfire since its inception - so what were the other secret ingredients?

Firstly, investing in the right people. They said they had always aimed to 'scale a culture of entrepreneurship and that this took trust in the decision-making skills of their employees - from their receptionists right through to their CMO.

Secondly, they said that that theatricals were priceless. That along with hiring the most energetic, enthusiastic trainers that they invest time and money into the right music and the right sessions.

And finally, they said that they would never lose the spirit of hospitality. That 'every SoulCycle should feel like the only SoulCycle - your SoulCycle'. So what does that mean? Well they've even gone as far as changing the detergent they use for their towels at a client's request - now that is commitment!

Taking it to the Streets: Digital Gets Physical

Speakers:

  • Dave Etherington - CSO, Intersection
  • John Moon - Director of Data Strategy, Annalect
  • Kenton Langstroth - Director of Partnerships, IPG Media Lab

This panel was assembled to discuss the pros and cons of 'connected cities' as demonstrated in large cities like New York and Singapore. Etherington clarified early on that these were as opposed to the older idea of 'smart cities' which were a top-down, homogenised use of technology and aimed to almost force itself upon everyone.

Instead connected cities prioritize community input and connectivity for everyone . He used one of his own recent projects as an example for this - Link NYC. This is a communications network that will replace over 7,500 pay phones with new structures called Links, each providing free public Wi-Fi, phone calls, device charging and a tablet for Internet browsing etc.

The panels also discussed ideas such as free Wi-Fi on busses and in libraries and even flexible congestion taxing in Singapore, based on the hourly ebb and flow of traffic in geo-fenced areas.

From a government perspective, while the outlay is high for installing these systems, the benefits are also quite clear. The data gathered through these systems allows for optimisation of a city on many levels. For example, connected traffic lights and busses, which prioritize forms of public transport over private transport when managing traffic flows. Ultimately the clear-cut positives were that these systems allow for the optimising infrastructure to be more efficient.

The panel also argued that on a personal level, that these systems helped the end user in many ways, allowing them to 'optimize their lives', but also for brands to extending storytelling and experiences out across the city, helping them to discover their world in a more interesting way.

However they all agreed that this utility would come at the cost of some privacy - that users have to be tracked as an aggregate and accessed by operators - and brands - in order to personalize the experience. Even so, this data won't be used in a form of 'Minority Report' one-to-one messaging, but instead brands will only use top-level aggregate data to optimize messaging to audiences as a whole.

Langstroth finished that at this point it was academic anyway - that they're now only at the beginning of connected cities and that the final product would be optimized to make it more enjoyable for the end user.

Exhibitor Pitches: Content + Social Engagement

For our final session of the day we went along to hear 5 start-ups who were at the SXSW Creative Industries Trade show, pitch their app or hardware concept. Here is is what we heard about:

  • Ever: This app allows consumers to take a photo or screenshot of a TV program, commercial or online video and if that content was registered with Ever, consumers can browse and purchase any product within that frame - whether it be the weather girl's dress or a certain couch cushion
  • Fan Media Network: This app was actually pretty fascinating - it offered sports fans to become a part of a mobile social news network of iPhone video correspondents for the top 200 NFL, NCAA, NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS teams, by simply acting out a natural behavior - filming their favourite teams. The creators had mapped out a series of social and financial rewards to incentivise creators to post their content to the app
  • Scoper: This app enables specific video requests to “scope out” anyplace in the world in real-time, with financial reward for the 'scopers' who carry out the task (funded through programmatic advertising based on the relevance of the request)
  • Sugarlock: This combination or hardware and software aimed at content creators and action sports enthusiasts was the first Action Cam Dock to instantly view, edit and share videos from your TV, without a PC
  • Uproar: This was essentially a 'Compare the Market' for events - Uproar helps you discover local events you've been missing, across a range of categories from theatre or music, to sports of community events. It also had the added social element of 'creating an uproar' and campaigning your friends to attend along with you

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