SXSW Day 3 & 4: Bigger than Texas
By Dan Monheit, 15.3.22
It’s Monday night in Austin, which means I’ve got one more day of programming before it’s all said and done for another year. After 34 hours of travel, four huge days and four even huger nights, this point feels like the 35km mark of a marathon. You’re proud, exhausted and excited about how much you’ve made it through. At the same time, you can’t fathom how you’ll get through everything that’s ahead (especially when Australia House and the legendary Pete’s Duelling Piano Bar are both calling your name…).
The first two days were a wonderful reintroduction to the joys of being together. If you didn’t catch my piece on ‘gathering’ from day one, you can check it out here.
Days three and four have continued the reintroduction theme, reminding me of the joys, the magic and the magnetism of thinking big.
Like most Australians, I noticed my world getting smaller and smaller, as we saw ourselves restricted to one country, one state, one house, one room, one laptop. What I didn’t notice was how much this had shrunk my thinking down too.
In the last 48 hours, it’s been incredible to be reinspired by people who think seriously big. Not ‘Do we reckon we could get some influencers involved?’ big or ‘What if we went to three days in the office? big. Like ‘what if I crash through the walls of physics/government/sensibilities/societal norms/tradition/convention/all of the above? kind of big.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that I’ve seen more Texas-sized ideas since Saturday than I saw in the preceding 24 months. These were three of my favourites.
Lizzo (singer, rapper, songwriter, flutist)
As a white, 40 year old Australian dad who only recently found out who Lizzo is (ie 15 minutes before she came out on stage), there’s probably not a whole lot of ‘new’ I can bring to the table, other than to say that She. Was. Unstoppable.
One part fireball, one part disco ball, one part wrecking ball, she had the 3,000+ attendees who’d crammed in to see her in the palm of her hand from the get go. Here’s a girl who grew up looking nothing like what the world said was beautiful, and instead of conforming with the world, she made the world conform with her.
Lizzo’s confidence and energy were inspiring, somehow managing to blend supreme self assurance with authentic vulnerability. She came out on stage crying as she realised she was living her dream, keynoting SXSW to promote her upcoming TV show to thousands of adoring fans (and one Australian dad). At the same time, she was adamant that she deserved it, that she’d worked so hard, that she’d defied the odds and that she was ‘sexy as hell’.
I wasn’t going to argue.
Lizzo’s fighting for representation because she knows it matters. At the same time, she’s single-handedly changing what the media and society define as ‘beautiful’, as well as inspiring millions of people around the world to love themselves, regardless of what other people say.
Lizzo is the biggest boss I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing in action.
Albert Bourta (CEO and Chairman of Pfizer)
Under normal circumstances, making a vaccine can take 10–15 years. Under Albert Bourta’s leadership, Pfizer did it in less than 12 months. In a one hour interview with business journalist Julie Hyman, Bourta spoke candidly of the pressure he felt, knowing that hundreds of governments, millions of businesses and billions of people had all placed their hopes on him and his team.
“Rationally, it could not be done. But it needed to be done.”
Bourta pushed his team to rethink everything from the ground up. To explore new methods, new approaches and new partnerships. He spoke of setbacks every single day, many of which jeopardised the entire viability of the project, but he never felt like throwing in the towel.
By taking unique approaches to the development, testing and manufacture of the vaccine, not only has Bourta’s Pfizer unlocked the world, but they’ve also changed the way we think about what’s possible.
Bourta recognises that what he and his team did at Pfizer changed the course of history. Not economically (this will be forgotten), but by replacing darkness and fear with light and hope. Because of the vaccine, grandparents could see their grandchildren again. Perhaps most excitingly, Bourta sees the covid vaccine as the catalyst for a scientific renaissance; a period where technology and biology come together to solve things that have, until now, been considered unsolvable.
Bring it on.
Zack Weiner (Co-Founder and President at Overtime Elite)
After a couple of big name keynotes I decided to go and check out something a little more off grid in a session titled ‘And They Said Launching a Sports League is Crazy’. What I found was the incredible story of Overtime Elite, a new type of sports academy/league for the next generation of elite athletes.
Today’s 16 and 17 year old basketball prodigies have more reach and influence than any generation that’s come before them. Unfortunately, they’re often the last ones to benefit. Overtime Elite surrounds these athletes with ‘operational excellence’, including academic tuition (with 4:1 student to teacher ratios), mentoring, financial training, full healthcare, disability insurance, media training and more. Every signed athlete (there are currently 27, all living, learning and playing in Atlanta) receive salaries of at least $100k and equity in the OTE business.
While dozens of sporting leagues have tried to establish themselves and failed, OTE have just finished their first season and the numbers are spectacular. OTE’s social accounts clock up more than 1.7 billion video views each month, they’ve raised $80m in funding from top VC firms and more than 25 NBA stars, and inked major partnership deals with the likes of Gatorade.
Objectively, there’s no reason why this should have worked, but Weiner and the elite team of managers, trainers and operational specialists he’s assembled have willed it into existence.
So that’s in from days three and four. If you’re not lucky enough to be here, go watch a TED talk or call someone you know who thinks BIG. We may not have realised it, but it’s what we’ve all been missing!