Hugh Forrest: SXSW Interactive Director

My NativeAdVice:

How did you get into the tech industry?

While SXSW Multimedia (the precursor to SXSW Interactive) didn’t launch until 1994, I first got involved with the company in 1989. I was hired because I had a computer and they didn’t. That computer (a MacPlus) was essentially my entry point into the tech/ events industry.

Tell us about SXSW. What inspired your vision for the Interactive portion of the event?

In the summer of 2004, I read a ton of self-help books. I realized that new age spiritualism shared a lot of tenants with the open source community. That realization paved a lot of the successes we achieved over the next ten years.

What strategic partnerships have you implemented that have attributed to the success of SXSW Interactive?

One of the big keys to our growth is the SXSW PanelPicker. This interface helps us leverage the wisdom of the community when programming our event. The more we’ve been able to connect with our community, the stronger SXSW Interactive has become.

What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?

Important industry trends include wearable computing, internet of things, human / robot interfaces, 3D printing, and the continued explosion of startup ecosystem. We will see a lot of focus on these trends (as well as a few others) at SXSW Interactive 2015.

Life Motto?

Love over fear

SXSW's Motto?

Creativity, innovation, inspiration

Your greatest success as Director of the SXSW Interactive Festival?

All the stories about people who have gained a significant new opportunity (or a significant new business or personal relationship) via the one-on-one connections they have made at SXSW.

Most difficult moment: How did you overcome and what did you learn?

Matthew Crump, who was part of the SXSW Interactive team, passed away from a heart attack on the eve of the 2014 event. His death was another lesson in how fleeting our time is on this early plane.

Your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur?

Two words: Patience and persistence

Favorite travel destination?

London. All the more so, now that we have direct flight from Austin to Heathrow.

One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?

Grilled artichoke with truffle oil and sea salt, plus a glass of red wine sangria.

What literature is on your bed stand?

The September 2014 issue of Vanity Fair magazine, which includes their extensive “New Establishment” listings.

Role model — business and personal?

On the business side, Elon Musk. He is the Henry Ford of our generation. On the personal side, my son. He is trilingual at the age of four (I’m a few years older and I’m still English-only)

Current passion?

Trying to retrain myself to meditate. At least 10 minutes per day makes me much better at handling a day’s worth of stress.

Most interesting headline you've read this week?

Who still reads headlines?

What's next for SXSW?

We will see a much bigger emphasis on Health and MedTech at SXSW Interactive 2015.


The first South by Southwest Music Conference and Festival (SXSW) was held in 1987 in Austin, Texas. Despite the fact that Austin was not a Top 20 major market at the time, the background and character of the city made it a perfect location for the conference. Austin was considered a fairly cosmopolitan town for its size because of the University of Texas, which draws people from all over the world. As home to the state government and Texas Legislature it has also always been a popular party town, with a reputation that goes back to the 19th century when numerous nightspots and bars were populated by General Custer's troops after the Civil War. These nightspots are located in the same areas where the 6th Street and 4th Street club and bar scenes now exist.

Austin's eclectic music scene goes back to early in the city's history (from Mexican, German and colonial origins) and encompasses a wide variety of music including country, folk, jazz, blues and rock. Central Austin boasts more original music nightclubs in a concentrated area than any other city in the world.

The classic problem facing Austin musicians was being isolated from the rest of the world here in the middle of Texas. SXSW was a way to reach out to the rest of the world, and bring them here to do business. To do that successfully, SXSW needed to appeal to people other than local artists whether they were from Austin, Ft. Worth, Chicago, Toronto, Munich or Tokyo.

National interest in SXSW was immediate. For years, music businesses on both coasts had been intrigued by what was going on in Austin. The cosmic cowboy, blues, punk and other scenes had already proven that Austin was a receptive place for bands to be creative. With SXSW, music industry executives gained a good excuse to visit.

International interest in SXSW began the second year due to many Austin and American bands finding their first success in Europe. Conversely, there was a lot of interest from SXSW registrants in the international bands who came to perform. SXSW now has offices in Ireland, Germany, Australia and Japan who help bring SXSW registrants to Austin.

The music event has grown from 700 registrants in 1987 to over 16,000 registrants. As Austin has grown and diversified, film companies and high-tech companies have played a major role in the Austin and the Texas economies. In 1994, SXSW added a film and interactive component to accommodate these growth industries. SXSW Film and SXSW Interactive events together attract approximately 32,000 registrants to Austin every March.

SXSW's original goal was to create an event that would act as a tool for creative people and the companies they work with to develop their careers, to bring together people from a wide area to meet and share ideas. That continues to be the goal today whether it is music, film or interactive technologies. And Austin continues to be the perfect location.