Sunday, June 01, 2008

Austin, the Experience City?

Bootstrap member Ash Maurya kicked off a great discussion within Bootstrap Austin about what kind of message Austin sends to the world. He had read an article by Paul Graham about other cities like NYC, LA and the Bay Area and the energy they exude.

The chamber has launched a new initiative, Austin Human Capital for its current external marketing efforts. The website also features short video vignettes featuring various Austinites including myself.

GSD&M has done 'Idea City' which resonates quite a bit as Austin is a fertile place for new ideas to be born because of the acceptance and openness that Richard Florida discussed in his book, Rise of the Creative Class. Unfortunately, due to it now being directly associated with GSD&M, it cannot be adopted by the city as a whole. The Keep Austin Weird movement is also a part of this ongoing encouragement towards Florida's "Tolerance," but it is at best an internal call to the city's residents rather than an external branding exercise.

And we have the Live Music Capital of the World, adopted by the City of Austin in 1991.

I've always thought Austin is a perfect entrepreneurship, and particularly bootstrap entrepreneurship due all the above factors coupled with its low cost of living.

Still, none of these themes captures the overall essence. Perhaps an idea forwarded by Joe Pine in 1999 might provide that encompassing theme: the Experience Economy.

Starting, of course, with the city itself and all the things we already enjoy: nature, the live music scene, etc. Our attitude, which fosters openness and acceptance means that we can all create our own experiences within the city. A brief check of Austin's various event calendars, such as Holly's Hot Happenings, or the Austin Chronicle reveals an almost infinite array of events happening on any given day. But beyond that, the quintessential Austin companies and organizations create experiences for the customers and constituents:
  • Whole Foods Market - turns grocery shopping into an experience
  • RunTex - making getting fit into an experience through weekend races and an involved running community
  • Alamo Drafthouse - beer, food, film, events!
  • Amy's Ice Cream - watch as your ice cream gets made with crushins and goodies
  • Austin City Limits - 3-day music festival at Zilker Park
  • SXSW - Interactive, Music & Film Conference held at the Convention Center and all over town. Indeed, the parties are considered just as important (if not more!) than the conference content
  • The Long Center - integrated approach to entertainment with open and closed space and events
  • Leadership Austin - immerses participants in the city through various programs and ongoing events and shows them how they can make a difference
Bootstrap Austin has many young companies doing the same. Here are a few examples
Certainly, the overall shift on the web is all about creating a participatory experience for uses.

One might even argue that Bootstrap Austin turns entrepreneurship into an experience where we make friends, help each other, learn along the way and have fun doing it.

It does seem that it would be beneficial to brand Austin in an encompassing way that not only honors what we've already done, but captures the essence.

Let's explore the question of the together at the Experience City website. If we are indeed an experience city, what can we do to get better at being one and how will we share this with the rest of the world?

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