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  1. SXSWi: Lanyrd’s breakout conference

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    Lanyrd started as a side project for developers Simon Willison and Natalie Downe, but it became clear from day one in September last year - with 14,000 visits in the first two hours - that it deserved a life of its own. This year’s SXSW has been an intense special project for the pair, who’ve been exploring new features on a dedicated SXSW microsite during the week that will now be rolled out across Lanyrd. In three weeks up to SXSW, that microsite has recorded 15,692 unique users and 90,000 page views; not bad (even taking duplicated users into account) when the total number of SXSW Interactive delegates was 19,364 this year. 

    "The starting idea was that it is hard to find conferences to go to and that you’re interested in, but we follow friends with similar interests on Twitter," said Downe. "Lanyrd pulls in the social graph and shows events friends are speaking at or attending." Lanyrd socialises, organises and documents conferences. "Conferences are an inefficient way of sharing information. People put a lot of effort into talks, but often that is only shared with those in the room or, if they are posted online, that’s not collaborative. We give a permanent URL to every session at every conference so we can be useful before, during and after the conference and all crowdsourced by the community." 

    The pair successfully pitched for Y Combinator funding in the batch announced two months ago, with an initial investment of $17,000 and a small stake for Y Combinator, then won $150,000 in additional funding from Russian investor Yuri Millner of Digital Sky Technologies. “Lanyrd proved way more popular than we’d expected and we needed to turn it into a company,” said Willison. What the pair didn’t know about the investment scene, marketing or sales, Y Combinator provided mentoring and support during a three-month bootcamp, including weekly dinners with business leaders that explained growing a business, acquisitions and investments. 

    From launching the site during honeymoon in Casablanca, Lanyrd now has 27,000 registered users and lists 7,000 events. The real coup for Lanyrd could be if major events, like SXSW, could adopt the service as its official session planner.

    Simon Willison and Natalie Downe of Lanyrd by jemimakiss

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Jemima Kiss is a media reporter for the Guardian and Robbie Clutton is a software developer for the Guardian. Find our full coverage of SXSW 2011 at

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