UT alumni develop website to give SXSWgoers optimal festival experience

Madelyn Reiter

After years of attending South By Southwest, three friends and recent UT graduates, Ari Gootnick, Chris Hogue and Chris Xu, created a business to simplify the festival experience.

Festival Saviors, a subscription-based website dedicated to helping festivalgoers navigate the events, launched in December 2017. Creative content manager Gootnick, developer Hogue and event coordinator Xu created the site to provide festival “secrets” via blog posts and a private group chat where visitors can ask questions, tell stories and share unknown venues and shows that many often try to scope out. It also arranges users’ plans with a RSVP service which uses algorithms to respond to event invitations, saving attendees time.

“We were friends who always went to (South By Southwest) together,” Xu said. “We first just made a group to keep everyone informed about the festival because we know how hard it is to do it if you’ve never gone before, and over time, it just grew.”

The idea for the website came after Hogue and Xu created a spreadsheet of free and official SXSW events for themselves to help plan what they wanted to see during the festival. Friends asked for access to the spreadsheet, and after Hogue and Xu recognized the stress of preparing to attend the festival, it was shared and eventually circulated to thousands. Gootnick, Hogue and Xu shortly turned it into a website and added tips on how to navigate SXSW and other services.

“We’re creating this all-encompassing, official South By Southwest website for people who need these type of resources,” Gootnick said. “The festival can be really overwhelming from an emotional standpoint. There are thousands of events — free and official — and thousands of people. We want to educate people so that they can tackle the festival more head-on.”

While none of the co-founders were business majors, they always had passion for innovation. During their years at college, they were active members of the Longhorn Entrepreneurship Agency and experimented with creating their own businesses, including founding a party series called “HypeCave.”

“It’s kind of in our blood to keep starting businesses and keep innovating and improving the world in that way,” Gootnick said.

This year will be a “test run” for Festival Saviors, but after evaluating which aspects of the site are a success and which are not, the founders hope to one day expand to other festivals similar to SXSW, Hogue said.