News Column

At SXSW, Shaquille O'Neal Searches for Next Big Tech Startup

March 11, 2013

Gary Dinges

Brace yourselves, Austinites. We're in for a Shaq attack. Former NBA superstar Shaquille O'Neal will be in town this weekend as part of South by Southwest, teaming up with Tout -- a smartphone app that enables users to record and share quick video snippets -- to find the next big tech startup.

After reviewing 15-second "elevator pitches" submitted by SXSW attendees, he'll select one company to make a face-to-face presentation. Done right, the startup could walk away with O'Neal as an advisor -- or even as an investor.

"I'm a big tech geek," O'Neal, who graduated from Cole High School in San Antonio, told the American-Statesman. "I'm a nerd. I'm always looking for the next big thing."

Known for his social media savvy, O'Neal was among the first big-name celebrities to start using Twitter, which introduced itself to the world at SXSW 2007.

His Twitter strategy, he said, is "60 percent 'make you laugh,' 30 percent 'inspire you' and 10 percent, 'Hey, watch this.'"

This year, O'Neal says he's on the hunt for something "new, hot and exciting."

"Social media is a way for everyone to have a say-so," O'Neal said. "It's just ... fun."

Tout, which has offices in San Francisco, is counting on SXSW to help take it to the next level, CEO Michael Downing said.

"This is a fun, unique opportunity for us," he said. "It's a cool use of our technology.

"Officially, there are hundreds of startups involved in South by Southwest that are hoping to get discovered. Unofficially, there's a ton more."

Tout has already gained a significant amount of traction, according to Downing, including widespread usage by 2,000-plus reporters and editors at the Wall Street Journal.

"It has been wildly transformational for them," Downing said. "With one click, their video updates are live on WSJ.com in about 30 seconds."

Even WWE wrestlers have taken to Tout, interacting with fans during matches. So are the stars of some reality TV shows produced by NBC/Universal.

"Fans just go nuts," Downing said. "It creates a social mania that happens around each program."

O'Neal, Downing said, is the ideal person to be the face of Tout during SXSW.

"When we first launched, Shaq was among the first people to use Tout -- and he fell in love with it," he said. "He's pretty innovative."

O'Neal even announced his retirement from the NBA via Tout, Downing said.

But Tout's not the only reason O'Neal is in town for SXSW. He'll share his thoughts on social media and other tech topics Monday at 12:30 p.m. at the Long Center's Dell Hall.

"I'm looking forward to shaking some hands and having a good time -- and we'll probably hit Sixth Street, too," he said.


For more stories covering the world of technology, please see HispanicBusiness' Tech Channel



Source: (c)2013 Austin American-Statesman, Texas. Distributed by MCT Information Services


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