NSFAOL: Highlights From Yesterday's Secret "Welcome To AOL" Meeting

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“Windows is the past. In the future, AOL is the next Microsoft.”

— Steve Case (1999)

Like most serious writers, I’ve always dreamed of working for AOL. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when Heather and Mike took to the stage during Disrupt, alongside AOL Chairman Tim Armstrong, to announce that TechCrunch has been acquired by the 90s chat-room giant.

You can also imagine how relieved I was to hear that our new corporate ownership wouldn’t affect our editorial independence. A fact reiterated in the press release that Mike allowed Armstrong to publish on our homepage.

The real meat of the deal was explained to TechCrunch employees and contributors yesterday, in our first ever “all hands” meeting, hosted by David Eun, President of AOL Media and Studios. In an act of Mike-Judgeian corporate defiance, Mike published the full agenda ahead of the meeting, leaving us to salivate at highlights like “HR to hand out offer letters / AOL gifts.” (to clarify: these were very separate items) and the time set aside for “administrative happiness”.

The rest of the meeting, though, was designated as an “internal AOL meeting” and as such was strictly off the record. However, after giving that warning, the very next thing that Eun said was that we should all “keep doing what we do”.

Here then are the details of the meeting…

The first order of business – and indeed the whole thrust of the gathering – was to reassure any of us who might think that TechCrunch (the world’s number one technology blog, and a growing start-up) and AOL (America’s number one killer of start-ups) might somehow not be a great fit. Eun and his team expertly calmed our fears though, adding: “We don’t want you to feel that you can’t criticize AOL.”

Phew!

“…but of course neither should you feel that you need to go out of your way to criticize AOL.”

Oh.

But even if our editorial voice will remain unchanged, that’s not to say that AOL is going to take a completely hands-off approach to the company. Indeed, along with their offer letters, each employee was handed a welcome pack which gushed that TC staffers are “the mega to our byte” (rejected phrases include “You’re the 56 to our K” and “You’re the one cup to our two girls”).

So then, what changes can we expect to see at the all-new AOL-TC? Here are my top seven take-aways from the meeting…

  1. Included in the welcome pack was a bullet-pointed list of AOL corporate principles, including the promise that “we take fun seriously”. To this end, TechCrunch employees will be expected to attend a two hour meeting every Saturday afternoon, during which they will participate in Mandatory Fun. Absentees, or those who refuse to wear the mandated clown nose and comedy hat, will be terminated for cause.
  2. In line with standard AOL policy, any employee who decides to leave the company will be required to call an 800 number where they’ll be kept on hold for two hours before being connected to a bored call centre worker who will try to aggressively persuade them to stay. Whatever the eventual outcome, AOL will continue to debit $19.95 from the employee’s bank account until the end of time.
  3. From now on, all TechCrunch staffers will be expected to state their age, sex and location before posting on Yammer.
  4. To placate staffers still concerned about the deal, AOL will host a series of motivational talks with the founders of other acquired start-ups. First up: Bebo’s Michael Birch, with his inspiring lecture “How I achieved true happiness by selling my company for $850m and then not working a single day at AOL”
  5. To celebrate the acquisition, AOL will finance a romantic comedy based on the events of the past two weeks. Starring Tom Hanks as Michael Arrington, Meg Ryan as Heather Harde and Greg Kinnear as Tim Armstrong, the movie has the working title: You’ve Got Fail.
  6. Twelve months later, the company will develop a sequel. With the working title “Unvested Development”, it will neither be romantic nor comedic.
  7. My first column for the all new AOL-Techcrunch will, inexplicably, also be my last.
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