If there’s anything to be learned from the past year, it’s that media people are mostly power vultures — pulling out their forks and knives at the slight sign of vulnerability from those that have influence. Oftentimes some are so eager for the kill that they slip up and impale themselves on those very knives — the pattern repeats over and over again.
Earlier this month, after being beat up by news cycle after news cycle about my — yes, struggling, beloved — company, I asked my investor friend why tech bloggers* were so petty. He responded with an adapted Wallace Sayre quote, “Because the stakes are so low.”
What we love about the startup world is precisely the opposite. The stakes are as high as they get — we’re all betting on the future. Because of what’s at risk, the landscape is tumultuous and mercurial but for the most part people are dignified and kind. In Silicon Valley your reputation is your currency. Believe it or not, I’ve never been a part of any community where a majority of people have such high integrity.
It’s this fundamental respect for the startup community, and the founders that foster it, that was the cornerstone of Michael Arrington’s TechCrunch. Being a “startup that covered other startups” just made sense. The blog took risks and failed and took more risks and failed and did so because its subject matter did. It wouldn’t have been so compelling if the medium weren’t the message, or so respected.
One of the more memorable things Arrington said to me as a young writer was “I’d rather have you mess up every once in a while than be boring.” The most successful founders piss off users/investors/bloggers/whatever yet keep waking up and trying to do something cool and new.
This spirit is the basis of what Sarah Lacy is trying to do with PandoDaily; Despite how silly the name sounds, the Pando Tree metaphor of deeply entwined roots beneath a rapidly changing ecosystem perfectly describes another core Valley concept, reinvention.
TechCrunch sometimes reminds me of the Great Wall of China, in that the bones of the people who built it are still embedded in its foundation. Not a day goes by where I don’t come across some amazing post from Mike, or Paul Carr or whoever in trying to do my own work. And I feel like we’re still building the wall.
The greats that are TechCrunch’s foundation were in a unique position to tell the raw and personal stories behind what eventually became world-changing companies. TechCrunch took pride in subjectivity and transparency where old media got up on a pulpit of fact and preached itself to irrelevancy.
Like many startups that demonstrated scale, we got bought — because, even though this has played out poorly time and time again, some people got starry-eyed and hopeful. Mistakes were made.
What’s remarkable about TechCrunch as a Valley acquisition story is not that traffic is down (losing MG Siegler will do that to a blog) but that the whole process has been extremely well-documented. By us, and those people with forks and knives and Comscore or Alexa or Compete.
Trust me, this shit is more painful than down and to the right motion on a graph. I’ve lost friends, even closer friends and almost my sanity trying to give this narrative a happy ending — We all have.
Sometimes I hope we can pull a StumbleUpon or Webshots or Skype and spin ourselves off of something so clearly doomed. Other times, when I watch AOL resources being cleverly repurposed for innovation, like First Floor Labs, I think we have a fighting chance and hope we’ll be an exception. Our team is definitely young and crazy enough, especially Eric Eldon and maybe Anthony Ha.
And fuck, if we die trying, at least we’ll get to be transparent about it.
*Disclosure: I am also a tech blogger.