lecturas de fin de semana [ 28 ] / 'techcrunch blogger michael arrington can generate buzz ... and cash'
TechCrunch es el cuarto blog más leído del mundo —de hecho, el de la tecnología es uno de los sectores donde funcionan más dinámicamente las plataformas tipo Web 2.0—. Como en estos días he estado hablando del papel que juegan los prescriptores de opinión, aprovecho la ocasión para reproducir el perfil del blogger Michael Arrington —autor de TechCrunch— que publicó hace unos días la revista Wired. Para plantearlo de una manera sencilla y contundente, basta con decir que la mención de una empresa del sector informático o de un desarrollador de aplicaciones en TechCrunch puede terminar representando para estos el giro que siempre soñaron con darle a sus vidas.
El texto muestra la magnitud de la influencia de Arrington y la manera como la ha alcanzado. Por otro lado, el título del perfil resume muy bien el poder de quienes tienen la capacidad de movilizar opinión: generar temas de conversación y dinero.
One Tuesday morning in early May, Michael Arrington was sound asleep in his bedroom in
Over the last two years, Arrington has gotten used to entrepreneurs beating a path to his door. (His cluttered office is in his rented house, just across the hall from the bedroom.) Since he launched TechCrunch — an obsessively updated blog that chronicles Web startups — in 2005, he's been getting at least one unannounced visitor practically every week. The drop-ins have become a distracting side effect of being among the most influential — and quite possibly the richest — business writers in
To the world outside
The wait can be worth it. A positive 400-word write-up on TechCrunch usually means a sudden bump in traffic and a major uptick in credibility among potential investors. In early March, for example, the site profiled Scribd, a
VCs and entrepreneurs read Arrington for the same reason they pay attention to any top journalist or columnist: He's smart, sourced up, and ahead of the curve. "He has more information than any of us," says David Hornik, a partner at August Capital and an occasional source for TechCrunch. Arrington breaks news — like his scoop about Google buying YouTube or Yahoo's internal financial analysis of acquisition target Facebook — well ahead of the mainstream media. One day he'll review the pros and cons of all the online photo-editing sites, another day he'll give you the blow-by-blow on why a company like Filmloop was sold, and on yet another day he'll rant about how Silicon Valley could use a downturn.
And unlike most solo bloggers, Arrington has turned his passion into a tidy business. Revenue from advertising, job listings, and sponsorships now totals about $200,000 a month. He says he could have sold the operation last fall to a media company (which he won't name) for $8.5 million, and he may still. But with a new top-flight CEO from Fox Interactive Media, roughly $1 million in the bank, and VCs lining up around the block to invest, Arrington talks like a man who wants to build an empire. There are lots of blogs with more raw traffic — mostly celebrity or political sites like A Socialite's Life and Daily Kos — but few with as much business influence. Based on how many times other Web sites link to his content — an unscientific but accepted yardstick — Arrington is the world's fourth-most-powerful blogger, according to Technorati.
By any measure, it has been a remarkable rise. Two years ago, Arrington was a nobody — a former attorney and entrepreneur who, at 35, looked as if he might never hit it big. Now, without a journalism background or media-giant bankroll, he is mentioned in the same sentence as big-shot tech journalist Walt Mossberg and venture capitalists John Doerr and Michael Moritz, two of the guys who backed Google. But Arrington is not only a self-made
While mainstream media outlets have been scrambling to figure out how to make blogging work, Arrington has emerged as a blogosphere phenom. When he realized that no one was writing about the explosion in new consumer Internet companies, he began working 16 hours a day, seven days a week, to build an audience. Originally a solo operator, he now has a half dozen writers and researchers pumping out three to 10 posts a day in addition to maintaining an opinion blog called CrunchNotes, a gadget blog called CrunchGear, a classified-ad site called CrunchJobs, and a portable-computing blog called MobileCrunch. He says he has looked at, however briefly, more than 7,000 startups in two years and has written about nearly 500 of them. "I saw a parade," he says, "and I got in front of it."
Arrington's longtime associate and mentor, Keith Teare, says he's never met anyone with as much drive as Arrington has. He says it's part of the reason Arrington has had so many employers — six (not including part-time consulting gigs) since graduating from
Arrington's impatience extends to the niceties of traditional journalism as well. He sees no problem commingling the roles of entrepreneur, investor, publisher, reporter, and columnist. Most journalists work hard not to write about friends. They avoid covering people or companies that would create even the appearance of a conflict of interest. Arrington doesn't observe any such boundaries. He's better today at disclosing his conflicts than he was when he first started TechCrunch, but he'll tell you that it is exactly those conflicts — and his refusal to pull punches in spite of them — that give him his competitive advantage. "One of my friends, Tom Ball, is mad at me because I just trashed his startup, Jigsaw. He'll get over it — I hope," Arrington says. "I'm an investor in a company called Daylife, and I shredded them." He's also happy to use his friends as sources. "When I broke the YouTube story, it's only because I was online at 2 am, and a friend told me about it."
Arrington's four-bedroom ranch house sits on a 1-acre plot in Atherton, which is ranked number two on the Forbes 2006 list of the nation's richest zip codes. But don't be fooled; he's not living large. The place is a rental — and it's a dump. The kitchen looks like it hasn't been redone since the '70s, and the beige shag carpet badly needs a shampoo. One of the bedrooms is unfurnished save for a bed "where out-of-town entrepreneurs can stay if I like them," Arrington says. Another bedroom is outfitted with a desk and a futon on the floor. His new CEO, Heather Harde, uses the room as an office during the day. His research assistant, Nick Gonzalez, often crashes on the futon on weeknights. Arrington's office at the end of the hall looks like it belongs to a grad student: two computer monitors, papers stacked everywhere, a bottle of generic antacids.
The seeds of Arrington's fascination with entrepreneurs were planted during his years as a young corporate attorney. Not long after graduating from
In 1999 — at the peak of the Internet bubble — Arrington took just such a chance himself. He left the law firm and went to work as head of business development at Real Names, a hot startup with an idea that seemed sexy at the time: Replace long, nonintuitive Internet addresses with simple, natural-language entries. Teare was the Real Names founder and CEO, and Arrington was captivated by both the idea and the entrepreneur.
The hoped-for IPO riches never came. Instead, the Internet boom went bust, taking Real Names down with it. But instead of going back into law like a lot of boom-time washouts, Arrington jumped to another startup: Achex, a service that promised to make online money transfers a snap. That didn't work out very well either. A little upstart called PayPal swooped in to dominate the sector. The Achex founders ended up selling the payment architecture to a financial services firm for $32 million. "I made enough to buy a Porsche. Not much more," he says.
He spent the next three years living in
The invention of TechCrunch happened pretty much by accident. Arrington started blogging as a way to get up to speed on new business models. "Remember, I was gone in 2004 when Flickr came out and Bloglines and all the cool new Web 2.0 stuff," he says. "So half my day was spent researching old startups. I figured at the very least I'd use it as a networking tool." Instead, TechCrunch became so popular, so fast, that Arrington quit Edgeio less than six months after he started working there.
To drum up excitement for the blog, he started hosting barbecues at his house in Atherton. The first attracted only 20 guests. But the second drew 100, and the third 200. For the fourth, he put up a tent in his backyard, and more than 500 people came. Before long his wild parties, which lasted into the wee hours, became a major stop on the Valley social circuit.
Of course, Arrington's success is about more than partying like a frat boy and schmoozing like a
Arrington relishes the rough-and-tumble of online feuds, comment wars, and one-upmanship. And as an A-list blogger, he's obliged to wade into controversy most every day. Online and in person, he can be intimidating. At 6'4", he projects a persona somewhere between an aging linebacker and Tony Soprano — a large man always on the verge of losing his cool. Indeed, a couple of his online tantrums have become legendary.
Last fall, for example, he was pilloried by journalists during a panel discussion in
The cluelessness and arrogance of major media outlets is a favorite talking point. Arrington is especially enraged by journalists who follow in his wake without crediting him. He keeps a mental list of such offenders. "Two weeks ago, I broke the news that Microsoft and Tellme were in acquisition discussions," he says. "Yesterday CNET writes a post. I know the writer reads TechCrunch. She didn't even mention it." He vowed never to link to another CNET story, but he has since said that he was exaggerating.
Earlier this year, while attending DEMO, the annual tech conference for entrepreneurs, he announced on his blog that he planned to create a competing conference — this while he was sitting in the audience connected to the Wi-Fi network. "They stole one of my writers, so I was pissed at them," he says of the DEMO organizers.
He even lost his cool over this story. In April, two of his friends — Jason Calacanis, who started Weblogs Inc. and sold it to AOL, and Dave Winer, who is considered the father of RSS — blogged about my emails to them seeking phone interviews. Titling his post "With friends like these," he scolded them for blowing a great opportunity for him. He was worried that Wired would kill this story because of the advance publicity.
Arrington readily admits that he's prone to excess and uncontrolled outbursts — of temper, partying, and work. But it's that very quality that has helped make him one of the most compelling
To bring some balance to his enterprise, he hired Harde, a former mergers-and-acquisitions specialist for Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. He says she is as steady as he is volatile. And if he's going to make TechCrunch into the media empire he envisions, he knows that he needs someone like her to run things.
Already, he's laying the groundwork for a whole stable of clued-in, hard-driving news blogs: MusicCrunch, SoftwareCrunch, TelecomCrunch. "The goal is to have 15 to 20 sites 18 months from now," he says . He plans to hire popular bloggers and create a homepage with the best news from each site to draw readers. From there, they could drill into each topic in more depth. His aim is to become the premier technology news site on the Internet, one that goes head-to-head with CNET and potentially with other technology news sites, including Wired.com. Arrington figures he can get by with just a few dozen employees. "With 25 to 30 paid writers against CNET's huge cost base, they won't be able to compete," he says.
It's a crapshoot, to be sure. But there is some precedent for turning a string of blogs into a business success. Calacanis sold his blog fiefdom two years ago for $25 million. And based on pageviews, it's estimated that Nick Denton's Gawker Media — which includes Gawker, Lifehacker, Valleywag, Gizmodo, Wonkette, Defamer, and a half dozen other blogs — could fetch more than $100 million.
Arrington is clearly in that league, and he's counting on Harde to help him win. "If we need to make acquisitions, she can do that in her sleep," he says.
But it's one thing to be an opinionated entrepreneur with a platform. It's another for Arrington to replicate his investor- entrepreneur-journalist model at dozens of sister publications.
Some TechCrunch readers, like Reid Hoffman, founder and former CEO of Linkedin, believe that Arrington may need to decide whether he wants his new blogs to be stocked with journalists working from the outside or players working from the inside. When you combine the two roles, Hoffman says, no one knows how to behave around you: Are you a journalist or a power broker?
Arrington says it's a false dilemma. He and his new bloggers can straddle this line forever, he says, as long as they disclose their conflicts. "I strive to be fair and say only what I believe the truth to be. But that's where it ends," he wrote last year in an 800-word post on his companion blog, CrunchNotes. "Human interaction is simply too complex to pretend that we are all objective." Like the capitalist he is, Arrington trusts the market to reward or punish him as it sees fit. If readers and advertisers keep coming back — so far, so good — what's the problem? And if the market shifts, expect to hear it from Arrington first.