A Journalist? A VC? Who cares. It’s all about Influence.

Yesterday Mike Arrington left TechCrunch to launch his own fund the Crunchfund. Today MG Siegler leaves TechCrunch to become a VC.

As a “journalist – reporter – blogger” many people said Mike was biased and shouldn’t be a journalist. He was fired by Arianna Huffington because he became a VC, too. Will VCs say he shouldn’t be a VC because he also blogs? How about MG? Will MG gain respect from the entrepreneurs and the VC community despite the fact that he’s known as a tech blogger/journalist?

I think it doesn’t matter. What matters is the fact that Mike and MG are among (if not at the top of) the most influential people in the tech scene, they just changed form.

Will investors want to respect them as VCs? It’s already done, look who invested in the Crunchfund, it’s a who’s who of the tech VCs and angels. Will entrepreneurs want their money and work with them? Of course they will, because they will get much more exposure with them than VCs who have no online influence and basically don’t exist apart from their deals. Look at Fred Wilson, he is getting his own dealflow thanks to his very popular blog and the personal brand he built.

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(MG in Paris by Sarah Lane)

It’s all about online influence, it’s a killer weapon, and startups need it, too.

LeWeb will be fun this year, with those new VC-bloggers in da place. I’m definitely inspired to (try to) blog more myself.



How my 16 years son gets ready to the Facebook Timeline public launch: hide everything

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My 16 years old son Arthur first told me “I will delete my entire Facebook profile and create a new empty one when they launch Timeline”

He got so scared that his current friends would see all his posts and pics since 2009 that he somehow managed to activate his account as developer (by creating a fake app I think, I guess it’s a start), activate timeline and then he found he could hide it all.

Here is Facebook’s mistake: considering that everybody will want to expose all his past by default.

How about things you’re ashamed of (probably because he was younger in this case, which is a mistake, he will want to laugh at them later), but think about if you divorced, do you really want to expose all your past so easily? It’s just an example, I guess no one will want to expose too much negative in general and that Timeline by default isn’t going to work very well.

We will see, but mind you, friends at Facebook, my son “LIVES” in Facebook, so if he reacts like this, it’s probably not a very good sign.



How Brutally Honest Can You Be?

“I really don’t care about you, all I need is your money for my startup, and I don’t want your sucky preference terms.” could say an entrepreneur to a VC.

Mike Arrington wrote a really good post, “brutal honesty” that he reckons makes him look like an asshole so often. Vinod Khosla wrote on his site “We prefer brutal honestly to hypocritical politeness”, I love it.

I think I’m pretty often brutally honest but the line between honest and asshole is pretty thin. How honest can you be?



Too much technology locked my wife out of the house but I had a great lunch

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I just came back to the office from a great lunch with my friend Phil Kaplan (yeah, not this one), I’m a big fan of the fuckedcompany.com founder.

When I get back to my San Francisco office the whole team tells me my phones have been ringing for a long time like all the time.

Why my phones kept ringing? My wife locked herself out of the house the very day I forget all of my 3 (!) phones to go to lunch. It never happened to me that I forgot my phone for years! I felt good actually, good lunch, no email checking, no technology, no sharing the awesome fresh uni on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn, no nothing. Just a great conversation with a fantastic entrepreneur without thinking that I should check what’s happening online.

Geraldine could finally get in somehow.

Blame her new car that doesn’t need a key to start it, you know it’s those cars the key just has to be in the car to start the engine and you only press a button to open the door if the key is nearby.

Bang there you go, she left the key in it, closed the parking door and no keys to get in the house or back in the garage. Hilarious now that it’s solved. Fortunately it did not last very long and the weather is beautiful outside in SF.

When I think about it, it’s too much technology that locked her out (I did not take that option on my car perfectly aware the same could happen to me) and too much technology that could have prevented me from a great non interrupted lunch. I need to learn how to live with less technology more often.

(pic taken by Jacques Witt for SIPA Press in 2007, full set here)



Windows 8 tablet and OS: a developer’s point of view

A lot has been written about Windows 8, but I had a great conversation with our CTO Marco Kaiser and I felt like sharing it here: his thoughts mainly and mine (a little) about the new Windows 8 OS and the tablet we got at the Build conference, what it means for developers and how it compares with iPad and Android.



The Influencers Verdict: the Google+ example

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One of the top challenges of any service launching it to pass the influencers verdict. Look at Dan Reimold’s post (that I am discovering tonight because his post is on Techmeme) about the failure of Google+ “Worse than a Ghost town”.

So, here is the cycle:

-launch your service > if you’re lucky you will get (some) influencers, A list bloggers (not sure Dan is one of them), whatever you call them, write about it. In the case of Google+ EVERYBODY wrote about it, if it’s your startup, it’s more challenging.

-wait a few months > in most cases, the same influencers forgot about you and will never write again until you gain some real traction. In most cases, you never reach enough traction and just keep going as a errr…. ghost and mind you it might even make a very successful service. In some cases, like Google+, you will get obsessed users like Scoble and a few very loyal users, keep going.

-after your initial growth and success, you will generally go through a long, tough, painful no significant growth period, sometimes you will even get negative growth (read: active users declining). That’s when you need to hold tight, that’ the influencers verdict: will go through that moment and grow a loyal user base when all the influencers moved on

-if the influencers still pay attention (unlikely) like they’re doing for Google+ because it’s Google, they will trash you has Dan Reimold just did. And many others did the last two weeks. It’s like becoming fashionable to trash Google+ these days, just to be different, just because it will get eye balls, just because it’s cool to say Google will fail, again, on social.

That’s the “influencers verdict” moment. When the influencers start either not paying attention or trashing you. That’s when you are really testing your service against normal users because you have just completely reached 99.99% of the influencers and they wrote everything they could possibly write about Google+ so all there is left to them is to trash it.

Time will tell if Google+ will succeed, I am still getting incredible traction and interactions in it (thanks) so I don’t believe the influencers verdict, I was waiting for it to start to show up and it of course did.

It’s a great reminder on how to launch a new service: it’s not about the tech bloggers and writers, it’s about normal people and wether they will adopt it or not. Forget the influencers, the history is packed with services that succeeded when the influencers said it would fail and vice-versa.

No, Dan, your opinion doesn’t matter. It’s the other millions of users that matter, you might be right, but only time will tell. You’re trashing Google+ just because it will get you some attention today. update: it looks like you don’t even use Google+.



Limiting success is often why acquisitions fail

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In many deals, I see people wondering about “what if it works“. Seth Godin has a great point here. I see it mostly in acquisition of startups deals which have earn-outs. Many many times the acquirer will try to limit the earn out “in case it gets huge” read: “and we pay too much”.

That’s the whole point and that’s why so many acquisition fail, the acquirer wants to limit the return of the entrepreneur if it keeps succeeding. Big mistake, because he moves on and goes start something else instead.

 



Hey Avis, you can indeed try harder

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Hey, Avis, I have a “President’s Club” customer card, I guess by the name it must be that I am important to you.

I just made a reservation for a car using that number and it told me I could not benefit from the express service as my amex card in there isn’t up to date.

No problem, I called your dedicated number that keeps telling me how my call was important to you as I was waiting to update my profile.

After a few minutes I talk to an agent who was barely nice, sorry let me correct that, I really felt like I was disturbing her with my request.

She says “oh, but you got that card in France so I can’t update it”

me “no problem, just get me a US card as I am now a permanent resident here”

her “I am not sure I can do that, hold on” – I held again a few minutes

then I was transferred without any word to a voice mail of someone explaining she cannot pickup the phone and I should leave a voice mail

Wonderful experience. I guess my transfer to the US doesn’t help and is an edge case but that shouldn’t excuse not trying to solve my problem.

Why am I blogging this? Not to hurt Avis for sure, a blog post like this won’t do much. Of course I’d like it resolved so maybe some kind of community manager there will read and help.

The reason I am blogging this is that it’s been a while I have had this idea of a site where you log that kind of experiences in public and then we could have more transparency and ranking on how brands deal with customers. Is there a Virgin America of the car rental with great customer service? Avis isn’t in that category for sure, at least for me.

You can definitely try harder.



My startups always need a COO

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Great post by Mark Suster about Why Your Startup Doesn’t Need a COO

I have always had a COO in any of my companies, when I had no means to pay for one it was my wife, Geraldine, and she still is the COO of LeWeb and err… more generally the COO of my life. I worked for many years in Europe with Olivier Creiche that was the COO of my web agency and then my blogging company, I would work with him in a heartbeat, again. That posted started a conversation between my long time and fantastic COO and friend Bastien Vidal. I thought he was thinking about the “coup d’etat” that Mark is talking about, but no, Bastien actually agrees with me about our two roles being very different, as Mark says:

When should a company get a COO then?
I’ve had this debate with some very successful VCs who are pro COO. They talk about freeing up the time of the CEO to think bigger picture and plan for the long haul. They talk about the need of the CEO to be chief evangelist, speak at conference, lead executive recruiting, etc. They say that having a COO allows the CEO to remover herself from the continual politics and personnel management that can be a drag on management time. I know this one as I’ve often said, the main job of a CEO is chief psychologist.

It works well for us, and it works well with Geraldine for LeWeb. Geraldine runs the business and I do the program (and help some more), I would not be as good as she is running the business and same with Bastien. It works well because I know my strengths and weaknesses, being the face of the company and public appearances help, but they are not enough. Mark raises good points about the risks though, of some CEOs completely disconnected from the business, I try to not fall in that category and I am pretty close to everything happening in my companies.

 

Of course it’s challenging for early stage as it’s difficult to fit two salaries, but there are many excellent execs bored at large companies that would accept a big pay cut for good stock in a cool startup. I guess it’s a question of preference.

 



Tech Writers In Denial: The Michael Arrington Case Study

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(pic, Joi Ito)

I have read so much B-S- about Michael Arrington’s supposedly displaced integrity as a writer that I thought I should set the record straight.

Mike has been an investor in my company Seesmic since day one, here are some of the posts Mike wrote about Seesmic:

Don’t Screw Your Partners Over A Marketing Promotion

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Developers In Denial: The Seesmic Case Study

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Both of those posts were discussed during Seesmic board meetings with my main investors wondering how I could deal with Mike as an investor attacking his own investment like this in public. Seriously, “he could have told us off the record”. Yes, he could have, but he chose to write about it in public on TechCrunch instead.

I was well aware of that risk when I took the investment and I was sure it would happen and it did, as expected.

What is everyone trying to say about Mike, that he would pimp his investments in TechCrunch? Sure, read the above posts again and put yourself in the CEO and board shoes when an investor writes such posts. We took TechCrunch down because of too much traffic with Steven Spielberg, Harisson Ford and George Lucas on Seesmic, that post was well deserved.

The post about Twitter going after developers buying them proved to be 100% right and the best advice an investor could give to his investment, “those guys don’t want you to build what you are building anymore this way”.  It was very instrumental in us pivoting into a business app and my board to accept how fast we needed to react.

I bet most CEOs would have preferred to get the message in private, it wouldn’t have had the same impact though, and surely wouldn’t have put so much attention in both cases to Seesmic, and that’s always good. I have to admit I got really upset at times by how hard Mike went in public on us, -almost like he had to- just because he was an investor. I was wrong, it was just the same as he would have been regardless of the investment.

If Mike invested in your company, don’t expect a better treatment, don’t expect more posts, don’t expect negative news not posted, on the contrary. You will get less posts as Mike always thinks about that investment as a problem and many negative ones when they’re deserved.

Oh yeah, you get some good posts too, but even then, the title has to be negative: “Thank You Seesmic for Sucking Less

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I am sure some of you will read me saying “right, but he asked his team to write about Seesmic”. Yeah, right, if that’s what you’d think then you don’t know MG, Erick, Leena, Alexia, Jason, Sarah, Butcher, Robin and all the members of the team. Sure thing, they wrote a lot about Seesmic, but so did many other sources when we launched hot products and did not write, as they should not, when we did not.

Look at Sarah’s title on this post “Seesmic: From Near Death…”. Nice title, right? And look at the disclosure:

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This “may come as a surprise since Mike is so hard on Loic” but he is an investor. Yep, it does come as a surprise to most people each time he writes about Seesmic so hard, it doesn’t come as a suprise to me.

Oh, and when we were in feature war with Tweetdeck before Twitter acquired them (and ended the competition) Twitter clients were very popular in tech news for a simple reason, the tech bloggers were using them all day long and were very interested by all the innovations we were providing. They were covering sometimes some very small new features and we were of course enjoying the coverage not only from TechCrunch, but many tech blogs.

I know Mike actually sent an internal email to all at TechCrunch to “stop covering every feature we were launching” “just because they aren’t news” and the posts literally stopped. The team wasn’t posting because it was one of Mike’s investment, just because they were excited by the features.

One day I was discussing some confidential ideas about Seesmic with Mike and I joked “Mike, am I talking to the investor, the friend, or the reporter blogger?”

He answered “it’s always reporter blogger first”.

I still shared with him the confidential data and he never released it or threatened me in any way to release him, in other words he always had access to investor only information in my company but never used it unless I released it in public.

Oh, and I have read a lot of B-S- about the supposed “give me exclusive news or we won’t ever cover you again”. You can ask the TechCrunch competition I have always briefed more tech bloggers than TechCrunch when we had news, under embargo, and TechCrunch never broke an embargo they accepted (as the other tech bloggers I trust) and never complained. Sure, sometimes they did not cover it, that’s their right.

Anyone who doubts Mike’s integrity doesn’t know him or did not take the time to look at the facts. You can say what you want about Mike, like him or not, but he’s done more than anyone else for the startups worldwide. It’s indeed a sad day that he leaves his baby TechCrunch, for him, for his team and for the entrepreneurs.

I am sure Mike will do well and TechCrunch and his team will also do well, there is too much talent there. AOL’s new challenge is to keep them without Mike, and that won’t be easy. I think that the TechCrunch brand is big enough to survive many departures. AOL will likely keep it a success regardless. Good luck to all, it would be a shame to break TechCrunch and Disrupt, I trust AOL won’t screw it up.

As far as I am concerned, I would take other investment from Mike in heart beat if he would want to invest in anything I do, and I would also invest in his new fund if I was investing (but I’m not, I just focus on Seesmic and LeWeb).

If Mike was that terribly dishonest and biased person some writers like to think, he would not have created such a success and be trusted by so many Silicon Valley legends. Watch what LinkedIn’s founder Reid Hoffman has to say about him leaving.

Oh and before I forget, if you are a startup entrepreneur and can get any funding from Mike, take it, but make sure you know about the possible consequences, because Mike won’t stop blogging and sharing. Great advice and attention on your company will come at the price of not screwing up, but you should still take his money, I can explain more why in a future post.

Would you take his money?