Michael Arrington

Founder of TechCrunch

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Tell me a little bit about why you started blogging.

The first time I ever read a blog or any concept of a blog was scripting Dave Winer’s site probably like 2000, 2001. I just somehow started seeing links to it, and I said: “Wow this is… this is really cool, this is like a person – it’s a fact, but it’s all opinion” – you know what I mean. I get so much more of an idea of what’s important and what isn’t.

And so I didn’t really know anything about a blog was or anything about it or who Dave Winer was, but I realized that he was an expert and that it was really interesting to me to get some news that way about what was important, rather than like CNET.

So what I did is went to Scripting News probably once a day or two or three times a week, I think I started getting emails pretty early on just to know what’s important, what’s going on.

I was doing other stuff, I was at a tech company, but just to know what was going on for conversation purposes, I found that was better than anything out there – CNET or anything.

I was sort of aware of blogs from that point on. I dabbled in blogging, and I realized I liked it.

Some people like blogging, some people don’t, some people because it’s their pastime or hobby and they just find that if they want to unwind or spend some time, and it happens that they want to write something about it: I’m one of those people.

In 2005 I was at a point where my career was stalled. I had sold a company and was spending the money, living on a beach. It was actually a really good life, but I was running out of money, and I got a call from a former business partner, my friend Keith Teare and Keith had a start-up called RealNames in the ’90s – it was a client of mine when I was a lawyer.

So Keith says, “Hey I want to start-up a start-up with you,” and I realized I was pretty much out of the loop, the Internet for me was new – I had a blog, email and that was it. So I started doing fairly disciplined research on these start-ups and realized two things quickly: one is that Flickr, del.icio.us, and others were being covered by blogs and news sites, but no single site was sort of “the place to go” to get news on start-ups.

And I thought, “Why am I not posting this on the web for other people to see? If I post this on the web, the CEO of Technorati is going to read this, and the next time I run into him at a cocktail party, it might be a conversation starter.” So for networking purposes, it seemed like a really good idea.

So at that point were you already thinking that might be a business opportunity or was it just a networking opportunity…

No, no, no – at that point I thought, why don’t I post my research on the web? So my first month, I think every post was titled, “Profile – Technorati,” and I think Bloglines and Technorati were my very first posts on June 11th of 05. I think Technorati just re-launched.

It was very formatted – it was very semantic, too structured, but very quickly I started getting followers and links coming in – occasional comments and that’s great feedback: it’s what feeds the blogger, and “Like wow, people are reading this,” and so it just started growing.

Meanwhile, Keith wanted me to move up to Silicon Valley from LA, so I moved up here and got a house to form the business side of it — we were starting at GO — and TechCrunch just keeps growing and growing.

People started hanging out at my house, and I started having parties for 20 people, and then pretty soon there were 100 people and then 600 people. We had parties all the time and events and talked about what TechCrunch is. And about 6 months in late ’05 that John… from Federated Media…

John Battelle?

John Battelle said hey you know I’m starting out this ad network for blogs and me…

At that point did you have ads on your site?

Nothing at all, not even Google ads. I reached out to him and said that I really, really want to be part of this, and he looked at it, and he’s like we’ll let you in, and that was when we first started getting revenue.

“We’ll let you in…”

No no, it was definitely that. We were really really small…

So, we applied and then soon we started getting revenue, and I started hiring writers, and that was it, we worked from there…

So the business — the decision when you thought it was a business — was actually a fairly quick realization.

Yes, it was. It took six, seven months but I realized I can at least make some revenue from this.

When was the moment that you knew that this could be something pretty big?

I think summer of ’06 — about a year in — I think we had a party at August Capital, we always had our summer parties there. I think the fire code said we could have 600 people, we had about 3000 people trying to get in, it was like a mob, and um, people got wasted.

A very well known blogger got a DUI on the way home. Start-ups were going crazy they were paying us for little demo booths, everybody was happy – it was good, it was really good. And I thought, “Okay, maybe there was something here long term. Maybe there’s business here, perhaps we could do more events, bigger events, maybe the blog can be something that’s a real business in the long run.

So when you brought [TechCrunch CEO] Heather Harde in, that was a clear signal this is a business?

Ross Levenson was Heather’s boss at FOX Interactive. I knew them both because they were always buying companies, so I was constantly calling them. Heather was running M&A. I remember one time I was in FOX’s office; I don’t know why they let me in but I just sort of ran out of a meeting and bee-lined for her office.

So they knew me and were annoyed by me, but when Ross left and it seemed unclear what they were doing, and I went after Heather. It took me six or seven months to get her to say okay, but I knew that she was the person I wanted: she had Harvard MBA and had M&A – I mean she just seemed like perfect executive material for TechCrunch.

One thing I learned early in my business career was that I always thought to be good at business you got to be well rounded. You look at top CEOs and how they’re pretty mellow but not smooth in a bad way, but they’re not an emotional wreck. I found that I’m very emotional, and I think that makes a very good blogger, but that makes me a very poor manager.

Heather is the epitome of steady, and it made a lot of sense to me to bring her in.

Just from the pure blogging side of it, what do you think your keys to success were?

I like writing, and I think I’m not a terrible writer, I wrote a book at the law firm I was at — Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati — and the title was IPOs – Actual Guide for Executives. I wrote it with the idea of like a For Dummies book. For Dummies books are really really good because they focus on not a lot of wasted language and writing a sentence that like… you’re not. Some people write flowery language because they think it impresses the reader but it’s actually much much harder to write a clear sentence that conveys meaning in a very direct way.

And if you want to be vague or humorous do that too, but don’t be vague or humorous because you’re too lazy to write a clear sentence. A big part of my training was writing very clear contracts, and so between the book and the contracts I think I taught myself how to write concise, clear sentences, but I’m not the next great American novelist.

So, I think I have capable writing but what I think what really helps TechCrunch to be successful is that I care about start-ups; I really believe that entrepreneurs, particularly high tech entrepreneurs, are the most interesting people in the world right now.

They might be dirt poor or a Harvard MBA making a great living as an accountant or a lawyer or an investment banker or whatever, but something in them says I don’t just want to have a chill life.

They say, “Something is itching in me to prove that I can make it in the most competitive in the environment imaginable.” And they do. Sometimes they’re 17 year-olds, still in college or high school, and sometimes 60 year-olds and they’re done with their main career, and they want to start swinging it. I find these people infinitely fascinating because they’re not making a rational choice from a risk to return ratio, they just aren’t. They’re taking their life’s savings, they’re taking their good job, and they’re throwing it out the window to build something that has a one-in-50 chance of being funded at all, and even once it’s funded, it has a 1-in-10 or 20 chance of getting even that money back to investors.

It’s just nuts, and I love it like what drives these people, what drives them is this insane notion that they have to do it.

I’ve noticed in my own personal experience with you, and I’ve also heard this from a blogger that knows you very well, that nobody works as hard as you do and the reason I’m raising that is because one of the things that we learned in the 2008 State of the Blogosphere was the highest authority blogs posted the most frequently. The top 100 averaged 12 posts a day.

Yes, I think this goes back to the Gizmodo and Engadget theories of posting. We hired John Biggs who was the founding editor of Gizmodo, and he’s been working with us running CrunchGear. The first thing he said is posting matters more than anything, and if you look at CrunchGear he runs that blog a lot differently from TechCrunch: very much shorter posts and tons and tons of them, and it’s quick hits, and a lot of it is re-blogging major media and it works and we get a lot of page views – it’s great it’s a profitable blog, it’s awesome. I love his team, and I read it, but that isn’t TechCrunch’s style. I know that lots of posts lead to lots of pages, but I don’t think it necessarily leads to more credibility…

That goes back to the quality that you started with you: to be a good writer and write quality stuff.

We have a good team here, and I look for them to write three to four posts a day, and three is fine. I try to get them to write one or two posts on the weekend. So we’re talking about less than 25 posts a week, and the average is like 15 to 20 for each writer. And that’s a lot.

Can you talk about tools that you use and things that help your business that help your business either in your creating the content or marketing it?

YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace are all major traffic drivers for us. Digg is as well.

I’m going to kind of get towards wrapping up – but what do you think about being at the very top of the pyramid in the blogging world?

I’m the world’s tallest midget.

What kind of advice do you have for bloggers who aren’t the world’s tallest midgets, whether its building traffic is monetizing, editorial?

I’ll tell you, I’ve started a few four or five companies now and the biggest success is TechCrunch, and I never intended to start a company so I just scratched the niche and I found what I love. I mean this is clearly what I’m supposed to be doing with my life.

Not starting a payments company, which was the first company I founded; not starting a Netflix clone in Canada which was the second business I started, which is doing ok. Not starting a domain name auctioning business, which is also still an awesome business but I hated its dirty business.

If you find something you love like, say, knitting – I mean how many knitting blogs do you guys track? A lot right? Knitting is like a major blogging category, and you know these people just love knitting, I’ll bet there’s a couple of people who are making money from these knitting blogs, right? I have to imagine they’re making a living.

For foreign investors selling knitting supplies!

So if you’re not blogging about what you love I’d say you’re not probably going to be successful no matter what you do. The other thing is, blogging is maturing. If TechCrunch didn’t exist and I was starting it today, I’m not sure it could grab the open space because it’s sort of taken, and not that that means you shouldn’t do it but it’s going to be harder. You know I think a lot of the guys that work for me and have equity in TechCrunch. By the way, could absolutely be out there writing their own blogs, any of our top writers I think could be out there writing their own successful blogs. They decided to team with me instead, and that’s obviously good for me, but they have equity in TechCrunch I think they might end up doing better this way.

Some of them might leave at some point and start their own blog, once they’ve made a name for themselves. I’m actually okay with that as long as we stay on good terms. So I don’t know what the answer is. What I did at the beginning was a link like hell to everything, so if I wrote about Bloglines or Technorati, or Digg or del.icio.us or whatever. I linked to every post to like 30 other blogs, and I made sure that I was trackbacking them properly because in my opinion like you see a trackback and you click on it. You see who’s linking to you, and you read it, and you do that five times, and that’s probably stuck in your head, and hopefully, at some point, they link to you.

Robert Scoble in Dec ’05 said, “Hey there is some good blogging going on over at TechCrunch, I mean that made my life! You just take baby steps, and you can become successful.

Let’s go back to your business model because there’s an ad model but then your event business kind of was born out of the party business.

Totally born out of party business. I think parties are a lot more profitable. But you know let’s take a country and let’s call it Lichtenstein, I don’t know if there’s a single person lives there. I mean how big Lichtenstein is?

17,000 people [actually, 24,000]

How do you know that? Okay, so I’m in Lichtenstein with 17,000 people, and I noticed that there’s a robust start-up scene or dog breeding scene or whatever it was. You take control of that space, and you can blog, but you’re probably not going to get enough page views with the total population of 17,000 to make enough money from Google or whatever to feed yourself, but you know maybe you hold a small event. You get a sponsor and then maybe start getting a name for yourself with that, and I think you can theoretically do it that way. Our business right now is half events, half pure advertising. And I wouldn’t want to give up either one.

I think you need to build a brand.

The interview was conducted by Richard Jalichandra.

Connect:

Website: http://arringtonxrpcapital.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/arrington

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