September 2008 Archive
The upside of writing a book entirely focused on a few Web 2.0 companies is you get to know them -- and their founders and investors-- extraordinarily well. And if you pick wisely, that can be a mighty good career move for a reporter in a crowded field. But the downside is you miss some other startups that are worth getting to know. One of those neglecterinos for me was StumbleUpon, which my brother, Peter, apparently can't live without.
I've since spent a bit of time with Garrett Camp-- Stumble's founder-- at last year's Lobby Conference, an Outcast dinner and this morning at Outcast's offices. Oh, and this coming Saturday at his sure-to-be-raging 30th birthday party on, um, a Navy tanker?
Saturday, we'll no doubt be talking about how OLD he is. Today, we were talking about StumbleUpon's new plans to allow people to discover sites they may like without downloading the toolbar and its plans to have Stumble-like discovery within partner sites the Huffington Post, HowStuffWorks.com and, soon, RollingStone and National Geographic. Also, the homepage has been dramatically redesigned.
It makes sense and is a big move for the startup eBay bought for $75 million last year. StumbleUpon has pretty much locked up the the six million or so early adopters who want to download a toolbar and now it needs to expand. The strategy reminds me of Yelp's: It doesn't need all its users to be active Yelpers writing reviews, but it does need an increasing base of passive Yelpers who use the site as a restaurant or service provider search engine. Also, I like that StumbleUpon sees itself less about finding news -- ala Digg-- and more about finding images and videos, which there is no good search or discovery engine for to date, IMHO.
It's a good strategy and, so far, the implementation looks good too. But the bigger takeaway for me isn't techy or featurey-- it's Garrett Camp continuing to do his job. Frankly, the still-29-until-Saturday founder doesn't have a lock-up with eBay and I don't know how many young founders who've had their first win in his position would still be so committed. Maybe it's that Canadian work ethic, but he sees it as a reputation issue: He doesn't want to be the guy who sells and checks out. Amid the young Web 2.0 hotshots--who notoriously take off as soon as lockups expire-- that makes him a rarity. I hope to have Garrett on TechTicker soon once the financial "OMG!!!!!!" dies down, and we can get back to covering tech.
Yes, the "I Can Has Cheezburger?" book is coming out October 7. But you can get one FOR FREE now!
Why? Because we have the same editor.
How? By sending Sarahlacy.com a LOLCats-ed up photo of a Web entrepreneur or Valley personality. Here are two of me to get you inspired. We'll have five winners. Send to Olivia at sarahlacy dot com. NOW!
[Can't seem to embed this one. (FAIL!)]
Olivia and I just got home to Sarahlacy.com HQ -- aka my house-- and we're collapsing on the couch, petting some very lonely cats and salivating over an impending feast of Chinese food. I wanted to do a quick post just to thank everyone we met or danced with or sang to or shoved a Flipcam in the face of while we were traveling these past few weeks. We sold lots of books, which is of course the ostensible purpose, but as a reporter it was a life changing experience to get to check out so many tech-scenes around the country. I feel like I have a deeper sense of what it means to be an entrepreneur in America, and what the Web 2.0 movement means beyond the land of Slide, Ning, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. We must have met thousands of you in what seems like months since we took off for Austin!
A few other blog-keeping notes:
- The lifecasting went over hugely well, with many people saying they felt like they knew us better and lived the tour with us. That said, it sort of took over the site. And for people who missed more standard blog-analysis, it was undoubtedly a bit much. So we're working on a separate video channel that will continue to document our adventures in the Valley and other tech hotbeds. For now, notice the "Video" tab where at least all the videos will be collected and easy to find when you have a few moments to waste in your day.
- Speaking of videos, we've got more footage from Memphis and Toronto coming up so stay tuned! (We're split on whether the karaoke night is actually making it on the site. We're both a little scared to watch it!) Either way, I'll be editing like a fiend all weekend!
- Last night, the transit was down in Toronto and cabs were incredibly scarce so we got a bunch of notes from people who tried to get to the event but couldn't. I left behind about 20 signed copies of the book with Will Willis, in case you live in Toronto and would like one. They are $20. Email Will (dot) Willis (at) bitepr.com. Please don't make him ship them all back to me!
- The UGBT isn't over yet! We've got a very quick stop in Boulder and Houston in November. Check here for details!
And now it's time to revel in an evening of no makeup, no heels, no books to sign (ok, that one never gets old) and as little speaking as possible (ok, who am I kidding here? It's me.)
I miss you all already! Stay in touch! We promise to come back to each city very soon and throw even more epic bashes.
Breaking news: I actually got to see my husband in September. Sadly enough, it was only for about 12 hours. He was in Memphis for an art show that I had just enough time to help him hang before I skipped town to Toronto. Of course, we shot some video. If you are in Memphis, go to the party at Goner Records tonight at 5 p.m. and buy a very, very discounted Geoffrey Ellis print before they're all gone(r).
One Night Only! (I Actually Get to See Mr. Lacy) from sarah lacy on Vimeo.
Unfortunately, we had some plans fall through so we only have one day in Toronto and one Toronto event. So let's make it the best one ever, shall we?
Olivia and I have spent a few days resting, recuperating, and catching up on real work so we are ready to go in Toronto. The event is tomorrow night and sponsored by Bite PR. Sean Mills, of Bite, is long one of my favorite guys in PR (let's face it, one of the only guys in PR...) and he'll be on hand, along with the lovely and talented Kelly McCarthy and the new head of Bite's Toronto office Will Willis-- a guy so nice, they named him twice.
Bite was incredibly generous to tackle this event for us, so I want to make sure it's amazing. I think 45 people have RSVPed so far, but we can do better than that, right? Go here to pile on. I promise a good time with great conversation. Don't believe me? Go here.
This is actually the best endorsement my UGBT has gotten so far, and made me feel truly humbled to be part of the greater Web 2.0 movement: Des Moines, Kansas City and Omaha are planning a new "Highlight Midwest" event to bring together all the cool people doing cool stuff in so-called Fly Over states. I got an incredibly sweet note from Nathan T. Wright of Des Moines-- who calls these three cities the "Triangle of Awesome"-- with the info, saying, "Always remember that our cities got connected because of your book tour! Wooo!" That's what the UGBT is all about-- an excuse to bring like-minded entrepreneurs and passionate Web people together.
So, Toronto, it's your turn. I know close to nothing about the tech scene there, so come on out and show me what you've got. You can't let little old Memphis show you up, right?
Now that I've heaped praise on one corner of Memphis and its entrepreneur scene, time to criticize a bit. Whether corporate or private, it's clear there's a lot of money to be thrown at building a Memphis-Tech scene. But it's not always being focused in the right spots.
Two examples make the point, I think.
I have a lot to say about the past few days I've spent touring the various nooks and crannies of Memphis and its entrepreneur scene. And as luck would have it-- I finally have a few hours to say it, er write it. A theme that has consistently cropped up during this tour is what each city means by entrepreneurship, and what they want to get out of building their own culture to give rise to it. Increasingly, it's the cities who never really tried to be Silicon Valley in the late 1990s that seem to really have an exciting and burgeoning scene. Why? Because they were forced to play to their strengths.
I'd put Omaha in this category. Omaha's entrepreneur scene is totally nascent and who knows what will come out of it. But it's endemically Omaha-like. Same with Portland, to a degree. And, I think, that's even more pronounced in Memphis. (More on that in a second.)
The corollary would be Austin or Seattle, cities that have followed a more Valley-like model with varying success and failure. The success is obvious: More venture capital money, more jobs from what big or mid-sized companies have emerged. But is there really a sustainable culture around entrepreneurship? Or is it about being a Valley-satellite? And frankly-- which would a city rather have? Because you can argue the first brings in more jobs, prestige and money.
But I argue, there's something great about a city that at its core has its own unique, scrappy entrepreneurial drive.
Oh, yes, I do actually still write a column for BusinessWeek. I think this was ideally supposed to run about a month ago, but it's finally out today. For loyal readers of my site, this won't be incredibly new. I've blogged about this angst a lot, and it was the subject of my blog-like, town-hall style keynote at Gnomedex in September, which as you can see actually greatly influenced my thinking about the topic towards the end of the column, so thanks again to all the participants.
But, if you don't mind, click on the link anyway. I'm renegotiating my contract with BW as we speak and it'd be nice to look like I generate traffic! ;) As, always, thanks to Tom Giles for putting up with my wacky schedule and being an awesome editor.
I have a pipeline of column ideas I can't wait to get to, and now that the tour is wrapping up, I'll have a little more energy to throw at them. Looking forward to a few months of being sarah lacy (lowercase) and not SARAH LACY TM and just doing some good reporting and writing again.
....Including a new chapter for the book's paperback release next spring!!! Everyone I've told that to has asked if they get some kind of discount if they already bought the hardcover, like when Jobs gave people those iPhone rebates. I love geeks.
I'm totally removed from the Valley and its water cooler gossip having been on the road for what feels like 25 years. The good thing about that is I'm getting a crash course on national entrepreneurship, ie life outside the echo-chamber. The bad news is I'm totally outside the Valley loop. But I wanted to give a shout out for Digg's new $28.7 million funding round.
I don't have tons of special insight here. I've mostly given the Digg guys some space after the book, because there were some mixed feelings on how they were portrayed. But my sense from knowing them well and seeing the flood of speculation over rumored acquisitions, was that they've spent much of 2008 staring at a fork in the road. As I've said before, they were the only company in my book that didn't raise a "recession round" late 2007/early 2008 which was to me a sign that they frankly were assessing their options and if a much rumored and talked about sale was going to happen.
Olivia and I are sitting in a coffee shop in Memphis doing a little co-working. She's forcing us to plow through a backlog of neglected media interviews, signing some books we owe people, responding to emails and of course sifting through all this flipcammed video before we can go to ....wait for it... THE MIDSOUTH FAIR. Funnel cakes and roller coasters here we come!! I'm just hoping there are pig races or a mechanical bull I can ride...
Speaking of the Flipcam, it's a wonder that little thing hasn't broken. I think we can all agree it was the best $150 Sarahlacy.com ever spent. Here are a few outtakes from our amazing Vegas party with Tony Hsieh of Zappos. It features Ranvir Gujral-- one of our FAVORITE people we've met on the UGBT road. He's better known around the Sarahlacy.com offices as the Chong to Gregarious' Cheech. (And by "offices" I mean the roving collection of planes/hotels/coffeeshops/bars/my living room where Olivia and I sit glued to laptops, finishing each other's sentences of late.)
Oh, and keep an eye on this blog for announcements of the upcoming America's Best Dance Crew-style dance off between Cheech and Chong's company Blue Whale Labs and Sarahlacy.com. Anyone at the TechSet after party last friday KNOWS Miss Olivia can bring it. Big time.
An unforgettable portrait of the emerging world's entrepreneurial dynamos Brilliant, Crazy, Cocky is the story about that top 1% of people who do more to change their worlds through greed and ambition than politicians, NGOs and nonprofits ever can. This new breed of self-starter is taking local turmoil and turning it into opportunities, making millions, creating thousands of jobs and changing the face of modern entrepreneurship at the same time. To tell this story, Lacy spent forty weeks traveling through Asia, South America and Africa hunting down the most impressive up-and-comers the developed world has never heard of....yet.
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