December 2008 Archive

My Crazy, Crazy 2008

The end of the year is naturally a time for reflection, and it's even more so for me, what with my birthday wedged in between Christmas and New Years. Two years ago at this time, I'd just quit BusinessWeek-- a job I'd slaved for some eight years to get-- to write my first book. A lot of people thought I was crazy on both counts: It's not like we're swimming in media jobs these days and back in 2006 a lot of people didn't even think the companies in my book would still be in business by 2008. 2007 was a year I had to deliver and prove them all wrong. At least professionally, it was the most exhilarating year of my life. 2008 on the other hand was, well....it was amazing, exhausting, transformative, exciting, terrifying, emotional and well....how the hell was it just one year?

All reporters have to do these dorky year end surveys, quizzes and lists this time of year. I know-- because my SXSW interview has been on seemingly ALL of them. But believe it or not other stuff happened to me too! As I look back on 2008 and get ready for 2009, here's my list of the biggest moments of what I can only call one of the most unimaginable years of my life.

Ge_sarah_goodone_700 10. Buying a house. I know that sounds materialistic, but my husband is an artist and I'm a writer. We never thought we'd be able to buy a house in San Francisco. The second we saw the house we knew. I sent a note to my realtor that said "We are in love" in the subject line with the address in the body. She replied, "Well, do you want propose or just flirt with it a while?" We wrote up an offer later that day. There were a million points where the deal should have fallen apart-- not the least of which was an exploding credit market.

9. Taking my family and my in laws to Mexico for Thanksgiving. Again, this was one of those things we'd never assume we could do-- for one thing I have a big family! We'll probably never be able to afford it again, but it was worth every penny. I'm incredibly lucky that my family and my in-laws get along so well. It was an idyllic week with perfect weather, water and food.

8. My first grownup keynote. I've been on stage a zillion times but never doing a paid, Power Pointy keynote. I don't know why, but it was terrifying!!! I've sat through so many bad keynotes and I didn't want to be that guy. Also, I kinda felt like a fraud. Why am I up here? I'm just a reporter. I freaked out for months and was so happy when it was done! Huge props to Olivia for helping me through it and to Al Campa for hiring me to do it!

7. April. Before 2008, I'd barely been outside the country. Growing up in a family of seven with parents who are teachers means no cushy summers abroad, unfortunately. But that's only made me appreciate the opportunity to travel more. I spent most of April in London, Cannes and Israel-- three places I'd never2565286308_4dea45e7a0 been before. London was just pure fun, thanks in no small part to Mr. Robert Loch who I met for the first time on that trip. In Cannes, I was speaking at a conference and had a near-panic attack when the car picked me up at the airport and drove me to a comped 400-euro-a-night hotel. "Who do these people think I am?" Israel was even more amazing, particularly touring Old Jerusalem.  (Even with near-pneumonia.)

6. Launching this blog. Yeah, it's even weird to me: I've been blogging since 2005, but never on my own site. Granted, the blog is a weird mis-mash of a personal diary (ahem, including this navel-gracing post!), a legitimate news blog, and a lifecast. You never quite know what you're going to get here. But it's mine and I love it and I don't care if it ever produces a dime of revenue. Huge props to my illustrator Sophie Askew and web designer Stephanie Chu for building such a beautiful site.

5. SXSW-- really. I've already talked about it in nearly 100 interviews, on stage, on this blog and everywhere else, so I won't belabor it. First off, it was huge in the name recognition department, driving tons of people-- even people who hate me-- to my site, to buy my book, and to every event I hosted. Second, there's something great about low expectations. You have no idea how many times I've heard someone say in a stunned voice, "You know. You're actually not horrible in person!" Third, I've never been one of those people who wished for mind reading abilities. I really just don't want to know. But there is something powerful in knowing every horrible, sexist, offensive, mean thought a mob of people are having about you. There's no mystery and whether you agree or not, you can always learn from it, and become a better person as a result. Fourth, you learn a lot about who your real friends are when it's fashionable to trash you. And last, before SXSW I was getting a lot of accolades. The best way not to believe your own hype is to get publicly brutalized.

4. User Generated Book Tour. In the up-and-down year that was 2008, my book had a great launch and then sales started to slip. I decided on a whim to do a book tour, and it was probably the best business decision I made all year. I've already written a ton about why, but in short I got to meet thousands of entrepreneurs and spend the bulk of my fall outside the Valley's echo chamber after nearly a decade inside of it. Oh, and I sold a bunch of books too.

3. TechTicker launch. It was terrifying and exhilarating all at once. We'd worked so hard for so manyHenry_and_sarah months, and it was so great to finally show people how we were reinventing financial video news. I developed a whole new appreciation for the way you can tell a story visually that you never can in words. Also, I gained valuable lessons in hair and makeup. I'm not kidding-- some mornings at 6 a.m. I walk into Yahoo looking homeless, yet somehow manage to look sunny on camera. I'll always remember the first day I shot at the Nasdaq with Henry Blodget. I'd never met him before and was completely charmed within minutes. They also had a big, fancy New York hair and makeup girl who put such heavy eyelashes on me I could barely open my eyes. And after years of watching financial news shows, actually filming at the Nasdaq was surreal. I kept thinking, "I'm just a print reporter! What am I doing here?"

2. Geoff's art auction moment. For all the time I spent putting myself out there in 2008, I never actually had to watch people publicly bid on my work. But my husband did. He killed at SF Camera Work's annual art auction-- one of the only pieces that went for more than the list price. I was so proud of him.

1. Debut of the book. (Duh!) Walking into the opening night party to see so many friends, do all my first signings, and eat "Once You're Lucky" or "Twice You're Good" cupcakes-- that was all just magic and a moment I never thought I'd be lucky (har, har) enough to have. It will always be one of the best moments of my life, probably second only to my wedding.

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Thanks to everyone who stood by me, challenged me and defended me in what was an unbelievable year. I'd say, "Here's to a calm 2009," but who am I kidding?

[Photos: Me blogging before my birthday dinner by Geoffrey Ellis; me on the beach in Israel by JD Lasica; screen grab from TT and me walking into my book party by Jim Merithew for Wired.com] 

 

My Year at Yahoo in Under Three Minutes

I was a little scared to open the computer today. My crew-- which is sadly now just one person thanks to Yahoo's layoffs-- was working on a blooper reel of me that I wasn't allowed to see until it posted today.  As usual, Brad did an amazing job, especially considering how hard it is to find clips of me messing up that don't involve a string of expletives. What resulted is actually a pretty sweet highlight reel of my first year trying to learn to be on camera after a decade of print reporting-- something I long said I'd never do. A few things jump out at me watching this-- but the biggest is how much younger I look in the clips from a year ago! 2008 has aged me!

Perhaps it's the wide-eyed excitement that makes me look young. It wasn't just learning to report in a new medium, we were creating a new platform for financial video news. We all thought freeing the videos from a set broadcast schedule, making them embeddable and available on demand would change how people consume financial news, but TechTicker has outperformed even the most optimistic projections. On our peak days, we see several million streams, and the interview I did with Sue Decker just after Microsoft walked away from its offer did several million streams on its own. Other favorite interviews have included Richard Branson, Dean Kamen, and of course, Zach Nelson, the day Netsuite had finally gone public.

Who knows how long I'll do TechTicker or how long anyone will with the uncertainty around Yahoo, but I am really happy I have this clip to remember the frustrations and fun times of helping launch a new video show during such a pivotal year in my life. Enjoy!

Morning Don't: The Birthday Edition

Olivia is still out of town so I'm still guest hosting The Morning Don't. Or more appropriately, I'm forgetting to guest host The Morning Don't. In this episode, we take you along for a birthday of fun. Guess how old I am using the hint in the photo below...

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Morning Don't, Ep. 7 from sarah lacy on Vimeo.

Win a Gift on My Birthday: A SarahLacy.com Puzzle!

hey everyone. it's my birthday. you know what that means? i don't have to use capitalization and even paul carr isn't allowed to mock me for it.

hey, i deserve some kind of birthday break after a lifetime of people forgetting, giving me joint christmas and birthday gifts, and about two hours wasted of trying to get to work today. oh yeah- and having to work today in a ghost town formerly known as yahoo.

so to turn my mood around, i'm doing a sarahlacy.com giveaway. below is a picture olivia sketched out before she left town for christmas, describing the hectic pre-christmas days at sarahlacy.com hq. mr. lacy and i loved it so much we were going to use it for a christmas card but ran out of time. since "the holidays" are technically not over yet, the person who comes closest to explaining what all of olivia's drawings signify will win a signed copy of my book and a user generated book tour t-shirt. (they're awesome! and only a few left!) you might win just for guessing the names of the people and cats. (hint: cats have all been mentioned on the blog many times.) you might win just for guessing, since apparently no one is working today, and hence probably not reading this blog.

happy guessing!

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We've Been in Idiot Land a While Now, Scoble. Get Comfortable.

Robert Scoble has a heartfelt post today that sums up his frustration with noise becoming more important than substance. Well, welcome to journalism in the Internet age. Actually, welcome to journalism period. It's just more pronounced in an age when we can measure how stories do and tend to place value on them solely for that reason. And it's in no way limited to Tech. If it were, CNN wouldn't be reporting on Paris Hilton.

This was a huge personal frustration when I was at BusinessWeek covering startups before they were hot again and important, but unsexy, technology trends like open source software. I would spend months breaking a story with huge impact, only to be dwarfed by traffic for a story that just rehashed the latest Apple rumor. To BusinessWeek's great credit, they still run those unsexy stories prominently, because the BusinessWeek brand of delivering all the news business people need is just as important as sheer page views. (Ahem, they also renewed my columnist contract for another year. Thanks, John Byrne!)

But is this the same in the blog world? Where the whole business is predicated on page views?


Thank God Loic Doesn't Run Twitter

Another weekend, another blog post where I disagree with Loic LeMeur. I swear, I really do like Loic and think Seesmic is one of the last original Web 2.0 ideas of the Web 2.0 wave. But he's completely wrong in this idea that you should rank search on Twitters based on "authority," i.e. how many followers you have. So wrong that I'm guessing this is another stunt to gin up "controversy." No one could be this nakedly egotistical and self-serving. Ok, no one would admit to being this egotistical and self-serving. From Loic's post:

"We're not equal on Twitter, as we're not equal on blogs and on the web. I am not saying someone who has more followers than yourself matters more, but what he says has a tendency to spread much faster."

That's actually exactly what you are saying. "Not equal" pretty much by definition means "one matters more than the other." Others have already blogged about why this is inherently anti-Web. And Scoble had a nice piece on how it's not even helpful when it comes to functionality on Twitter, with the great ending line, "Since when did 'authority' have anything to do with 'popularity?' "

But my point is it's also bad for Twitter as a business. Why? It keeps the service wedded to the Silicon Valley echo chamber, which has always been one of the biggest knocks on Twitter. The people who have the most followers on Twitter now aren't by default the most interesting or influential people, because the service is simply too new. Frequently, top Twitterers are people who already had a big platform in the techworld or were just early adopters. Twitter is far too young of a service to lock in advantages and set up fiefdoms based on that, especially now that mainstream media, actors and non-Web celebrities are just starting to discover it. Guess what Valley hoi palloi? Not everyone in the world who is searching something on Twitter cares what we think or knows who we are. Yes, as someone with nearly 7,000 followers, I include myself in that. If someone wants to know what only the most followed people think, he or she can just follow those people. That's how the service works.

The beauty of Twitter is the same thing that created some of its famous technical problems: No one's Twitter stream is the same as anyone else's. We all pick and chose who we want to follow for a variety of inherently individualistic reasons. For some people it's news sources, for others it's just their close friends, for a PR person it may be all journalists. More than any other communication and information tool, on Twitter "authority" is completely in the eye of the beholder. As we've glimpsed already with disaster coverage, the Tweets of people on the ground-- who may have no followers -- are far more powerful, informative and moving than a newscaster who may have the traditional media imprint of "authority." This is why the acquisition of Summize was so transformative for Twitter. No longer are you tied to who you follow, you can just watch trending topics and get a real time stream of what everyday people are thinking about, well, anything.

And as Twitter seeks a way to make money, it's paramount that the voice of "real people" continues to be front and center. Why? Because Twitter is likely going to develop premium services based around how companies like Zappos and Comcast and JetBlue and Dell are using Twitter now. The entire point of "ComcastCares" isn't just saving Michael Arrington's cable, but making anyone with a cable outage feel "cared for" at the moment they are most angry.  My guess is Dell doesn't care how many followers you have; "authority" to them is whoever wants to buy a PC at that second. Loic's description of Sprint responding to him and not someone with fewer followers doesn't prove his point. It proves Sprint doesn't get how to use Twitter as a customer service tool. For Twitter to grow in importance as a tool companies want to pay for, it needs to become more mainstream and flat, not less.

I think we can all agree that there needs to be better filters on Twitter. Twitter CEO Evan Williams included. We're going to see that. And you know what? I'm not worried it'll go the direction that Loic suggests because Evan has shown time and time again he's more loyal to the democratic spirit of Twitter than what Valley early adopters say. He's already refused to add other features the likes of Scoble and Arrington suggested. And more to the point, he's just a better businessman than that.

Morning Don't: The Christmas Morning Edition

Miss Olivia is living it up with Mimi and Grandad and CoolPops and the rest of the Hines in Memphis, so it fell to me to co-host the Wednesday's Morning Don't. And I forgot. So we did a Thursday edition! Merry Christmas everyone!


Morning Don't Ep. 6 from sarah lacy on Vimeo.

A Christmas Miracle that Literally Warms My Heart

Regular readers know that I'm not buying or accepting material gifts this year. But I'm making a quasi-exception right now.

Background: If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know we don't have a furnace and decided with the uncertain economy and all, we'd put off buying one for another year. Unfortunately, we also had the ceiling of our garage taken out to update our electrical work and ripped out a huge, crumbling brick chimney running through the middle of the house, so there's even less insulation and a big hole in our house.

Simply put: We are *dying.* Olivia and Geoff and the cats and I are basically the grandparents from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, all huddled under a pile of blankets with coats, fingerless gloves, leg warmers-- whatever layers we can find. It's somehow colder in the house than it is outside. The cleaning people came in Friday and looked at me sort of stunned and said, "Wow, it's freezing in here!" YES. WE. KNOW. My coffee gets ice cold in about 10 minutes, and then I just have to drink cold coffee because we don't have a microwave either. This is the opulent world of San Francisco home ownership.

As a result, I've become this crazy heat obsessed junky who checks out heat sources in every home or business I've gone into. I was wowed by the heat generating power of these bad boys at my Pilates studio. So, we ordered THREE of them from Amazon in various sizes. And guess what? Thanks to all the Amazon affiliate money we made from people clicking on that button to your left and buying my book, we got them for free! Thanks to Amazon Prime the shipping was free! It's the closest thing to a Christmas miracle that my ice-cased brain can imagine. And they just arrived. Thank God I hewed closely to blogger central casting today and didn't jump in the shower and miss the FedEx guy bearing this beautiful gift of heat.

Just more reasons I'm convinced Amazon is the only first gen e-commerce company that gets it. And, of course, one more reason I am grateful to anyone who bought my book via sarahlacy.com.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes, Part 1.5

So, change number two in my life involves my role at TechTicker. I'm not going anywhere, so don't worry, all five of you who tune into the show for just for my tech news and interviews, eschewing Aaron and Henry's far more popular daily Bailout Nation missives. (Honest to God, the real victims of the credit meltdown are tech reporters! Oh, Facebook just exploded into a ball of fiery ashes? Yawn. WAIT! WHAT WAS MADOFF WEARING WHEN HE RIPPED EVERYONE OFF!?!?!?!?!?!?! Oh, I kid, I kid. And I digress...)

More on all the changes soon, but one thing I'm going to start doing is a daily text post on the buzz of the Valley, as collected through Twitter, conversations in line at Starbucks, and, of course, the blogosphere. If you're outside the Valley, think of it as a way to feel inside. If you're inside the Valley, think of it as a way to get some of that sweet Yahoo Finance traffic 'cause there will be a whole lot of linking going on.

Here's post one. Let me know thoughts and please read, pass on, comment, vote and all that business.

More on Harvard's Endowment Woes (Pay Attention Startups and VCS)

Remember the column I did about the bluest of the blue blood endowments looking to sell off their stakes in venture firms in the secondary market? As I said then, it wasn't necessarily because they don't believe in the asset class, but with the mass beating they are taking in almost every security they're invested in, they have to realign their portfolios, and in some cases get some liquidity.

Here's more today on just how bad things are for Harvard's incredible shrinking endowment. The gist: The $8 billion loss the $38 billion fund reported is probably more like $18 billion-- in part because illiquid assets, like stakes in private companies, that hadn't been marked down when the previous figure was announced. This is a big reason one of my sources thought it'd be 2009 until secondary buyers snapped up the stakes in venture firms, no matter how big the name. No one knows what they are worth.

I found the Huffington Post story via The Atlantic and the tone of the post there reveals there's no small amount of schadenfreude when it comes to watching Harvard stumble. That's not just a Wall Street thing. Here in the Valley there's plenty coming from firms that didn't measure up to the Yale/Harvard standards, as well as from other LPs who were never deemed at the Harvard/Yale level. But to be fair, it's not like anyone is skating through this market unscathed, and if it weren't for schools like Yale and Harvard believing in venture capital early on, the industry wouldn't be as big as it is today. (Of course, some say that could be a good thing. But that's another column...)

Sarah Lacy’s entertaining and informative tour of the world’s fastest growing economies undeniably proves what we’ve known at Endeavor for more than a decade: that impressive and inspiring Entrepreneurs can truly come from anywhere! In taking us on a whirlwind journey bursting with frenetic energy – matched only by that of the amazing entrepreneurs she meets – Lacy gives us an important glimpse into the future of the global economy – a place where the craziest, high-impact entrepreneurs from anywhere and everywhere set the pace.
Brilliant. Crazy. Cocky.

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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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Srah Lacy

Sarah Lacy is an award-winning reporter who has covered high-growth entrepreneurship for more than fifteen years. She is the founder, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of PandoDaily.com, the site-of-record for the startup ecosystem. She lives in San Francisco.

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